Trying to produce a successful sequel to a groundbreaking film nearly a decade later is always going to be a hurdle in every way from preserving originality to breaking new ground to keeping the magic alive. Robert Rodriguez faced quite the task in picking up the reins of Sin City: A Dame To Kill so many years after his original film revolutionized aspects of filmmaking, and this was never going to feel as fresh or innovative as the first, but I still love it, it’s still firmly rooted in the gorgeous and terrifying world of ‘hyper-noir’ lifted from the pages of Frank Miller’s comics and the stories here, although quite different from the first, are just as brutal and poetic. However, whether or not you are a fan of this film overall there is one indisputable factor that makes it amazing, perhaps even more so than the first and her name is Eva Fucking Green. Casting Basin City’s scariest, sexiest femme fatale was always going to be a hurdle and I remember everyone from Rachel Weisz to Angelina Jolie being considered. Green is an actress of unreasonable talent, intimidating presence and staggering sex appeal and she is devilishly divine as Ava Lord, the black widow spider in human form, a psychopathic bitch who ruins the lives of anyone who gets close to her, most notably Josh Brolin’s square-jawed incarnation of Dwight. This is the film’s most effective story mostly because of her and because it’s an OG Sin City yarn whereas the other two are brand new material Miller dreamed up for this film. Other vignettes include Joseph Gordon Levitt as a hard luck gambling man looking for retribution and Jessica Alba’s now borderline maniacal Nancy, out for bloodiest revenge against mega-villain Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) for the death of her guardian angel Hartigan (Bruce Willis in ghostly visions). The other strongest point of the film is Boothe, who had one quick but deadly scene in the first film, Rodriguez expands his role into full fledged, cigar chomping, homicidal scene stealing frenzy here and he’s gotta be one of the craziest, over the hill comic book villains ever put to film. I will concede that this film doesn’t have the propulsive, elemental momentum of the first. There’s a staccato, circus sideshow vibe that’s different from the fluidity of the first’s narrative, which was more well oiled than every humming automobile under its hood and had this organic flow that was almost intangible. But the visual beauty, playfulness in colour vs black & white, cheerful brutality and startling nihilism, everything else that made it special are all still at play here and I refuse to see it get written off as some dud sequel, because it’s far better than that. Not to mention that Rodriguez once again assembles an absolute bonkers cast including Mickey Rourke once again playing that big lug Marv, Ray Liotta, Juno Temple, Julia Garner, Dennis Haysbert stepping in for the late Michael Clarke Duncan, Marton Csokas, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Jaime King, Alexa Vega, Jamie Chung, Lady Gaga as a friendly truck-stop waitress, Christopher Lloyd as some freaky doctor who can only operate after a shot of smack and Stacy Keach in a bizarre cameo as basically Jabba the Hut in a fancy suit. Try shaking a stick at that lineup. It’s true this doesn’t have the same monochrome lightning in a bottle magic of the first but it’s still more than worth the attention of anyone who enjoys spending time in this world and appreciates gorgeous looking, star studded, unforgiving things dark pulp artistic cinema. Plus it deserves a watch just for Eva Green as probably my favourite femme fatale ever committed to celluloid, she’s that good.
What is it about heroes like Hercules that endure? They come and go throughout the years in so many incarnations; transforming with the times while still remaining timeless. And who among you does not long for the power of a God at your fingertips…or to wield ancient and powerful weapons, to strike with the might of great Zeus’s thunderbolts, into the dark hearts of those angry Gods and vengeful outcasts, mythical colossus’s, woken titans….?
This is the cinema of the legendary Son-of-God, and just like peanut butter he comes in oily and dry, crunchy and smooth. From Reeves to The Rock, the man and his name that has ascended to the heavens, where the stars spell out his glory are always adventures worth going the distance for. So when I first saw Kevin Sorbo take up the mantle, here again came a joyous and wonder-dipped slice of a pie that I had not tasted since that marvelous, though short-lived series, Wizards and Warriors. Here we would trek on the heels of the champion of Olympus on a regular basis, through the ancient worlds and ancient wonders, discovering forgotten realms and the magic that dwelt there.
Through the classics to the contemporaries, from the unintentionally funny to the down-right awesome, Hercules put enough of a hit on me, if I were a bear…I might have been launched into orbit…but seriously, I dig the cat enough to want to write my own private blended drink of a tale, that saw the man loose his strength because of his father’s mortal fornications and thus is forced to take on an attacking other-worldly titan…with a shotgun. But…I stress this was not conceived to mock or denigrate the character. It was written with tremendous affection. Because, for my money, a good Hercules story dances that fine line between the wondrous and the wacky…that just below that surface veneer of cinematic insanity there is in fact…brilliance.
So who better to sit down with for a chat with than one of the longest serving performers to ever carry the role through many a legendary journey. Kevin Sorbo would, as the fates would have it, turn out to become a real life Hercules. He is a man who has been on his own private odyssey, and it was by far, more arduous than anything he ever put on screen. Sorbo , however, in a fashion similar to the hero he portrayed, lived to fight another day and has gone on seemingly possessed with God-like strength and determination and has become not only an endearing screen icon, but a prolific producer, writer and director.
When the hour cometh the hero shall be tested, and there, at the glorious moment, in that final stillness be found triumphant or wanting. These are the marks of few, the bold…those that will be marked by the lights of distant stars. So it was cool indeed to chat with the Legendary Hercules. Unfortunately, as I had hoped, I can’t present to recording as, because of a technical issue, it is not of sufficient quality. So I have taken the time to go through and transcribe what remains…though I regret that some has been saved only in my memory. Still…the journey continues…
Ladies and Gentleman, boys and girls of all ages…I give you the mighty, Kevin Sorbo…
KH: You came from Minnesota originally?
KH: What was it, during your early days there, that lead on the crazy adventures you’ve been on ever since?
