Not everyone can be a movie star or a household name, but there are actors who've made their mark in iconic roles that stayed in the public's consciousness even if they never hit the spotlight again. I mean, in the '80s, Clara Peller was a full-blown phenom with her "Where's the Beef?" Wendy's commercials, but not surprisingly, that didn't bloom into a full-blown film career.
"It's because I refused to do nude scenes."
But sometimes an actor manages to sink into the public consciousness twice, playing two separate iconic roles, and still doesn't become a household name. Even more surprisingly, perhaps as a testament to a convincing performance, we don't even associate the two roles as being portrayed by the same actor. Think about that. Think about the times you've watched a movie or been talking about movies and had a realization that made you exclaim, "Holy shit! I know this actor from that other movie ... and, like, nothing else I can think of?!"
"I"m sorry, Gladstone. WTF is this article about again?"
I'm glad you asked, confused guy from the Getty photo gallery, because it's easier to explain by example. I'm talking about relatively unknown actors who made two completely distinct lasting impressions. You probably don't know his or her name, and you probably didn't even realize it was the same actor in both roles, yet the performances stayed with you as two distinct, iconic roles, while the actor who played them has remained obscure. Well, if you're good enough to occupy the public's imagination in two performances so dissimilar that most people don't even realize the parts are played by the same person, you deserve a shout-out, even if no one knows your name.
NOTE TO READER: Are you with me? This is not an article about actors who've played lots of different roles, or even actors like Gary Oldman or Daniel Day-Lewis, who've been almost unrecognizable in various roles. This is a salute to obscure actors who seem to have caught lightning in a bottle twice, with two popular roles that they disappeared into so completely, most people don't even realize they were played by the same actor. Still not with me? Try setting yourself on fire and see if that helps. Or just start reading.
Pinto's Underage Girlfriend, Clorette DePasto, From Animal House ...
Animal House is one of the most celebrated comedies in the history of film, and with good reason: It's really, really funny. For those of you who don't know, it tells the story of Delta House, the rowdiest fraternity house at Faber College, as seen through the eyes of two new pledges, one of whom (Pinto, as played by young Tom Hulce) is kind of a sad sack, unlucky in love. How unlucky? Well, he scores a date with a cute local supermarket checkout girl, Clorette DePasto, having no idea that she is both 13 and the daughter of the town mayor.
Clorette DePasto was played by then 18-year-old Sarah Holcomb, and even in a movie filled with larger-than-life characters like Bluto (John Belushi) and D-Day (Bruce McGill), Holcomb finds a way to bring DePasto to life that has stayed with me a lifetime. This image sums that up nicely:
I don't have a good embeddable clip, but someone put all her scenes together (badly) here. Look at how hard she chews her gum, how every action is exaggerated. It's great, because at first it seems like we're just seeing an animated party girl, and it's only later that we learn these are the actions of an overzealous 13-year-old girl playing grown-up. I spent my life thinking this role was played by some ditzy mediocre Midwestern actress who never went on to another film, because why would she? She's just some chick, probably a lot like Clorette DePasto.
Well, I couldn't have been more wrong, because unbeknownst to me, I had seen her again in another classic role without ever realizing she was the same actress.
... But She's Also Danny Noonan's Girlfriend, Maggie O'Hooligan, from Caddyshack
That's right. Remember Caddyshack? Remember the 20 minutes that weren't about Bill Murray stealing the movie or Chevy Chase defining the articulate, cool-guy rebel in a way that would be aped in movie comedies for another 20 years? I'm talking about the love story between poor Danny Noonan and his Irish-born girlfriend, Maggie O'Hooligan. Seems Sarah Holcombe played her, too, and I had no idea, even though the only physical difference between the two characters is a haircut. You can critique how convincing or unconvincing her Irish accent is, but what you can't deny is that she inhabits the screen as an entirely different person. She holds herself differently. She moves differently. When I found out they were played by the same actress, I literally exclaimed "Holy shit" (which was really bad, because I was at a wake for a friend's dead mother, but still, it was shocking to me). Check out this scene:
Apparently Holcombe retired from acting shortly thereafter, and she's rumored to have dealt with substance abuse problems, but damn, there was an awful lot of promise here.
Michael "Yarp" Armstrong from Hot Fuzz ...
