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Actors With On-Screen Habits That Show Up In Almost Every Film

When looking at certain patterns in film, you'll find that there seem to be two types of actors in the entertainment industry. There are the character actors, who are most often seen in supporting roles. They have the ability to mold themselves so completely into their characters that you forget about the actor behind the role, like Gary Oldman or Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Then there are the actors on the other end of the spectrum, whom you often see in leading roles. These are the performers who need to be recognizable to viewers no matter what, since oftentimes, the entire movie is sold on the basis of their names and star power. A-listers like Leonardo DiCaprio, Hugh Jackman, and Brad Pitt belong to this list. While lead actors can and do often win praise for their performances, they can also sometimes fall into a rut of having the same easily identifiable mannerisms or character types in their movies. 

For example, Benedict Cumberbatch seems to have made a habit of playing brilliant but emotionally distant men with a superiority complex. Or there's Arnold Schwarzenegger sporting his thick Austrian accent while playing an American, Russian, or a machine from the future. So, here are some actors, who have made a strange practice of doing the same thing in most of their movies.  

Brad Pitt is always hungry

If you are as distractingly handsome a man as Brad Pitt, it can be difficult to get audiences to pay attention to your acting skills instead of your looks. Pitt has been fighting this uphill battle throughout his entire career. And he has somewhat succeeded by taking the focus off his cheekbones and jawline and instead, using these sharp, angular features to always eat something.

Whether Pitt is enjoying beef stew in "The Assassination of Jessie James," digging into some pot roast in "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," or licking peanut butter off a spoon in "Meet Joe Black," the actor often looks like he forgot to eat before the director yelled "Action!," and is now trying to make up for it right in the middle of the scene. Actors often look for physical things to do in a scene instead of simply standing with their hands by their sides spouting lines, and it seems Pitt has hit the sweet spot for this technique via eating.

Pitt seems to be fully aware that the audience is onto him with regards to his onscreen habit of chowing down in full view of the camera. "I like to busy myself," the actor told Joe.ie in an interview. "I'm a grazer by nature." The trick seems to be working out just fine for Pitt, since he continues to get leading roles and won his first acting Oscar for his supporting role in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" in 2020.

Kristen Stewart keeps gasping for breath

The 2000s marked a new era for Hollywood stardom. Whereas in the past, actors usually had to climb the ranks through well-received roles in smaller movies before moving on to bigger projects, the 2000s brought a boom in franchises (via The Financial Times). This meant that relatively unknown actors could be catapulted into the big leagues overnight, all thanks to a major franchise role.

Kristen Stewart is a prime example of a somewhat unknown actress, who went from middling roles in indie projects to becoming the face of the super successful "Twilight" series as Bella Swan. The young actress was suddenly in the critical glare of the spotlight, which meant that all of her habits and mannerisms were examined carefully.

Audiences noticed that Stewart tends to bring the same "awkward" persona to many of her roles, which can make these different characters appear the same. Her habits include gasping or sighing in the middle of a scene, nervously running her hand through her hair, and opening and closing her mouth for no reason. However, Stewart seems to have broken some of these habits once she moved on from "Twilight" and started taking on more complex roles based on real people.

Tom Cruise will find a reason to run

The age of leading action movie stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, and Bruce Lee seems to have largely passed. Nowadays, any actor can be an action star with the help of CGI and a superhero suit. However, one old-school action star who refuses to slow down or stop doing death-defying stunts is Tom Cruise. 

Decades into his career, Cruise continues to craft breathtaking fight and chase sequences in his movies, from the "Mission: Impossible" franchise to the "Top Gun: Maverick." All of these films see Cruise putting his life on the line to give audiences something to gasp at on the big screen. And the films also have Cruise urgently running from one place to another.

The "Tom Cruise running" scene has become an enduring part of his movies. The actor's running stance has been copied and parodied countless times, and the superstar himself seems to be aware of the weight of expectations when it comes to running in his movies. So much so that Annabelle Wallis, one of Cruise's co-stars, told The Hollywood Reporter that the actor doesn't like to have other people run in his movies if they can't keep up with him. In fact, he finally agreed to let her run alongside him in 2017's "The Mummy" once she proved she could handle it: "I would time my treadmill so that [Cruise would] walk in and see me run. And then he added all these running scenes. ... It was, like, better than an Oscar. I was so happy! I was so happy that I got to run on-screen with Tom Cruise."

