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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Alan Sepinwall: Similarity scores for actors?

What we need in these sorts of situations is the entertainment equivalent of Similarity Scores. When baseball fans are debating the merits of a particular player, they can always look up the players to whom they’re most statistically comparable. So if someone wants to decide whether, say, Roberto Alomar is Hall of Fame-worthy, they can look at his Similarity Scores and see that his two most comparable players are Barry Larkin (maybe going to the Hall one day, but a long time from now) and Derek Jeter (going in on the first ballot).

Now, it’s a lot easier to do that for ballplayers than for actors, because you don’t quantify performances statistically. But the internet is full of smart, obsessed people, and I have to think that someone somewhere can come up with a formula that will tell us who should be on speed-dial if Maura Tierney drops out of a project, or who to get if Brad Pitt isn’t available. (Hint: the answer is not Brad Rowe.) Surely, if we had a good statistical model, Hunt would not be in this discussion.

Surely, Jeff Daniels and Jeff Bridges would top each other’s lists, given that I can never remember which is which.

Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: September 17, 2009 at 01:53 AM | 53 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: fantasy baseball, media, television

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Morty Causa Posted: September 17, 2009 at 05:13 AM (#3324405)
My non-contemporary (golden age/classic age actors similarity scores: Barbara Stanwyck/Bette Davis; Claudette Colber/Jean Arthur; Irene Dunne/Carole Lombard; Marilyn Monroe/Jean Harlow; Miriam Hopkins/Margaret sullavan; Paul Newman/Marlon Brando; Frederic March/Spencer Tracy; Cary Grant/Rober Montgomery; James Stewart/Gary Cooper; Joel McCrea/Henry Fonda; James Garner/Fred MacMurray; John Wayne/Clint Eastwood; Errol Flynn/Tyrone Power; and Jack Lemmon/Katharine Hepburn.
   2. SantoFan Posted: September 17, 2009 at 05:38 AM (#3324420)
Bill Pullman/Bill Paxton - always used to mix those two up.
   3. Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: September 17, 2009 at 05:38 AM (#3324421)
Frederic March/Spencer Tracy


Inherit the Wind may cause a rift in the space-time continuum.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: September 17, 2009 at 10:59 AM (#3324453)
Jeff Daniels is the one that doesn't look like Beau Bridges.
   5. WillYoung Posted: September 17, 2009 at 12:37 PM (#3324494)
Keanu Reeves/Shia Whatshisface
Dave Foley/Jason Bateman
   6. Mom makes botox doctors furious Posted: September 17, 2009 at 12:48 PM (#3324505)
Brad Pitt/Rock Hudson
   7. Dylan B Posted: September 17, 2009 at 12:52 PM (#3324509)
Robert De Niro/ Al Pacino, kinda along the lines of Lou Gehrig and Jimmy Foxx being each others most similar(Top actors/players of their time, similar roles/ positions)
   8. The Essex Snead Posted: September 17, 2009 at 01:00 PM (#3324519)
Bill Pullman/Bill Paxton - always used to mix those two up.

Don't forget Jeff Daniels!

I always confuse Keith David & David Keith, which is especially silly given what they look like.
   9. OsunaSakata Posted: September 17, 2009 at 01:08 PM (#3324532)
Ooh! Another 100+ post acting thread!

Keanu Reeves/Shia Whatshisface


Most of the time, Keanu's movies have been better than him. Possible exceptions: Bill & Ted, Matrix Original Recipe, Speed. On the other hand, Shia's been largely doing decent acting in crap movies. Holes is good, though.
   10. TerpNats Posted: September 17, 2009 at 01:34 PM (#3324566)
Irene Dunne/Carole Lombard
Both wonderful actresses to be sure, but really that similar? Dunne was an accomplished Broadway actress with an operatic singing voice; Lombard's stage experience was virtually nil, and the few times she was seen singing on screen, she was usually dubbed, aside from "Swing High, Swing Low" (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/11870.html). Moreover, Dunne was born nearly a decade before Lombard, and didn't make her first film until she was age 31; at that point in Lombard's life, she would make only four more films before her premature passing. Better similarities might be Irene Dunne/Jeanette MacDonald (check out some of her Lubitsch films to see how sexy she could be) and Carole Lombard/Constance Bennett (who got Carole fired when she arrived at Pathe in 1929 because she looked too much like her, and who Universal initially wanted as Irene in "My Man Godfrey." She would play an ersatz Lombard in her two "Topper" films).

