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Rick Schwartz

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Is Carla Gugino the Jeremy Lin of Actresses?

Posted: 03/12/2012 9:37 am

This is completely unscientific. And I apologize in advance for those of you tired of Lin's name.

I recently had a great only-in-New-York kind of week, in which I saw Linsanity at Madison Square Garden one night and a terrific play called The Road to Mecca at The Roundabout Theatre the next. The Knicks won the game and Jeremy Lin had the crowd buzzing afterwards, for all of the obvious reasons. He's a feel-great story -- talented player, unheralded, unwanted, now proving everyone wrong nearly every game he plays. My favorite part of his emergence is at the core of what he does best: he makes everyone around him better. Of course, that's the true task of a point guard, but it requires a selflessness not often seen in his or many other fields these days.

There are a ton of actresses doing great work in all types of media these days. But after watching Carla Gugino on stage the other night, it occurred to me that her connection to the Knicks' newest playmaker isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.

2012-03-15-CarlaHeadshot.jpg

Gugino's resume is filled with the most eclectic roles imaginable, which may account for why many people have no idea who she is. Here are some of the things she's appeared in -- this is by no means exhaustive, just what I can remember offhand:

TV: Karen Sisco, Spin City, Entourage, Californication, Justified.

Film: Night at the Museum, Spy Kids, Sin City, Watchmen, Mr. Popper's Penguins.

Theatre: Works by Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill, Athol Fugard.

She moves seamlessly from family films to horror to fantasy to comedy to studio blockbusters to tiny independent movies to theatre. That would be like Lin playing all week for the Knicks, suiting up for the Liberty on weekends and hitting the local Y late night just to keep his game sharp.

And here's what's so great about Ms. Gugino: she makes everyone around her better. Ask Ben Stiller or Jim Carrey or Robert De Niro or Dwayne Johnson or Denzel Washington, all of whom she's played opposite, and I'm sure you'd get the same "no-I-in-team" response from them. A true point guard.

Individual sports achievements are measured in comprehensive statistics; in entertainment, there are different, less clear yardsticks. Yet one can look at an actor's career and examine how their movies have performed, the profitability, and the overall box office.

Angelina Jolie is widely regarded as the biggest female movie star in the world. Of all the films in which she's ever appeared, her biggest box office hit to date (in the U.S.) grossed roughly $215m. It was Kung Fu Panda, an animated movie starring Jack Black, and she voiced the role of an aggressive tigress. Gugino's biggest hit so far grossed $250m in the U.S. She was the female lead opposite Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum, and was essentially the only woman in the movie. And this is a comparison with the single biggest star in Hollywood. Gugino's collective grosses for all her films is $1.4 billion, Reese Witherspoon's collective figure is $1.1 billion. The average gross of Gugino's films in the 00's is $60m; Katherine Heigl's average in the same time period is $52m. Admittedly, there's a good part of gray area here, which is why Moneyball was about baseball and not movies. But the comparisons shed an interesting light on who is considered bankable or a star.

One last benefit and shared trait between Lin and Gugino -- they're both a bargain. Right now Lin earns the NBA league minimum, a good living by most measures but a fraction of what nearly all of his counterparts make. Gugino probably commands significantly less than much better-known actresses, though they headline movie after movie, with varying degrees of success. She's not alone in being under-appreciated and under-valued -- there are other actors in comparable situations -- but she's certainly a striking example.

Which begs the question: if you were running your movie like a basketball team, wouldn't you want Gugino playing point guard?