4 Characters Bumped Up to Business Class

After years of slogging thru the acting trenches in Hollywood, I’ve seen quite a few fellow thesps soar to amazing heights. Guys like Vince Vaughn, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Jeremy Renner. It’s hard at times, but once you get past the envy, watching these actors kick big time cinematic butt is both rewarding and motivational. A very tangible example of why the Dream Factory is as strong as ever – still seducing people from all over the world to drop their duffel bag on Sunset and LaBrea and track down a headshot photographer willing to take installments. Crazy when you stop to think of all the talented and driven and charismatic folks around the globe who set their sights on show biz.

Only a very very very select few make it above the title. The working actors in Hollywood, the ones that pound the pavement day after day, week after week, year after year – the character actors – the ones scrambling to gain the slightest bit of leverage so that maybe they can stop auditioning and start actually turning down projects cuz they’re just too busy – those are my brothers in arms. And I love it when they get a chance to shine.

Jack McGee & Paul Rae    Faces you’ve seen on the big and small screen for years. Reliable go-to character actors who show up on time and deliver whatever the role calls for.

Jack McGee stood out in his one scene as the gun store owner in the Oscar winning film Crash (2004); and tv fans of the FX hit Rescue Me know him as ‘Chief Reilly;’ but it was The Fighter that allowed this gruff actor (87 films to his credit!) to go from the hallway into the big ballroom where all the pretty people mingle. In a film full of outstanding performances McGee still stands out as the compassionate and loyal  ‘George Ward,’ stepfather to the very dysfunctional boxing clan in David O. Russell’s film. He has a few pivotal emotional scenes in the picture – and the character actor in me was cheering for him each and every screen moment.

I saw Jack last friday at an audition in Burbank – yep, back to the grind -and was so happy to shake his hand and pat him on the back – told him how much I enjoyed the work. He flashed his big Irish grin at me and said “I finally got invited to the parties.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Paul Rae played the mentally deranged hammer wielding serial killer ‘Lucas Turner’ in the gruesome 2009 season finale of Criminal Minds; and Californication fans surely remember him as ‘Zed’, from the jail cell confrontation in ‘The Great Ashby.’ Rae, 42, has worked steadily in episodic television for well over a decade, he has also had a bite at the larger pie, co-starring alongside Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. in Daddy Day Camp (2007). But his role this past year in the Coen Bros’ remake of True Grit was a home run. Again, in a film full of rich performances, Rae not only holds his own, but stands out in the gritty, cabin hideout shootout scene that ends with him holding a ‘Rooster Cogburn’ shell in his brain pan.

Rae did something a lot of actors do when they are itching to work. He put himself on tape in character for the True Grit role and sent it to Coen casting director Ellen Chenowith. A week later he got the call. “Don’t shave.” Actors love that call.

Michael Parks is one of those guys that’s seemingly been around since Cecil B. Demille was calling the shots. Slight exaggeration, but seriously, check the resume. Parks, 70, appeared on the Ed Sullivan show and guest starred on Gunsmoke. Not so slight. Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to pluck Parks out of semi-obscurity and plant him in both volumes of Kill Bill. First as the southern sheriff who arrives at the wedding chapel to find Uma Thurman’s ‘Bride’ in a bloody puddle. Then, in what we call ‘inspired casting,’ he shows up in the second installment as a menacingly shady Colombian slime trafficker. He nails both. Premiering tonight at the Sundance Film Festival is Kevin Smith’s über dark and sure to be  controversial Red State. Having had a front row seat for this production, lemme just say this: The 193 people who actually see this film are going to be floored by Parks’ charmingly sadistic ‘Pastor Abin Cooper.’ An actor of intense focus, Parks is sure to turn some heads in Park City. Let’s hope a few screenwriters attending the festival take the bait.

Barbara Hershey    This probably seems like a misprint, but check this. Hershey’s pathetic broken down stage mom in Black Swan is Aronofsky’s sequel to what he was able to do with Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. It’s not easy to cast some of these big stars who (and I make no judgement here, just an observation) endure countless plastic surgeries and cosmetic work done to their grills. Her performance is excellent in the ‘mother’ role in Black Swan, a role that called for exactly what Barbara Hershey, 62, now offers physically as an actress. It is, for better or for worse, a ‘type’ now that writers and directors have at their disposal in great abundance. While the plastic surgery business has declined nearly 40% the past few years due to the brutal economy, those numbers don’t apply to Hollywood. However, Nicole Kidman isn’t going to be playing any hardware store managers or factory gals any time soon. Mickey Rourke was definitely not under consideration to portray Abraham Lincoln or Howard Hughes. And Barbara Hershey was not going to get a look at Melissa Leo’s role in The Fighter. All that vanity comes at a cost – so Bel Air widows, divorced show ponies, and fading glamour girls (ala Norma Desmond) are the new terrain, and while it may be time for their closeup – the challenge confronting the camera department and makeup team is daunting.

4 thoughts on “4 Characters Bumped Up to Business Class

  1. So happy you gave nod to Hershey. She’s being grossly overlooked for Black Swan during an awards season that may take a decided turn towards Black Swan.

  2. Hmmmm. Not sure about that turn. I think the delightfully delicious N Portman is a lock to win the Oscar, but other than a nomination for Aronofsky the director, I’m not sure how much recognition the film will receive. It is shaping up to be a roll of the dice battle between two outstanding and very different films: The Social Network and The King’s Speech. It will be an Academy Awards to remember. Thanks for reading, Max.

  3. Bravo, Lars Beckerman on a well-written blog. Great title, by the way! What you wrote about actor Jack McGee felt so good to read! It’s been a long, hard road for a deeply talented artist and fortunately for all of us, a man of great determination. I’m so happy for the recognition he is receiving for his role in The Fighter. Keep going, Jack!

    • Thank you, Lisette. Actors like Jack McGee and Paul Rae (and I could probably rattle off another 25+) deserve recognition for a wide variety of reasons, “determination” definitely being a major one. So it is indeed gratifying when we see an actor’s actor land a plum role. And man did he nail it. Such a great cast. I hope you intend to keep reading.

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