That Guy File #12: Harry Dean Stanton


March 28, 2012 by abbyo

Where you’ve seen him: Paris, Texas, Big Love, Pretty in Pink, Alien, The Last Temptation of Christ, Repo Man, Inland Empire, Wild at Heart, The Straight Story, The Green Mile, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Red Dawn, Christine, Escape from New York, Wise Blood, Two-Lane Blacktop, Cool Hand Luke

When you watch a lot of movies, and spend a lot of your time talking to other people who watch a lot of movies, it’s easy to lose perspective. For example, a director or actor you hold in high regard may not be a household name to everyone. Just because you love something, and you know others who love it, doesn’t mean everyone is familiar. Case in point: Harry Dean Stanton. He’s a fixture in the world of character actors who’s been around so long that to movie buffs he’s less like a “that guy” and more like a favorite uncle. But unless you’ve seen “Paris, Texas” or “Big Love,” or watched a lot of David Lynch, Stanton’s name may not ring a bell.

Stanton’s been working in movies since 1957, but really started doing noticeable work in the 70s, when he appeared in movies like “Two-Lane Blacktop,” “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid” and “Alien.” Stanton’s a long, lean guy with a hangdog face and an endearing world-wise demeanor that he brings to every role. The best example of this is his lead role as Travis in Wim Wenders’ great “Paris, Texas.” He’s kind of discombobulated and tired, but at the same time well-meaning and gentle. You just want to give the guy a good meal and a hug. He’s more animated in movies like “Repo Man,” and he’s uber-creepy as Roman Grant, the Warren Jeffs-style cult leader on “Big Love,” but, whatever the project may be, Stanton’s got a laid-back, natural approach that never fails.

He’s got a pretty devoted fan base, too. Roger Ebert likes Stanton so much that he created the “Stanton-Walsh Rule,” which states that no movie featuring either Stanton or fellow character actor M. Emmet Walsh can be bad. Of course, that doesn’t always hold true (“Anger Management” strikes me as an exception), but it is true that Stanton is one of those guys whose presence in a movie makes it better, at least for those moments when he’s on the screen. Whether he’s spouting prophecies, trying to put his life back together, or simply trying to get through the day, Harry Dean Stanton is an actor whose grounded approach to performing is always great to watch, and whose career many die-hard movie fans regard with lots of respect.


2 thoughts on “That Guy File #12: Harry Dean Stanton

  1. joem18b says:

    one thing i like about HDS is that he lives on Mulholland Drive (correct me if I’m wrong). his home is very un-hangdog.

  2. Jen says:

    Also was in “Alpha Dog”.

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