October 13, 2010 by abbyo
Where you’ve seen him: The Shawshank Redemption, Carnivale, Highlander, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Lost, The Guardian and Starship Troopers, among many others. You’ve also heard his voice on a number of cartoons, including Spongebob Squarepants.
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times now, I did a top ten list in August of “That Guy” character actors for Scene Stealers. It was a list that I’d been mulling over for quite some time, and took my time writing and editing before I sent it in. For two days after the list was posted to the site, I was proud of myself. For once, I thought, I’d gotten a list right. I hadn’t skipped over any obvious choices, and I’d made sure to create a diverse list of recognizable actors.
Then, an astute commenter brought up a glaring oversight, one that was so obvious that it frustrated me for the rest of the day: Clancy Brown was not on my list. I couldn’t believe I’d made such a dumb mistake. It was doubly frustrating, considering that in my personal list of favorite “That Guys,” Brown is my number 1. So, as a means to atone for my faux pas, he’s going to be the first actor we look at here.
If you’ve watched any movies or television at all since 1984, the chances are pretty good that, at some point, you’ve seen Clancy Brown in something. The man is all over the place. Like most good “That Guys,” Brown’s unmistakable. He’s got a big, serious face, and a deep, serious voice. Both features lend themselves well to threatening characters, which is what he’s best known for. In “The Shawshank Redemption,” he’s Captain Hadley, the warden’s cruel lackey who seems to enjoy disciplining wayward prisoners a little too much. On “Carnivale,” he was Brother Justin Crowe, a Methodist minister with disturbing supernatural powers and a penchant for destruction. And, of course, if you’ve seen “Highlander,” you’ll remember him this way:
It’s a ridiculous, scene-chewing role in a movie that’s notable only for how awful it is, but you get the sense that Brown must have been having a lot of fun with it. After all, what other way is there to deliver a closing line like the scene above than to just play it up?
In fact, Brown’s the reason I started getting enthusiastic about character actors. He was my first recognizable “that guy,” since he kept popping up in just about everything I saw. He lends a solid presence to the movies he’s in, but is particularly noticeable in genre movies, where he gets to use his somber face and creepy voice to their fullest extents.
For my money, the strongest example of Brown’s acting is on HBO’s short-lived (and lamented) “Carnivale.” It’s really hard to imagine any actor other than Brown playing the confused, sinister Brother Justin Crowe. For illustration, I’ll direct you to the following clip:
In his role as Justin, Brown’s got the intimidating thing down pretty well, but over the course of the series, he brings out the character’s conflicted nature too, as Justin slowly comes to realize the antagonistic role he’s destined to play in the events to come. His attempts at doing good works are met with heartbreaking disaster, and the soul-searching that follows leads Justin to use his powerful supernatural gifts to manipulate the people who get in his way. It’s not necessarily a shocking transformation, given the way the character’s introduced, but it’s one that’s riveting to watch, mostly because of Brown’s clear ability to embody the character.
Clancy Brown is a That Guy’s That Guy. He’s a hardworking actor who’s made a good career out of small but memorable roles. Perhaps the man’s most impressive achievement is that over the course of a career that’s stretched for 20 plus years, he’s remained consistent in the roles he’s gotten. He’s talented and prolific, which certainly counts for something. And if you’re looking for a good, threatening authority figure, you can’t do much better.