Friday, February 27, 2009

Nobody Knows Anything, Part 5: A Tale of Two Bruces

As William Goldman tells us, Nobody Knows Anything is a good rule of thumb in Hollywood. Production companies have to put a lot of money up front to make most movies, nowadays counted in the tens of millions, and what will succeed is anyone's guess. The same can be said for careers of actors. Just because someone does good work in a film or on a TV show is no promise they will keep working.

Animal House is a great example of Nobody Knows Anything. National Lampoon put their name on the movie, and they had high hopes that John Belushi would be the breakout star, as they had worked with him in stage shows and on records. Belushi was still making films until he died, and his name was always near the top of the cast list. As for the rest of the young cast, who could say?

In retrospect, the rest of the cast who played students did remarkably well. The biggest name from that group, Kevin Bacon, played one of the smallest roles, a pledge at the snooty rival fraternity house. The other two guys in the picture flanking Belushi are Stephen Furst, who played the fat kid Flounder, and Bruce McGill as D-Day, a character who seems more like a mechanic than a college student. Furst kept working, his best known work as a regular on St. Elsewhere and then on Babylon 5. But McGill? How much farther could he go when his great talent appeared to be playing The William Tell Overture by rapping his fingers on his Adam's apple?

Bruce McGill kept working. As we see here, he put on some weight, but that didn't end his career. He's a character actor, and a damn good one. He played the sheriff in My Cousin Vinny. He played the golf professional Walter Hagen in The Legend of Bagger Vance, pictured here. Other films in which he appeared include Silkwood, Cliffhanger, The Last Boy Scout, Legally Blonde 2, Matchstick Men, The Runaway Jury, Cinderella Man and W. He also appeared in the HBO movies 61*, Live From Baghdad and Recount.

On TV, McGill had a recurring role on McGyver. He is in the large fraternity of actors who got work both in the Star Trek universe and the Babylon 5 universe.

You are looking here at a working actor, a guy who has kept a roof over his head for more than thirty years one role at a time.

That's not easy to do, but McGill did it.

Good on ya, Bruce!

Here is Bruce #2, Bruce Spence. This is a picture of him from The Road Warrior, where he played The Gyro Pilot. It's the second billed character, but outside of Mel Gibson, this was a no-star cast. Americans wouldn't recognize most of the folks, because it was a mainly Australian cast (Spence is born in New Zealand) and other than Gibson and Spence, the next best known actor to American audiences is probably Virginia Hey, who played the Warrior Woman. She went on to have a regular role on the Australian sci-fi series Farscape nearly 20 years after this movie is made.

The actors were cast because they looked like people who were surviving in a post apocalyptic wasteland. How many more roles could be available for a goofy looking guy who is 6'6", especially if he decides to stay in Australia instead of going off to America?

Bruce Spence kept working. With most of the work in Australia and New Zealand, he isn't in as many movies Americans will recognize as Bruce McGill has been in, but he plays a completely different pilot in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. (Thanks for a correction from Splotchy.) He was in the third Star Wars movie. He played Mr. Wall, one of The Strangers in the under-appreciated Dark City, pictured here on the left. He did voice work in Finding Nemo and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He's done a ton of Australian TV work, including a role on Farscape and now a recurring role on Legend of the Seeker, a syndicated show that plays about a jillion times a weekend on my cable channels.

Good on ya, Bruce!

You could say that success breeds success, and once a character actor gets work, it's easier to get more work. In reality, it's still an amazing crapshoot, and there are a lot of successful TV shows where regulars pretty much disappear from the scene once the show shoots its last episode. It's just another example of Nobody Knows Anything.


Splotchy said...

Lovely post. I kid you not, I was at lunch earlier this week and we were talking about Bruce McGill. Actually, we were talking about that-guy-who-played-D-Day-Animal-House.

I had thought it was James Keach, but my coworker looked him up later and corrected me. I had been meaning to look up his IMDB entry, because I know I have seen him in a lot of stuff, but thanks to you I won't have to.

And please allow me to correct your Bruce Spence info -- he played an entirely *different* pilot in Mad Max 2 and 3. GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT, MAN

Matty Boy said...

Thanks for the correction, Splotchy. The text has been fixed and credit where credit is due has been given.

More on the crapshoot part of the business: The Delta House actors did better than their Alpha house rivals for the most part. Mark Metcalf, who played Wiedermeyer, was The Maestro on Seinfeld and The Master on the first season of Buffy, he was also in Twister Sister video reprising his Animal House role, but you look at the amount of work and have to wonder what he does for a living.

The two cute sorority girls, Mandy and Babs? Mandy's career ended in 1983, but Martha Smith played Babs, and she is still working to this day.

namastenancy said...

Another lovely post. I have been watching "Legend of the Seeker" - well, on a sporadic, one eye on the project du jour and one eye on the TV. I kept thinking that the tall, goofy looking, white haired guy looked familiar. Now I know.
Yes, Animal House alumni. A number of the actors went on to have careers, one way or another. Given the odds against them in Hollywood, that's epic survival. I am always sad when I think about Belushi - now there was a guy who let his demons devour him.

Greensleeves said...

What fun! I just happened across your blog by accident, but I'm glad I did. I was reading the part about the mainly Australian cast of "The Road Warrior," and how other than Gibson and Spence the next best known actor to American audiences is probably Virginia Hey. I ask: What about Vernon Wells, who played the bloodthirsty, mohawked toady-lieutenant of The Humongous? He had a similar, memorable role in "Weird Science" and played Bennett,the completely unhinged main villain in "Commando" with Arnold Schwarzenegger. "John, I'm not going to shoot you between the eyes. I'm going to shoot you between the balls!" Awesome.

Matty Boy said...

Hi, Greensleeves! Good call on Vernon Wells! I love folks who have careers like that.