Think about how much you hate hearing the sound of your own voice. It sounds so nasally and high-pitched, and nothing like how you think you sound. It’s enough to make you vow never to be caught on tape again.
Now, imagine that you’re an actor and watching yourself on TV, or a 40-foot-wide movie screen. If you’re the perfectionist type, noticing every minute flaw and mistake that is now permanently captured on celluloid is too much to bear. Or, despite years of being in the front of the camera and having your picture constantly taken wherever you go, you can’t bear to see yourself on such a large scale. Maybe you’re simply so invested in the process of acting that you’d rather not see the final result, for fear of becoming too self-aware of what should be an unconscious performance.
So even though their faces have been seen by billions of people, it starts to make sense when actors admit they don’t watch their own movies. See the surprising number of big stars who take a raincheck on their famous films with our list of 15 Actors Who Hate Watching Their Own Movies.
15. Robert De Niro
For over 40 years, Robert De Niro has reigned as one of Hollywood’s greatest actors (even if his IMDB filmography as of late is slightly depressing). His unnerving intensity as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver is one of cinema’s great performances, all righteous anger and dangerous delusion encapsulating everything that felt rotten about New York City in the 1970s. His Best Actor Oscar for Raging Bull is a testament to his training at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, where he proved to be a natural at the intensive research and immersion that allowed him to channel such explosive rage as self-imploding boxer Jake La Motta.
Which might be a clue as to why the veteran actor is reluctant to watch his movies, which he does only very occasionally. His early performances seethe with barely-concealed violence and fury that must be difficult for him to watch, if only because of the painful self-awareness it creates. It’s easier to throw caution to the wind when you don’t have to look yourself in the mirror.
14. Javier Bardem
From his outrageous pageboy wig in No Country for Old Men to his terrifying dentalwork in Skyfall, Javier Bardem grounds his characters in physical transformations that make his characters feel all too real. It’s a common technique among actors that stretches back to the earliest days of theatre, and Bardem is hardly alone in his commitment to the power of a good makeover – Johnny Depp is virtually unrecognizable in the majority of his films and Melissa McCarthy has spoken about how many of her characters find their identity though their hair.
But maybe that’s why the actor is so adamant about keeping a critical distance between himself and his work. He’s admitted that even he thinks his cosmetic choices are pretty ridiculous but the need for self-expression outweighs any potential embarrassment, and that the satisfaction he gets from creating a character is more important than the actual performance.
13. Reese Witherspoon
Acting can be awkward, uncomfortable and downright embarrassing. Think about it – you’re standing in the middle of a set, surrounded by hot lights, imposing cameras, and impatient crew for hours on end. Maybe you do one take of a scene, maybe you say the same line 30 times in a row. And may the Seven look upon you if you’re playing a character based on a real-life person, since it’s nearly impossible to fully capture the complexity of another human being.
So it’s not entirely surprising when Reese Witherspoon confesses that watching her films is one of her least favorite things to do and that she barely remembers even making them. Insecurity over a performance can jump into the stratosphere once you see your face on a massive movie screen, where every detail and nuance is ripe for criticism. Even though we love to hate her in Election as the Type-A Tracy Flick and cried during Walk the Line over her tough but tender June Carter, Reese Witherspoon is happy to leave it all behind.
12. Helena Bonham Carter
Like so many actors on this list, Helena Bonham Carter is a master of disguise. The British actress does an enormous amount of research and preparation for films as disparate as the Edwardian romantic drama A Room with a View, the candy-colored Alice in Wonderland, and essentially every film she made with former partner Tim Burton. Her commitment to character through costuming and makeup means every role she inhabits is a world unto itself. For her role as the volatile Marla Singer in Fight Club, Bonham reportedly insisted her makeup artist only use her left hand since it would result in a more unkempt look.
So it’s understandable why Carter avoids watching her own work. She’s not interested in what effect her performance has on an audience, only on what her transformation into the character does to herself. Whether she’s casting spells as the sinister Bellatrix Lestrange or cooking up her enemies in Sweeney Todd, Helena Bonham Carter is always in the moment.
11. Andrew Garfield
You know that feeling when you’re doing something so well it seems like every move or thought just comes instinctively? Like you’ve tapped into some cosmic force that guides you through whatever you’re doing? When that happens you know you’re “in the zone,” and for most actors it’s the ideal mental place to be. It’s easy to be self-critical and second-guess your every choice for a character, and that kind of negative self-talk can be devastating to a performance.
