That Guy File #13: Tom Noonan

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June 13, 2012 by abbyo

Where you’ve seen him: House of the Devil, Hell on Wheels, Damages, Mystery Train, The Monster Squad, Manhunter, Heaven’s Gate, The Last Action Hero

Why you know him:

Tom Noonan doesn’t seem like he should be a scary guy. He’s soft-spoken, with a kind of undefined, round face. He doesn’t look threating. He looks like a nice man. So why is he so damn good at playing scary characters? Much of his 69-role resume is devoted to playing monsters, criminals and villains. He’s played murderers, Satanists, and even Frankenstein’s monster, all with startling effectiveness. Along with Clancy Brown and Brad Dourif, he’s one of the go-to character actors for genre films. But what makes this seemingly-normal guy so scary?

I think it’s precisely the actor’s deceptively unthreatening characteristics (coupled with his intimidating height—he stands at 6’6”) that make him so good at what he does. As Scott Tobias so aptly puts it in his profile on the actor for The A.V. Club, “is he a gentle giant, or someone to be feared?” With Noonan, you never can tell, which is what makes him so fun to watch. Check out, for example, his cameo appearance on “Louie,” as a medical doctor who gives a traumatic lesson on the crucifiction:

It’s that quiet, matter-of-fact delivery that’s so unnerving. As any horror aficionado will tell you, delivering a threat with quiet assurance is often scarier than shouting one. You always get the feeling that, no matter the role, Noonan’s characters always genuinely believe in what they’re saying, even when they’re lying through their teeth. Noonan’s never anything other than serious, and that earnestness, mixed with an utter lack of humor, can be pretty darn creepy.

Those who’ve come to know the actor through his roles over the years won’t be surprised to learn that he’s got a powerful mind in addition to powerful talent, similar to (though less prolific than) fellow intellectual That Guy Wallace Shawn. In addition to creeping out scores of audiences, Noonan’s an award-winning playwright, a director and producer, too. For all of the creepfests he’s starred in, there’s an equal number of art house movies, including Jim Jarmusch’s “Mystery Train” and “The Wife,” an adaptation of his play, “Wifey.”

In the last few years, it’s gotten to a point where Noonan’s appearance in a film or TV show is almost self-referential. His popping up on a show like “Louie” or Ti West’s great “House of the Devil” is as much a wink to audiences who recognize him as it is good casting. When you see him, you know exactly why he’s there, and what you’re in for.

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One thought on “That Guy File #13: Tom Noonan

  1. […] English-speaking role. That’s to say nothing of the supporting cast, which includes Jeff Bridges, Tom Noonan, Brad Dourif, and a very young Mickey Rourke. Blink and you’ll miss Joseph Cotten. And say what […]

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