Not too many people remember or could name a lot films in Michael Massee’s career, but to me he was always an electrifying, charismatic and often quite scary character actor accustomed to villains, tough guys and supernaturally malevolent roles throughout his varied career. With sad, cold eyes, gaunt frame and a voice that seemed to both annunciate clearly and blur mercurially with his mannerisms, he always stood out no matter the role. Here are my top ten personal favourite of his performances!
10. Leroux in Sahara
This African set war film is a remake of an old Humphrey Bogart picture and sees tank commander Jim Belushi leading troops through a desert gauntlet of fierce combat. It’s a serviceable TV movie and Michael steals scenes believably playing a French soldier who joins forces with them and turns on the charm even when things get tough.
9. Jacob Dawes in Criminal Minds
A vicious, manipulative serial killer who sits on death row giving everyone the crazy eyes, Jacob is not only responsible for murder but for corrupting an innocent woman and convincing her to join him in the atrocities. Michael makes this one episode arc count with sinister magnetism.
8. Casey Steele in CSI: NY
Casey is a mysterious and sadistic trucker who is transporting several kidnapped women in his rig across many state lines, likely for human trafficking. Michael gives him a sardonic edge and just the right amount of dark humour. When apprehended and in custody instead of talking he just curtly tells the cops: “If you gentlemen are done here I’d like to go to prison now.” That line delivery is note perfect.
7. D. Gibbons/Dyson Frost in FlashForward
This excellent and painfully short lived show saw the entire world experience a collective metaphysical phenomenon and try to deal with the aftermath as well as all the mysteries it brings about. Frost is one of those mysteries, an elusive scientist of dark proclivities out for nefarious ends and appearing here and there like an evil force of nature. Massee gets a solid arc here as basically the show’s main baddie and proves a force to be reckoned with.
6. Andy in David Lynch’s Lost Highway
Lynch’s trippy psychological shocker is chock full of fascinating personalities including Marilyn Manson, Gary Busey and a terrifying Robert Blake in his final acting role. Michael’s Andy is a sleazy socialite who hosts weird cult parties and, like most characters that Bill Pullman’s protagonist comes across, perpetually seems to be keeping some kinky secrets to go along with that unsettling pencil thin moustache.
5. Man In Massage Parlour Booth in David Fincher’s Seven
Another dark film full of interesting cameos, Michael plays clerk at essentially a brothel where one of the film’s central murder set pieces occurs. When asked cynically by Brad Pitt’s detective if he enjoys his work and likes what he has to watch happen there every day he replies “No, I don’t. But that’s life.” It’s a minuscule portion of dialogue but Michael gives it all the gravity, sorrow and resolute melancholy in the world.
4. Gustav Fiers/The Gentleman/Man In The Shadows in The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2
I’m not really familiar with Fiers as a villain in the comics but her he’s essentially a shadowy figure who manipulates Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) for unseen purposes and hovers over the events of these two films like a dark entity, actually ending up being the most effective antagonist in either entry, as most of the other efforts are pretty silly. Michael gives him a ghostly noirish vibe and gets the spotlight in the first film’s tantalizing post credits scene.
3. Lucius Belyakov in HBO’s Carnivale
This is a tricky role and it doesn’t belong entirely to him but he’s basically a Russian soldier who serves as avatar for darkness in this show’s complex, slowly revealed mythology. Michael doesn’t speak a word here (the role is later given the voice of Linda Hunt, of all people) but the sight of him spectrally hunting down a wild bear in a smoky battlefield is pretty haunting, as are the surreal dream sequences where he stares menacingly at his adversary Scudder (John Savage).
2. Isiah Haden in Revelations
This miniseries sees him play a maniacal prophet of doom heralding the apocalypse while a priest (Bill Pullman) and a nun (Natascha McElhone) investigate both his claims and his sanity. Michael often reined it in for quieter portraits of evil but he lets it fucking rip and goes absolutely ballistic here, all fire, brimstone and biblical fury. It’s also one of his largest roles in a career spent mostly in fringe supporting appearances.
1. Ira Gaines in 24
Gaines is a sterling badass psychopathic bastard and straight up my favourite villain that Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer has ever done battle with. He isn’t even a top tier baddie either, he’s one of the early season middle men that is clearly working for someone else (as is always tradition with 24) but there’s something about how cold, nasty and calibrated his operation is that sticks with you. He orders countless people killed and when one of his henchman asks where to bury one he hisses back “In the ground.” When Jack eventually corners and has the drop on him he calmly wishes him “good luck” and casually goes for his gun without hesitation. He was a beast of a villain played expertly by Michael and the show has never matched that level of icy malevolence since.