Samuel L. Jackson will swear at you

Few supporting actors have managed to create as memorable a legacy of roles as Samuel L. Jackson. From "Pulp Fiction" to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the actor has played a number of noteworthy characters, who all have one thing in common: They are hardened no-nonsense dudes, who will always tell you the honest truth with liberal doses of swearing. 

Thanks to his previous work in movies like "Menace II Society" and "True Romance," Jackson had already made a name for himself prior to "Pulp Fiction," but it was his role as the Bible-loving hitman Jules Winnfield in that Quentin Tarantino film that really put the actor on the map. Ever since then, Jackson has been asked to play some variation of a foul-mouthed man of action in a number of blockbusters. Even the squeaky clean MCU made a reference to Jackson's fondness for cursing at the end of "Avengers: Infinity War." 

With Jackson's long and distinguished history of being a potty mouth, it might surprise fans to learn that he comes in third place on the list of actors who have said the most swear words in movies, following Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill. "That's some bulls**t!" Jackson declared to Jimmy Fallon upon learning the news, before adding, "I don't believe that. Somebody has miscounted." 

Tom Hanks really needs to use the bathroom

Few leading actors have had as distinguished a career as Tom Hanks. From winning Oscars to succeeding at the box office, Hanks has done it all in his decades-long career. And in all that time and in all of his very different roles, one thing that has remained the same is the urgency with which Hanks' characters suddenly have to use the bathroom. 

Whether he is teaching the world the joys of baseball in "A League of Their Own," telling John F. Kennedy he needs to take a leak in "Forrest Gump," or simply showing space who's the boss by letting loose with his bladder in "Apollo 13," Hanks seems to always find a way to make the call of nature a part of his characters' journey.

What makes the whole thing even more fascinating is the very evident pleasure that many of Hanks' characters take in getting to relieve themselves in front of the camera. Considering how often he does it, the habit seems to be a deliberate action on Hanks' part. Perhaps it comes from his well-developed sense of humor, which he's honed through hosting "Saturday Night Live" so many times and playing in comedies like "Big" and "Forrest Gump."

Meryl Streep will find a reason to cry

Meryl Streep is one of the greatest actors the world has ever known. Not surprisingly, being such an institution in her field of work means that Streep's every move gets examined and dissected. In all of her roles, Streep has managed to bring genuine drama and pathos, and fans have noticed that one major way she accomplishes this is by crying in most — if not all — of her movies.

Seriously, the venerated actress turns on the waterworks every chance she gets. Streep is so committed to the task that she even managed to find a scene to cry in while playing Margaret Thatcher, a woman known as "The Iron Lady." Crying on cue is a difficult thing for most actors to be able to pull off effectively across several roles. However, Streep has made an art form out of it because part of her job as an actor is to help audiences "understand different emotions and realities," as she told students during a talk at The University of Texas at Austin.

Ultimately, what saves Streep's crying from becoming repetitive or predictable is her ability to bring a fresh angle to all of her crying scenes. Sometimes it's only her eyes that fill up with tears, as in "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979). Sometimes its a full-on sobbing like at the end of "Doubt" (2008). Sometimes it's a loud scream-cry hybrid that is more scary than pitiful, as seen in "Big Little Lies" (2019). But no matter the way she does it, Streep's crying scenes always affect the audience at an intimate level. 

Leonardo DiCaprio will yell at someone or toast them

Few Hollywood A-listers carry the star power of Leonardo DiCaprio. While he first made his promising start in the indie movie scene, he then had a meteoric rise to fame with the success of 1997's "Titanic." With his long and varied film history behind him, DiCaprio has firmly positioned himself as that rare lead who can bring audiences to theaters, despite the fact that he mostly avoids big-budget blockbusters.

DiCaprio has played a wide variety of roles, from a charming conman to an eccentric millionaire to a slave plantation owner to a despicable Wall Street broker. Despite their differences, these characters do all share one thing in common: a love of raising a toast. A number of DiCaprio's movies feature the star directly facing the camera and making a toast, as if he is indirectly acknowledging the audience themselves for choosing to see the film.

If not toasting, however, DiCaprio's characters have a tendency to scream a lot during an emotional breakdown. There's the moment when his character in "Shutter Island" comes to grips with the tragedy that took his family, or the absolute masterclass in scream-acting that DiCaprio indulges in during "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," to name a few. After years of getting scorned by the Academy, DiCaprio finally received an Oscar for Best Actor for one of his loudest roles in "The Revenant" (2015), and we can only imagine that he made a toast for his win that night. 

Paul Dano keeps getting beat up

Paul Dano had a relatively low-key start to his career with a supporting role in the 2004 teen rom-com "The Girl Next Door." The part did not require too much from Dano physically, but it also did not provide him much room to showcase his acting chops in a way that made him stand out. 

After that, Dano got the opportunity to dedicate himself to more serious roles in critically acclaimed movies. And that somehow translated into playing characters that just keep on getting absolutely wrecked by the hero of the movie. Dano got the chance to star opposite one of the greatest living actors in "There Will Be Blood." For him, that means getting slapped silly by Daniel Day-Lewis in a public setting.

In 2013, Dano starred opposite imposing talents like Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Prisoners." For Dano, this means having not one, but three separate scenes of getting brutally assaulted by Jackman and others. Ironically, one of the movies where Dano's character received the least amount of beating was 2022's "The Batman." Despite playing the main villain against a superhero known for leaving his enemies in hospitals, Dano's Riddler does not get into a physical altercation with the Dark Knight personally. He does get a bit manhandled by the police, but considering the star's long history of being tossed around, we can imagine it was a bit of a relief to find himself outside of the sights of the Caped Crusader.

Sean Bean needs to die

There are some actors who play such compelling characters on-screen that you don't feel like watching the movie if the character is removed for any reason. The opposite is true for veteran actor Sean Bean, who can't seem to be able to survive any narrative all the way to the end, no matter how heroic or interesting his character might be.

The "Sean Bean dies in every movie" bit is so known that it actually became an internet meme. Filmmakers have found a number of creative ways to off Bean's characters, whether it's having him nobly defend Frodo with his dying breath in the first "Lord of the Rings" movie, or making him get dropped from an antenna in 1995's "GoldenEye"

The trend has become so pronounced that it even followed the actor into television, where the death of Sean Bean's character Ned Stark in the first season of "Game of Thrones" became the tipping point for the rest of the series' plot to unfold. After years of suffering and dying onscreen for the sake of his art, Sean Bean has finally put his foot down. "I just had to cut that out and start surviving," the actor told The Sun about his new rule of only accepting roles for characters that survive until the end of the movie. "Otherwise [my character arcs become] all a bit predictable."  

George Clooney does the head wobble

Few actors have as classy an image as George Clooney. If Brad Pitt is the rough-around-the-edges heartthrob, Clooney is the suave, elegant man, who can carry a role based on the strength of his charm alone. What the actor also frequently throws into the mix for some strange reason, however, is a head wobble that you can't help but focus on once you start noticing it.

The patented "George Clooney head wobble" is most noticeable when he plays the Dark Knight in 1997's "Batman & Robin." The tight-fitting mask of the superhero with its unmoving neck part means that every time Clooney has to turn his face, he ends up doing both a weird body swivel and the head wobble. Add in the inexplicable nipples on the bat suit and it is no surprise that Clooney's Batman gets so much grief from fans of the franchise.  

In other movies as well, whenever he has to show extreme emotion in a heated moment, Clooney's go-to acting technique is to wobble his head from the neck upwards, as if the strength of his emotions is threatening to unseat his skull from its base. The trait was so pronounced that according to The New Yorker, Steven Spielberg told Clooney when he was still an up-and-coming television actor, "If you stop moving your head around, you'll be a movie star."

Keira Knightley pouts through clenched teeth

Since entering the spotlight, Keira Knightley has been praised for her classic beauty. One of her most striking features is a dazzling set of teeth that are not just for show, but can also double as a musical instrument, which she demonstrated on The Graham Norton Show. Knightley's famous molars have also been the source of some of her most recognizable acting traits. 

In many of her early movies, the actress made a habit of baring her teeth and speaking through a clenched jaw. You see her do it often in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, as well as in "Atonement" and "Bend it like Beckham." In fact, this look and style of speaking is so recognizable that it has been parodied on social media.  

