One of the most egregious snubs in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences concerns last year’s Best Actor trophy, and no, it has nothing to do with Leonardo DiCaprio. Eddie Redmayne walked away with the Oscar for his turn as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and indeed his performance was groundbreaking and heartfelt. But it pales in comparison to the tour de force delivered by Body, the Hungarian star of Kornél Mundruczó’s White God, in his role as the tortured, tragic, life-loving, revenge-seeking, slobber-mouthed Hagen. Due respect to Redmayne, but Body’s performance is simply one of the most emotional and drool-covered performances in years.
As a young actor Body was met with obstacle after obstacle as he tried to make ends meet while pursuing his craft. He auditioned for some of the most iconic roles of our time and even received a callback for The Beast from The Sandlot, but the dude who played Mr. Mertle claimed Body was “impossible to work with” and cited the Hungarian-English language barrier as a primary qualm. He was an extra in Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch but soon disowned the film and distanced himself from the creative vision of the entire Air Bud series. Body struggled to be taken seriously as an actor, forced to take work in Iams commercials and as a busboy of sorts in the alley behind an L.A. hotspot.
Kornél Mundruczó approached him at long last for the role of Hagen in White God, and after a long conversation about the subtleties and motivations of the half-breed stray Body agreed to the role. Take any famous Director/Actor pairing you care to name — Spielberg/Hanks, Scorsese/De Niro, Scorsese/DiCaprio, Eastwood/Eastwood — the one you should have on your radar is undoubtedly Mundruczó/Body. The role of Hagen finally gave Body enough meat to chew on.
And whether the Academy recognized his work or not, Body’s Hagen puts the rest of the year’s film acting field to shame. At the outset of White God, Body conveys Hagen’s submission and naive understanding of the world; as the film progresses, Hagen’s eyes are opened to the cruelties of modern society. His mouth is also open for the majority of the film. One sequence depicts Hagen’s breaking point, as a sadistic dogfighter forcibly turns Hagen from a suburbanite to a street-tough warrior. Not since that drug scene from French Connection II has an actor conveyed so much helplessness with such power. Dognappers, butchers, policemen, nosy neighbors — Hagen evades them all with Fugitive-level desperation.
Remarkably, Hagen has very few lines throughout White God. One criticism of the film has to do with the sound mixing — there were a few times when Hagen opened his mouth to speak, but it just sounded like growling or something — but ultimately it doesn’t matter. Body conveys so much through his facial expressions that we’re never lost as to what is going through his mind. He plays beautifully off of his supporting cast and has great chemistry with his co-star Zsófia Psotta, but there’s never any doubt as to who owns the screen throughout White God. Psotta is watchable, but her performance is ultimately too derivative of every other human performance.
Despite his best efforts, Body still has yet to truly achieve mainstream notoriety in the acting world. He and the rest of the canine cast did win the Palm Dog award at the Cannes premiere of White God, but everyone knows that award is a patronizing and thinly-veiled presentation of flattery by the likely-rigged panel of feline-hating judges. A highly-publicized sex scandal with Djinn Djinn which ended with Body calling her “a bitch” may have shaken his standing in the awards circuit, but the simple fact remains that Body should be a far bigger star. The Trivia section of his IMDb page doesn’t even mention his method acting at all:
White God captures a young actor already at the top of his game, and filmmakers should turn towards artists like Body instead of looking for bankable names (Andy Serkis was originally slated to play Hagen via motion capture, but he considered the role to be too similar to Caesar from the Planet of the Apes films). While Eddie Redmayne was fantastic in Theory, Michael Keaton was dominant in Birdman, Steve Carell was inscrutable in Foxcatcher, Benedict Cumberbatch was touching in The Imitation Game and Bradley Cooper was intense in American Sniper, the 2014 Best Actor raced sorely lacked the commanding presence of Body. He brings more humanity to his character than any of the aforementioned actors, and he does so on all fours.