Photographer Howard Schatz had an idea: place actors in a series of roles and dramatic situations to reveal the essence of their characters. Such was the premise behind his book, In Character: Actors Acting, which captures some of Hollywood’s most emotive stars in the act of, well, making faces. Luckily for us, he continued the tradition for Vanity Fair. Here are some of the best.
Left: You’re a domineering mother, just called a b*tch by your new daughter-in-law, telling her that, oh, she’s only just begun to experience what a b*tch you can be. Center:: You’re a vegan and a Buddhist, dragged to your first prizefight by your newish boyfriend, suddenly on your feet screaming, “Kill him! Kill him!” Right: You’re an eight-year-old kid at the local swimmin’ quarry, bullied by your friends into climbing up to the highest diving cliff.
Left: You’re a seven-year-old boy peeking through the cracks of the wooden stalls where all the teenage girls get changed at the beach. Center:: You’re an old hippie and committed peace activist whose son has just told you he’s joining the Marine Corps. Right: You’re broke and underwater on your house, with all you’ve got left riding on a roulette ball—which has just settled on the number next to yours.
Left: You’re at a college reunion, vamping while you try to remember who the hell this pudgy bald guy is who’s saying he knows you gotta-gotta-gotta remember him. Center:: You’re opening the door at 1:15 A.M. for your husband, who forgot you were giving a dinner party, went to his poker game, and turned off his cell. Right: You’re an angry first wife, hearing from a friend that your ex-husband’s 24-year-old replacement wife is cuckolding him with Yoni, the suave Israeli dog groomer.
Left: You’re a posh shopper in Harrods, fingered by security for putting jars of caviar into your clutch. “I don’t even know how those got in there!” Center:: You’re a homemaker peering out a side window, catching sight of your crew-cutted neighbor posing before a mirror in his wife’s panties. Right: You’re the senior woman in your department, storming into your boss’s office to demand why you’re being let go and your job reassigned to a younger, cheaper, male colleague.
Left: You’re a stay-at-home dad who has chosen to surprise his executive-V.P. wife at the office with a homemade frittata, only to discover her locked in a passionate embrace with her assistant, Diane. Center:: You’re a father whose daughter has been missing for eight hours in a national park, pleading before the TV cameras, “We must find her—please, America, help us find her.” Right: You’re a degenerate gambler in debt to the Mob and you’ve bet your last three grand on a 26-to-1 long-shot filly who is now positioned a neck back down the stretch.
Left: You’re the “pilot” of a drone over Pakistan, watching on your computer screen in Nevada as a rocket you fired vaporizes an al-Qaeda safe house. Center:: You’re a woman suspected of murdering your husband, breaking down after six hours of denials and saying, “All right, I did it—and I’m glad I did it!” Right: You’re a three-year-old drama queen, emphatically letting your mother know your feelings about Brussels sprouts.
Left: You’re three sheets to the wind at the karaoke bar, doing not just “Proud Mary” but a whole frickin’ Creedence medley. Center:: You’re a mall cop who was once told, back in ’96, that you look a lot like Brad Pitt—and, alas, you still believe it. Right: You’re an 11-year-old boy perched backward on a bus seat, pretending to be grossed out by the girl you’re secretly crushing on.
Left: You’re a factory foreman with $200 riding on the game, watching your team’s placekicker muff a 23-yarder with 0:01 remaining. Center:: You’re a first-time skydiver, reacting to your instructor’s saying it’s your turn: “What? Can’t hear you! Sorry ... what?” Right: You’re in the back row of sixth-grade health class, exulting with your pal in the fact that your female teacher just uttered the word “pen*s.”
Left: You’re the office toady, having a dutiful laugh over your boss’s latest racist joke—and all too aware that everyone else at work hates you. Center:: You’re a Miss Universe finalist in the nanosecond between being named fifth runner-up and remembering to flash your best I’m-so-happy smile. Right: You’re the school doofus, blissfully unaware that your having just been named prom king is a cruel, Carrie-style stunt by your classmates.
Left: You’re a priest in a hardscrabble factory-town parish, listening to your brother’s son confess that he has killed a man. Center:: You’re a gangsta rapper being informed by a haughty bouncer that you are not on the list. Right: You’re a six-year-old who has skinned his knee in the playground, waiting to cry until your mom gets off her cell phone.
