The 2014 Cannes Film Festival has been wonderfully female-focused so far, but a few male actors have still managed to command our attention. There's Ryan Gosling premiering his directorial debut, Rush's Daniel Bruhl signing on to a new movie, and, of course, Matthew McConaughey, who, at this point, puts the media in a frenzy every time he opens his mouth. The Oscar winner's in France this week to promote his newest film, Sea of Trees, to potential buyers, a Japan-set drama expected to shoot this summer. There's been a ton of write-up about the film so far, all of which mention McConaughey's excitement about the plot, or how the film "scares him" because of its dark material. What they don't mention, however, or at least give more than a few lines' worth of attention, is the actor's co-star, Naomi Watts.
On paper, McConaughey and Watts have a lot in common. They're both Oscar nominees, he for Dallas Buyers Club and she for 21 Grams and The Impossible. They're about the same age, only a year apart. They both got famous for popcorn fare, McConaughey with rom-coms and Watts with horror films. In recent years, the two actors have each garnered acclaim for their serious roles, impressing audiences with their ranges and physical transformations. Despite these similarities, however, McConaughey is a movie star, while Watts rarely makes a headline. In Sea of Trees, they might be listed as co-stars, but when it comes to talking about the movie, it's McConaughey who gets all of the attention.
It's not his fault. McConaughey has deservedly become an A-list star, thanks to career-defining turns in Dallas Buyers Club, Mud, and many more films over the last few years. It's perfectly reasonable that his involvement in an upcoming movie would gain extensive notice, and that critics would be itching to talk to him about the role. What isn't right, however, is that Watts, an equally talented actor, has barely received mention in those articles describing the film, despite being listed as a star alongside McConaughey. Yes, she hasn't had a "McConaissance" like he did, but, as her resume and Oscar nominations show, she's just as capable an actor.
And it's not just when McConaughey's involved. Watts has been overshadowed in far too many films; in J. Edgar, King Kong, and even the upcoming St. Vincent de Van Nuys (the "Melissa McCarthy movie," as it's better known), Watts' involvement barely garnered attention. Even the movies that she's starred in, such as 2012's The Impossible (above), have been overlooked; sure, it got her an Oscar nomination, but when the category contained boisterous, endearing personalities like Jennifer Lawrence and Quevenzhane Wallis, did anyone remember Watts was even up for the award?
Unfortunately, she's not the only actress who suffers from her co-stars' popularity. For years, Amy Adams produced high-quality work and won acclaim, but never received the type of attention that was given to her co-stars, such as Julia Roberts or Joaquin Phoenix. Her fate only changed recently, when two movies hailing her as a lead came out at once, forcing audiences and critics to finally see her as a movie star. The same can't be said for Maggie Gyllenhaal, Catherine Keener, Helen Hunt, actresses who consistently earn praise for their performances, but when it comes to promoting their movies, are often overshadowed by their more popular co-stars.
It's a shame, because these actresses, as they prove role after role, deserve major attention. Chances are, Watts will give a performance in Sea of Trees just as strong as McConaughey's, but when it's time for critics to shower the film with praise, it'll be the male star who'll get the attention. Like usual, Watts will be pushed aside, given a flattering but forgettable mention in articles devoted to McConaughey. The only consolation is that she might not be ignored for too much longer; along with Trees, Watts has three movies coming out, all of which have her labeled as a star. Perhaps she'll follow Amy Adams' path and be too visible to be ignored, making viewers finally see her as the leading actress her fans have always known she is.