Film Review

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister Jr performances

If your pull any fifty random genre films out of the hat between now and like 1984, chances are Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister Jr is in at least ten of them. With a knockout double threat career that began in professional wrestling and continued on to an epic film career after his debut alongside Eric Roberts in Runaway Train, Tiny had a run that any aspiring character actor would be jealous of. He was a tough guy, a magnetic performer onscreen and distinct presence who I will greatly miss in cinema, and here are my top ten performances of his!

10. Prisoner #2 in Austin Powers in Goldmember

It’s a quick bit part in a hectic prison sequence where Dr. Evil and Mini Me film a demented rap video and he’s only onscreen for a second and a half but he literally gets to feel Mike Myers to his face that “I’ve heard guys on crack make more sense than you” and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used that line in situations since I first saw Goldmember.

9. Monday in Walter Hill’s Extreme Prejudice

A hulking henchman for Powers Boothe’s mythical drug emperor in this overlooked modern western, this guy is called Monday because he used to play football until circumstance set him down the path of illegal drug trade. It’s a tiny role but I relish the wry moment he informs Nick Nolte’s Texas Ranger the reason he qui football is “he hurt his knee”, to which Nick cheekily replies, “looks like you hurt your head.” The look Tiny gives him, man..

8. Tillaver in Jack Sholder’s Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies

One of the most ill fated corrections officers in cinema’s penal system, Tillaver makes the unwitting mistake of mounting off to Andrew Divoff’s evil Djinn and pays a hefty price for it; his soul. It’s a quick, exuberant cameo and Tiny may be the only actor ever who can claim he told an iconic horror movie boogeyman to their face that he wants to “slow dance with them, Compton style.”

7. Philbert Slowlove in The Boondocks

You can’t enjoy this deranged animated series without being able to laugh at gloriously anti-PC jokes and Lister’s episode is a case in point. He plays a hulking weirdo who pretends to be mentally handicapped to collect charity money and maniacally utters the phrase “strawberry milk!!” repetitively as some kind of warped mantra. It’s always fun for actors to cut loose with voice work in animated stuff and Tiny clearly had a gift for it.

6. Cassius in Little Nicky

This is a hog wild bizarre movie and actually one of my favourite Adam Sandler comedies, Tiny is a memorable part of an incredibly eclectic cast playing one of the Devil’s kids and Nicky’s older brother. Cassius and other no good brother Adrian (Rhys Ifans) escape hell and rampage throw NYC in a hedonistic blast of scenery chewing and blissful theatricality, it’s one of the most fun roles he’s played.

5. Deebo in F. Gary Gray’s Friday

The meanest gangbanger on the block, Deebo is Billy, petty thief, woman beater and all around piece of shot played to the hilt by Lister, until he gets what’s coming to him in an epic Mortal Kombat worthy smackdown fight against Ice Cube. I think this is probably the role he was most known for in many circles and he’s definitely one hell of a memorable and intimidating villain.

4. Finnick in Disney’s Zootopia

More voice work yay! Finnick is a tiny, adorable yet bad tempered Fennec Fox and partner in crime to Jason Bateman’s con artist Nick Wilde. It’s so cool seeing Tiny in a Disney animated flick because it’s kind of a departure from his mostly rough n’ tumble career. Finnick is hilarious and it’s something else to hear Lister’s booming baritone coming out of a fluffy little tyke the size of a tennis ball.

3. Winston in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown

One half and co-owner of a bail bondsman business alongside Robert Forster’s iconic Mac Cherry, Winston doesn’t even show up until about three quarters of the way into the story but when he does he fits right into the Tarantino-verse with charm, ease and gruff capability.

2. Tattooed Prisoner in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight

Tiny achieves the kind of gravitas and magnetism here in one 60 second scene that some actors struggle to find their whole career. In a tricky, times sensitive terrorist scenario orchestrated by Heath Ledger’s Joker, Lister’s quiet but commanding convict finds the moral high ground, courage and fortitude to make an impossibly tough decision when no one else will. It’s brilliant acting work, out quite simply.

1. President Lindbergh in Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element

Jovial, impatient and eccentric, Lindbergh is my favourite President of the United States in cinema and Lister makes him perhaps the most playful incarnation of America’s top dog, the position given a futuristic refurbish, snazzy purple vapour-wave style wardrobe and snappy, gung-ho attitude. Such a great character.

-Nate Hill

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