When not showing off her teeth, Knightley prefers to go in the opposite direction with a prominent pout that showcases her lips instead. The habit was so pronounced that Joe Wright — the director of "Pride and Prejudice" (2005) — had to ban the actress from doing the pout, as she explained on The Graham Norton Show. Knightley noted that her smile had been criticized when she was younger, so she resorted to covering it by pouting, but she eventually got the pout out of her system and could adhere to Wright's request.

Jean-Claude Van Damme will find a way to do the splits

Modern action stars are spoiled for choice. They have unlimited studio resources, an army of expert stuntmen and choreographers, and a green screen setting that can make it look like they are pulling off impossible stunts with ease. Earlier action stars did not have it so easy, and so they had to figure out a way to make an impression on the audience using only personal skills.

For '80s and '90s action star Jean-Claude Van Damm, that meant making use of his martial arts and gymnastics background. One trick from Van Damme's repertoire that quickly caught the attention of the public was his ability to do a complete leg split on any available surface. Soon, it became a tradition for the action star to do the splits at some point in all his movies, which would initiate rapturous applause from fans.

Never mind if the splits don't strictly make sense in the scene, the sight of Van Damme stretching his legs apart to impossible extremes has become so iconic that it was the centerpiece of a viral ad campaign for Volvo. It may be a bit gratuitous, but the Van Damme splits are one of the most fondly remembered parts of Hollywood action scenes in the era before CGI and green screens took over the process of crafting epic fight sequences. 

Harrison Ford points at things

Harrison Ford has played a number of iconic leading man roles in his career, from Han Solo to Indiana Jones. All those characters have extremely forceful personalities, a character trait that appears to come naturally to Ford, which he expresses by forcefully pointing at something or someone in his films. 

Now, the act of pointing itself is fairly common, so it makes sense that plenty of actors have had occasion to point at stuff in some of the roles they play. But it is remarkable how often Ford's characters do so. He dared to point his finger directly in Sean Connery's face when the screen legend played the role of Indiana Jones' father. Han Solo also found occasions to point warningly in the "Star Wars" franchise. 

The act of raising the index finger threateningly seems to be Ford's go-to method to convey anger or authority. The actor himself appears aware of his habit, since he seemed quite amused when Conan O'Brien showed him a supercut of the various "pointing" performances in his roles. Considering how many of those roles have become a beloved part of Hollywood history, Ford is clearly doing something right. 

The Clint Eastwood squint

Even if you have never seen a movie starring Clint Eastwood, chances are you are aware of the actor's famous eye squint from his days of playing cowboys in some of the most iconic westerns of all time. That squint, along with the cigar in his mouth and the six-shooter strapped to his hip came to define the shoot-'em-up genre for several generations of audiences. 

Many fans dream up all manners of backstory for the squint. Maybe it was a way for Eastwood to make his characters look like eagle-eyed sharp shooters. Maybe they tell the story of an old injury the character suffered from before he became the best gunman in the old west. The actual reason behind the squint is quite simple: Eastwood had vision problems while making his cowboy movies, which caused him to narrow his eyes to look at things.

According to a report by Independent.ie, the squint was a result of "the glare of the Spanish sun and [director Sergio] Leone's high-wattage arc lamps." What started out as a character mannerism caused by necessity ended up becoming one of the most iconic parts of the entire western genre. Eastwood continued to showcase his famous squint in later roles, while providing impressionists with an easy way to mimic his acting style.

Dwayne Johnson always hangs out in forests

Dwayne Johnson has established himself as one of the biggest and highest-paid stars in Hollywood. Johnson made his feature film debut as a burly gad guy in 2001's "The Mummy Returns" (when he was still billed as "The Rock"), but soon proved he was capable of playing a host of strong and heroic men in a variety of surroundings ... as long as one of those surroundings happens to be a jungle. 

Whatever narrative journey Johnson's characters embark upon, you can bet he will find himself wading through dense foliage and towering trees at some point. The habit formed early on: 2003's "The Rundown" was the actor's second movie as a leading man, and featured a plot set entirely in the jungle. From there it was only a hop, skip, and a jump over to features like "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" (2017) and "Jungle Cruise" (2021). One fan clearly laid out this pattern on Twitter, showing side-by-side photos of three different Johnson movies, all set in the jungle.

