One of the best things about being a writer is that you write because you really want to work out the answer to a question. That involves carefully thinking out what you want to say and putting the research in to see if the facts support your feelings. Almost like proving a theory in science. Today, I sat down to write in an attempt to answer one specific question that I wasn't sure had one specific answer.
Is there something measurable that makes a movie stand the test of time?
I haven't found that answer yet (I'm still working on it), but it started me on a path of researching the supporting structure that good to great movies have. From the director, to the set designers, to the casting directors who have the most important job (in my opinion). Selecting the supporting cast that will make the movie come to life is an equally hard and essential task. That is why so many people are involved in it, but even then, it's not always a slam dunk. Why do you think Hollywood doesn't make more movies with strong ensemble casts? It's hard! The Way, Way Back has a tremendous cast, is very well executed and is very underrated as a movie. August Osage County had a tremendous cast and is also a tremendous piece of crap. It's not an exact science.
So, how do certain supporting actors, no matter the role, consistently churn out great performances in good movies? Who are those actors that consistently take these roles and knock it out of the park? I want to answer that question while picking my Mount Rushmore of supporting actors.
Before we jump into the list, let's run through a few honorable mentions.
Paul Giamatti as the angry white guy/business manager.
Danny Trejo as the angry Mexican guy/shirtless tattooed guy.
Wilford Brimley as the guy with the best YouTube raps about Diabeetus.
Jack Palance as the guy that was in two cult classics and was #swoll enough to do one armed push-ups on stage at the Oscars.
Robert Loggia may not be the most obvious choice, and he may not even be the most well known person, but he has always been steady if not great. Greatness is not always what you need from your supporting actors, sometimes you need them to stand there and play an understated moment. That is where Robbie Logs cashes checks with the best of them, because I can't think of anyone else who would have the balls to play a small facial expression next to Al Pacino who was on a steady diet of scenery and cocaine in Scarface. Loggia has been steady when needed, he's been a chameleon when not needed, a father figure at times, and most importantly he has had longevity. He was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1986 and then for an Emmy in 2001. To be that relevant as strictly a supporting actor, for that long in Hollywood is definitely an achievement.
Let's get serious though, because neither of those roles is how we remember him. You may remember him from Scarface or you may remember him as General William Gray in Independence Day. You may even remember him as Coach Wally Rig, but you love him for being MacMillan in Big. He was part boss, he was part father figure, and he was mainly a kid at heart, which is why he owned a toy company and saw himself in Josh. This scene with Loggia and Tom Hanks is one of the most memorable scenes from any movie ever. Any "best of" movie montage moments will always include this scene. This is where Loggia went from from steady to great and that is what you want in your supporting actors. The ability to be both.
This was, by far, the hardest decision that I had to make on this list. Including Burgess on this list was easy, but not to put him first was very tough. Burgess Meredith is my favorite actor on here and to be honest it is not even close. He may not have the awards that some of the others have, but you would be hard pressed to find someone else that has been in as many cult favorites as him, while also being in an equal number of mainstream hits.
That's not to say he doesn't have any awards, because my boy Burgess has some awards. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1976 and 1977, but was also nominated for an Emmy in 1977 and 1978. He is one of only ten actors ever to be nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy in the same year. If you need more perspective on just how hard that is, that is a combined 156 years of awards and it has only happened 10 times.
This list isn't all about awards though, it's also about impact and Meredith was the best thing about the Rocky franchise that had a huge cultural impact at it's height. Sure Stallone gets most of the credit, but without Burgess Meredith playing Micky so pitch perfect, Rocky isn't remembered the same way. He brought credibility to the first Rocky when nobody wanted to make the movie and also brought the only reason you smiled in that movie because Talia Shire made a constant "I hate being here" face in every single scene she was in after the first Rocky.
If all of that doesn't convince you of how amazing Burgess Meredith is, then I would like to bring up one final point. This is my list and he was The Penguin, so f*ck you.
Claude Rains is the single most underrated actor in the history of moving pictures. Period. This guy ranged from solid to perfect in every single role that he was in and achieved something that most actors, leading or supporting, never even get close to. He was nominated for four Oscars in a seven year span from 1940 - 1947, including three in four years. On top of that he is in a powerhouse list of movie classics, and please remember that just because a movie is old, does not mean it is a classic. I'm talking about true classics like Casablanca and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
The IMDB top 250 list tends to skew towards newer movies over the true classics, which is why The Magnificent Seven is not listed on that list, but Zootopia and Deadpool are (get your house in order IMDB!), but Rains still has three movies in the top 130 on that list. That is almost as impressive as any awards he was nominated for. The fact that he could go from Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca to Mr. Dryden in Larry of Arabia to King Herod in The Greatest Story Ever Told is just a testament to his genius. He worked with the best and the best wanted to work with him because he was always on his game. You just can't find a role he was bad in and he even knew how much of a bad ass he was to top it off. He said about himself once "I can play the butcher, the baker, AND the candlestick maker."
If you still doubt his confidence, then how about the fact that he starred in the 1925 stage play The Rivals with his third wife Beatrix Thomson. Also working that same play with them.....his two ex wives. How is that for confidence?
You know Ed Harris. You like Ed Harris. Now it's time to give Ed Harris the respect and honor the man deserves. Do you know who gives this man the recognition he deserves? Hollywood! The list of awards that he has been nominated for is very impressive.
- 4 Oscar Nominations (1 win)
- 6 Golden Globe Nominations (2 wins)
- 7 SAG nominations (1 win)
- 2 Emmy nominations
Also, he received 1 Blockbuster Movie Award, which is all that really needs to be said. The BMA's were the only awards ceremony to see the true genius of Ben Affleck back in 2000 by awarding him with "Favorite Actor in a Comedy/Romance" for his career defining role as "Ben" in Forces of Nature. They were really ahead of their time, but nobody knew it because the awards aired on UPN for 5 straight year. RIP Blockbuster.
When you think of how good Ed Harris is, it's hard to put it into a career perspective because he really doesn't have that one defining/memorable role that you immediately go to for him. You may say Pollock, and you wouldn't really be wrong because that may be his best performance, but is that his best or just the best one as a leading man? Think of how good he was and how surprised you were to see him a few years back in Snowpiercer and then realize how good he was as Bud in The Abyss back in 1989. Great performances in vastly different roles 17 years apart, but what makes him the best is the in between years. The Rock, The Truman Show, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, The Hours, the guy who divorced Susan Sarandon to marry Julia Roberts in Stepmom. He can freaking do it all!!
You are going to see him soon in the HBO series Westworld and you have seen him 100 times before and never put his career into perspective. I think it's about time that happened for the man that has brought us so many good performances and was even "The Voice" in Field of Dreams. He's earned it.
Stephen Balding is the founder of Cinema Soapbox. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org