KS: Well…it probably started when I was this eight year old kid, and my Mom would watch the old matinee movies with Katherine Hepburn and Cary grant…just all the people from the golden age era, and I loved those movies, and I went to the Guthrie Theatre, a famous theatre in Minneapolis, and a lot of Hollywood shows come there, or they start there. Then I remember going to a play in New York, The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare. Now, I don’t know what they were talking about, I was eleven, but I remember being mesmerized by these actors on stage, and it wasn’t long after that I went to my parent and told them I was going to be an actor. But I was a closet thespian because I was also a jock, and we used to make fun of guys in the theatre being jocks ’cause you know I played American football, baseball, basketball…took up golf…love the game of golf and I still play it to this day…so I didn’t really do anything about the acting till I got through college, feeling that peer pressure…but the seed was planted so…I knew that was the road I was gonna take some day.
KH: See if you can tell me where this line comes from…ready?
KS: (laughter) Okay.
KH: This ain’t Jim Beam!
KS: Arh…I did a Jim Beam commercial back in 1992, down in New Zealand. I get down there and I was in Auckland and got see some of the surrounding beaches and stuff, and thought it would be really cool to come down here to see this country more…of course I got Hercules a year later and I ended up coming back to New Zealand for seven years so…be careful what you wish for (laughter) …no, I love it down there…but that little commercial got me fan mail for like five years…I got more fan mail from that commercial than I did for Hercules. (laughter) But it was interesting they chose do it that spot in new Zealand when there are plenty of places in Texas that would be considered a redneck bar…which they were trying to reproduce. But then the guys from Jim beam told that because of the campaign there sales had gone up 80%, I said you guys owe me a little more more money ’cause I’d rather be paid by percentage…
KH: They thought you’d be happy with a lifetime supply of Jim Beam?
KS: There it is. (laughter)
KH: But we should talk about that briefly because you are a bit of an ANZAC, having spent a number of years in Australia as well as New Zealand, and, as you mentioned in your email prior to our chat…it was like a second home to you…?
KS: I actually was in Australia for two year. Back in 1986…I went to Sydney to shoot a commercial at Bells beach and I ended up staying, and my agent in Los Angeles flipped out, and I said to him, I’ve wanted to come to Australia since I was twelve years old and now I’m here I want to see it. I went to Melbourne as well…I lived at Bondi beach…I’ve been down there for Comic con’s in Brisbane and Townsville, Perth…so I’ve been there a lot and I’m in talks right now with a production company down there to come and shoot another one…so we have a TV series that we could be shooting down there in the future…
KH: Splendid…well done. We’ll it will be nice to have you back…yet again.
KS: I’m looking forward to it.
KH: Awesome. So, moving right along…are the rumors true, because the internet should always be questioned and never taken for granted, that you were just beat out, by a nose, for Lois and Clark and The X Files?
KS: With the X Files it was more like I was in the final six, not the last three. With playing Superman though, I did test for that. Both Dean and I tested with Teri Hatcher and I go the the part…so I went out, celebrated, next morning I get a phone call and they say, “We’re going with Dean Cain!” So, that’s the nature of the business…but Dean’s a good friend of mine and for him it was meant to be…but…three months later, I got Hercules, so Dean was like, “You got the most watched TV show in the world and I got cancelled after three seasons.” But, it is what it is.
KH: Exactly. But…do you think you would have liked to have played Superman?
KS: Oh I think I would have enjoyed it…but Dean was right for the part…I think was better at the alter ego part of Superman, rather than the actual Superman. Would I have liked it…sure…but I was pretty happy doing Hercules so…
KH: Well Hercules takes up a massive chunk of your early career. You were in New Zealand doing crossovers with Xena…
KS: Xena didn’t exist when we started. We did five two hour movies, and by the end of that season two, they introduced that character not knowing it would become a spin-off, that’s how that came about, and with the son of Hercules in season five, it would be twenty year old Ryan Gosling playing me so…
KH: There you go. But in the midst of all this, the dark clouds of tragedy move in, it was between seasons four and five…you were doing press at the time for KULL the Conqueror and you had a series of four strokes?
KS: An aneurysm went to my left sub clavicle, that effected strength in my shoulders, balance, I was getting bumps and bruises…I loved working with the stunt team down there…so I blew it off. I went back to the States, my doctor found a lump, he thought it might be cancer and wanted to do a biopsy, I had the first stroke and then three on the way to the hospital, it affected things like my speech and took a long time to recover but I wrote a book, True Strength, back in 2012, and it allowed me to do things that I wouldn’t have done like public speaking which I still do on the subject. Of course I did return to Hercules, but it was in a limited capacity and then came Andromeda and that was like the third year of recovery and I was starting to feel recovered.
KH: I was a fan of you as Hercules, but being a life-long aficionado of Robert E. Howard…now…of course Schwarzenegger made Conan his own and brought that character into public consciousness, but Kull never as much, yet, we got a Kull movie…tell us what making that was like?
KS: Well Kull was the last novel Howard wrote before he blew his brains out so….you know….the original script was very dark, though the rewrites didn’t help. Conan was a brooding anti-hero where Kull was more able to articulate his thoughts. And I fought for him to use the battle axe as opposed to a sword…Conan was all about his sword but if you look at the art work inspired by Howard’s books, a majority of his warrior heroes carried axes. We shot for three weeks in Croatia on that movie. There were a lot of people that worked on it that had worked on the Conan films and it was well directed by John Nicolella, who has sadly passed away. It was fun a to a big budget action film…went to the big premiere in DC…it’s always a thrill.
KH: I can only imagine. So lets talk about TV, you’ve had such a variety of roles on the small screen. Andromeda was another big chunk of your career…tells of the journey from sword and sandals, so-to-speak, to the space and far-flung stars?
KS: I always was a big believer in the message Roddenberry was trying to put out there with these stories of humanity no merely being envoys for our race but far-reaching students of the vastness and complexity of our galaxy…but you know…when you spend a big chunk of time on one show and then on another…it still strikes me as delightful that, when I go to conventions, you’ll have your die-hard Hercules and your die-hard Andromeda fans…and never the twain shall meet…but that’s okay…that’s why variety is essential in entertainment…there’s something for everybody.
KH: My sister wanted me to ask you about a film of yours she enjoyed…Never Cry Werewolf?
