The term "movie star" will only ever be applied to the fortunate few. We all have an opinion on Cruises, Hanks', and Depps of this world. We may even smile gleefully upon seeing our icon-de-jour appear onscreen.
But few actors will ever be John Wayne or Marlon Brando...
So what of the average, work-a-day Hollywood actor? Or the reclusive star/non-actor that only acts a handful of times per decade? We may not be conscious of them, but if an occasional, semi-obscure actor can pick the right roles, it can get to a point where an actor whose name we cannot even recall can warm our heart far more than any Angelina Jolie.
How often do you see an actor onscreen and think "hey, it's that guy!"
Here is a loving tribute to some of "those guys"...
Philip Baker Hall
He is the charcoal-voiced, granite-faced old sage of many, many a contemporary classic. Although he didn't get his big break until his mid 50s (playing Richard Nixon in Secret Honor (1984), he has since worked with Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia), David Fincher (Zodiac), Michael Mann (The Insider) and Lars Von Trier (Dogville). In addition to owning the hell out of the world's top directors, he has also appeared in De Niro crime-comedy Midnight Run (1988), rom-com classic Say Anything (1989) and recent bromance-weepie 50/50 (2011). There's life in the old frog yet.
|in Hard Eight|
Crowning Moment: As Jimmy Gator in Magnolia (1999)
At 68, Hall gave the performance of his lifetime as a veteran game show host that begins with him having sex in his office and ends with a gun in his mouth. In between he collapses on his gameshow stage and makes startling revelations regarding parenthood. His 'regret' speech is one of cinema's best.
Better known simply as one of the most attractive human beings to ever grace this Earth, Ms Bardot also managed to rack up a few (mostly French) film credits to her name. Lacking the success, but not the presence, of fellow beauty Claudia Cardinale, Bardot made do with bringing her unspeakably seductive presence to Robert Wise's epic Helen of Troy (1956) and Masculin Feminin (1966), as well as the sinister presence of Giuseppina in Fellini collaboration Spirits of the Dead (1968).
|in Masculin Feminin|
|in Spirits of the Dead|
It has to be her one true virtuoso performance in Godard's Contempt (1963). Her mysterious, semi-clothed presence in the first half of the film paves the way for her mysterious frivolity in the second half. Timeless.
Harry Dean Stanton
Roger Ebert once said that this guy was so good in small roles that no film in which he co-stars can be entirely bad. The now nearly 90 year old Stanton was Jack Nicholson's mentor. Be it as a lackee in a David Lynch film (Blue Velvet, INLAND EMPIE), a jovial electric chair test subject in The Green Mile (1999), or a discerning nightwatchman in this year's smash-hit The Avengers (2012), Stanton can make more of an impression in 30 seconds than most leading men can over the course of a movie.
|in The Green Mile|
|in The Avengers|
|in Paris, Texas|
Ironically, it is his only leading role- as Travis in Wim Wender's Paris, Texas (1984). Only Stanton can spend the first 20 minutes of a movie as a mute and the last half hour in virtually constant monologue, and communicate the same magic with each.
One of cinema's classic "who is he again?!" actors, Stormare has had his finger in every pie in method acting business. The Swede has inquired about the "house of pancake" in Fargo (1996), been a Russian Cosmonaut in Armageddon (1998), and fought Vince Vaughn in Jurassic Park: The Lost World (1997). All of these things make him a hero.
|in Minority Report|
|in The Big Lebowski|
Yes, he can steal a scene from Anthony Hopkins. The rag-tag music icon with the world's most congested throat is certainly an over-achiever. On top of being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fames in 2011, Waits has also carved out a name for himself as a quirky character actor, all the while playing eye-catching, nuanced oddballs in the films of Francis Ford Coppola (One From the Heart, Bram Stoker's Dracula), Robert Altman (Short Cuts), and Jim Jarmusch (Down by Law, Coffee and Cigarettes).
|in Down by Law|
|in Short Cuts|
How about playing himself in the Palme D'Or winning short later featured in Coffee and Cigarettes (2004)? His skill for vivid vocal improvisation works a treat when he attempts to convince Iggy Pop that he is a doctor on the side, all the while subtle goading him for not having songs on the juke-box. Gloriously cringe-inducing.
She acted for 70 years and always demanded attention. This sweet, sweet lady was as good as the epitome of virtue and hope in Griffith's Intolerance (1916) as she was as a charismatic old biddy Nettie Sloan in Robert Altman's A Wedding (1978)-62 years later! In between came titles like The Wind (1928) and Duel in the Sun (1946). Her final credit came in the form of The Whales of August (1987) at the age of 94! It could be said that Lillian Gish was Hollywood's all time great go-to jobber.
|in A Wedding|
|in Night of the Hunter|
It has to be as the faithful and wise guardian Rachel Cooper in the lyrical classic Night of the Hunter (1955). She is the perfect moral counterpoint for the children to Robert Mitchum's insane preacher, and her closing monologue "the children abide" would later be satired in The Big Lebowski (1998).
Okay, okay, so Tarantino is a pretty lousy actor. And, to make matters worse, his parts are almost almost extremely self-gratifying: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-7f7vVCqvI -oh dear! Yet, think about it, what would those films have been without his smarmy, cocksure presence. Incomplete, you say?? Think about his confused glare in From Disk Till Dawn (1995), or Mr. Brown from Reservoir Dogs (1992) complaining that Mr.Brown is just a little bit "too close to Mister Shit."
Move over, Mr. Olivier!
|in Reservoir Dogs|
|in Sleep with Me|
|in Pulp Fiction|
He doesn't just throw on his red shoes and dance the blues, turns out old Ziggy is quite the method actor. Despite only acting about twice a decade, Bowie has been a Roman general in The Temptation of Christ, a law enforcer in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1994), and, of course, none other than Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan's The Prestige (2006). Oh Bowie, what accent will you put on next?!
|in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me|
|in The Prestige|
|David Bowie is The Man Who Fell to Earth|
Again, the irony is that Bowie's strongest is his one role as a leading man-not to mention his very first acting role! In The Man who Fell to Earth (1976) Bowie is a mysterious, brooding, romantic, and incorruptible alien super-being, brought down and corrupted by the foreign agent of humanity. He could well have taken home an Oscar for his first ever gig.
and, of course...
You will laugh with him, you will cry with him, you will wonder what the hell he is saying. Rutger Hauer is the the ultimate part-time Hollywood success story: powerful, iconic, yet in almost nothing! Since his big break his scattered titles include John Carpenter's The Hitcher (1986), Sin City (2005), and Batman Begins (2005). You may not have seen titles like The Ostermann Weekend (1983), but you just know he was great in it anyways. Here's to you, o' obscure one.
|as The Hitcher|
|in Sin City|
|in Batman Begins|
|Blade Runner-"I've seen things..."|
Simply to have appeared in the climax of Blade Runner (1982) is worthy of a big break unto itself, but to have completely improvised it's final monologue (one of the best in cinema history) is something on a whole new creative level-almost not of this planet. We wish every actor with a good career was this good...
Watch it again!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTzA_xesrL8
Honorable mention: Woody Strode, Slim Pickens, James Spader
Too Obvious (Take them as a Given) : Eli Wallach, Steve Buscemi, Bruce Campbell
Thank you for your readership!!!!!
Ross @ Kino Shout!