November 10, 2010 by abbyo
Where you’ve seen him: Henry Fool, Fay Grim, American Splendor, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Ride with the Devil, Sweet and Lowdown, Death of a President, Across the Universe, The Venture Brothers, Weeds, The Starter Wife, Law & Order, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Kidnapped, Sex and the City
Everything about James Urbaniak is distinct. He’s a lanky, nerdy-looking fella whose face and voice you can recognize almost instantly. It just might take a moment before you realize where you’ve seen him. Unless you’re a fan of director Hal Hartley (if you’re not, you should be), and have seen “Henry Fool” and its sequel “Fay Grim,” you’ll probably know Urbaniak more for his voice work as Dr. Venture on “The Venture Brothers” or as Robert Crumb in “American Splendor” than for anything else. Most of his many television and film appearances are fleeting at best, although he has gotten some props for his sinister character on the short-lived series “Kidnapped.”
In addition to his many appearances onscreen, Urbaniak also has something of a cult presence on the web. He’s a popular blogger and tweeter whose posts are consistently witty, with a well-read, hip sensibility. For those folks who keep up with his writings, Urbaniak’s acting work almost becomes a sidenote. Seeing him on TV or in a movie becomes a fun surprise, almost like a game of “spot the blogger.” It makes sense that he’d be a good writer, because you never once see the man playing dumb. He’s physically incapable of it. Even on his one-episode stint on “Weeds,” where he plays a drug dealer who dropped out of high school, he comes across as a savvy businessman.
To see Urbaniak’s personality and acting style exemplified, check out Hal Hartley’s “Henry Fool,” in which Urbaniak plays main character Simon Grim, a garbage man who writes an epic poem that causes extreme reactions in its readers (the audience never sees or hears the poem, but we’re led to believe it’s along the lines of “Howl”), and whose literary ambitions are encouraged by the titular Henry Fool, a mysterious drifter who rents a room in the basement.
Like Simon, Urbaniak is a smart, often-unrecognized talent, and something of a renaissance man. If you aren’t familiar with “Henry Fool,” “Fay Grim,” or “American Splendor,” do yourself a favor and check them out, because they’re wonderful movies (and I don’t think there’s ever been a more convincing portrayal of R. Crumb than Urbaniak’s, which is pretty much spot-on). And, if you haven’t become acquainted with the actor’s presence on the web, go check out his blogs and his twitter feeds as soon as possible. Heck, just go there as soon as you’ve finished reading this.
Update (11/11): Just discovered this little bit of oddball hilarity featuring a performance from our featured man. Give it a view (warning: is a giant reference/parody of “Human Centipede,” and so involves lots of poop jokes)