KS: (laughter) Yeah…that was done up in Toronto and I gotta say that was a blast doing that one. It was one of those cases where….I get so many offers to do parts….and it was a small part, I think they sent me the twenty pages of script that I was in…these independent producers have their stock stable of crew and its a matter of go in and shoot and move on to the next…but I honestly have so many projects of my own, as well, that I’m working on, I have a slate of five films, features…some I’m in some I’m producing, I’m off to do a civil war movie and then after that I’m going to England to film a Charles Dickens adaptation…
KH: Wow….you’re no slouch mate. Don’t let them tell you you’re not on top of your game…and how you do it all is a mystery to me, for sure and certain. But…among your TV credits I know and have seen the episode you did of Murder She Wrote, you’re a part of the glorious group of performers that garnered a guest spot on Murder She Wrote. What was that experience like?
KS: It was a great experience. We shot on the Universal lot and I was able to meet Angela Lansbury and her Husband….and, one thing I found out later is that Angela had apparently been checking me out, to see what kind of a character I was during set-ups before she introduced herself which I thought was sweet and funny, but again I had a great time. Angela is a true professional and a legend, I mean, I saw her again when she was touring around with a theatre production, you know, so many years later…that’s impressive to me.
KH: Yes, the lady indeed is an absolute treasure. But, another of your credits I wanted to ask you was advertised at the end of one of my favorite films The Sword and The Sorcerer, but it would take Albert Pyun another 30 years to finally give us Tales of an Ancient Empire?
KS: Well when we filmed initially we only shot part…like fifty percent of the movie so I knew it was going to take time for them to gather the rest of the film, which sometimes happens on independent productions, but I loved the role, I loved the script…but it was the first thing I was ever involved in where they ran out of money and had to shut down at the time. But I can see the ambition and how it was part of a much larger story, on a Lord of the Rings type of canvas, there would have been a bigger world on display had the budget been there, but my character was kind of a shady, jerk, womanizer…which was fun to play. But I know Albert has had a lot of health issues lately…and it’s been a while since we’ve spoken…but he was a great guy…I wish him all the best with the struggles he’s going through, being someone who has had debilitating health issues…I pray for him.
KH: Tell us about your part in The Kings of Mykonos?
KS: Oh that was a great location, shooting on the sunny island of Mykonos. I played this American guy with a bad Italian accent who was very popular with the ladies (laughter)…it was just fun you know…we had a good time…a lot of laughs on the set. I know that film did really well, especially in your and in European regions. It came out on DVD over here, but sadly never got a theatrical release.
KH: I thought you were great in it…you have the comedic touch…which you did get a chance to showcase again in a little film called Meet the Spartans?
KS: I remember I had a meetings, and they were four hours apart in Hollywood, and 300 was screening, so with the time in between meetings, I went to a matinee and I thought, this is the perfect movie to spoof, so eventually when the part came around I jumped at it, playing the lieutenant to King Leonidas. It was great, there was the opportunity to improvise and in some cases they used those takes where we just riffing on each rather than what was scripted…the key to a good a parody is not just poking fun but presenting the futility of the situations sometimes…I know that I sound like a broken record but again…it was a lot of fun to do.
KH: Did you ever consider spoofing Hercules in a similar fashion…’cause got your story. Hercules with a Shotgun. A retired Hercules has been stripped of his God-like strength because Zeus has been kicked out of Olympus by his wife for philandering constantly with mortal woman. Thus the son of Zeus is forced to take on a monstrous titan with nothing but a shotgun?
KS: Hey…get it funded and we’ll talk.
KH: No sweat…I’ll get the money in the bank and have my people call your people.
KS: Well I don’t have an agent any more so just get in touch with me.
KH: No worries…I’ll find someone to pick up the cheque and I’ll give you a bell.
KS: Sounds great.
KH: Well Kevin…been awesome to chat to you mate, I better let you get on ’cause I know the bases are loaded.
KS: Yeah I’m actually off to Oxford on Monday to finish up a documentary so…there’s always something going on. Your listens can of course keep up with it all on my official Facebook page and my official website: http://www.kevinsorbo.net/ , and thank you for the conversation Kent and a big G’day to all the folks there Down Under…a great place on this Earth.
KH: Best wishes with all you got going mate…an maybe we’ll catch you back in this neighborhood some day soon…?
Right off the bat, I like pictures that make you think. Nicholas Meyer once said that movies have the dreadful propensity of doing it all for you, leaving nothing for later like some greedy kid turned loose in a chocolate factory. In the era where everything old is new again – dusted off, repackaged and marketed to an audience for whom, the first time it was released, isn’t a part of their lexicon – it falls upon us to turn to those filmmakers working outside the mainstream; the place where stories that entertain, provoke thought, and evoke the magnitude of the how insurmountable power and the forces that wield it engulf us…constant willing victims that we are.
Though Rene Perez(as he once told me) might be near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to cinematic voices in the tempest that is the modern day film industry, to me, he is a tirelessly, self-sufficient auteur. His pictures – while made for the VOD market (not unlike the VHS boom before it) and designed for the casual scroller in search of an evening’s mild amusement – are more than mere formulaic forays in genre.
With The Insurrection, Perez comes out with all guns blazing, literally, but with the timeliness and the gravitas of the message he is projecting. Michael Paré(Eddie and The Cruisers, The Philadelphia Experiment) is a military veteran. Strong, determined, and not afraid to stand tall in the crossfire, yet burdened by regret for the life and family he neglected while serving in the line of duty. This makes him the ideal candidate as well as the only choice, and hope, for the magnetic Wilma Elles’(Playing with Dolls: Havoc, The Fourth Horseman) Joan Schafer. More than your garden-variety whistle-blower, she is a part of the grand plan, a loyal servant of the ‘Ruling Class’. After securing Paré’s release from prison, Joan tasks the warhorse to keep her alive long enough to tell all – not just of her own private torment, but primarily of a plan that began long ago…to make slaves of us all. And it is for these bold words – how we are but pawns for the powerful, the hungry masses that heartily sup upon the most potent of elixirs supplied by the small glowing screens we carry in our pocket – that she is now targeted for termination by her former overseers. The first casualty, when war comes, is truth, and because of this truth…she must not be allowed to live.
Schafer’s truth also encompasses the concept that we, the controlled masses, are victims of the promise, the carrot, dangled by the influential. She presents the fact that, no matter the microcosm of society in which we dwell, whether it be the real world or the one manufactured on that luminous rectangle that hangs before us in the darkened movie theatre – whether it be Romero’sLand of the Dead, Anderson’sLogan’s Run or Rodriguez’sAlita: Battle Angel – the promise our own ivory tower, our place among the Gods, is far too alluring a bait…as opposed to love, family…life’s simple wonders.
