The all-powerful headshot can make or break an acting career. You thought it was talent, hard work, and luck? So did I – until I was 12. That was the year that all of my acting friends got the secret memo to wear makeup and flat-iron their hair before updating their photos. They all looked like they walked out of Seventeen magazine, whereas I looked like.. well, like:
Yep, that’s the headshot of someone who’s going to be stuck in child roles for a good while. The only way I would be playing a girl next door is if the main character happens to lives next door to a Victorian orphanage. So trust me, headshots matter. That’s why I’m pretty confident that the key to this year’s Tony wins is in the almighty 5×7. To be as impartial as possible, we are judging this year’s winners solely by the headshots available on the official Tony Awards website.
Best Performance By A Leading Actor In A Play
Samuel Barnett – Twelfth Night
Okay, the dabbled gray background is a little school portrait. But the icy blue, straight on stare says “I can play dramatic roles!” and the slight smirk says “but if the dialog gets a little funny, I’m on top of it!” The bright flash highlights Barnett’s pale complexion, as if to say “I can play British.”
Bryan Cranston – All The Way
The fuck, Cranston? No. NO. You’re like that one kid whose parents didn’t properly understand sending in a baby picture for that one section of your senior yearbook, and sent one from freshman year instead. You are the default silhouette picture from Myspace. Even Tom doesn’t want to be friends with that.
Remember Tom, everyone?
Chris O’Dowd – Of Mice And Men
Well as I live and breathe. Chris O’Dowd has out-Cranstoned Cranston. There are actual people in the actual background, and you know what? Blurring them out by enlarging the “blemish remover” function on iPhoto is just making me notice it more. Good luck winning a Tony with this Photobucket-quality headshot, buddy. Good freaking luck.
On the other hand, maybe this is clever. Maybe it tells us that he is too busy for headshots — busy going to events where he, and blurry others, wear suits.
Mark Rylance – Richard III
White sheet backdrop aside, this is art. ART. The lowered left eyebrow. The tremulous sidelong glance. The windswept locks. His mouth is even ever-so-slightly agape. It is like everything that Jay Manuel and Janice Dickinson told contestants to do on the early seasons of America’s Next Top Model, except for posing with limbs askew and pretending to have been murdered. I think we might have our winner. And that earring? That’s just boss.
Tony Shaloub – Act One
Like, is this photo editing, or does he have a legitimage twinkle in both eyes? Speaking of Tyra Banks: smizing. Notice how you sort of feel like Tony Shaloub has read the story of your soul, and would recommend it to a friend? It’s all in the smize.
The winner, based on headshot alone: Mark Rylance. That headshot has RANGE.
Best Performance By An Actress In A Leading Role In A Play
Tyne Daly – Mothers And Sons
Okay, now we’re cooking with gas. There’s a neutral but varied background. There’s warm, soft lighting. You know what this looks like? This looks like a headshot where the actress is at least TRYING. See the Shaloub-esque half smile?
Also, I think that, as in paintings by Renaissance masters, if you look at this from different points in the room, Daly’s eyes follow you.
Her face is so captivating that I almost didn’t notice that this photo almost reaches a Glamour Shot-caliber boob suggestion. Glamour Shots: Not the boob itself, but the idea of the boob.
LaTanya Richardson Jackson
FINALLY. Now it’s a contest. Look at this. It’s like Headshot Bingo. Or a headshot drinking game. Let’s count:
(1) Flowy wrap sweater
(2) Gently contrasting background
(3) Statement necklace
(4) HAND SHELF.
It’s like every headshot cliche in one photo. Ms Jackson, I salute you. Question, though: what is up with the curled-up, partially visible left hand?
Cherry Jones – The Glass Menagerie
I’m of two minds here. The first: the blurred background is, well… have we learned nothing from O’Dowd? It looks like Jones is in some sort of outdoor patio or porch situation, which is at least pleasant. Contrast that with O’Dowd, who is in some sort of formalwear context that is almost definitely not fun.
The second: Does she have the headshot smile down or what? Happy but not too happy. Warm without a photoshopped eye twinkle (unless that’s how Shaloub’s eyes are naturally, which… maybe, you know? Maybe.)
Audra MacDonald – Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar And Grill
Even if I didn’t know who Audra McDonald was, which I guess I’m trying to do here, I’d know this was the photo of a champion. That is the cozy sweater of someone who can play a mom or a business professional on a day off. Her hair is glorious. The background is neutral but, with the hint of light oak chair, not antiseptic. There’s gentle accessorizing. There’s nail polish. There’s attractive lighting, like in Barbara Walters specials.
Brava, Ms. McDonald.
While I don’t deny that Estelle Parsons is probably a lovely person and a wonderful actress, this is simply not a Tony Award Winning headshot. That is the downward facing chin of a nominee, not the proud, upright chin of a winner!
Besides, it took me about 3 minutes to figure out that was a scarf tucked into her sweater and not some really weird collar or even weirder neck/chin situation. Tony voters don’t have time for that.
The Winner, Based On Headshot Alone: Audra. That’s the headshot of a lady who came to win.
Best Performance By A Lead Actor In A Musical
Now, for a little bit of the ‘man behind the curtain’ in the blogging world: my browser is doing something it’s never done before, and making text and photos appear straight on top of each other, and my curser is moving around will-nilly. So let’s just cut straight to the winner, shall we?
Winner, based on headshot alone:
Neil Patrick Harris, Hedwig And The Angry Inch
This was a process of elimination win. Ramin Karimloo looked a little too ‘intentionally disheveled hot guy.’ Andy Karl was posed in front of some sort of industrial piping, which, like, you’re in Rocky. We know. Jefferson Mays looked like he was going to turn me into ice with his crystalline blue stare. Between Bryce Pinkham and Neil Patrick Harris, Harris’s headshot was a little edgier. Pinkham’s, shot in soft light with a white background, seemed to say “I’m here for the art, not to win.”
Best Performance By An Actress In A Leading Role In A Musical
Can we discuss these award category names? They are all roughly twice as long as they need to be, right?
The winner, based on headshot alone:
Sutton Foster – Violet
This was another process of elimination. Idina Menzel, bless her talented heart, almost tries TOO hard in her headshot. I’m talking about a wind machine. Jessie Mueller manages to look most like someone I’d want to hang out with in real life – meaning, unlike some theater people, she doesn’t look absolutely exhausting. But she does have the visible, photoshopped background person going on. Kelli O’Hara has so much blinding white light going on that I think she might be the first person I’m seeing after dying. Mary Bridget Davies brought her A-Game, but Foster’s got the approachable smile down. She was probably smile-coached along with Cherry Jones.
So, was my 12-year-old self right? Can you tell a great actor by headshot alone? Tune in to the Tony’s on Sunday night to find out!
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