Beth Grant

Posted on September 7, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Two awful movies released last week, “Extract” and “All About Steve,” give me an opportunity to discuss one of my favorite topics, character actors. One of the best appears in both of them, the wonderful Beth Grant. Character actors are those people who seem vaguely familiar, but don’t often get mentioned in reviews or photographed on red carpets. They play the family members, best friends, thorns in the side, co-workers, explainers, or, often, the fiances/fiancees who get dumped so that the big romantic arc of the movie can reach a successful conclusion.

Beth Grant works steadily and often plays high-strung, picky types, as in “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Donny Darko.” Her appearances in these two most recent films provide some of the very few bright spots. I especially liked seeing her in “All About Steve” in a less straight-laced role.

Here is one of her most famous scenes, from “Donnie Darko:”

I was lucky enough to meet her at the Critic’s Choice awards in January of 2007. I made a short video of her dancing at the party afterward. She was gracious and completely charming.

So, cheers, Beth Grant! I hope you’re in a better movie next time, but know whether it is as good as “Donnie Darko” or as awful as “All About Steve,” you will never let me down.

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Actors with Character, Part 1

Posted on July 8, 2009 at 10:11 am

You know them. That is, they look familiar, but you might not be sure if that is because you saw them in a movie or because you saw them on a train. These are character actors, the indispensible performers who are there for the leading men and ladies to talk to, fight with, run from, almost marry, rescue, punch, shoot, chase, or watch die so they can learn an important lesson. They provide comic relief and when it is necessary they die onscreen to give the main character a growth experience. And while they get paid a small fraction of those 7-figure salaries that go to the stars, their contribution to the movie’s power to entertain and inspire is often as great or greater.
I’m going to share some of my favorites in this and upcoming posts and you can learn more about them in Hey! It’s That Guy!.

The films of the 1930’s had some classic character actors who appeared over and over. Here we can see two of the best, Edward Everett Horton (specialty: silly upper class types) and Eric Blore (specialty: looking down on silly upper class types). Do their voices sound familiar? They both provided voice talent for the Rocky and Bullwinkle series.

“Ball of Fire” is one of my all-time favorites, in part because of its wonderful collection of character actors playing Gary Cooper’s professor colleagues. You can see some of them here including Oscar Homolka, Henry Travers (the angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life”) and the hilariously nasal Richard Hayden.

More character actors in future posts, and of course I’d love to hear about your favorites.

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August MVPs: Steve Coogan and Danny McBride

Posted on August 20, 2008 at 8:00 am

This month’s Most Valuable Cinematic Player award has to be shared by Steve Coogan and Danny McBride, who each deliver not one but two different magnificently hilarious performances in two August releases.
steve coogan.jpgSteve Coogan, is often underrated as an actor because he is so good as a comedian. But in movies like “24 Hour Party People” and “Coffee and Cigarettes” he shows his extraordinary mastery of tone and precision in defining a character. His roles in the two movies he appears in this month are very similar — both are wild satires about show business and in both he plays inexperienced directors whose productions are out of control. But in “Hamlet 2” and “Tropic Thunder” Coogan brilliantly calibrates his performances to fit the character and the story. In “Hamlet 2,” his demented neediness and giddy sense of joy is comedy heaven. In “Tropic Thunder,” his character unravels in a symphony of panic and desperation. Coogan is an exceptionally gifted and appealing actor whose utter commitment, fearlessness, and insight are as important to his performances as his impeccable comedic timing.
mcbride.jpgDanny McBride plays an affable drug dealer in “Pineapple Express” and a wild-eyed special effects demolition expert on “Tropic Thunder.” Both films call on him to work through a range of situations and emotional temperatures, sometimes with split-second reversals, and he is flawless. Whether displaying demented excess as a man who can hardly believe his good fortune in being paid to blow stuff up or shifting loyalties from one minute to the next in an over-the-top shoot-out, McBride is fully invested in the character and very, very funny.
Special mention: Emma Stone of “Superbad,” who is terrific in two films opening on the same day “The House Bunny” (as a good-hearted girl with some social skills problems) and “The Rocker” (as a brooding bass player).

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Great Characters: Eve Arden

Posted on April 30, 2008 at 8:00 am

You know the character of the leading lady’s wisecracking best friend? No one ever filled that role better than Eve Arden (real name: Eunice Quedens), whose birthday we celebrate today. Seen-it-all but not cynical, she was the ideal sidekick for stars like Jimmy Stewart (“Anatomy of a Murder”), Katharine Hepburn (“Stage Door”), or Joan Crawford (she was Oscar-nominated for “Mildred Pierce”). On radio and then on television, she played “Our Miss Brooks,” the teacher who often battled with crusty principal Mr. Conklin and a crush on meek science teacher Mr. Boynton. It was this role that inspired her appearance as the principal in “Grease.” (more…)

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