As parallel duels of words and weapons rage, you will be equally gripped the story unfolding as you will by Perez’s dynamic camera and fluid editing. These combine, serving as an absorbing delivery system for a tale of the price those who choose to stand alone against the rising tide of the media-saturated, cynical world that consumes us, ultimately pay. Paré’s steely gladiator projects authority through his silence; a strong accompanist to Elles’ articulate argument relating to how easy it has been, and how easy it still is, for the mighty to suppress any and all beneath them.
It is a thought-provoking work of intensity and depth that we have before us with The Insurrection. In the tradition of action-thrillers like Peter Hyams’Narrow Marginand Harold Becker’sMercy Rising, Perez and his team bring us a splendid declaration of the courage it takes to fight for freedoms we, all too frequently, take for granted.
Michael Clarke Duncan was one of Hollywood’s gentle giants for decades, an instantly recognizable presence with intense physicality and a deep baritone voice full of expression. One might think that he’d get cast in a lot of tough guy villain roles but his career path found him often lending talent to comedic characters and lighthearted fare. That’s not to say he couldn’t embody a hulking bruiser when the opportunity came along, but he managed a terrific variety in his work before passing away far too soon in 2012. Here are my top ten personal favourite of his performances:
10. Benjamin King in Saint’s Row
This is voiceover work in a series of video games but I had to include at least one VO performance because of the sheer power and unique energy he could project. A sprawling urban crime epic in the vein of Grand Theft Auto, King is a self made millionaire, organized crime arch-boss, philanthropist, mega businessman and all around badass who commands a vast army, exudes both class and street smarts and reigns supreme. It’s a devilishly enjoyable vocal performance full of witty barbs, dark humour and booming tough talk.
9. Murdoch in See Spot Run
This is a silly, silly film but I’ve got some childhood nostalgia for it. Murdoch is a federal agent who gets a bit too attached to his canine unit partner and just can’t handle it when the dog runs off to assist a young boy (the kid from Two & A Half Men) and his infantile father (David Arquette) in taking down a cartoonish mobster (Paul Sorvino). Duncan plays him as an unflappably alpha tough guy who’s banging a fellow agent (Kim Hawthorne) but is reduced to tears when he can’t find his dog. I think we could all relate.
8. Attar in Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes
Add prosthetic makeup and fur to his already hulking frame and you’ve got one memorable, scary and conflicted turn as head general to a maniacal ape warlord (a scene stealing Tim Roth). Attar is an old school, militaristic individual who resents his boss’s extremism but isn’t above launching a lethal hunt for the human trespassers on their world.
7. Bear in Michael Bay’s Armageddon
Bruce Willis’s ragtag team of oil drillers turned astronauts are an eclectic, entertaining bunch but perhaps most adorable and endearing is Duncan’s Bear. He’s rowdy, lovable, rides a chopper, lends his pipes to Ben Affleck’s impromptu serenade of ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’ and his first thought when asked to basically save the world is to request a stay at the White House.
6. Starkweather Two-Delta/Jamal Starkweather in Michael Bay’s The Island
Here he displays heart wrenching emotional range as a clone who wakes up mid surgery as an evil corporation harvests his organs for a rich client. It’s kind of an extended cameo but the outrage, hurt and desperate effort for survival is something haunting to see, and his work drives the film’s themes of ethics and morality home affectingly.
5. Wilson Fisk/Kingpin in Mark Steven Johnson’s Daredevil
Netflix’s Daredevil and Vincent D’Onofrio’s frightening Kingpin have taken up both the mantle and the critical acclaim these days, but I still have a lot of love for this version and Michael’s imposing, classy yet brutal portrayal of the biggest baddie in Hell’s Kitchen. He rocks the crisp pinstripe suit, massive cigar and has both the keen intellect and bruising physicality of Fisk, illustrated nicely in a bone crunching final showdown with Ben Affleck’s Matt Murdock.
4. The General in Reto Salimbeni’s One Way
This curious, fascinating and overlooked indie drama sees him play a mysterious military general who serves as protector and metaphysical guardian angel to protagonist Angelina (Lauren Lee Smith). She’s a sexual abuse survivor with a tragic past whose trauma has likely manifested him, and at key moments in her life he appears to console and fight for her. He makes grave, compassionate work of such an esoteric character.
3. Manute in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City
Another slightly esoteric character, Manute is a gigantic, nearly invincible mafia enforcer tasked with neutralizing the unruly hookers of Old Town in this arresting noir realm of murder and madness. Attired in a smart suit that’s half military and all business, sporting a giant golden eyeball (that’s another story) and annunciating in disarmingly well fashioned vernacular, he’s a striking, slightly surreal villain played with gentlemanly yet sinister relish by Duncan. He was recast for the sequel after his passing by Dennis Haysbert, who gave it his all but couldn’t quite capture the magic that Michael gifted this role with.
2. Cleon Salmon in Broken Lizard’s The SlamminSalmon
The funniest performance of his career in one of the best entries by Lizard, who are truly an underrated comedic creative team. The egotistical, boorish owner of a swanky Miami seafood hotspot, Cleon has lost a whole whack of money in a game of ‘Japanese Albino hunting’ (strictly catch and release) and is now making his restaurant staff earn it all back for him in one night under the pretence of a contest. Duncan plays this dude as a maniacal loudmouth who always has to be the centre of attention, get the last laugh and bellow out his running joke of a catchphrase “Whateva mothafucka!!!!” to anyone in earshot. A stroke of comic brilliance.
1. John Coffey in Frank Darabont’s The Green Mile
His work as a death row inmate with a mysterious telepathic ability earned him a well deserved best supporting actor. Coffey is accused of child rape and murder, yet there’s more to the story we find as the block’s head guard (Tom Hanks) learns more about his his extraordinary power to absorb others pain both literally and figuratively. It’s a heartbreaking performance, the one that got him acclaim in Hollywood and the beautiful piece of acting that I’ll always remember him for.
