Tuesday, May 30


Here are three more actors who have added immeasurably to the films they have appeared in but despite looks and talents have never become the big stars they likely once aspired to be. I can't say that I have particularly followed their careers and yet I gave seen them all in countless films.  I suspect what they have in common is a certain blandness, which, unless one is Harrison Ford, it doesn't turn into a golden career.  Let's see who they are and perhaps enjoy a trip down Memory Lane.

William Atherton's greatest shot at stardom came at the very beginning of his career with the male lead in Steven Spielberg's debut feature, The Sugarland Express (1974). He plays the petty crook-husband of Goldie Hawn who busts him out of jail.  It becomes a chase movie and an exciting one.  His performance was an admirable one if a bit overshadowed by Hawn.

Born in 1947, he calls himself a Connecticut farm boy who adopted urban life.  He glommed onto acting at a young age, becoming the youngest-ever  member of New Haven's Long Wharf Theater company while still in high school.  He earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in drama from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.  He then moved to Los Angeles, attending the famed Pasadena Playhouse, and then to Manhattan to pursue stage work.

George C. Scott noticed Atherton on the stage and recommended him for a small role in Scott's The New Centurions (1972), the young actor's first big-screen appearance. He had a prominent dramatic role in the critically-acclaimed The Day of the Locust (1975) as a 1930s hopeful artist who attempts to make an actress out of Karen Black, who uses and discards him.  The same year he was the man responsible for blowing up The Hindenburg, again with Scott.  Two years later director Richard Brooks used him effectively as Diane Keaton's lovesick puppy in the deeply-troubling Looking for Mr. Goodbar.  

In clearly not a good move for a new actor interested in establishing himself as a name, he took seven years off from making movies. He returned to Broadway and worked with such great playwrights as Arthur Miller, David Rabe and John Guare. He also did a lot of television, being most visible in the blockbuster miniseries, Centennial (1978-79).

His movie career never recovered the momentum it once appeared to have.  When he returned to feature films, it was frequently playing scoundrels if not out-and-out villains. Most notable were roles in such films as Ghostbusters (1984), Real Genius (1985) and a couple in the Die Hard series.  Some of his more visible but still smaller roles over the year came in The Pelican Brief (1993), Bio-Dome (1996), Hoodlum and Mad City. both 1997, and The Last Samurai (2003).

Atherton still acts on the stage, television and in films only his devoted fans have ever heard of.

I had a bit of a crush on Bruce Greenwood for years.  I went to see a few of his flicks even if he had a 10-minute part.  It was that beautifully modulated voice, the sparkling blue eyes and the broad smile.  He has maintained his good looks through the years. I thought those looks made him an obvious matinee idol type and yet he never truly ascended to that.  He seemed too pleasant and decent to play villains and yet when he did, he fascinated me because it seemed he was playing against type.

Born in Quebec in 1956, he soon moved to the U.S. and then for a number of years in British Columbia.  He graduated from high school in Switzerland.  His father was a geophysicist who collected research and the family lived all over the world.  Greenwood said he never lived in one place for longer than four years in his childhood.  He's always been a jock.  He had dreams of being a professional skier until injuries changed that notion.

He attended the University of British Columbia for three years before the acting bug bit him and he switched to New York's American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1980. After graduating, he toured for a year as a singer-guitarist in a rock band.  Then it was to L.A. in pursuit of acting jobs.  He did mainly television for a few years.  To some he's probably most famous as Dr. Seth Griffin for two years on St. Elsewhere.

Some notable performances in the 90s were in the haunting tale of a bus crash in The Sweet Hereafter (1997), as a doctor in the teenage yarn, Disturbing Behavior (1998), a standout as Ashley Judd's treacherous husband in Double Jeopardy and as Alec Baldwin's criminal sidekick in Thick As Thieves, both 1999.

His more recent work was a star turn as JFK in Thirteen Days (2000), as the Antarctic explorer in the yummy Disney flick, Eight Below (2006), a scene or two as Captain Kirk's father in Star Trek into Darkness (2013), playing a fictional president in National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007), as a ballet director in Mao's Last Dancer (2009), another starring role as the leader of a trek in the arty western Meek's Cutoff (2010), as an overprotective father in Endless Love and as a psychiatrist caught up in a patient's game-playing in Elephant Song, both 2014.

He still works to this day and as of this writing has five films awaiting release.  He still does the kind of work he's always done... appearing in small roles in big features but can be found in many indie productions and also a slew of Canadian productions.  I've always thought he had the makings of being a big star but perhaps he's always been happy turning in his usual polished performances, no matter the size of the part, and then moving on to the next one. 

Somber-looking, sometimes taciturn, soft-spoken David Strathairn seems like he has been around for years and years.  There are frequent pockets of time that he pops up in just about every movie being made.  He has certainly appeared with a hefty number of Oscar-winning actresses... Streep, Lange, Sarandon, Field, Berry, Mirren, Smith, Portman, Hunter, Bates and Cher.  Maybe he's a good-luck charm.

Born in San Francisco in 1949, his father was a doctor and his mother a nurse.  His early life appears uneventful and there didn't seem to be a whisper of an interest in acting. But by the time he was into his studies at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, he knew acting was for him, and at the time, stage acting.  His thespian interests were helped along by a friendship he developed with future movie director, John Sayles, one of his classmates.

After graduating from college he wound up in Florida on some family business and while at loose ends joined the Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey circus which had its winter quarters in Sarasota.  He spent a short time touring with them as a clown. He then spent several years hitchhiking back and forth across the country appearing in regional theater.

He has made nine feature films under the direction of his buddy Sayles and it began with The Return of the Secaucus Seven (1979), about a reunion of college buddies who get arrested on their way to a protest. Matewan (1987), about the embattled state between a mining company and a union organizer; Eight Men Out (1988), about the 1919 World Series baseball scandal; and Passion Fish, about the relationship between an incapacitated ex-actress and her nurse (1992), are my favorites of their collaborations along with Secaucus.

Everyone got to know him a bit better in the 90s.  He seemed to be everywhere.  He impressed as the wise-ass, blind techie in Sneakers (1992), a convict in The Firm (1993), harassed by killers on a rafting trip in The River Wild (1994), an abusive husband in Dolores Claiborne (1995), involved in a child custody battle in Losing Isaiah (1995) and a wealthy pimp in L.A. Confidential (1997), among others.

In the 2000s he did a lot of television but he didn't miss a beat portraying famed newsman Edward R. Murrow in Good Night and Good Luck (2005), getting an Oscar nomination in the process.  He was impressive as a district attorney in Fracture (2007), shifty in The Bourne Ultimatum (1997) and again in The Bourne Legacy (2012) and formidable as Secretary of State William Seward in Lincoln (2012).  Like Bruce Greenwood, he has five films readying for release.

Next posting:
A good 70s film

No comments:

Post a Comment