Indeed, if you find many folks feeling blue, it’s not only the longevity of her career resulted in so many memorable roles, but the fact that she was an icon, role model, and graceful force to be reckoned with in film, on stage, and on television.
I know many of the remembrances point to her amazing performance in The Manchurian Candidate. If you haven’t seen the film, its worth seeing for her alone (I picture Lady Macbeth seeing Lansbury’s machinations and saying, “No notes.”). However, my favorite villain role for her is probably 1955’s The Court Jester, where her petulance as a pampered princess is only matched by the peril she poses.
Of course, there’s also the wonderfully caring yet callous (and, at least for quality control, cannibalistic) Mrs. Lovett from Sweeney Todd.
All this before she was Mrs. Potts or Jessica Fletcher.
So 96 years is a damn fine run, especially because she spent so many of them working, but it’s sad to see her go. What a Dame.
While plenty of the headlines mention The Omen and Titanic, many of my generation were first introduced to him as the scene-stealing Evil One in Time Bandits(or simply “Evil” which is very dangerous in concentrated form).
And that was not Warner’s only appearance in work adored by speculative fiction fans of a certain age. He was wonderful in Tron, criminally underused in Star Trek V, well-used in Star Trek VI, and absolutely phenomenal in the justly-lauded “Chain of Command” a two-parter for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Besides that, there’s Doctor Who (both audio and visual), Babylon 5, and shows like Wallander and the Hornblower series. And, for anyone who hasn’t seen the 1979 Time After Time (which, this far into the 21st century is likely a lot of you), you get not only a great David Warner performance, but a surprisingly fun turn by Malcolm McDowell not being the villain.
So David Warner holds a special place in my film-loving heart as a “character actor” whose appearance was always welcome. It could be that my dad gave us an appreciation of the supporting players that add that essential zest to any good film. Other kids my age had no idea who Victor McLaglen, Thelma Ritter, or Martin Balsam were, but thanks to my dad’s classic movie education, I did. Growing up, I naturally starting spotting those same sorts of actors in our generation’s movies, like Dabney Coleman, Edi McClurg, and, yes, David Warner. And, possibly owing to being the third kid, character actors were always an underdog of sorts to root for. That guy? Who was in that thing? Yeah, I want to know their names. They’re awesome.
I likely need to expand on my working theory of third/third-plus/youngest kids. I hinted at this with my fandom of Moon Knight some months back, but those of us who were the third or fourth or youngest kids would compare notes. And I don’t know if my sample size is wide enough or if times have changed, but back when I checked with my fellow non-firstborns, we found that we gravitated to That Guy and That Gal. Our older siblings had laid claim to the Luke Skywalkers and Supermans, the Captain Kirks and the Batmen. Being fans of the “A” list pop culture icons was thus copying our older brothers and sisters and, at some point, you want your “own thing.” Also –and this could definitely be a generational thing– our parents weren’t about to get multiple copies of the same comic/record/what-have-you. They’d even look askance if we were using are own money, because thrift! And we could generally listen or read our siblings’ copies (because thrift! Now put it back!). So, my working theory is that my appreciation of character actors, introduced by my dad, was deepened by being the youngest and getting my “own things.”
And then I pursued being an actor myself in college… and “character actors” took on a whole new meaning.
At some point, several directors and acting teachers made sure I understood that I was not a “leading man” type, I was a “character actor.” I was Kent, but not King Lear. For some reason, several of them said, identically, “You’re not Tom Cruise.”
I mean, I remember high school. I was under no illusions I was Tom Cruise.
Fast forward after college and I’m working in regional theaters in various parts: often enjoyable and always “supporting.”
Walking out of the theater after a rehearsal, a visiting director du jour was in an advice-giving mood.
“You know Bjorn, you need to understand that you’re not a leading man. You’re not Tom Cruise.”
Does Tom Cruise know he’s the go-to definition of “leading man?” He probably does. He’s Tom Cruise.
I sighed inwardly, but kept listening. He was 50-something. I was 20-something. So many of my instructors and directors had been 50 or 60-somethings at this point and they usually had some good insight gleaned from the decades of experience they had over me.
“You’re a character actor, like me.”
This was a change. When people invoked Tom Cruise, Lord High Leading Man, the insight usually ended there. They certainly didn’t associate themselves with me.