It is always a delight indeed to sit down with the director of one of my favorite movies. Steve Carver (Big Bad Mama, Lone Wolf McQuade), acclaimed filmmaker and photographic artist extraordinaire has given us all, not only great cinema, but now his first book, Western Portraits: The Unsung Heroes & Villains of the Silver Screen (Edition Olms, 2019). Rendered in evocative tones reminiscent of Edward Sheriff Curtis’s immortal images, the stylized photographs in Western Portraits capture the allure and mystique of the Old West, complete with authentic costuming, weaponry and settings. Among the subjects who posed for the book are the popular actors Karl Malden, David Carradine, R. G. Armstrong, Stefanie Powers, L. Q. Jones, Denver Pyle and 77 others.
From the epic feature film to the TV series and serial, this coffee table book puts the story of character actors and the significance of their memorable roles into an entertaining perspective. Appealing at once to lovers of classic cinema, Western history aficionados, writers, scholars and collectors of nostalgia and fine art photography, Western Portraits of Great Character Actors: The Unsung Heroes & Villains of the Silver Screen will awaken movie memories in people’s hearts while introducing others to the amazing work of these acting artists, serving as a record of the best of the Hollywood Western.
With collaborators C. Courtney Joyner – a writer whose first major output was a string of more than 25 movie screenplays beginning with The Offspring starring Vincent Price, and Prison directed by Renny Harlin. His novels include the new fantasy-adventure Nemo Rising and the Shotgun Western series, which have both been optioned for television – and Roger Corman – Legendary film director-producer – who contributed the foreword for Western Portraits alongside Joyner’s crafted series of insightful essays to accompany the photographs.
He learnt the art of story-boarding from the great Alfred Hitchcock, he learnt to make pasta with Sergio Leone, and has directed the man we remember as the American Ninja. Steve is so full of stories I hope his next book is definitely an autobiography, but in the meantime we have this glorious work to sit and marvel at. Some of the greatest character actors of all time (that have also been my guests, in the persons of Tim Thomerson and Fred Williamson) take center stage in a book the is the ultimate amalgamation of fine art and Hollywood yesteryear.
Brooklyn native Steve Carver studied photography at the University of Buffalo and Washington University in St. Louis. He pursued a formal education in film-making at the American Film Institute’s Center for Advanced Film Studies, also participating in the Directors Guild of America’s apprenticeship program. Prolific motion picture producer Roger Corman hired Carver to direct four movies, including Big Bad Mama. Carver also directed American action star Chuck Norris in An Eye for an Eye and Lone Wolf McQuade.
Brittany Murphy had a look and a talent that jumped off the screen wherever she was seen. She made an apparent effort to pick edgier, more challenging roles in distinct, darker projects and as such her career is speckled with some truly interesting appearances. That’s not to say she didn’t know how to carry herself in the odd RomCom or straightforward drama, which she did here and there too. But it was that adaptable nature, that obvious magnetism and passion for unconventional films and frequently playing broken, troubled individuals that made her so magical onscreen. She left us far too soon but her work remains, and here are my top ten personal favourite performances!
10. Tai in Amy Heckerling’s Clueless
A surprise 90’s sleeper hit, the trio of Murphy, Stacey Dash and Alicia Silverstone as three teenage girls coming of age is a charmer thanks to all their performances, hers being the standout.
9. Fay Forrester in Penny Marshall’s Riding In Cars With Boys
Everyone is dysfunctional in this off kilter, bittersweet drama showcasing a woman (Drew Barrymore), her family and everything that befalls them. Murphy is bubbly, sweet, neurotic and adorable as her friend Fay who struggles equally as hard and deals with it in hilarious ways, like belting out off key solos at a wedding.
8. Izzy in The Prophecy II
Right as Izzy and her boyfriend deliberately crash their car into a wall and commit suicide, Christopher Walken’s scheming Angel Gabriel shows up to grab her soul and help him out in a few endeavours. She gives the dark situation a comedic touch here, it’s a nice riff on ‘suicides become civil servants in the afterlife,’ plus she has terrific chemistry with Walken.
7. Daisy in James Mangold’s Girl Interrupted
In a powerhouse female cast with people like Angelina Jolie, Winona Ryder and Clea Duvall, Brittany holds her own as an outcast of the group with a sad history of sexual abuse, bulimia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She has a complex relationship with her father who mistreats her and a corrosive one with Jolie’s wild card Lisa that ultimately ends her arc in tragedy. Murphy handles it with maturity and a clear sense of character the whole way.
6. Jody Marken in Cherry Falls
The Scream franchise gets all the slasher spoof accolades but this underrated gem is well worth checking out. Set in a small Virginia town where a serial killer is targeting virgins, you can imagine how it goes. She plays the daughter of the local sheriff here (Michael Biehn) and gives a tough, magnetic turn in a very subversive piece of hysterical genre satire.
5. Veronica in Phoenix
A wayward Arizona teen who crosses paths with a corrupt vice cop (Ray Liotta), its an uncomfortable case of daddy issues run amok in a hot blooded desert film noir. Her mother (Anjelica Huston) knows reprehensible behaviour when she sees it, both on her daughter’s part and Liotta’s. She’s great in scenes with both these acting titans and demonstrated early on her natural talent and ability to control a scene almost effortlessly.
4. Rhonda in Matthew Bright’s Freeway
When Reese Witherspoon’s fearsome protagonist Vanessa finds herself in juvie lockup, Murphy’s Rhonda is her cellmate of sorts, and she’s quite something. Twitchy, off kilter and slightly disassociated, we kind of wanna know why she’s in there too, until we find out and regret it. This is probably the most distinct and oddball character work she has done, replacing her usual bubbly nature with a sly, ever so slightly menacing smirk and creepy mannerisms that bounce hilariously off of Witherspoon’s deadpan acidity.
3. Shellie in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City
As saloon barmaid with questionable taste in men, Shellie can be forgiven for the simple fact that every single man *in* Sin City is questionable in nature. Embroiled in a sweaty love triangle between hard-ass Dwight (Clive Owen) and nasty corrupt cop Jackie (Benicio Del Toro), she gives her scenes a slinky, nervous yet in control quality and suits this world nicely.
