Tony Shalhoub has a leading role in the USA series Monk about an obsessive-compulsive private eye, but to me he will always be a character actor, and a great one.
Shaloub is so versatile that fans who love his work in Monk will not recognize him in many of his roles. Most people will recall him as Jeebs, the alien who got his head blown off in Men in Black. He had a memorable role in Life or Something Like It as the prescient Prophet Jack and was on the bridge as Tech Sgt. Chen in the Star Trek spoof Galaxy Quest.
These roles are many and varied but hardly represent Shalhoub’s finest work. To find his quintissential roles you have to look to the Coen Brothers who recognize the brilliance of Shalhoub.
I first saw Shaloub as the slick tough-talking studio producer Ben Geisler in Barton Fink. He fits into that early Hollywood 40s archetype so effortlessly. Contrary to the meek Adrian Monk viewers have come to love, he runs roughshod over the cowering, insecure Barton Fink on the business of writing a wrestling picture and it’s great. He steals every scene he’s in.
In The Man Who Wasn’t There, Shalhoub portrays high-powered defense attorney Freddy Riedenschneider, possibly the best supporting character ever seen on film. Shalhoub’s Riedenschneider is cocky beyond belief and he has some many great lines. The Joel and Ethan Coen wrote inspired dialogue and Shalhoub brought it the screen with unbelievable panache. Riedenschneider arrives like a tornado in the middle of the movie after a murder has been committed, and simply takes over and starts laying down the law.
…not fried, poached. Three of ‘em for two minutes. A strip steak medium rare, flapjacks, potatoes, tomato juice, and plenty of hot coffee.
He flips the menu over
…Do you have prairie oysters?
Then bring me a fruit cocktail while I wait.
He looks up at Ed
…You’re Ed Crane?
Barber, right? I’m Freddy Riedenschneider. Hungry? They tell me the chow’s OK here. I made some inquiries.
No thanks, I–
The waitress sets a fruit cocktail in front of Riedenschneider
Look, I don’t wanna waste your time so I’ll eat while we talk. Ya mind? *You* don’t mind. So while I’m in town I’ll be staying at the Hotel Metropole, the Turandot Suite. Yeah, it’s goofy, the suites’re named after operas; room’s OK though, I poked around. I’m having ‘em hold it for me on account of I’ll be back and forth. In addition to my retainer, you’re paying hotel, living expenses, secretarial, private eye if we need to make inquiries, headshrinker should we go that way. We’ll talk about appeals if, as and when. For right now, has she confessed?
No. Of course not. She didn’t do it.
Good! That helps. Not that she didn’t do it, that she didn’t confess. Of course, there’s ways to deal with a confession, but that’s good!–one less thing to think about. Now. Interview. I’m seeing her tomorrow. You should be there. Three o’clock. One more thing: you keep your mouth shut. I get the lay of the land, I tell *you* what to say. No talking out of school. What’s out of school? Everything’s out of school. I do the talking; you keep your trap shut. I’m an attorney, you’re a barber; you don’t know anything. Understood?
Good! Any questions give me a ring–Turandot suite; if I’m out leave a message. You sure you don’t want anything? No?
He points a finger at Ed
…You’re OK, pal. You’re OK, she’s OK. Everything’s gonna be hunky-dory.
The waitress puts down a plate of steak and eggs
…And the flapjacks, honey.
Here’s his take on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle that forms the kernel of his defense.
…They got this guy, in Germany. Fritz something-or-other. Or is it. Maybe it’s Werner. Anyway, he’s got this theory, you wanna test something, you know, scientifically–how the planets go round the sun, what sunspots are made of, why the water comes out of the tap–well, you gotta look at it. But sometimes, you look at it, your looking *changes* it. Ya can’t know the reality of what happened, or what *would’ve* happened if you hadden a stuck in your goddamn schnozz. So there *is* no ‘what happened.’ Not in any sense that we can grasp with our puny minds. Because our minds…our minds get in the way. Looking at something changes it. They call it the ‘Uncertainty Principle.’ Sure, it sounds screwy, but even Einstein says the guy’s on to something. Science. Perception. Reality. Doubt… …Reasonable doubt. I’m sayin’, sometimes, the more you look, the less you really know. It’s a fact. A proved fact. In a way, it’s the only fact there is. This heinie even wrote it out in numbers.
It’s priceless. And there’s so much more. I could post the whole thing, but I don’t really have the time or the inclination. If you really want to get the full taste of Tony Shalhoub at his best, see the movie or read the screenplay.
Today I was flipping around the channels during a break in the football action and I came across Taps playing on WGN. Taps is one of those of movies that I’m almost always compelled to watch when I see it come on TV. I saw it in the theaters when it first came out . It was then and is now a very powerful movie. The movie also launched some incredible acting careers.
It was the third feature for Sean Penn predating even Fast Times. Tom Cruise had only made one previous movie, something called Endless Love, before he landed the role of the mildly insane red beret David Shawn. Sadly, Timothy Hutton’s career went south shortly after Taps which was probably his finest hour. What happened to you, Timothy Hutton? You were so great as Major Brian Moreland. Your career looked so promising. I blame Turk 182.
In all the times that I watched Taps, I never noticed a young Giancarlo Esposito playing the role of cadet J.C. Pierce. It was revelation when I saw him in the flick this afternoon. Esposito has been a favorite of mine since his breakout role of Buggin Out in Do the Right Thing. He’s great in the whole movie, but he steals the film in the scene where the white guy in a Boston Celtics steps on his Air Jordans. It’s a seminal moment in the history of film. I wrote a paper about it in a cinema class that I took at the University of Melbourne, but sadly it went over the heads of my teachers and fellow students, but that’s not important.
What is important is that you recognize the greatness of Giancarlo Esposito from his role as the political journalist Bugs Raplin in Bob Roberts to his performance as FBI agent Jack Baer in The Usual Suspects. And if you still don’t think he’s cool, check out his bio on IMDB.
Chances are you don’t know his name, but I bet you recognize the face. I was going to hold off on Steven Tobolowsky for a while, but seeing as how he made a guest appearance on West Wing last night, I could hardly resist.
Tobolowsky often plays geeky characters like the infamous insurance salesman Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day, but he really makes his mark in the sick and psycopathic roles. The insidious klansman Clayton Townley in Mississippi Burning might have been his most memorable character, he was brilliant as the sexual harrassing client Mitch Myerson in Single White Female, but I think his performance in Memento as the memory-challenged Sammy Jankis is just chilling.
Now you remember, don’t you?
You know these guys by sight, but you rarely know their names, unless you watch movies again and again, like me. They are character actors. Ther came from Broadway or the Soaps. They are not big stars. They don’t get the big parts. But you see them again and again in role after small role.
Perhaps my favorite is James Rebhorn. The reason might be was that he was the first of the character actors that I saw all the time and actually remembered his name. The reason probably is that guy is just damn good at what he does and he impresses the hell out of me.
He played the lawyer Alvin Hooks in Snow Falling on Cedars he was an actor in The Game opposite Michael Douglas. In Basic Instinct he had a small role as a doctor. He normally types into a benevolent professional. Perhaps his finest performance was as the shipping magnate Herbert Greenleaf in The Talented Mr. Ripley, one of my personal favorites.
If you look at his filmography at The Internet Movie Database, you’ll find tons of films that Mr. Rebhorn has appeared in, many that you’ve most likely seen and not noticed him. But when you see him again, maybe in the upcoming hit Cold Mountain, you’ll know his name.
If I can manage it, I’m going to try to profile other character actors from time to time, let you know some of my personal favorites.
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