Thursday, June 08, 2006

The That Guys

With the tragic passing of Paul Gleason last week, it is time to recognize the exclusive Hollywood club to which he belonged. Gleason was a That Guy, a term coined by Bill Simmons, but further explained in this post, which also represents the first class in the That Guy Hall of Near-Fame.

A That Guy is a recognizable, nameless actor who usually plays the same character in every film he is in. For example, when I was told that Gleason died I was clueless, until someone said he was the guy from The Breakfast Club. The name of the phrase comes from saying 'Hey, it's That Guy!' when a That Guy appears onscreen. While being a That Guy is usually not a welcome distinction, Jeremy Piven has proven that That Guys can move into leading roles. However, there are other That Guys who have made a nice career out of it, these are the pioneers, the original That Guys. The inaugural class inducted into the That Guy Hall of Near-Fame begins with the genre's foremost figure.

Dick Miller
Destined to play: Take-no-shit, witty old guy; next victim in buffet line for monster/killer
I have written about the wonders of Dick Miller before, both here and here, and it is essential for him to headline this list. Miller has been a That Guy for a whopping 162 movies and he's still going even though he's pushing 80. Miller was lucky enough to befriend directors such as Roger Corman and Joe Dante who began casting him (sometimes with his character having the same name in multiple movies) in all of their projects. You might know him as the gunstore owner in The Terminator or that one guy in Gremlins (with a substantially larger role in the sequel).

Danny Trejo
Destined to play: Thug, sometimes with a heart of gold
There was a run of movies in the late 80s/early 90s where it seemed that SAG passed a new bylaw which required any action movie involved Danny Trejo in some way. Since 1985 he has starred in an unbelievable 126 movies, including a whopping 22 in 2006 or 2007! Trejo has the coveted That Guy statistic of having more roles than lines (unofficial number). He has had a few breakthrough moments: his role in Heat (character name: Trejo!) was memorable, as was his turn in Desperado (1995 was a good year for him).

Al Leong
Destined to play: Thug/goon
While Trejo has had some roles to speak of, I can't even think of a single line of dialogue uttered by an Al Leong character. Never heard of him? Think of the thug with the butcher knife in Big Trouble in Little China or the Asian thug in Die Hard, or basically any Asian character you've seen who sported a fumanchu. While not having as many credits to his name as some on this list (only 53), Leong undoubtedly is the acting president of the Ninja/Gunman division of the Asian Actors Guild.

Woody Strode
Destined to play: Grateful sidekicks
The other posthumas entry in the list, you could argue that Woodrow Wilson Strode's career was more than a That Guy, and that may be true, but he played That Guy so well that he needs to be on here. Lurking in the background of so many great Westerns, Strode was a favorite of John Ford but earned his shining moment as the dynamite arrow-shooting Jake Sharp in the 1966 masterpiece The Professionals.

Paul Gleason
Destined to play: Hard-ass authority types
Known to a generation as the Breakfast Club principal, Gleason made a career out of playing detectives, deans and doctors. So anonymous was Gleason that his IMDB page contains the line 'reportedly owned a restaurant.' (NOTE: There were better pictures of Gleason available, but I had to include this one because of his quote 'I fantasize all the time' on the cover.)

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