Left: You’re a broke, struggling screenwriter emerging from a pitch lunch at a Beverly Hills restaurant, just in time to see a landscaper's pickup back into your borrowed Lamborghini. Center:: You’re a stoned, purely mercenary substitute teacher telling your third-graders, “Anyone who makes any noise while I’m resting will be sent home to Mommy in several little boxes.” Right: You’re a nerdy 11-year-old video gamer surrounded by BlizzCon posters and fellow nerds, and you’re taking this particular session of World of Warcraft waaay too seriously.
Left: You’re Adam, a five-year-old boy sneaking your pet rat into your seven-year-old sister’s underwear drawer. Center:: You’re Lacey, the seven-year-old sister, having just opened the drawer. Right: YYou’re Adam, hiding in Lacey’s closet as she screams, “Adaaaaaam!!!”
Left: You’re a finalist on America’s Next Top Model who is hearing Tyra tell the other girl she’s out—and you’re prepping to give your nemesis a “sincere” hug. Center:: You’re a stand-up comic performing at a Toronto showcase packed with S.N.L. and HBO scouts—and your “lesbian chickens” bit is utterly tanking. Right: You’re, like, 15, and he’s, like, 17, and even tho U have only ever said, like, “Hey” in the hallways, he’s just texted 2 ask U 2 B his D8 @ the prom!!! the prom!!!
THOMAS HADEN CHURCH
Left: You’re the head of the Naples Mob, listening to a young lieutenant announce that he’s branching off to form his own operation: “That’s O.K. by you, right, boss?” Center:: You’re a gay decorator who has just been hired to “do” one of the emir’s palaces, but first, says his deputy, the emir insists upon having you over to dinner … with your wife. Right: You’re a 15-year-old emerging from a college party (where you’re not supposed to be), watching some frat boys abscond with your dad’s Lamborghini (which you’re not supposed to have).
Left: You’re fresh out of the Yale School of Drama, desperately overselling Lady Macbeth’s “Out, damn’d spot! Out, I say!” speech at a summer-rep audition. Center:: You’re a 13-year-old girl, seething as your precocious younger brother is heaped with lavish praise at an extended-family gathering. Right: You’re a lonely woman with a stalker’s crush on a TV star, spotting him coming out of a restaurant and certain that he is making a beeline toward you!
Left: You’re a child swallowing a spoonful of medicine that your mom promised would taste good, and now she’s telling you that if it didn’t taste awful it wouldn’t work. Center:: You’re at a social dinner with your work colleagues and their spouses, desperately trying to signal your partner to stop talking so freely about your shared s*x life. Right: You’re a bunny-level skier who has decided to try a black-diamond slope, and now, with no idea how to stop, you’re headed straight for a tree.
Left: You’re the new longboarder on the secret beach with the famous break, preparing for the onslaught from the territorial locals. Center:: You’re a suburban car dealer demonstrating in your three a.m. ad slot how much your customers $$$AVE when they come to you! Right: You’re a Romanian gymnastics coach, exasperated at the failings of your 12-year-old star pupil, screaming, “You are imbecile!”
Left: You’re an N.B.A. power forward who’s been lightly grazed by an opponent, flailing and wincing with Oscar-worthy panache to elicit a foul call. Center:: You’re an insufferable epicure at a revered restaurant in Lyon, having an out-of-body experience on your very first bite. Right: You’re a high-school freshman who’s just been publicly hazed by a bullying senior, skulking away ashamedly—but getting the last word.
Left: You’re a rookie cop whose sergeant is telling you that the boy you just killed was holding a cell phone, not a gun. Center:: You’re a city kid using a telescope to spy on people in other buildings—and catching your math teacher in bed with your guidance counselor. Right: You’re a presidential candidate at an epic meet-and-greet fund-raiser, holding that smile in place as you work the endless rope line.
Left: You’re at your first official White House dinner, trying not to nod off while Joe Biden regales your table with tales of brokering backroom deals with Howard Baker in the 70s. Center:: You’re in a meeting with your national-security team when an aide whispers in your ear that the Reverend Jeremiah Wright has just shown up unannounced at the White House gates. Right: A month after your inauguration, you discover that Dick Cheney’s “undisclosed location” was a pantry in the private residence—and he’s still there!