Welcome to ACTING UP. This is the fourth installment in a weekly Casting Networks feature designed to call attention to standout roles and performances in television/streaming and film. It will spotlight work in projects that have recently been released as well as work in projects being released that same week. The column will also tell you how those actors and actresses got to where you see them now. Read up and watch these performances as your weekly in-home acting class.
Fourth up: Ben Whishaw of the just-premiered Disney fantasy “Mary Poppins Returns” and Charlotte Best in the new Netflix original series “Tidelands.”
THE PERFORMER: Ben Whishaw
THE FILM: “Mary Poppins Returns”
THE PERFORMANCE: Whishaw is a wonder of British reserve and angst in his role as the now-grown widower Michael Banks in “Poppins Returns,” struggling to maintain his equilibrium even while blessed with a dose of Mary magic (from star Emily Blunt). He’s faced with losing the enchanted family home of multiple generations due to a downturn in their fortunes, and now, basically, everything sucks for him and his own motherless offspring.
He presents mostly as a sad-sack, but one who can move you with his expressive face alone. Whishaw even joins in the song a couple of times, including near the beginning when he has a conversation with his tragically deceased wife: “I can surely use a few suggestions in how to brush our daughter’s hair.”
There’s also Michael’s charming cluelessness upon Mary’s arrival on the other end of a kite, assuring her, “You don’t seem to have aged at all” and “About your employment – The truth is I can’t afford you.” It’s like, dude, you don’t seem to get it. She’s ageless and free, at least to you.
And it feels glorious when Whishaw’s Mr. Banks chimes in tunefully at the end in the catchy number “Nowhere to Go But Up” alongside none other than Angela Lansbury and Lin-Manuel Miranda, among others.
THE CAREER: The biggest break for Whishaw came in 2012 when he was cast as “Q” in the James Bond flick “Skyfall,” which he reprises in the next Bond film “Bond 25” alongside Daniel Craig and due for release in February 2020. There were also a couple of gigs playing the voice of Paddington the Bear in both “Paddington” (2014) and “Paddington 2” (2017).
While Whishaw (a Brit) has mostly been a well-kept secret here in the States, he’s enjoyed an accomplished career on the other side of the pond. He’s starred in a boatload of English TV and film projects, notably earlier this year portraying Brutus in a “National Theatre Live” presentation of Julius Caesar. And he just landed a Golden Globe nomination for the Amazon miniseries “A Very English Scandal” that starred Hugh Grant.
THE PERFORMER: Charlotte Best
THE SERIES: “Tidelands” on Netflix
THE PERFORMANCE: Best is a whirling dervish of brooding intensity and sexual energy as Calliope McTeer, the beguiling name given to her in this Australian-produced entry for Netflix. She’s drop-dead gorgeous in this futuristic-feeling crime drama, but she’s not to be messed with. The first time we lay eyes on her, she’s about to be released from prison and kicks the butts of two fellow female cons from here to Queensland.
She’s not shy, this Calliope (“Cal” for short). Says she: “I’m back, and I want what’s mine!” Then there is this charming rejoinder to a poor sap hitting on her in a bar: “Take your shriveled dick and fuck off!”
The reason Cal was behind bars in the first place becomes clearer as the eight-part “Tidelands” goes along. Without spoiling anything, she gets imprisoned as a young teen and returns home 10 years later – looking like a model, her high-cheekbones flawless, her makeup impeccable – ready to sort out her life. One thing that’s clear is she’s not happy with her mom, barking, “What sort of mother lets her 14-year-old get dragged away?” Indeed.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Best’s performance here is in her making us believe that someone who looks like she does can be left so beleaguered and sucker-punched by life. She turns what could easily be a clichéd mess into a beguiling showcase.
THE CAREER: Nearly all of the 24-year-old Best’s work has been Down Under, as she’s an Aussie herself. Her primary claim to fame prior to “Tidelands” came in a featured role on the long-running Australian soap “Home and Away” from 2007-10. That was followed up by work in the drama series “Puberty Blues” from 2012-14, and in two seasons of the horror thriller “Skinford” (2017 and ’18).