The James Clayton Column: the movie actors immune to infection

As Contagion sweeps like a plague into UK cinemas, James looks at five Hollywood actors who are surely immune to infection…

Are you thinking about going to the cinema this weekend? If you are, I’d urge you to take some baby wipes, a bottle of disinfectant and a surgical mask. Please take the necessary precautions, because the multiplex is full of germs, malicious microbes and bugs – and I mean nasty bugs that bring disease, not the cute animated critters from Pixar’s A Bug’s Life.

I say this because Hollywood is sick – even sicker than normal. We already knew that Sunset Strip is awash with titan migraines, venereal disease, substance abuse problems and psychological disorders. What we’re dealing with now, though, according to the freshly released film Contagion, is a health crisis that no spell in the Betty Ford Clinic or course of antibiotics will cure. This is the Black Death for the blockbuster era.

Steven Soderbergh is cinematically serving us the vision of a virus carried by birds mutating and rapidly wiping out the globe’s human population through a “one touch: transmission” process, altogether bringing the civilised world to a fearful standstill.

This is a petrifying prospect, and watching the trailer, with its powerful images of intense panic, leaves me so unnerved that I have to spend 20 minutes washing my hands afterwards in order to ease myself back to a healthy state of calm.

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In that trailer, a man in a suit asks, “Is there any way someone could weaponise the bird flu?” Laurence Fishburne replies: “Someone doesn’t have to weaponise the bird flu: the birds are doing that.” That’s all you need to know. Morpheus has declared that we’re facing a terrifying 21st century variation of The Birds except, instead of localised pecking in Bodega Bay, we’ve got biological horror reaching round Earth,  destroying us in a dramatic germy nightmare from which there’s no escape.

Routine infection control measures appear to be futile in the face of this crisis, and the prevalence of the virus is emphatically reinforced when you see the big names appearing (and disappearing) in Contagion.

Hollywood actors often come across as silver screen immortals with charmed lives that transcend the muck and melancholy that afflicts mere mortals.

When extraordinary events expose their human frailty, therefore, it’s a shock to our core beliefs. Contagion has a star-studded line-up of Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Jude Law all crippled by fear or dying of plague. If these powerful, pretty people are helplessly doomed, what hope do the rest of us have?

I’m a progressive optimist, though, and believe that we can ride out this contagious catastrophe by taking rapid action. Even if the A-list is succumbing at great speed to the rampant pestilence, I believe that there are actors who are immune.

To ensure our species’ survival and build resistance against the sweeping death, I’d say that identifying these film figures and taking strands of their invincible DNA is an urgent priority. All we’d need to do then is get a scientist like Dr Frank-N-Furter (because things are more fun with a transvestite Tim Curry) to concoct an antidote vaccination that nullifies the virus and boosts the immune systems of the masses with the untouchable, pure essence of Hollywood.

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Having scanned cinema history, I nominate the following individuals as ideal candidates that offer us hope…

Will Smith

The Fresh Prince has shrugged off gunk, unnatural otherwordly abominations and sick things that he’s stated “Rate about a 9.5 on my weird shit-o-meter” in numerous blockbusters like Men In Black and Independence Day. The tagline for Hitch also proclaimed Big Will to be “The cure for the common man”, and if that doesn’t convince you of his unique strength, look to I Am Legend. Smith is the sole immune man on Earth, and he’s still Gettin’ Jiggy Wit’ It, fighting against impossible odds to overcome the virus and save the world from the scum of the universe eager to kill his dog and turn Jazzy Jeff into a diseased Darkseeker. Awww, hell no, pestilence – Big Will is gonna knock your punk ass down…

Charlton Heston

He didn’t catch leprosy from his relatives in Ben-Hur, and having subsequently kissed the lips and touched the stinkin’ paws of damned dirty apes (Planet Of The Apes) and endured poor nutrition and the conditions that come with overpopulation (Soylent Green), I’d say that Chuck is clearly a sturdy, blessed figure.

What’s more, he survived a home visit from Michael Moore in Bowling For Columbine and, like Will Smith, played the last man on Earth in The Omega Man (the 70s movie version of I Am Legend). Heston as you knew him may be dead but, considering that he is really the prophet Moses, his spirit lives on and will part oceans in order to lead God’s children to a promised land of resolute health and moral vigour.

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Tom Cruise

Cruise defied Nazi brainwashing in Valkyrie, survived a black market eye transplant operation in Minority Report and overcome his sake-drinking problem in The Last Samurai, and they are all positive signs. Considering he has repeatedly achieved Mission: Impossible – destroying the Chimera virus threat in the second film of the series – I conclude that the actor has an aura of invincibility.

Whether he acquired this by handling a unicorn horn in Ridley Scott’s Legend back in the 80s or because he’s really an alien spirit and favoured servant of Xenu is irrelevant. All we need are his bodily fluids – that is, if Thetans have bodily fluids…

Robin Williams

Williams has the indomitability of Mrs Doubtfire, the mystical powers of the Genie from Aladdin, the jungle affliction experience of Jumanji and, as a modern medical practitioner, the healing laughter of Patch Adams filling out his filmography. Altogether Williams laughs in the face of illness and annihilates it with comic relief and highly animated zaniness.


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Turned a mottled shade of white and apparently dead, the tender alien heart suddenly burns bright and triumphs over death for a happy ending. As well as immense healing abilities to bring flowers back to life, he has psionic powers to lift the spirits of lonely little boys and a miracle glow finger pointing towards bright futures of wellbeing and cosmic wonder. “One touch: transmission” instantly annulled by the raised, radiant digit of E.T. – a gifted nurse from beyond the stars.

As always, movies are the ultimate cure. If we absorb the vital essences of these five icons and inject them into our veins, we’ll be more indestructible than Captain Scarlet.

I just hope we can get it on the NHS.

James’ previous column can be found here.

You can reach James on his Twitter feed here, see his film cartoons here and more sketches here.