For me, the two greatest achievements of film acting are Vivien Leigh in "Gone with the Wind" and Peter O'Toole in "Lawrence of Arabia."
If you were to rank every performance in every film (if such a list
could even be useful), I don't know what exactly would be number one,
but it would begin with these two and then everyone else. You could
teach whole classes on acting just based on them.
And there are a surprising number of similarities between the two.
Both were not-very-well-known British stage actors who were given
starring roles in giant Hollywood productions, beating out big name
stars for the part.
Both were young, in their 20s. Leigh was 25 during filming, O'Toole was 28.
Both movies are epics. I mean LONG, about 4 hours.
Think about how important their voices are to the characters: Leigh's
Southern belle drawl with its "fiddle-dee-dee" rhythms; O'Toole's
watery, wavering tenor. And their trademark facial expressions: Leigh's
calculating pout, O'Toole's withering stare.
what Jung would call their anima and animus: the expressions of their
feminine and masculine inner personalities. Scarlett O'Hara is a lady,
yes, but not a proper one, bristling at the assumptions of the Southern
patriarchy, taking charge, not relying on a man, but using them for her
own goals. Lawrence is the military hero of the British empire, but he
preens and admires his perfect white robes, bonding with his men with a
tender devotion not shared by his cold-hearted superiors.
Both show arrogance, and total despair. They're both despicable and admirable. Villains, heroes, victims, oppressors.
These two roles, in their dynamism and their depth, represent the
complexities of cinematic acting, the role of the human being in film
art. They're our Hamlet.