Which is why Andrew Garfield resists all temptation to watch his films. The British-American actor has never seen The Social Network, the film which launched his Hollywood career, or either one of his two Spider-Man films, for fear of thinking critically about his performances and getting inside his own head. In fact, it seems that Garfield has found the best way to avoid dealing with the issue is to forgo cameras entirely and focus on his stage career. He co-starred with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the 2012 Broadway production of Death of a Salesman and is slated to star in an upcoming London revival of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.
10. Jared Leto
Most people get up, get dressed, and go to work where they do mostly the same thing everyday. But for actors, every job is a chance to do something new, an opportunity to transform themselves into a completely different person, and Jared Leto is no stranger to the idea of reinvention. He shot to stardom as quintessential ’90s heartthrob Jordan Catalano on the cult TV series My S0-Called Life, then juggled wildly different roles in films like American Psycho, Fight Club, and Requiem for a Dream while fronting the rock group Thirty Seconds to Mars. Oh, and he also won an Oscar for his role as a transgender woman in Dallas Buyer’s Club.
Leto is always seeking something new so it’s not that surprising that the actor doesn’t see the value in looking back at his past films. His intensity is legendary – for his upcoming role as the Joker in Suicide Squad he sent co-star Viola Davis a box of bullets – and Leto has often remarked because the final film is so far out from his control, he’s far more interested in creating a character than he is in actually watching it.
9. Julianne Moore
Maude, the haughty artist in The Big Lewbowski. Amber Waves, Boogie Nights‘ heartbreakingly vulnerable adult film star who just wants to be reunited with her son. A suburban woman driven to environment exile in Safe. Julianne Moore’s career is an embarrassment of riches, packed with these kinds of deeply committed and wildly different performances, many of which the Oscar-nominated actress has never seen.
Sure, she’ll get dressed up and go to the premiere but Moore, who grew up an army brat and learned about the malleability of behavior through her constant relocations, is usually long gone by the time the lights go down. She’s stated in interviews that she’s interested in the nuances of her characters and how she’s able to bring those to life, in the small moments on set that invariably end up in her work. Seeing herself on-screen isn’t the validation of her performance – the act of creation is.
8. Joaquin Phoenix
There’s a wild unknowability about Joaquin Phoenix that is the key to many of his greatest performances. He’s all raw nerve and hidden despair in The Master as the damaged WWII veteran Freddie Quell, and his Oscar-nominated portrayal of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line teeters between self-destruction and redemption. And if anyone can explain just exactly what was happening in I’m Still Here, we’d love to know.
Phoenix has commented that he avoids watching his films because he doesn’t want to see himself the way the camera does. It’s a sentiment that a lot of the actors and actresses on this list share since the camera reveals things we may not necessarily want to see. The greatest enemy of acting is insecurity, so if staying away from his work helps him keep his head in the game then we’re all for it.
7. Nicole Kidman
Throughout her career Nicole Kidman has tackled some pretty tough roles. She oozed murderous charm as an ambitious meteorologist in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For, and managed to escape Lars Von Triers’ emotionally draining Dogville relatively unscathed (if repeatedly stating you’ll never work with the notoriously difficult Danish director again counts). She even survived a decade-long marriage to Scientologist Tom Cruise and a surprise divorce that she still refuses to speak about.
And yet the Oscar-winning actress steadfastly refuses to see any of her films – with the exception of Moulin Rouge, which she reluctantly saw at Baz Luhrmann’s request. She professes to constantly doubt herself, which is the death knell of creativity. But considering how many of her roles deal with dark themes – in Dogville she’s unwittingly held hostage by a manipulative town, and she struggles with mental illness and depression as author Virginia Woolf in The Hours – maybe it’s best to leave them in the past.
6. Harrison Ford
An entire generation grew up watching Harrison Ford rescue kidnapped children, fight Nazis, and constantly chase after Marcus Brody. He’s been in some of the biggest franchises in Hollywood history and played an indelible part in so many lives that it’s hard to believe the actor when he says he’s never seen any of the films he made as adventurous archaeologist Indiana Jones.