“It can be frustrating, I know. Because you’re as much an actor as the guys who get the leading roles — maybe more so as a character actor because you’re going to do all different types of parts.”
This was leading somewhere.
“So what’s going to happen is you’re going to put in the time. 20 years. 25 years. And then, all of a sudden, the phone starts ringing. You’re getting auditions. You’re getting gigs. Because you’ve built a body of work as a character actor.”
He provided some examples of the diverse work he had been getting, which, I had previously learned from other instructors, is what you do: you get work from every which where.
“So that’s what I’m saying. Stick with it and you can be a Dabney Coleman. You could be a David Warner!”
Now, tormenting Mathew Broderick and harassing Dolly Parton were not top of my acting bucket list. But trying to take over the world or simply making Patrick Stewart question his light-counting abilities? Talk about actor motivation.
I’ve never forgotten that moment… because it was the time David Warner went from being an actor I admired to an actor I aspire to emulate. Actually, I think that’s the moment where I realized he had been a subconscious role model for the work I wanted to do as an actor. And I’ve thought of that moment each time I’ve watched his performances since and I quite consciously study them.
I could be a David Warner?
That’s an impossible dream, but a dream worth dreaming.
(I mean, I don’t think I can ever pull off playing a character named Spicer Lovejoy, for one).
Thank you for your prodigious body of work, David Warner. May your memory be a blessing.
Really, if you are at all interested in his career or perspective on things (he is a tremendous film geek in addition to his other geekdoms), the hour will fly by. And it’s applicable to any creative industry.
Those of you who know I grew up listening to vintage radio will understand that I jumped at the chance to provide a radio announcer voice for that era… and I’m very happy that it’s part of the short film Desolate Dreams, being developed now by filmmaker Kiyoka Rhodes and a fantastic team. Besides the video, be sure to check out their website to learn more about the people working to bring this film to life and how you can support it.
As many of you may know, the audio theater troupe I run, Jabberwocky Audio Theater, has its shows start on broadcast radio, WERA-LP 96.7 FM in Arlington, Virginia to be precise.
WERA is community radio, as in the program literally comes from the community. And it gives back, with news, coverage of local events, and some of the best value in media training around (which includes TV as well, since WERA is part of Arlington Independent Media).
But it also depends on the community for financial support in the best of times, so this past year has hit them hard, and Arlington Independent Media is looking to keep on going through their 39th year and beyond. They’ve been integral to our getting Jabberwocky Audio Theater off the ground again in 2018 and we’d love to see them continue.
The first episode is online, along with a link to a fundraiser which will allow the producers to pay for the rest of the season, including making sure we actors get paid. So, especially if you’re a fan of human-centric thoughtful science fiction, give episode one a listen and spread the word. And if you are able, any ducats would be appreciated.
While it’s almost certain I first saw Kotto in Alien, the performance that will always stick with me was seeing him on stage as Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s Fences.
Through all the power, fragility, strength, and weakness in that character was a presence that just couldn’t be faked. As an actor and as a casting director, I obsess about actors “inhabiting” their characters to the right degree — and Kotto always did so. Amazingly so.
And I should point out he could inhabit all sorts of characters in a variety of genres. For Midnight Run, his turn as FBI agent Alonzo Mosely is a perfectly realized straight man in an action-comedy whose plot was anything but straightforward. His gravitas weathers all the shenanigans and manages to ground the film in the stakes, especially at the end.
Although he turned down an opportunity to be Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, evidently in part to avoid being typed in “space” films, he did come awfully close to being in another venerable sci-fi franchise.
Yes, apparently he was close to being Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. That would have been a very different Picard, but man would I like to see the stories from that timeline.
Time and again, the appearance of Yaphet Kotto has meant you’re getting a damn fine performance. I’m overdue to revisit his turn as Lt. Al Giardello in Homicide: Life on the Street, a series I should check out again anyway.
You want to talk about the bonus situation? The bonus situation was whenever Yaphet Kotto showed up. May his memory be a blessing.
As some friends and fellow filmmakers know, I have offered to be the DC-area Sean Bean –the National Capital Area “kirareyaku,” so to speak– is he really the man (or woman) we’ve see die the most on screen?
Find out the answer in this video where film spoilers abound: