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Sandie Angulo Chen

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Sandie Angulo Chen is a movie critic, WAFCA member, mother to three budding cinephiles, and a paid expert on what movies will give kids nightmares.

The 15 Most Intense Actors Alive

It’s common knowledge that actors feel things we normal humans cannot.

Their range of emotions mirrors ours — they, too, experience fear, rage, envy, disgust, love and affection, like we do — but at a much higher, much more intense level.

And within this rarefied existence, there is a select group of super-sensitive men, 15 thespian masters who feel and convey their emotions with greater intensity than anyone else alive.  The unquestioned devotion of these men to the art of projecting feeling into our hearts and guts comes through, not just in their roles, but in their entire lives.

15. Jeremy Renner
Age: 41
Must-See Performances: “The Bourne Supremacy” (2012); “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” (2011); “The Town” (2010); “The Hurt Locker” (2008)
Intensity Factor: Renner was a late bloomer in Hollywood, catapulting on the scene in his mid-30s with his breathtaking performance in Kathryn Bigelow’s explosive drama “The Hurt Locker.” His Oscar-nominated turn showed off a particular gift for immersing himself in a character – whether it’s a fearless officer, a gritty bank robber or a kickass secret agent.

Tommy Lee Jones14.  Tommy Lee Jones
Age: 65
Must-See Performances: “No Country For Old Men” (2007); “The Fugitive” (1993); “JFK” (1991); “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1980)
Intensity Factor: Some actors can be both breezy and serious (think Clooney or Hanks), but Jones is really best when he’s somber, scowling and addressing some menace that only he can stop – or that only he will try to.  His rumination on the nature of evil in the conclusion of “No Country” has become the emblematic monologue for a grave man confronting an even graver threat.

13. Daniel Craig
Age: 41
Must-See Performances: “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011); “Casino Royale” (2006); “Munich” (2005); “Layer Cake” (2005)
Intensity Factor: Craig singlehandedly transformed James Bond from a smooth and aloof sophisticate to a passionate, vulnerable spy unlike we’d ever seen in previous 007s. But Craig brings that same signature focus to all of his roles and can burn up the screen in any accent: from a ruthless English drug lord to a South-African Jewish assassin to a Swedish investigative reporter.

12. Samuel L. Jackson
Age: 63
Must-See Performances: “Pulp Fiction” (1994); “Eve’s Bayou” (1997); “Jackie Brown” (1997); “The Avengers” (2012)
Intensity Factor: There’s a reason Sam Jackson elicits hoots of admiration every time he first pops up in a film – his badassery is legend. With his unflinching stare and his knack for turning curse words into Biblical intonations of menace, Jackson is always an intense presence on screen. He’d earn a spot on this list just for Jules; but he’s always a “bad mother@#$!”

Christopher Walken11. Christopher Walken
Age: 69
Must-See Performances: “True Romance” (1993); “The Dead Zone” (1983); “The Deer Hunter” (1978)
Intensity Factor: Walken is more of a comic performer these days, but the iconic man with the piercing eyes and distinctive New York cadence can be one of the most intimidating actors when the role demands it. The lanky Queens-born thespian is an expert at completely taking on his characters – the evil ones, the insane ones and the deeply troubled ones, like his prisoner-of-war in “The Deer Hunter.”

10. Leonardo DiCaprio
Age: 37
Must-See Performances: “Inception” (2010); “The Departed” 2006); “The Aviator” (2004); “Romeo + Juliet” (1996)
Intensity Factor: He may have started his career a baby-faced adolescent heartthrob who could make all the girls swoon, but he evolved into one of (or arguably THE) best actor of his generation, nailing intense performances in epic romances, biopics and mob dramas alike. And somehow he is even more swoon-worthy as a man than he was as a teen.

9. Edward Norton
Age: 42
Must-See Performances: “The Illusionist” (2006); “Fight Club” (1999); “American History X” (1998)
Intensity Factor: Ever since his scene-stealing debut performance in “Primal Fear,” Norton has proven he’s a Method actor willing to alter his body, speech patterns, even his gait to match a character’s personalities. The Yale-trained actor never dials it in and is notorious for being incredibly controlling of everything from the lighting to the editing on his films.

Gary Oldman
8. Gary Oldman
Age: 54
Must-See Performances: “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012); “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (2011); “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004); “The Professional” (1994)
Intensity Factor: He’s played Sid Vicious, Lee Harvey Oswald, Commissioner Gordon and Sirius Black, but until Oldman played British spy George Smiley, he had not scored an Academy Award nomination. It’s a statistic that’s hard to believe, because Oldman’s an inimitably intense actor who makes each movie he’s in that much better just by his “don’t mess with me” presence.

7. Forest Whitaker
Age: 51
Must-See Performances: “The Last King of Scotland” (2006); “Panic Room” (2002); “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” (1999); “Bird” (1988)
Intensity Factor: The actor-producer-director is hulk of a man, and he can use that strapping frame of his to play anything from one of the most ferociously sadistic tyrants of the 20th century to a mob hitman who lives by a samurai code. With his soothing voice (he’s a trained opera singer!), Whitaker can be mislabeled a gentle giant, but there’s a smoldering to quality to every character he portrays.

6. Benicio Del Toro
Age: 45
Must-See Performances: “Savages” (2012); “21 Grams” (2003); “Traffic” (2000); “The Usual Suspects” (1995)
Intensity Factor: When Del Toro is on the screen, there’s no other actor you want to watch. The Puerto Rican Oscar winner is a study in nuanced, controlled performances that can be chilling (“Savages”) or tender (“21 Grams”) or downright unforgettable (“The Usual Suspects”). There are few actors (outside of this list, of course) who can pull off such fierce roles time and time again.

Russell Crowe5. Russell Crowe
Age: 48
Must-See Performances: “3:10 to Yuma” (2007); “A Beautiful Mind” (2001);”Gladiator” (2000); “The Insider” (1999)
Intensity Factor: Crowe is master and commander of being as intense on camera as he is off. It’s all in the eyes – which could kill you dead one second and seduce you the next. He’s a brawler, a warrior and a lover all rolled up in one, and when his Maximus proclaims: “At my signal, unleash hell, ” there’s never any doubt his followers will obey. (And, of course, his off-camera intensity is legendary.)

4. Javier Bardem
Age: 43
Must-See Performances: “Biutiful” (2004); “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (2008); “No Country for Old Men” (2007);  “The Sea Inside” (2004)
Intensity Factor: The Spanish actor gained notoriety in the States in 2000 with his unforgettable portrayal of gay Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in “Before Night Falls” and has yet to turn in anything but a revelatory performance since then. He’s Spain’s answer to Sean Penn and Daniel Day-Lewis – only even more awesome, because he can summon the intensity in two languages.

3. Christian Bale
Age: 38
Must-See Performances: “Batman” trilogy; “The Fighter” (2010); “Rescue Dawn” (2006); “Velvet Goldmine” (1998)
Intensity Factor: Like Crowe, Bale has a reputation for being intimidating and focusing all of his energy on his performances – to the point of lashing out if anything interferes with his process.  Bale is an actor so committed to his craft he’s willing to make startling transformations to inhabit his varied characters, from the brooding moralism of his Bruce Wayne/Batman combo to the tragically self-destructive Dicky Eklund.

Sean Penn2. Sean Penn
Age: 51
Must-See Performances: “Milk” (2008); “Mystic River” (2003); “The Thin Red Line” (1998); “Dead Man Walking” (1995).

Intensity Factor: Who would have thought that Spicoli, the befuddled stoner of Ridgemont High, would grow into the Brando of his generation?  Penn’s matchless ability to transform himself into his characters, whether a self-righteous gay activist or self-pitying death-row inmate, never fails to fascinate viewers.  His off-screen crusades, ranging from anti-paparazzi vendettas to his unprecedented devotion to post-earthquake Haiti, appears to flow from the same well of intensity that fuels his acting.

1. Daniel Day-Lewis
Age: 55
Must-See Performances: “There Will Be Blood” (2008); “Gangs of New York” (2003); “In the Name of the Father” (1993); “My Left Foot” (1989); The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (1988)
Intensity Factor: Each of his 18 movies required Day-Lewis to explore the utter extremes of human emotion: an unstoppable devotion to creativity in “My Left Foot;” an implacable devotion to Irish freedom in “Father” and to Irish genocide in “Gangs,” and an unquenchable greed in “Blood.”  These epics demanded an intensity that few actors have matched even once, buut that Day-Lewis (famous for unsettling his cast-mates by staying in character on set) delivered in each.


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Tags: Daniel craig, Leonardo dicaprio, Samuel l. jackson

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