While there is no clear answer for why Johnson's characters are so often shown trying to survive in the wild, the actor did provide a hint about the appeal of the forests while promoting "Jungle Cruise" in 2021. "I remember riding the Jungle Cruise [ride at Disneyland] and it's exciting," Johnson recalled on Instagram (via CinemaBlend). "It's tantalizing in a way, and you don't know what's around the corner. You're transported into this other world." 

Ryan Reynolds is quippy and self-aware

Few actors owe as much to the superhero genre as Ryan Reynolds. Back in the early 2010s, Reynolds was best known for his good looks, his love life, and his middling success as a leading man in rom-coms, which was marked by an occasional attempt to become a blockbuster hero or a serious dramatic actor in films like "Green Lantern" (2011) or "Buried" (2010). 

The problem was, Reynolds could not turn off his razor sharp comedic timing, no matter what type of character he took on. So, all of his roles turned into that of the quippy, mouthy guy. That curse turned into a blessing after Reynolds finally got the green light to make his dream project, 2016's "Deadpool." The actor starred as Wade Wilson, a ... quippy, self-aware action hero with a dark sense of humor. It was a role that seemed tailor-made for him.

"Deadpool" was a huge success, as the first film and its sequel made a whopping combined total of $1.5 billion at the global box office (via The Numbers). Rather than run away from the Wade Wilson persona in his later films, Reynolds instead embraced the identity of the jokingly self-aware hero. All of his roles after "Deadpool" feature him playing some version of Wade Wilson, as he cracks jokes that constantly wink at the fourth wall. Reynolds himself seems perfectly aware of the criticism regarding his habit of playing the same type of character, since that became part of the marketing strategy behind the release of his Netflix movie "The Adam Project."

Bruce Lee screams like no one else

If you were to rate the most virile noises in the history of cinema, where would you place high-pitched screaming? What if the guy doing the screaming is martial arts legend Bruce Lee? Lee made only one single Hollywood movie, and yet his epic strength in that one film was so overwhelming that it turned him into one of the greatest and most recognizable action stars the world has ever known.

After years of playing bit roles in Hollywood and appearing in Chinese movies, Lee exploded onto Hollywood screens with "Enter the Dragon" (1973). The plot of the movie is very basic, but it allowed Lee to showcase his real-life martial arts skills to spellbound audiences. And most of the actor's lightning-fast kicks and punches were accompanied by long drawn-out screams.

The screaming was not just for show, however, but possibly was part of the martial arts concept of expelling the lungs with explosive screams to engage the diaphragm and add more force to strikes (via Next Shark). After Lee's untimely demise, his screams were copied and parodied endlessly. Yet no one else has been able to match the level of intensity that Lee brought to his blood-curdling yells, which signaled a butt-kicking unlike any other.  

Julia Roberts likes to laugh

For a long time in the '90s, Julia Roberts was America's sweetheart thanks to a series of starring roles in rom-coms, back when rom-coms were still a major force at the box office (via The A.V. Club). Roberts became known for playing peppy, upbeat women, whose wide smile often hid a sharper edge underneath.

The romantic films that made Roberts famous not only followed a similar pattern of the genre's beats, but also had something else in common: Roberts' laugh. Roberts burst onto the scene as a rom-com queen in "Pretty Woman" (1990), which included the iconic moment of her character Vivian guffawing when Edward (Richard Gere) snaps a jewelry box shut on her fingers. Director Garry Marshall told the American Film Institute that the scene was improvised and meant for the gag reel (via The Sun), but Roberts' explosive laugh proved so infectious that it made it to the film's final cut. Following this, Roberts managed to include a scene in many of her movies where her character lets out this type of big laugh.

The "Julia Roberts laugh" has been studied and puzzled over by fans for years. It naturally pops up more on the rom-com side of Roberts' resume, but also can be witnessed in her dramatic roles, like in "Steel Magnolias" (1989) and "Mystic Pizza" (1988). As far as onscreen habits go, a joyous laugh seems like a pretty good acting choice, as it's part of what's sustained Julia Roberts' charm for decades.