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Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Film Buff: The Man You Love to Hate

I think most guys who become actors have a list of dream roles they'd like to play some day: the suave James Bond super spy; the wisecracking, charming slacker that Bill Murray built his career on; the romantic hero; even the too cool, megalomaniacal, world-threatening villain.
Few actors dream about the opportunity to play the opportunistic, morally bereft TV reporter like that guy Dick Thornburg in Die Hard 1 and 2. Nobody really is chomping at the bit to take on the too-full-of-himself civil servant, like Walter Peck, whose self-important ego-driven bureaucratic meddling releases hundreds of captured spectres on the streets of New York in Ghostbusters. Few kids entering acting schools envision themselves someday playing pompous, vain attention-whore scientists like Dr. Noah Faulkner in Bio-Dome or Professor Jerry Hathaway in Real Genius.
However, none of these movies would be anywhere near as effective if not for these characters. They aren't sympathetic characters at all, and they aren't anywhere cool enough to really be villains, The terrorists are the real villains in the Die Hard films. Thornburg is just kind of in the way. The same is true of Walter Peck in Ghostbusters. These characters are just the jerks we want to see receive their comeuppance before the end of the film, like being deluged in melted marshmallow, punched or tazed by Bonnie Bedelia, or forced to watch their house destroyed by popcorn. Still, these characters are necessary for the story to be effective and somebody has to take on the thankless job of playing them on screen.
Well, nobody plays these types of characters as well as the man who played all of the aforementioned sleazebags, William Atherton.
An accomplished actor of stage and screen, the handsome actor is best known for the characters that make audiences seethe, and, depending upon what part of the city you live in, yell nasty things at the screen. For a long time after Ghostbusters was released (and maybe still) Atherton was greeted on the street by fans of the movie with the nickname that Dan Akroyd's character saddles him with in the film: "Dickless."
Well, I just wanted to take a minute to express my appreciation for the talented Mr. Atherton, both for his sleazy characters in pop culture cinema as well as for his performances in other projects like The Day of the Locust, the Centennial mini-series, his recurring character in the NBC series Life, and his many other film and TV appearances.
Thank you for taking on the thankless roles and playing them so well.
Now, here's a little something you may not have known: Atherton is a fine singer, as well, as evidenced by the opening credits of The Great Gatsby over which he croons "What'll I Do?"

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