BTW, who has the highest similarity score with William Powell? Or Myrna Loy? (Or Asta?)
   11. Greg K Posted: September 17, 2009 at 01:45 PM (#3324581)
Emma Thompson/Rebecca Hall
   12. Dock Ellis on Acid Posted: September 17, 2009 at 01:56 PM (#3324594)
For the longest time, I confused Michael Douglas with Martin Sheen and vice versa.
   13. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 17, 2009 at 01:58 PM (#3324597)
Wlliam Holden/Steve McQueen, once you era adjust.
   14. Van Lingle Mungo Jerry Posted: September 17, 2009 at 02:03 PM (#3324604)
It's low-hanging fruit, but Johnny Depp and Skeet Ulrich.
   15. Alan Sepinwall Posted: September 17, 2009 at 02:09 PM (#3324615)
Waaaay down in the original thread, one of my commenters suggested a formula for how to categorize actors. Thoughts? Can anyone here do better?
   16. OsunaSakata Posted: September 17, 2009 at 02:11 PM (#3324619)
John Heard/John Hurt/William Hurt
   17. Dock Ellis on Acid Posted: September 17, 2009 at 02:14 PM (#3324629)
Waaaay down in the original thread, one of my commenters suggested a formula for how to categorize actors.

Oddly enough, Will Ferrel scores a YES on the first four questions and a resounding O for the 5th question.
   18. Young Blasarius yonder Posted: September 17, 2009 at 02:34 PM (#3324666)
My coworkers and I used to play this game involving actors called Rich Man/Poor Man. Basically, the idea was that there are certain actors who are easily interchangeable so when you can't get the bigger star for a part, you turn to the lesser star.

Some of the ones we came up with.

Matthew McConaughey/Josh Lucas
Pullman/Paxton
Aaron Eckhart/Thomas Jane
Ving Rhames/Delroy Lindo

There were a ton others but I'm at a loss to remember them all right now.
   19. Mom makes botox doctors furious Posted: September 17, 2009 at 02:37 PM (#3324670)
Brando/Welles, after the feast
   20. Morty Causa Posted: September 17, 2009 at 03:21 PM (#3324722)
If we go just on looks, when I first saw Pacino in The Panic in Needle Park, I thought he was almsot a Dustin Hoffman clone.
   21. Morty Causa Posted: September 17, 2009 at 03:27 PM (#3324731)
Post #10:

Yeah, point taken. It's what you get for composing those things in the box on the run. There were a number of them I had mooted to myself on screen, then removed. This one slipped by.
   22. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 17, 2009 at 03:36 PM (#3324747)
My coworkers and I used to play this game involving actors called Rich Man/Poor Man.

Ving Rhames/Michael Duncan Clarke
Morgan Freeman/Delroy Lindo
Gina Goodwin/Jennifer Morrison (or would it be Jennifer Morrison/Gina Goodwin? I can't really tell them apart)
Keira Knightley/Natalie Portman
Seth Rogen/Jonah Hill
Jason Bateman/Nathan Fillion
Robert Downey Jr./Jeffrey Dean Morgan
   23. puck Posted: September 17, 2009 at 03:41 PM (#3324754)
Robert Downey Jr./Jeffrey Dean Morgan


JDM might also work for Javier Bardem.
   24. puck Posted: September 17, 2009 at 03:43 PM (#3324761)
Emma Thompson/Rebecca Hall


Hmm. I like both of these actresses, but I'd only want to see one of them in an unrated film.
   25. Young Blasarius yonder Posted: September 17, 2009 at 03:48 PM (#3324766)
Oh yeah, forgot Mekhi Phifer/Omar Epps. Although we could never agree who was the poor man's version of who...
   26. villageidiom Posted: September 17, 2009 at 03:52 PM (#3324779)
Regarding the article... I agree with him on Helen Hunt. I think she fit well on Mad About You but otherwise strikes me as having very limited range, mostly confined to irritating.