2. Nikki in Jonas Åkerlund’s Spun
Spun is a delirious, heavily stylized and chaotically brilliant look at a day in the life of LA meth junkies, one of whom is Murphy’s Nikki. She’s dating a meth cook twice her age (Mickey Rourke) and can’t seem to figure out why her dog’s fur is green, so needless to say her life is somewhat in shambles. She finds the manic, buzzing energy here alongside a wicked awesome cast, giving Nikki a tragic edge that cuts deep past all the posturing and ditzy fanfare.
1. Elizabeth Burrows in Gary Fleder’s Don’t Say A Word
Psychologist Michael Douglas is called in to evaluate her character here, a highly disturbed teenager who hides behind a shellshocked, twisted facade and guards closely the reason for her damaged mind. Years before she witnessed her father die at the hands of a ruthless killer (Sean Bean) and knows that one day he’ll come back for her. Despite being younger than a good portion of her scene partners throughout her sadly short career she always found energy and potency alongside them and quite often stole scenes. Such is the case in her interplay with Douglas here, a harrowing set of mind games meant to smoke the truth out of her and constant ditch efforts on her part to avoid facing the past. Brilliant performance in a solid thriller.
Powers Boothe was one of Hollywood’s most understated yet grittiest badasses, a powerful, stone voiced presence who could vividly bring many characters to life including cowboys, corrupt politicians, stern law enforcement officers and more, always with the kind of steely eyed, half smirk charisma that suggested he’s holding a couple cards close to his chest for a fiercely explosive element to the performance arc later on. Unfortunately he is no longer with us but the vivid impression he left with his multiple, varied and always intense portrayals lives on every day. Here are my top ten personal favourite performances!
10. Philip Marlowe in HBO’s Philip Marlowe: Private Eye
Many actors have taken a whack at playing this iconoclastic gumshoe, but Boothe’s turn remains the most charismatic, entertaining and also under the radar. This is kind of a long lost HBO miniseries that’s hard to find these days but his gruff, keen and dangerous version of Marlowe is a key touchstone of the man’s career.
9. Mace Ryan in Dwight H. Little’s Rapid Fire
Perhaps the crankiest big city narcotics task force commander that Chicago has ever seen, Ryan teams up with the late great Brandon Lee to viciously take down a heroin syndicate and fire as many guns as he can in the process. He’s loud, mean and always on edge here but underneath that bristled exterior there’s a warmth and strong moral compass that we see in his subtly paternal relationship with Lee’s character. I might add this is one of the most underrated martial arts/shoot out actioners of the 90’s.
8. Mayor Eo Jaxxon in Comedy Central’s Moonbeam City
Not many people paid attention to this short lived, balls out animated series but it’s a fucking gem. Basically like an Archer type cop show with that amazing 80’s neon pastel Miami Vice aesthetic that we all love, starring Rob Lowe as a cocky but ultimately dipshit big city cop. Boothe steals the goddamn show in one episode alone though as the brash, coke fuelled, megalomaniacal mayor. Sporting a crispy white suit and two snow leopards for pets, it’s the kind of voiceover performance that lets this mostly grave and serious actor have a fucking ton of fun and just be looney for a little while, he had a real untapped gift for comedy that was only really apparent in this role.
7. Curly Bill Brocius in George P. Cosmatos’ Tombstone
Nothing beats the sight of villainous Brocius stumbling out of of an opium den, drawing his revolvers and deliriously shooting civilians for the sheer hell of it. Or his deadpan, nonchalant “Well… bye!” sardonically sneered at Wyatt Earp and his gang. He’s admittedly overshadowed and outlived by Michael Biehn’s ferocious antagonist Johnny Ringo but still makes a hell of an impression.
6. Cy Tolliver in HBO’s Deadwood
Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen gets much of the accolades here and rightfully so but Boothe’s rival saloon kingpin is an evil snake whose perverse, complex and twisted relationship with his chief whore (Kim Dickens) is a powerfully compelling dynamic.
5. Sheriff Virgil Potter in Oliver Stone’s U Turn
All of the townsfolk in Superior, Arizona are nasty, secretive snakes, Powers’ scary local sheriff included. He spends much of the film intimidating Sean Penn, getting silly drunk on spirits and not a whole lot of actually enforcing the law. When the third act revelations begin to play out and the noirish twists come along there’s a terrifying, blind drunk ferocity to his work that remains some of the best in a large, prolific cast.
4. Corporal Charles Hardin in Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort
A well read, thinking man stuck in the military isn’t something you always expect to see in cinema every day but here he plays an educated Texan who is less than thrilled to be saddled with yokel fellow soldiers for a Louisiana National Guard training exercise that goes hellishly South. There’s a hard bitten nature to his resilience here as he and another survivor (Keith Carradine) in the unit do battle with dangerous Cajuns who know the terrain far better than them.
3. Senator Roark in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City & Sin City: A Dame To Kill For
His monologue about power in the first film was a chilling picture of ultimate evil and corruption, and then in the second we got to see him actually act on all that for one of the most memorable and heinous comic book baddies ever written. Gravel voiced, power-mad beyond reason, narrow eyed and psychopathic to the bone, Powers makes this guy one arch villain for the ages.
2. Cash Bailey in Walter Hill’s Extreme Prejudice
The pimpest drug baron to ever wear a white suit and swig tequila, Cash is in a fierce turf war with childhood friend and Texas Ranger Jack Benteen (Nick Nolte) that erupts into bloody Peckinpah-esque madness. Boothe is slick, mean, magnetic, deftly verbose and creates one of the coolest, baddest dudes of action cinema here, whether he’s prophetically killing a scorpion or menacing his and Jack’s childhood sweetheart (Maria Conchita Alonso). What a character.
1. Bill Markham in John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest
Perhaps the most vulnerable and down to earth character he’s played, Bill is an industrial developer who loses his son at the edge of the vast Amazon rainforest, only to be reunited after a decades long search and the boy’s adoption into a Native tribe. He shows striking depth, compassion, determination and paternal instinct here, I love that Boorman cast him against type because he wound up giving what I consider to be a career best turn.
Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror reminds me of a raucous house party where everyone shows up in costume ready to fuck shit up; there’s a huge ensemble of partygoers, some true blue old friends you haven’t seen in years, some fresh new faces and even some people outside the gaggle of usual suspects you’d usually find at this type of thing. Everyone involved ditches their professional personas and gets down n’ dirty for change, inhibitions gone and ready to not take anything too seriously for a bit. In paying loving tribute to the 70’s Grindhouse exploitation they grew up with Rodriguez and pal Tarantino produced decidedly different tales on the aesthetic for their double feature and although Quentin’s is probably the better film when you look at the big picture, Robert’s is arguably the more entertaining one.
This is a zombie flick of sorts, employing the simple premise of a US county afflicted by a killer virus accidentally unleashed by Sayid from LOST, here playing a weirdo scientist who collects dude’s testicles in a jar. Pretty soon the horrifically gooey infection spreads into the nearby towns and causes the kind of wanton, disorganized chaos that only the best B movies have to offer. Rose McGowan (before she went all psycho feminist on us) is killer good and super hot as Cherry Darling, a go-go dancer who doesn’t let the loss of her leg stop her from being an absolute badass, hooking up a high powered machine gun to assist in killing zombies. She’s joined by many including badass gunslinger El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), the grizzled local Sheriff (Michael Biehn), a BBQ slinging old salt (Jeff Fahey), the local doctor (Marley Shelton) Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Michael Parks), Fergie from The Black Eyed Peas and more. The framework of the film is essentially just a loose blueprint for bloody mayhem to ensue and the huge cast to all get their moments of inspired insanity. Bruce Willis has a deranged cameo as an army lieutenant who claims to have killed Bin Laden before swelling into a gargantuan behemoth zombie and exploding, so there’s that. Tarantino himself shows up as ‘Rapist #1’ and almost gets to live up to that name before his junk literally melts off in the film’s most inspired gross out moment. My favourite aside from Biehn and Fahey (who are epic) might be Josh Brolin, poised right before his legendary Hollywood comeback and playing the psychotic Doc Block here, an initial family man who loses it and becomes a raving lunatic before he’s even bitten by a zombie. This is pure aged cheddar through and through, and unrepentant bloodbath that finds the cheap vibe it’s going for in paying tribute to the old Grindhouse flicks of yore.
Michael Parks was one of those actors who could light up a scene, and although you hear similes like that thrown around about a whole lot of people on the business, he was one that more than deserved to have it applied in his work. Originally gaining traction in the 60’s and 70’s for television, feature films and westerns, Parks was put on the Hollywood blacklist for simply standing up to the integrity of a character/show he was working on, a testament to his spirit and refusal to let the work be anything but top notch. The latter half of his career saw him resurrected with a vengeance by the likes of Kevin Smith, Quentin and others and it was here that he provided us with some truly unique, compelling performances. Here are my personal top ten!
10. Esteban Vihaio in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 2
His second role in the Kill Bill films sees him embody a mercurial Mexican pimp who provides the story with some purring exposition and Uma Thurman’s The Bride with vital information whilst slyly hitting on her at the same time. It’s only a quick scene but he grounds it with some deft humour and relishes every syllable of the Latin accent.
9. Dr. Banyard in Deceiver
More exposition! This is a weird little 90’s neo-noir about two troubled Detectives (Michael Rooker and Chris Penn) investigating the murder of a hooker (Renee Zellweger). Parks plays the psychiatrist they consult about a creepy suspect (Tim Roth) who suffers from a rare type of epilepsy. He’s essentially laying out information for the audience here but Michael was one of those rare actors who could do that and tell you so much about his character without, you know, *actually* telling you. This is pretty obscure for a such a great cast but it’s worth seeking out.
8. Abin Cooper in Kevin Smith’s Red State
Terrifying is the word for him here, playing the maniacal patriarch of a bunch of backwoods extremists who make the Westboro Baptist Church look like choirboys. The key is in the soft spoke dialogue, letting his energy simmer on the back burner so that when the fire and brimstone portion of his performance does show up, it blindsides us.
7. Doc Barrow in Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are
A small town doctor who gets suspicious when people including his wife go missing near a secluded rural area, Barrow discovers a family of cannibals living in the hills and must fend them off. This is a brilliant slow burn horror with solid performances all round but it’s his keen, quiet and observant husband who wins the day and becomes the most memorable.
6. Tommy O’Shea in Death Wish V: The Face Of Death
O’Shea is a reprehensible piece of shit Irish mobster who isn’t above threatening or killing women and children and rules his district with casual Joker-esque brutality until, naturally, Charles Bronson kicks the piss out of him. He’s one of the most memorable villains of the franchise in ironically the least memorable film it has to offer, but oh well. He redeems the film with his thoroughly evil portrayal and has a lot of fun along the way.
5. Ronny ‘Del’ Delany in The Hitman
This is essentially just another carbon copy, subpar Chuck Norris action flick but Michael owns villain duties as Chuck’s scumbag partner who betrays and tries to kill him. He’s only in the beginning and end of the film but the character bookends the whole thing and provides a classy, dashing evil prick to do battle with the hero. Too bad he doesn’t win in the end, because he’s eternally more watchable than that goofy ass cocker spaniel Norris.
4. Ambrose Bierce in From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter
Real life poet Bierce really did disappear, although he likely didn’t end up in an Aztec vampire bordello like this film imagines. Parks made an appearance in the first Dusk film and gets the lead here, making Bierce a well read, hard drinking, sardonic badass who totally steals the show.
3. Howard Howe in Kevin Smith’s Tusk
How do you bring dimension to the role of a walrus obsessed serial killer? Start by being Michael Parks. Smith gave him the role of a lifetime here and he chews it up enthusiastically, hitting so many notes in his performance that one could write a dissertation on the character. He makes the guy a monster, no doubt. But a funny ass monster, one with depth, charisma and the magnetism to pull off such an absurd premise.
2. Jean Renault in Twin Peaks
This masterful show is jam packed with villains both earthbound and of other planes so the competition to leave a lasting impression is high. Parks showed up during a season two creative drought as Renault, a psychopathic French Canadian drug kingpin with a taste for blood and the nerve to back it up. Stylish, confident and venomous, he’s one of the show’s great antagonist arcs and plus the dude has a retractable dagger up his sleeve, it doesn’t get any cooler than that.
1. Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1/Death Proof and Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn/Planet Terror
Parks is so good as McGraw that the character is pretty much an archetype by now, appearing multiple times across the Tarantino/Rodriguez multiverse to battle zombies, investigate the El Paso wedding chapel massacre and lament that retards are allowed to operate BBQ stands. The laconic nature, laidback yet keen attitude and no nonsense demeanour of this guy makes him stand out in whichever scene he chooses to amble in and grace his true blue presence with.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more content!
Johnny Depp is known as one of the ultimate chameleon actors, and since he got his start in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street he has been entertaining audiences for over two decades with lively, theatrical and off the wall characters. Sometimes it works wonders (our beloved Jack Sparrow), other times comes across as weird (that lame Mad Hatter) and sometimes it’s downright creepy (oh man his misguided attempt at Willy Wonka). He’s also adept at voice work as well as some gritty, brooding, down to earth character roles and whether the particular performance lands nicely or flounders awkwardly, he’s never not fascinating in some way. Here are my top ten favourites of his work!
10. Rango in Gore Verbinski’s Rango
Depp lends his voice to the titular chameleon and hero of this most unconventional, unclassifiable and wholly brilliant animation film. Set in the Mojave desert, it follows Rango as he encounters a town called Dirt, and just about every western archetype you could think of within it. It’s a dazzling sendup of both the western genre and the medium of storytelling itself, speckled with off the wall adult humour and vivid voice work from a huge cast. Johnny brings obvious physicality to the role and embodies the energy, tone and style of this unique piece flawlessly.
9. Ichabod Crane in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow
In bringing this classic Washington Irving character to life Depp uses a hilariously ironic fear of blood and all things morbid that’s constantly at odds with his fascination, intuition and knack for solving grisly murders. Burton’s flat out gorgeous palette, Depp’s nervous yet strong willed performance and a whole pack of epic supporting actors make this one of the best gothic horror flicks out there.
8. Frederick Abberline in the Hughes Brother’s From Hell
An opium addled Scotland Yard inspector with some serious demons in his closet, Depp’s keen but damaged cop investigates the Jack The Ripper slayings in Victorian London and uncovers more than he wished. This is a sumptuous, gloriously stylized Alan Moore adaption that captures the horror and grim malice of this period of history. His performance finds the haunted notes of the character while still retaining a lucid intellect and trusty intuition, displaying terrific chemistry with Heather Graham as a prostitute he falls in love with and Robbie Coltrane as his salty captain.
7. Raoul Duke in Terry Gilliam’s Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas
Depp was close friends with author Hunter S. Thompson and it’s apparent in his balls out, maniacally dedicated performance as a junkie journalist on a madcap bender through sin city with his trusty and equally deranged sidekick (Benicio Del Toro). This is a love it or hate it experience of mind blowing insanity, but there’s no denying his headlong commitment to character and willingness to go the extra mile and then some.
6. Tonto in Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger
This film inexplicably bombed and got a bad rep, but it’s one of my favourites and Depp’s loony, off kilter turn as Tonto is something to be seen. He’s a nut job with a crow on his head that spouts enough mumbo jumbo to confuse anyone and yet there’s something sad, forlorn and lonely about the work here, which becomes even more apparent as his character arc comes full circle.
5. Mort Rainey in David Koepp’s Secret Window
Channeling his inner wacko, Depp brings a deranged Stephen King character vividly to life in this tale of a depressed writer holed up in a cabin on the lake until he gets an unwanted visitor and things get spooky. He’s always had a great loony side to his work but here he really gets to explore a character who, bit by bit, is completely losing his marbles. Featuring scary supporting work from John Turturro as a bumpkin who comes wandering out of the woods looking for trouble, this is a deliriously fun and very atmospheric thriller, one of the best page to screen King translations.
4. Ed Wood in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood
Ed Wood was considered the worst director of all time, but that’s just an aside to Burton and Depp, who choose to make their film ultimately about a man so in love with filmmaking that he overlooks every flaw in the process, finding beauty in blunder. Wood was a guy who essentially made Z grade junk for less than dimes and soldiered on through rejection and infamy. Depp plays him as a warm and very passionate guy who wants to give everyone a shot, including now washed up and drug addicted Bela Lugosi, played brilliantly here by Martin Landau. Whether perceived as jokester hack artist or dedicated exploitation pirate, there’s no denying that Depp finds all the perfect notes, sad nuances and beautiful aspects of Wood’s life and legacy in a performance that practically comes to life in crisp, gorgeous black and white.
3. Jeffrey Sands in Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon A Time In Mexico
Sands is a rogue CIA operative who is so spectacularly corrupt that the agency doesn’t know what else to do but station him way down in Mexico where he can’t cause trouble but somehow manages to anyway. He’s is just so hilariously eccentric in the role, whether he’s wearing a prosthetic arm to hide a firearm, murdering a chef because his slow cooked pork was *too good*, deviously instigating an explosive coup that tears Mexico City apart or reading a biography of Judy Garland in between double crossings and back stabbings, he’s too much fun and steals a film that already stars people like Willem Defoe, Mickey Rourke Danny Trejo, which is no easy accomplishment. He also gets arguably the most badass shootout of the film in a sequence that’s beautifully reminiscent of Sergio Leone in all the coolest ways.
2. William Blake in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man
This haunting, unconventional art house western sees him as a meek accountant from Cleveland who travels out to the Wild West for work and instead finds himself becoming an outlaw, murderer and eventually arriving at his own death, but not in the way you might think. This is one of my all time favourite films, it’s a meditative work of brilliant art with stunning black and white photography, a wonderfully eclectic star studded cast and a hypnotic guitar score by Neil Young. Johnny anchors it with a performance that travels an incredible arc from mild mannered city boy to archetypal phantom of the frontier.
1. Captain Jack Sparrow in Gore Verbinski’s Pirates Of The Caribbean
What can I say, this is the flagship Depp performance, the most inspired piece of acting he’s done and one of the most lovable, roguish, hilarious and perpetually tipsy characters to ever be born of cinema. With roots in Keith Richards’s essence he made specific costume, mannerism and vocal choices in bringing Jack alive, he’s the heart, soul and dreadlocked hair of the Pirates franchise and pretty much a pop culture icon too.
Thanks for reading! Tune in for more content and let me know if you have any requests!