You know who really surprised me recently at a press day? Benjamin Bratt.
He's always been one of those guys who seemed really solid. A dependable, good, meat-and-potatoes guy on camera. I never had that moment watching something that he did where I went "Holy cow, this guy's AMAZING," but how many actors do you ever really say that about? I think the vast majority of actors play parts that don't really provide those "Holy cow" moments, and that's fine.
One of the reasons a lot of actors don't like the term "character actor" is not just because it seems like a nicer way of saying "can't be a movie star," but also because that's what acting is supposed to be… bringing characters to life. It's calling it "wet water." Every actor should be a character actor, including big giant movie stars and day players alike.
What impressed me about Bratt this time around is that he walked into the process on "Despicable Me 2" pretty late in the game. There was this very public hiccup where Al Pacino suddenly withdrew from the project, and Illumination and Universal suddenly had a release date bearing down on them and no voice for one of the film's main characters. The announcement of Bratt as Pacino's replacement happened quickly, and then not only did he end up in the film, but Universal brought him in to talk about it.
I didn't want to be indelicate about what had to be a whirlwind experience, and I wasn't really looking to engage it directly. Pacino left, and that should be that. But as soon as we started talking, Bratt was so completely open about the entire situation, so direct, that it was obvious that he wasn't going to shy away from the conversation or take offense at all.
And to be clear, his work in the film is very good. But when you consider that he had to both give a real and shaded performance and also match his timing exactly to the finished animation that was already in place, which was timed to Al Freaking Pacino, Bratt's work goes from "very good" to "completely miraculous."
It ended up being a great conversation with him, and I commend Illumination for finding the right replacement, and also trusting him enough to let him discuss what happened. It's a big, silly, outrageous performance, and Bratt deserves huge kudos for making what could have been a disaster into a wonderful revelation.
"Despicable Me 2" opens in theaters July 3.