Jesse Eisenberg Is Stealing Roles From Michael Cera

ROME, ITALY - APRIL 13:  Jesse Eisenberg attends the 'To Rome With Love' World Premiere at Auditoriun Parco Della Musica on A
ROME, ITALY - APRIL 13: Jesse Eisenberg attends the 'To Rome With Love' World Premiere at Auditoriun Parco Della Musica on April 13, 2012 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)

It's got to be tough being actor Michael Cera these days. Cera, the male lead in the critically acclaimed teen pregnancy movie, Juno, has the same general look, feel, and demeanor as Jesse Eisenberg, but because Eisenberg is the "bigger name" -- the more popular and bankable actor (he starred in the Academy Award-winning The Social Network) -- he's going to get first shot at roles that might otherwise go to Michael Cera.

Stephen Dorff is another example of this same phenomenon. Dorff is a wonderful actor (if you haven't seen him in Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, do yourself a favor and check it out) who routinely gets snookered by more recognizable actors -- guys who, alas, are actual "movie stars" -- such as Colin Farrell and Edward Norton (both of whom, by the way, are excellent actors in their own right... but that's not the point)

We need to keep in mind that none of these movie parts were cast in stone. Indeed, it's all a matter of chemistry, adaptability, persona, and actor availability. Jake Gyllenhaal for Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg for Matt Damon, Laura Linney for Catherine Keener, Scarlett Johansson for Charlize Theron, Bill Paxton for Bill Pullman, Judi Dench for Maggie Smith. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

So just as the argument can be made that there isn't one single role Jesse Eisenberg could play that Michael Cera couldn't play just as well, the same argument can me made that there isn't one single role the estimable Colin Farrell could play that the under-appreciated and gifted Stephen Dorff couldn't play (and I think Farrell, generous as he is said to be, would be the first to agree).

But let's not get carried away here. No one is saying everything is wide-open, that all movie roles are, by definition, interchangeable. Clearly, anyone suggesting that Andy Dick be given roles originally earmarked for Sean Penn needs to submit to a urine test; and no one is going to argue that Martin Lawrence -- rather than the great Denzel Washington -- should have played the lead in Training Day. Still, when it comes to casting, there is an enormous amount of wiggle-room in Hollywood.

One of my all-time favorite movies is LA Confidential. A great movie, which I've seen maybe half a dozen times and continue to enjoy. Yet I would be willing to concede that it would've been just as good a movie had Aaron Eckhart played the Russell Crowe role, and a youngish James Spader played the Guy Pearce role. And as for James Cromwell as the corrupt head cop, please don't tell me Brian Cox couldn't have played the hell out of that part.

The other day we finally rented The Bourne Legacy, with Jeremy Renner replacing Matt Damon as Jason Bourne (Renner is another "hot" actor who regularly poaches on Stephen Dorff territory). It was an entertaining film. But as I watched Scott Glenn play the government honcho, I couldn't help thinking how good the accomplished "character actor" David Clennon would've been in the same role. It ain't fair.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor, 2nd edition), was a former labor union rep.