Character Actor Month – Part 2

Dylan Baker (IMDB credits: 91, Planes Trains and AutomobilesHappiness, Requiem for a Dream, Thirteen Days, Road to Perdition, Spider-Man 2)

You know him as Dr. Curt Conners in the Spider-Man films, most likely. I remember him mainly for two roles: A pedophiliac psychiatrist in Todd Solondz’s dementedly hilarious Happiness and as the bizarrely backwoods ride in Planes, Train, and Automobiles. He had a modest upbringing in Lynchburg, Virginia and attended William and Mary before moving onto the Yale School of Drama, where his fellow classmates included Chris Noth and Patricia Clarkson. Like most character actors, Baker has garnered great success in live theater, even receiving a Tony nomination for his performance in La Bete, a comedic play inspired by Moliere and written in iambic pentameter. In addition, he’s married to Becky Ann Baker, who played the mother on the amazing ahead of its time television series Freaks and Geeks, seriously, if you haven’t seen it get ahold of the DVDs, I’m not asking you to, I’m commanding! One of Baker’s most recent, best, and I suspect most overlooked performances was as deeply dark and disturbed elementary school principal in the Halloween flick Trick R’ Treat.

Peter Stormare (IMDB credits: 100, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Dancer in the Dark, Minority Report)

He was one of the Nihilists Lebowski feared would take his balls, he was the man who put Buscemi through a wood chipper, and he was the doctor who replaced Tom Cruise’s eyeballs. Born in Sweden in 1953, Peter Stormare (formerly Rolf Peter Ingvar Storm), has had great success in Hollywood but it didn’t start until he was 43. Before then, worked with the Swedish Royal Dramatic Theater for 11 years and then the Tokyo Globe Theater (Where he worked as the Associate Artistic Director). He moved to New York, was discovered for films by Ingmar Bergman, and played the Swedish equivalent of James Bond. It was a few years later when he was cast by the Coen Brothers in Fargo and finally got the international attention he deserved for all these years. I find Stormare to have incredible comic timing and such a dry sense of humor. The first time I saw him I didn’t quite get it, but as he appeared in more and more films, it grew me on. His slightly doofy line deliveries and hollow eyed look. A style of comedy that is really much more about pulling back than going over the top.

O-Lan Jones (IMDB credits: 45, The Right Stuff, Edward Scissorhands, Natural Born Killers, Mars Attacks!, The Truman Show)

You probably know her as the fundamentalist wacko neighbor in Edward Scissorhands. Or maybe the waitress who won’t give back the autographed photo to Jerry Seinfeld. Or any number of countless waitresses she has played. Jones said once, “Most actresses make money waitressing while trying to find acting work. I’m the only one who makes her career waitressing on screen.” She was born in Los Angeles in 1950, started acting at age 16, she moved to New York where she met and married the brilliant writer Sam Shephard in 1969. The divorced in the early 80s, and she began making her appearances in numerous films, usually as a waitress. Recently, she has embarked on staging her own modern opera using all recycled materials to make props, costumes, and sets, featuring a live orchestra, and her own filmed video pieces. And about that odd first name. Her mother loved Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth so much she named her daughter after one of the characters.

Stephen Root (IMDB credits: 109, Office Space, Newsradio, Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill, O Brother Where Art Thou, Finding Nemo, No Country For Old Men, Idiocracy)

If you don’t recognize his face, I’m sure you know his voice. From television he is most known as Jimmy James, owner of the radio station in Newsradio and the perpetual loser Bill in King of the Hill. From films, you definitely know him as Milton, the man desperate to keep his stapler in Office Space. Born in Sarasota, Florida, Root didn’t have any sort of extraordinary acting background, other than majoring in theater at the University of Florida. It was his friendship with Mike Judge that really got his career going, voicing Milton as a cartoon in a series of crude shorts and doing voices for Judge in Beavis and Butthead. From there, his career saw skyrocketed in the 1990s. Office Space has cemented his place as a cult film figure, while he has befriended the Coen Brothers and been featured in many of their films. He’s one of the best comedic character actors out there, able to tackle a seemingly infinite range of types. His four episode run on True Blood was one of those you wish could have become a regular role.

Dick Miller (IMDB credits: 170 films, The Little Shop of Horrors, Rock N’ Roll High School, The Howling, Gremlins, The Terminator, Innerspace, The ‘Burbs, Pulp Fiction)

When I think Dick Miller, I think of poor Murray Futterman in Gremlins, a man who was convinced the little monsters existed but no one believed him. Miller got his start with the classic shlockmeister Roger Corman, most famously in the original The Little Shop of Horrors as Seymour. Director Joe Dante would cleverly wink at that film by casting the original Audrey (Jackie Joseph) as Miller’s wife in Gremlins, one of those things you don’t realize as a kid but love when find out about when you’re an adult. Miller moved from working with Corman in the late 1970s, to being a regular in Joe Dante’s mainstream Corman-like horror comedies. I absolutely love Miller in The ‘Burbs as a garbageman who has zero patience for the paranoid neighbors in a Chicago suburbs street. Its one scene but it is incredibly memorable due to Miller and co-star Robert Picardo’s perfect comedy timing together.


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