But it also makes a certain amount of sense. Ford isn’t the kind of actor who picks roles on whether they’re likely to win him an Oscar. When he was struggling in the late 1960s to get his career off the ground he supported his family by becoming a carpenter and working as a roadie for The Doors. He spends his free time flying helicopters and fixed-wing planes in Wyoming, where he’s volunteered as part of a mountain rescue team. Ford likes to get things done and when they’re over he’s on to the next thing.
5. Robert Pattinson
Long before he had his face splashed all over the globe because of Twilight, Robert Pattinson was told by a drama teacher that he simply didn’t have the talent to make it as an actor. And despite his admittedly embarrassing beginning as the brooding vampire Edward Cullen, post-Twilight Pattinson has become an infinitely more interesting actor to watch. He’s branched out in not one but two David Cronenberg films (the head-scratching Cosmopolis and the darkly funny Maps to the Stars) and been praised for his work with Werner Herzog, David Michod, and Anton Corbijn.
But that underdog feeling, of feeling like an imposter, is what stuck with the actor, who tries to avoid watching his films as much as possible. Otherwise he’d nitpick every flaw and second-guess every choice that made it up on to the big screen, when it’s too late for him to do anything about it.
4. Jesse Eisenberg
It’s one thing for an actor to say they don’t watch their movies because they’re insecure, or because they move on from a character and never look back. But an actor who doesn’t watch movies at all is like a baker who doesn’t eat bread or a pilot who hates flying–simply inconceivable.
And yet Jesse Eisenberg has admitted in interviews that he’s given up watching movies and has little knowledge of what’s happening in Hollywood. The introspective star of The Squid and the Whale and The Social Network has been open about his struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression, and considers acting to be his way of coping and dealing with his anxiety. If getting in front of a camera and losing yourself in a fictional character is what keeps you upright than it’s easy to see why you might not want to think about it too deeply.
3. Johnny Depp
More so than any other actor on this list, Johnny Depp has perfected the art of cinematic transformations (though, like De Niro, he’s lately had more misses than hits). From the gothic fantasy of Edward Scissorhands to the charmingly dissolute Capt. Jack Sparrow, Depp has been hiding in plain sight for years.
And maybe that’s been his plan all along, which is why the actor has famously never seen any of his movies. Not Public Enemies, or Sweeney Todd, or even Dark Shadows (which, to be fair, no one else saw either). He’s said in interviews that his sole job is to bring a character to life and once he’s done with his part of the process the finished film has little meaning for him. Which is understandable, considering that once it’s gone through the post-production and editing stages a film can be a drastically different beast than when it first started.
2. Angelina Jolie
Not even someone who’s been named the most beautiful woman in the world several times over can stand to watch herself on the big screen. Like Julianne Moore and others on this list, Jolie’s satisfaction comes from the process of acting. She commits herself to someone else’s life by making untold numbers of little choices that illuminate her fully-formed characters. Girl, Interrupted was supposed to be Winona Ryder’s comeback but Jolie stole the show (and won an Oscar) with a wild and vulnerable performance that demanded our full attention.
But the Oscar-winning actress apparently makes some exceptions. She’s stated that the only time she can watch a film she’s made is if she feels truly connected to it and is proud of the work she’s done, which sounds like the world’s biggest backhanded compliment to the films she hasn’t seen. What’s made the list? What hasn’t? Enquiring minds want to know.
1. Meryl Streep
Like Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep has spent the last four decades slipping in and out of character with the ease of putting on a pair of pajamas. There’s the broken Polish refugee of Sophie’s Choice; the Faustian and fashionable editrix of The Devil Wears Prada; and the joyful culinary pioneer at the heart of Julie & Julia. But the versatile actress initially had doubts about whether she wanted to pursue acting on-screen at all, and in her early career preferred performing on stage.
It seems like the ambivalence is still with her. The Oscar-winning actress revealed that she watches her films once and then never again. She’s been an intensive study going back to her early days in Kramer vs. Kramer, where she reportedly hung around schools on the Upper East Side watching parents and their children to get a better feel for her character, so it seems appropriate that one viewing is all she’d need before moving on to the next project. And when she’s ready to go camera-free, the stage is always there – she returned to Broadway for the first time in over 20 years with a role in the 2001 production of The Seagull and has since appeared in two other plays.