From Jessica Chastain to Johnny Depp, AFM Provides a Barometer of Career Trajectories

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The market offers a tangible status update for Hollywood talents, with some generating surprising buzz among buyers (Allison Janney?) while others appear on the verge of becoming a late-stage Nic Cage.

IMDb may have the STARmeter, ranking Hollywood’s pool of acting talent into an apparent order of popularity (it’s actually based on visits to their individual pages), but perhaps a more accurate representation of a star’s current career position is available at the AFM.

From a quick observation of the talent in the market brochures and the types of projects to which they’re attached, it’s easy to spot those rising stars having their moment in the indie sun, the established figures getting their foot in the prestige movie door and, of course, the former studio heavyweights who are slipping off the tentpoles and landing in lower-tier indie genre titles.

Nicolas Cage may be the most famous former box-office giant now plying his trade largely in the Loews, where a steady stream of Cage-fronted projects are always up for grabs (this year, he has VMI’s Grand Isle alongside Kelsey Grammer and Moonstone’s Running With the Devil, a project being touted in, of all places, the hotel elevator.) But 2018 also has seen a fresh former A-lister enjoying double AFM duty.

"Could Johnny Depp be the new Nic Cage?" asked one veteran buyer about the troubled actor, who has Minamata, in which he’ll play photojournalist W. Eugene Smith, and literary adaptation Waiting for the Barbarians, in the market. To be fair, both projects are several notches above most of the direct-to-SVOD fare seen at AFM, and this year's market could be more of a stopover than a final career resting place for Depp.

The actor’s multiple recent PR snafus, which have included everything from financial struggles to court battles with his former manager; allegations of abuse against ex-wife Amber Heard; and some less-than-flattering media profiles have many buyers wondering how he’ll weather this stage. Though the actor's swashbuckling Caribbean cash cow has reportedly ended (for him, at least), there’s another coming in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald that could ensure it’s not quite time for a web developer to program a Depp auto film plot generator (as there is for Cage).

Elsewhere, Jessica Chastain has this year earned an AFM darling badge thanks to her starring role as a bloody assassin in the upcoming thriller Eve, which she also produces. THR hears that buyers have flocked to the still-shooting film, action sequences from which Voltage has been screening. "It looks fantastic," said one, "very kick-ass."

The out-of-nowhere success of I, Tonya has boosted the credit rating of Allison Janney and Margot Robbie among international buyers, many of whom admit they were hard-pressed to recognize the actresses before the figure-skating dramedy became a smash worldwide. Here at AFM, the Oscar-winning Janney is a prime selling point for two dark comedies: AGC Studios' Breaking News in Yuba County and Bloom/Endeavor's Bad Education. Meanwhile, Robbie is bouncing back and forth between studio films — Barbie, Suicide Squad 2— and buzzy AFM fare like IMR International's Ruin, a post-WWII drama from Justin Kurzel (Macbeth).

International buyers traditionally have been slow to warm to new talent, preferring to stick to established stars, but Brian O'Shea of The Exchange sees several rising talents generating interest in the marketplace. "We have a new film here [Warning] with Laura Harrier, who was in BlackKklansman, and Lana Condor, who's in the Netflix mega-hit All the Boys I Loved Before," he notes. "Their names have real commercial value on the market now."

And while the AFM for some — Cage, Michael Madsen, John Travolta — can mean rock bottom, talent occasionally can move from the Lowes into studio fare, as go-to tough guy Jason Statham proved in his jump from the world of B-movies on a budget (The Expendables, The Mechanic, Killer Elite) to the monster success of Warner Bros.’ The Meg, which has grossed $527 million worldwide and looks set to spawn a sequel.

AFM insiders say anyone on the lookout for Statham 2.0 should keep an eye on Guardians of the Galaxy star Dave Bautista, headlining his first major project at the 2018 market: STXInternational's action comedy My Spy.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Nov. 3 daily issue at the American Film Market.