But Paula Marshall? Isn't she the female equivalent of Ted McGinley?
   27. Alan Sepinwall Posted: September 17, 2009 at 04:54 PM (#3324899)
But Paula Marshall? Isn't she the female equivalent of Ted McGinley?

She has a long history of showkilling, sure. But her career overlaps a lot with Tierney's, and I assume she gets called in to audition for things when Tierney passes, ala the Rich Man/Poor Man list above.
   28. Lassus Posted: September 17, 2009 at 04:58 PM (#3324904)
Jason Bateman/Nathan Fillion

I reject you.
   29. blue Posted: September 17, 2009 at 05:14 PM (#3324932)
John Simm/Peter Sarsgaard
   30. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 17, 2009 at 05:25 PM (#3324958)
For a long time I got Carla Gugino and Paula Marshall confused, but Carla's wonderful topless scene in Sin City pretty much distanced her from Paula in my mind.
   31. villageidiom Posted: September 17, 2009 at 05:29 PM (#3324967)
She has a long history of showkilling, sure. But her career overlaps a lot with Tierney's, and I assume she gets called in to audition for things when Tierney passes, ala the Rich Man/Poor Man list above.
Welcome, Alan, and I agree. But in the case of Tierney/Marshall, the fact that Marshall would take a role is a leading indicator that it isn't worth watching. Hunt, IMO, has decent taste in projects, but just can't execute on them in a way that I can tolerate. I guess it's the difference between watching something intrinsically bad, and watching something good done poorly.
   32. Joe OBrien Posted: September 17, 2009 at 05:32 PM (#3324973)
Tobey Maguire / Jake Gyllenhall
Amy Smart / Ali Larter
   33. Dock Ellis on Acid Posted: September 17, 2009 at 05:55 PM (#3325003)
Neither is rich nor poor but now that Henry Gibson has died, does Austin Pendleton get all of his roles?
   34. Chase Utley, Shooty's Favorite Robot (Joey Belle) Posted: September 17, 2009 at 05:58 PM (#3325009)
Gene Tierney / Linda Darnell
Joan Blondell / Ann Sothern
   35. OsunaSakata Posted: September 17, 2009 at 06:09 PM (#3325025)
Paula Marshall and Roy Gerela are probably the most famous people to have attended my no longer existing high school.
   36. WillYoung Posted: September 17, 2009 at 06:27 PM (#3325054)
Alan, if you're still around, I just want you to know how fantastic your Wire episode recaps have been as I've gone back and rewatched the entire series picking up many more things along the way. I just wish you had enough time to get past Season 2!
   37. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 17, 2009 at 06:32 PM (#3325063)
Jason Statham/Vinnie Jones
   38. Don Malcolm Posted: September 17, 2009 at 06:41 PM (#3325082)
This has already been done, albeit without the "stathead" overlay, by an academic film critic:

http://www.amazon.com/Star-Machine-Vintage-Jeanine-Basinger/dp/0307388751/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1253212332&sr=8-1

In the days of the studio system (which bears more than a slight resemblance, strucutrally at least, to the old "reserve clause"), the moguls and their producers/minions had all this down. Basinger, who can be as glib as the garden-variety blogger when she so chooses, shows how it can still be done due to an impressively encyclopedic grasp of actor types past and present.

You can quibble with her connections/analogies (and how could y'all not be who you are if you didn't??), but the method on display in The Star Machine is right in the pocket for what's been asked for here.
   39. Alan Sepinwall Posted: September 17, 2009 at 06:58 PM (#3325101)
I just wish you had enough time to get past Season 2!

I did season four and five as well (those premiered after I started the blog), so it's really on season 3 that's missing.
   40. WillYoung Posted: September 17, 2009 at 07:21 PM (#3325136)
Excellent, I was not aware of that. Now, I'll go be depressed about Michael and Dukie.
   41. Chase Utley, Shooty's Favorite Robot (Joey Belle) Posted: September 17, 2009 at 07:56 PM (#3325195)
Excellent, I was not aware of that. Now, I'll go be depressed about Michael and Dukie.


Randy's character arc might be the most depressing thing I've ever witnessed.
   42. Mark S. is bored Posted: September 17, 2009 at 08:38 PM (#3325265)
I did season four and five as well (those premiered after I started the blog), so it's really on season 3 that's missing.