Rory McCann first got some notoriety in Simon Pegg's 2007 film Hot Fuzz, which contains one of the greatest one-word punchlines in the history of comedy:
Now, if you've never seen that movie before, that joke probably doesn't make a lot of sense, but the deal is, McCann plays Michael Armstrong -- the bad guy's henchman -- and all he says is "yarp." He's kind of special that way. A big lumbering murderous simpleton. And even though I've seen Hot Fuzz at least 10 times, I had no idea when I started watching Game of Thrones that my old friend was back.
... But He's Also Sandor "The Hound" Clegane from Game of Thrones
This one's a little different, considering McCann is portraying Sandor "The Hound" Clegane, who has facial scars, but I don't think that had anything to do with me not recognizing him. I mean, the scars are mostly on the side of his face and head. They do not drastically alter his appearance. I just think it's him. In the same way he can carry Michael Armstrong's mental deficiency, he can wear all of the Hound's pain and integrity. In a brutal show where hardly anyone is likeable or has any honor, he routinely stands up to bullying and brutality, even if he himself is brutal. Watch some Hound here, because embedding has been disabled. But if it hadn't, it would look like the image below, only it would move.
Now, of course, that's all about the different roles he's playing, but it should be mentioned that in both pieces, he's basically playing brutal hired muscle, and if it weren't for someone telling me "Hey, the Hound is the Yarp Guy!" I never would have known. That goes beyond some burn scars and words on a page. That goes to an actor who can convey a wholly distinct persona just by the way he walks and holds his face.
Sam Breakstone of Breakstone's Cottage Cheese and Sour Cream
I don't expect many of you to remember this commercial. Even though it carried into the '80s, it's still a hazy childhood memory to me, but the Sam Breakstone commercials were a big deal. This successful ad campaign went on for years and years -- actor Michael Vale portrayed a demanding dairy chef who would not compromise his principles. Check out this one (also featuring a young Jeffrey Tambor a good 25 years before Arrested Development):
Or this one, when the ad campaign was still going 11 years later:
So that's Sam Breakstone: super pissed off all the time, and so insanely Jewish that they show this commercial to recovering neo-Nazis convicted of hate crimes to test their rehabilitation before parole.
... But He's Also Dunkin' Donuts' Fred the Baker
So even though Sam Breakstone was first, when Michael Vale started portraying Fred the Baker in the insanely popular "Time to make the donuts" commercials for Dunkin' Donuts, new Sam Breakstone commercials were still being made. Think about that. He was portraying two commercial mascots simultaneously, and no one said, "Hey, what the fuck?!"
Do you think Flo from the Progressive commercials could also play like a sexy blonde stewardess for Virgin Airlines and make you forget about her other persona? It's a shockingly bizarre achievement, and it's not like Vale was some nondescript guy. He had a very distinct look. But somehow, by personifying wrath as Sam Breakstone and defeated integrity in Fred the Baker, no one got distracted.
Lloyd the Bartender from The Shining ...
Stanely Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining is one of the most famous horror movies of all time. Of all the freaky images in this classic, one stands out:
OK, fine, yes, the intimation of ghosts having gay BDSM furry sex is probably it, but second on the list would have to be ...
OK, fine, yes, the shower witch, but everyone would have to agree that one of the creepiest iconic scenes is when Jack Nicholson has a whole delusional conversation with the ghostly Lloyd the Bartender. Lloyd scared the crap out of me as a kid. I think it's because, in the hands of Joe Turkel, the character seems simultaneously subservient and patronizing: "I will serve you, sir, but you know you're not fooling anyone, and if I so choose, I will end you."
... But He's Also Mr. Tyrell from Blade Runner
Even though I'd seen The Shining and Blade Runner multiple times apiece, I never realized that Turkel, our old friend Lloyd the Bartender, also played the world's greatest biogeneticist, Dr. Eldon Tyrell. And it's not due to any shocking makeup or costume change. The movies are only two years apart, and the only difference in wardrobe is a pair of thick prescription glasses.
The difference is all in Turkel's demeanor. While he is physically imposing vis-a-vis Jack Nicholson, he shrinks in the presence of Rutger Hauer. While he successfully conveys Tyrell's omnipotence intellectually, even as a child I remember feeling distinctly uncomfortable about how Tyrell was less than a man physically. He was a mere insect in the presence of Rutger Hauer's Roy, which makes sense, because Hauer certainly does crush him like one.
But it's a testament to Turkel's acting. With no difference in makeup, and just the addition of glasses, he is a whole other man, fully able to transform into two separate characters completely distinct from each other even though neither character is particularly over the top or extreme. Bravo. And the industry would reward Turkel for all his hard work by bestowing upon him the treasured role of "creepy janitor" in an episode of Boy Meets World!
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