Yet another pretty face

Last Updated 03 May 2014, 09:23 IST
By what metric are we to determine whether a model is “super”? If it is name recognition, Forbes list position, magazines covered, campaigns fronted or some algorithm of them all, Kate Upton probably qualifies. 

In 2013 Upton, a 21-year-old from Melbourne, Florida, was named model of the year and appeared on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue for the second straight year.

This year, she was demoted to the inside cover, pictured wearing a bikini in zero gravity.

As a model she floats off the page, but she’s also a performer, with videos of her dancing going crash-the-Internet viral. 
So, all aboard the Hollywood starship express. In The Other Woman, Upton will appear alongside Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann. 

It is Upton’s third and by far most substantial screen credit. 

In her debut, the surprisingly pleasant Tower Heist, she played a mistress in what was by definition no more than a cameo.

In the new film, Upton again plays a mistress, though this time merely one of several for a serial philanderer played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. 

When the characters played by Mann (the wife) and Diaz (another mistress) discover that they are in fact being three-timed, they recruit Upton’s charming ditz in a plot to take down their transgressor.

In a way, Upton’s casting is part of the joke of the movie — that smarmy men will always smarm their way toward younger and more beautiful women. 

It may be a stretch to call casting a supermodel in movies a tradition, but the practice is not without precedent. There are the famous, symbolic cameos: Christie Brinkley in National Lampoon’s Vacation; Claudia Schiffer in Love, Actually; and the Victoria’s Secret angel Alessandra Ambrosio as Tennis Girl, checking out James Bond (Daniel Craig) in Casino Royale.

Bond girls in general have walked straight off the runway into 007’s arms — with varying degrees of success and career longevity. 

Former ballerina and model Olga Kurylenko, for instance, who appeared in Quantum of Solace, had a breakout year in 2013, starring in Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder opposite Ben Affleck and playing the cloned love of Tom Cruise in Oblivion.
Just up from the cameo, at about the level of Upton’s role in The Other Woman, you have Brooklyn Decker in Battleship, Jessica White in Big Momma’s House and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy in Midnight in Paris. 

Fully-fledged starring roles, though, are fewer and farther between. 

In 1995, Cindy Crawford played the lead in the every-way-lamentable thriller Fair Game. Similarly, Estella Warren travelled with Mark Wahlberg to Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes in 2001 and seemingly never returned. 

But Rosie Huntington-Whiteley preened and pouted for Michael Bay’s leery lens in Transformers: Dark of the Moon and hardly suffered for it: She has a starring role in the coming Mad Max: Fury Road. 

Remove the “super” prefix from the equation, and the success rate for models-turned-actresses skyrockets. 

Halle Berry and Kim Basinger were working models before they turned to acting and, at last count, have 73 titles and two Oscars between them. 

Milla Jovovich is a legitimate genre star, heading a video-game adaptation franchise (Resident Evil), and she began with model-type roles in The Fifth Element, Chaplin and a sequel to The Blue Lagoon — which had made the very young model Brooke Shields a star. 

In The Other Woman, Upton’s character is an extension of her public persona, a part that capitalises on an existing perception that she is the kind of buxom and brainless woman whom guys like, more than a role model that other women envy and want to emulate. 

She is the “ugh”-inducing ideal for whom Diaz and Mann’s man will leave them — injustice incarnate. 

Compare this with, say, supermodel Gisele Bündchen, who made an ill-fated big-screen debut in 2004, along with Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah, in Taxi. 

Bündchen is the subject of girl crushes and viewed as a kind of feminist hero — an earner on par with, if not in excess of, her dashing athlete husband, Tom Brady. 

In The Other Woman, Upton is little more than an accessory, both in the decorative sense for the philanderer and in the abettor sense for the avenging women.

But her addition to the movie is easy math for a casting director, in the same way that the casting of rapper Nicki Minaj as Diaz’s friend and conscience brings with it a built-in fan base.

Upton’s appearance is nearly product placement, with the product being a branded personality that may secure ticket sales. Seen in this way, it is nearly impossible, in these days of celebrity endorsements and brand ambassadors, to tell an actress from a model from a “personality.”

In fact, actresses seem to be taking all the good modeling jobs these days: Oscar winners Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Marion Cotillard have all been the face of Dior, and Lupita Nyong’o just signed on for Lancôme. 
Why shouldn’t the models try to gain ground on the actresses’ turf?

(Published 26 April 2014, 15:02 IST)

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