EE's link issue surface again. I don't think Alan was trying to link to http://sepinwall.blogspot.com/search/label/The
   43. Alan Sepinwall Posted: September 17, 2009 at 09:20 PM (#3325290)
Just go to sepinwall.blogspot.com, and look down the right rail. There are links to The Wire reviews, season by season.
   44. Bad Doctor Posted: September 17, 2009 at 09:23 PM (#3325292)
That's terrible news about Maura Tierney. God, did I love her on Newsradio. If her similarity scores are based on actresses who play adorable and bright characters in good comedies that I crush on uncontrollably, then definitely Lauren Graham, and also Jenna Fischer.
   45. TerpNats Posted: September 17, 2009 at 10:02 PM (#3325307)
This has already been done, albeit without the "stathead" overlay, by an academic film critic:

http://www.amazon.com/Star-Machine-Vintage-Jeanine-Basinger/dp/0307388751/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1253212332&sr=8-1

In the days of the studio system (which bears more than a slight resemblance, strucutrally at least, to the old "reserve clause"), the moguls and their producers/minions had all this down. Basinger, who can be as glib as the garden-variety blogger when she so chooses, shows how it can still be done due to an impressively encyclopedic grasp of actor types past and present.

You can quibble with her connections/analogies (and how could y'all not be who you are if you didn't??), but the method on display in The Star Machine is right in the pocket for what's been asked for here.
I've read ut -- an excellent book. Any fan of classic Hollywood should check it out.
   46. Alex meets the threshold for granular review Posted: September 17, 2009 at 10:27 PM (#3325319)
Randy's character arc might be the most depressing thing I've ever witnessed.


The character whose fate made me saddest was Bodie. I'm not sure what that says about me.
   47. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: September 17, 2009 at 10:28 PM (#3325320)
Is Margot Kidder the poor man's Karen Allen, or is it the other way around?
   48. Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: September 17, 2009 at 11:31 PM (#3325361)
Margot Kidder was the crazy man's Karen Allen.
   49. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: September 17, 2009 at 11:38 PM (#3325371)
The character whose fate made me saddest was Bodie. I'm not sure what that says about me.

I think Wallace still takes it for me.
   50. TerpNats Posted: September 17, 2009 at 11:47 PM (#3325382)
In the days of the studio system (which bears more than a slight resemblance, strucutrally at least, to the old "reserve clause")
Let's extend that analogy a bit -- compare the seven classic-era studios to MLB pre-expansion teams. (United Artists, a consortium of producers, isn't included; it's more of the cinematic equivalent of a minor-league co-op club). Here goes:

* MGM -- New York Yankees (dominance of the industry).

* Paramount -- New York Giants (old-line leadership)

* Warners -- either the Brooklyn Dodgers (epitomizing "urban") or the St. Louis Cardinals (rising from obscurity via a new way of doing things)

* RKO -- Philadelphia Athletics (a few stretches of brilliance, several periods of mediocrity)

* Twentieth Century-Fox -- Detroit Tigers (success in the early years as Fox, then a return to prominence from the mid-thirties to the mid-forties)

* Universal -- Chicago White Sox (a strong period in the teens, several decades in the wilderness, then a revival in the fifties)

* Columbia -- Cincinnati Reds (making the most of relatively meager resources).
   51. Misirlou is on hiding to nowhere Posted: September 17, 2009 at 11:53 PM (#3325388)
Leo DiCaprio/Matt Damon.
   52. Los Angeles Waterloo of Black Hawk Posted: September 18, 2009 at 12:35 AM (#3325434)
I think Dukie's story would have been the most depressing, if I had actually bought where it ended up. They spent a lot of time telegraphing it, but essentially no time dramatizing it, and without seeing the moment where he crosses over, I just don't buy him doing it. The final season had a few missteps, and as I think back on it, I think that was one of the larger ones.
   53. Los Angeles Waterloo of Black Hawk Posted: September 18, 2009 at 01:25 AM (#3325492)
Emma Thompson/Rebecca Hall

I don't see this one. I think Rebecca Hall is the young Molly Parker.

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