Category Archives: Acting

“You could be a David Warner!”

The indefatigable actor David Warner has died at the age of 80.

David Warner as Hamlet, 1965

You can read remembrances, obituaries, and appreciations from:

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).

This performance made me a fan of Warner for good, even if he was Evil…

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.

Passion Counts: Patton Oswalt Edition

Lest any of you think I’m going to populate the blog with repeatedly grim tales of people being sucky (as I have for a couple Wednesdays and this morning), I just wanted to highlight the Patton Oswalt interview I linked in last week’s post about film distribution.

Patton Oswalt, circa 2018 (the time of the interview)

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.

Video

Desolate Dreams

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.

AIM Calls for Aid!

As one filmmaking colleague I know has mentioned, “Money isn’t an issue, it’s the issue.”

And many creative endeavors rely on crowdfunding these days. Hence my previous post about the audio drama Apollyon (which I should mention I and the other cast & crew really do want to get funded to continue the story).

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.

Besides straight-up donating to them, they also have an auction going on as well as a special virtual concert fundraiser this weekend. Spread the word!

Apollyon, Episode 1 plus Fundraiser

Hey, I mentioned last month that I was in an upcoming audio drama… and it’s here:

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.

Apollyon Launches April 21

I’ve voiced a few characters for audio fiction podcasts in the past few months (not including Jabberwocky Audio Theater) and one of those debuts in less than 30 days!

Apollyon is one of those thoughtful science fiction stories that I love. You can learn more about the story and check out the trailer at the website.

More soon.

Let’s Go Over the Bonus Situation: Remembering Yaphet Kotto

An actor whose magnetic presence matched or exceeded his six foot, four frame, Yaphet Kotto has died at the age of 81.

Parker in the classic sci-fi film Alien is one of his best known roles

Remembrances can be found across the internet, including:

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.

A publicity still from the 1990 London production of Fences (couldn’t find the DC one)

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.

His moment at the end is pure acting gold.
This man has seen things you recent Starfleet grads wouldn’t believe…

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.

And give the man his badge back (still from Midnight Run)
Video

On-Screen Death: Championship Round

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:

Little (Mobile) Theater on the Prarie

The events of last Wednesday are still dwelling on my mind, so it was nice to catch this article by Lia Kvatum in the Washington Post Magazine about an itinerant creative who’s connecting communities to their history through theater. It provides some much needed light and joy… and the notion that we can communicate with one another.

Theatrical portraits of Hanson in Granite Falls, Minn. (Caroline Yang via the Washington Post)

Reading about how Ashley Hanson has been traveling to different communities and talking with the people reminds me of both how the Federal Theatre Project had a whole “think national, act local” approach to productions as well as the more recent Playback Theatre‘s attempts to translate personal experiences into short plays.

When it comes to theater, I am biased, what with it being a “non-trivial” portion of my working life, to say nothing of participating in some of the “walking theater” mentioned in the article (although my part got to be on stage). I believe live theater has a way of connecting and impacting people in a way that will make it just as relevant 100 years from now as it was 1,000 and more years ago. So I wish Hanson and others great success in hundreds more towns across America, because it means connecting and deep listening.

Another Fine Mess with Laurel and Hardy

The end of this week will feature the latest edition of my biennial Favorite Films list, so I suppose I have films on my mind.

Some of the earliest films I saw were short films, thanks to my dad and the Arlington County library which had them. And I do mean films! We had a projector at home, which was often used for birthday parties and other events. This inevitably meant those masters of movie comedy, Laurel and Hardy.

Now, I’m by no means a Laurel and Hardy scholar, for that sort of discussion, you’ll want to check out this excellent interview with film historian Leonard Maltin and general pop culture history maven Mark Evanier, but I am looking for ways to introduce my kids to these classic (Looney Tunes have gone over pretty well, but they’re not the biggest fans of live action… yet).

And as another argument to make sure Laurel and Hardy are in their cinematic upbringing, there’s this remembrance from Mark “Jedi” Hamill: