M. Emmett Walsh, actor who shone in dangerous, dangerous roles, dies at 88

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By journalsofus.com


M. Emmett Walsh, a prolific supporting actor who excelled in sleazy and dangerous roles, among them a comically deranged sniper in “The Jerk”, a double-crossing private eye in “Blood Simple” and the inconvenient Chevy Chase Intensively involving exam-room doctors. “Fletch” died on March 19 in a hospital in St. Albans, Virginia. He was 88 years old.

The cause was cardiac arrest, said his manager Sandy Joseph.

In a career spanning half a century and more than 200 film and television parts, Mr. Walsh has been able to elevate even the most mundane comedies and dramas with his solid turns as the troubled everyman, the devious authority figure, the sadist, the raging weirdo and the outright madman. Was given credit. , A typical M. Emmett Walsh character, USA Today film critic Mike Clark once wrote, was “a cesspool in a flowered shirt.”

With his muscular physique, receding hairline, ruddy face and flat but shuddering cadence, Mr. Walsh walked a line between normal and memorably alien. His skill, often in fleeting roles, was to jolt the plot forward, then return to his place in the background of the action.

In the process, he became one of the most sought-after and recognized supporting players in Hollywood. Unlike charismatic stars like Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman and Will Smith, Mr. Walsh said he sought to energize the moment without ever trying to outwit the star. Tried to.

He told the Houston Chronicle, “What makes it interesting for the spectators is that I hit the ball and the other person returns the ball and you keep hitting it harder and harder and the heads keep going back and forth. “

“Whether it’s Mr. Redford or Pacino or Hackman, once they see I’m in there, they’re not going to let me win that tennis match,” Mr. Walsh added. “We hit the ball very hard. That’s why I’ve been brought in. These guys get up and start hitting, and I hit, and suddenly you have a scene that works.

After spending years acting in bit parts on stage and screen, Mr. Walsh got a significant boost playing Hoffman’s ex-con turned scheming parole officer in the crime drama “Straight Time” (1978).

The following year, in “The Jerk”, he played a rifle-wielding crackpot who selects his victims based on their dislike of their names. He is literally an innocent gas-station attendant played by Steve Martin, Naveen R. Johnson, but his aim is so poor that he constantly hits motor oil cans, leading to Martin’s line, “He hates these cans!”

Mr. Walsh was an eccentric sportswriter in “Slap Shot” (1977), a tough swimming coach in the Oscar-winning family drama “Ordinary People” (1980), and played Harrison Ford’s police chief in the futuristic sci-fi thriller “Blade.” Had played the role of. Runner” (1982), a boogie-woogie pianist in “Cannery Row” (1982) and the head of Kerr-McGee’s plutonium plant in “Silkwood” (1983).

Mr. Walsh played a small role in “Reds” (1981) as a member of the Liberal Club who introduces Warren Beatty’s leftist journalist John Reed. “I did it because I wanted Warren to have the experience of working with me!” He told everything to Austin American-Statesman. “I told him, ‘I want you to know I’m here, because Jack Warden won’t always be available.'”

During a three-week break in the filming of “Silkwood” in Dallas, Mr. Walsh went to Austin to make a low-budget independent noir drama by two novice filmmakers, Joel and Ethan Coen. The film was “Blood Simple” (1984), in which he played an undercover private eye hired by a Texas Roadhouse owner (Dan Hedaya) to kill his cheating wife (Frances McDormand) and her lover (John Getz) Was.

Mr. Walsh played the Southern detective beneath a sweaty cowboy hat and mustard-colored leisure suit in homage to Sidney Greenstreet, the burly character actor of the 1940s who was a master of greedy and untrustworthy plotting. New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael described Mr. Walsh as the film’s “only colorful performer.” He shows the nastiness, but he puts a bit of a twist on it – a sportiness.’ The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and launched the Coen brothers as filmmakers.

Working again with the Coens in the film “Raising Arizona” (1987), Mr. Walsh played a small role as Nicolas Cage’s machine shop co-worker who explains how to find a friend’s head after a car accident. Huey pops pink bubble gum. : “This circular object is stopped on the highway. And it’s not a car piece.”

In addition to his work in the comedy-mystery “Fletch” (1985), he was a diving coach in the Rodney Dangerfield comedy “Back to School” (1986), John Lithgow’s father in “Harry and the Hendersons” (1987). Michael Keaton’s Alcoholics Anonymous counselor (a rare decent man role) in “Clean & Sober” (1988) and a murdered American government employee who hinders the investigation of the Caribbean police chief (Washington) in “The Mighty Quinn” (1989) tries to. ,

In 1996, Mr. Walsh was a defense psychologist in the courtroom drama “A Time to Kill” and played the apothecary in the director Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy, “Romeo + Juliet.” Film critic Roger Ebert introduced the Stanton-Walsh rule – “No film starring Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmett Walsh in a supporting role can be a complete disaster” – but acknowledged that even Mr. Walsh could not escape that misfire. Which was “wild”. Wild West” (1999), a Western with Smith.

For Mr. Walsh, the beauty of being a high-profile character actor was that he took down a generous salary, while avoiding the pressure of running a movie – he once said he earned more than the President.

“It’s a good life to be a character actor,” he told the Orange County (California) Register. “I have been around stardom. I’ve been around Redford and Hoffman and it’s scary. That quest for stardom is like a greyhound chasing a mechanical rabbit. By the time he catches him, he’s too tired to run, and you have to shoot him.”

Michael Emmett Walsh, known as Mike to his family and friends, was born on March 22, 1935 in Ogdensburg, NY, and grew up in Swanton, Virginia. His father was a US Customs agent, and his mother was a housewife.

He graduated from the private Tilton School in New Hampshire. At his father’s insistence, he majored in business administration at Clarkson College of Technology (now University) in Potsdam, New York, barely passing his classes while excelling as a varsity golfer and participating in student plays. .

He graduated in 1958 – but not before the dean of students called him to inform him that the school had ranked him among the least promising degree holders in recent memory. Intrigued by an office career, he enrolled in a two-year program at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.

To make connections, he played in the Broadway Softball League. In one game, the then largely unknown Radford was their first baseman, and playmaker Neil Simon was at second. “I’m a guy fresh out of acting school,” he told The Arizona Republic, “and I’m yelling, ‘Come on, Simon, get your ass off.'”

After graduating from the Academy, Mr. Walsh worked as a prop man at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA, and appeared off-Broadway in summer stock and commercials over the next decade.

He made his Broadway debut in “Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?” Did it with a small role in. (1969), a short-lived drama about drug addicts that earned a Tony Award for newcomer Pacino. Over the next few years, Mr. Walsh played background roles in such era-defining films as “Midnight Cowboy,” “Alice’s Restaurant,” “Little Big Man,” “What’s Up, Doc?,” “Serpico” and “Bound For.” Splendor.”

Mr. Walsh’s voracious appetite for roles of every genre continued into his final years. He has performed on regional theater stages from Washington to San Diego, starring in works by Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, and in 2004 he won praise for his performance in a revival of Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” at London’s National Theater .

On-screen, he played elderly security guard Mr. Prufrock in the murder mystery “Knives Out” (2019) and provided the voice of Cosmic Owl on the children’s cartoon “Adventure Time.”

Mr Walsh left no immediate survivors.

“I have more fun playing 10 different people than playing the same person 10 different times,” he told the Houston Chronicle. “One time it’s a garbageman, and the next time it’s the president of Princeton. Princeton isn’t very happy sometimes, but I’m having a good time figuring out what I can do.”

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