Sorry Tom, Katie Holmes is where the art is ...
Now that she's no longer Mrs Tom Cruise, the actress has been wowing the critics on Broadway, writes Liz Kearney
Clever Katie Holmes. She's currently winning over New York audiences with an acclaimed performance on Broadway, and if there's a better way of sticking two fingers up to a world that wrote you off following a split from your much-more-famous husband, it has yet to be discovered.
Scoring favourable reviews from the likes of the New York Times for your part in a demanding theatrical role while your ex is busy hamming it up in a series of poorly received action movies must be a particularly sweet form of dignified revenge.
Opting for a stage role, with all the artistic rigour that entails, over a Hollywood blockbuster was a shrewd move for the erstwhile Mrs Tom Cruise. Because while Katie was once a big star in her own right – appearing in critically lauded films such as Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, winning over millions of teenage male hearts in Dawson's Creek, and more than holding her own in the box-office smash Batman Begins – more recently, she's become better known as the endlessly papped wife-of-Tom/mum-of-Suri than as an accomplished actress.
But now her role in new play Dead Accounts has changed that conversation. The newspapers have finally got something else to say about the 33-year-old star.
"Gamely unkempt and lumpen, Ms Holmes suggests what might have happened to Joey Potter, the ultimate girl-next-door she once portrayed on TV in Dawson's Creek, had she never found true love or left town," said the New York Times, who praised her convincing performance and her 'ease' onstage.
Meanwhile The Hollywood Reporter admired her for bringing "a lovely naturalness to her first starring Broadway role, along with frazzled warmth and judicious glimmers of a more brittle edge." Which is something they probably didn't say about Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible III.
Katie's not the first – or the last – Hollywood star to find out that a spell treading the boards can be an excellent way of regaining a little bit of artistic credibility, if close proximity to fame, fortune and fickle celebrity has left you feeling a little icky.
Scarlett Johansson, Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts and Daniel Radcliffe all plumped for theatre roles as a low-key, high-brow antidote to runaway success on the big screen. Taking on a role in the theatre, where there is no such thing as a second take, is a good way of proving that you're a real actor, not just a pretty face. And it's also a subtle way of letting on that you're in it for the art, not for the moolah.
When Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe set about showing the world that he was more than a bespectacled boy wizard with a bank balance to make his teenage peers weep, he chose the role of a disturbed young man in therapy after blinding six horses in the Peter Shaffer play Equus.
The part required emotional maturity and physical menace from the 17-year-old actor; it also required him to get his kit off. Thankfully, the critics were able to look past the horrors of an unclad Harry Potter and recognise a sterling performance.
"Daniel Radcliffe brilliantly succeeds in throwing off the mantle of Harry Potter, announcing himself as a thrilling stage actor of unexpected range and depth," said the Daily Telegraph, and Daniel's theatre career was born.
Nudity played a similarly prominent role when Nicole Kidman appeared in the West End in Sam Mendes's adaption of David Hare's play about The Blue Room. She too had just walked away from a Tom Cruise marriage and was struggling to find her feet as an actress.
Her feet were not the play's chief talking point, however: famously, the role required Nicole to briefly appear naked on stage, bending over while putting on her knickers. Nicole confessed to being terribly nervous, as well she might have been, but she need not have worried. The audiences liked what they saw.
"Pure theatrical Viagra," purred the critics; the play went to Broadway and Nicole's career went stellar.
After her risqué stage role, Kidman went on to win coveted screen roles in Moulin Rouge and The Hours, for which she won an Oscar. The play proved a big turning point for her: she was not just Tom Cruise's other half – she had real star power in her own right.
"It's amazing how little things lead to bigger things," she said. "The Blue Room basically changed my life."
Of course, for the producers, having a big name in your play is a no-brainer. You're virtually guaranteed huge ticket sales, at least to begin with, regardless of the quality of the production.
Ordinary mortals quiver at the thought of breathing the same air – even for just a couple of hours – as a star we're more used to seeing on screen at the local multiplex. The intimacy of a theatre space offers a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with a bona fide celebrity.
But the Hollywood factor is not always a guarantee that your play will be well-received – or that it won't close within just a few weeks of a much-vaunted opening. Just ask Debra Winger. The Officer and a Gentleman star has rarely acted since her Oscar-nominated appearance in 1993's Shadowlands, but when theatre legend David Mamet came calling, she jumped at the chance to make her Broadway debut in his new play.
But despite the presence of such an elusive star, The Anarchist, which opened several weeks ago, has met with scathing reviews and is already set for closure.
Still, nothing says 'I'm a serious artist' like a stint treading the boards, be it on Broadway, the West End, at the Gate, or, erm, the panto.
Priscilla Presley is currently appearing as the Wicked Queen in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at a London pantomime, a role which may help her limber up for a rumoured return in the remake of Dallas.
But the all-American star, who was once married to Elvis Presley, has admitted that she finds the unique humour of the panto script baffling.
"In all honesty, I really didn't understand the script when I first read it," she revealed. "One of my lines is: 'Go ahead and boo. Boo all you like. Boo all you like'. And I thought, 'Should I be coaxing people to boo at me?'"
Priscilla better get used to the booing if she's to enjoy her stint as the Wicked Queen. But there'll probably be more grandads than usual opting to take the little 'uns to the panto this year, if only to get a glimpse of Elvis Presley's one-time squeeze in the flesh. That's the thing about celebrity appeal: it never gets old.