There's something in the water over there... In Hollywood, actors take on a role and perform wonderfully; they might even transform themselves for a character here or there. However, for the most part, they remain themselves -- the personality changing while the image remains. But if you head on over to Britain, the tide turns. While watching a few Michael Fassbender films over the weekend, I was struck by the number of British actors I admire for their ability to not only bring wonderful depth to their roles, but their ability to offer a wholly convincing physical metamorphosis.
Having initially steered clear of 300, I was introduced to Fassbender in Hunger, the film where the actor himself almost wasted away to nothing in order to show the slow, starving death of Irish Republican Army volunteer Bobby Sands. Fast-forward to this weekend, and I finally caught up with screenings of Inglorious Basterds and 300. I found myself instantly charmed by Lt. Archie Hicox -- never cluing in until the credits rolled that this was Fassbender. The next day brought 300, a jump taking the actor from WWII army man to a ripped Spartan warrior. Each was excellent, and each required effort to think of the actor as himself and not his character. (Delightfully, it's a trend that looks to be continuing as Fassbender takes on everything from Jonah Hex to Jane Eyre.)
And he's certainly not the only one adeptly morphing from role to role. Michael Sheen is the man from Music Within, Frost/Nixon, Underworld, and New Moon. Gary Oldman has morphed into everything from Dracula to Sid Vicious to Sirius Black. On a slightly lesser scale (since he rarely seems to fade away 100% in his roles) Christian Bale has played an American Psycho, The Machinist, and The Dark Knight.
The best answer I can come up with is the higher dedication to theater. However, while that certainly explains the acting talent, it doesn't really explain the metamorphosis -- how these men's bodies and personalities bend at will. Is it merely a higher dedication to the craft? A talent microbe in the UK water? Weigh in below -- Why do you think so many British actors are wonderfully versatile?