Posted by mike in Found Roles at 9:48 pm on September 29, 2009

This is the third entry in an ongoing series.

Everybody knows who Seth Rogen is these days, but his acting career got off to a relatively inauspicious start. After playing one of the “freaks” in Judd Apatow’s TV series Freaks & Geeks, his first feature film role came in Richard Kelly’s debut film, Donnie Darko, now a cult classic that is pretty widely loved (although I do know one guy who dislikes the film, probably because he finds the armchair philosophy distasteful; I think it’s similar to how somebody like me can’t watch a movie like Swordfish with a straight face, or why real-life doctors generally can’t stand House M.D.).

In this minor role, Rogen plays a high school bully named Ricky Danforth. I find it immensely amusing that not only is he a generic heavy, but he plays second fiddle to Alex Greenwald, whose acting career hasn’t exactly followed the same trajectory as Rogen’s from their common beginning (though his Wikipedia page informs me that he’s primarily a musician).

The following is a collection of three clips from Donnie Darko, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Jena Malone. They pretty humorously demonstrate what Rogen’s role in the film amounted to.

  • We see him as the sidekick bully, who gets to utter the timeless line, “I like your boobs,” before angrily flipping a cigarette butt at Donnie (Gyllenhaal).
  • We then see his classroom bully persona, taunting the new girl in school (Malone).
  • In my favorite part, at the film’s climax, Rogen gets to grunt and shout some of the most generic dialogue imaginable. “Don’t fuckin’ move—don’t fuckin’ move!”, “Get the hell outta here—now!”, and “Come on, let’s go! They called the cops!” are all somewhat cringe-worthy.

On the last point, it’s not just funny that the dialogue is somewhat cheesy, but Rogen’s delivery also does nothing to salvage it, adding an additional layer of cheese on top. He came a long way between here and his break-out role in The 40 Year Old Virgin, and today he’s one of the more recognizable big-screen stars out there. His most recent role was in this past summer’s Funny People, which I think is his best work yet, and a performance that’s leaps and bounds above what he was doing just 8 years ago.

Donnie Darko is actually pretty fertile ground for Found Roles. That’s Noah Wyle (from ER) as the high school teacher in the clip above, and Drew Barrymore plays his colleague. Then there’s the recently-deceased Patrick Swayze in a hilarious role as the motivational speaker with a deep, dark secret. Whenever I watch Donnie Darko, though, what seems the most out of place is Seth Rogen’s appearance and performance in it, and so it’s him who I’m focusing on here—though some of those others (particularly Swayze) may be worth returning to in the near future.

Note: I feel like I’d be remiss if I discussed Seth Rogen’s early career and didn’t mention his youthful aspirations as a stand-up comic.

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Posted by mike in Found Roles at 10:19 am on August 15, 2009

This is the second entry in an ongoing series.

Timothy Olyphant is an actor who’s been around for a while, but it doesn’t seem like he’s as well-known as he should be. Timothy Olyphant as Thomas Gabriel in the 4th Die Hard film He’s an excellent actor who’s had a wide variety of roles, and for that very reason I find him to be a great fit for a Found Role. Though he’s not as known as I personally think he should be, most people will probably be able to recognize him as Thomas Gabriel, the bad guy from Live Free or Die Hard.

As the cyber-terrorist who torments John McClane by hacking into and shutting down vital public works, Olyphant is creepy and menacing—and just the right amount of campy, too. It’s the fact that he plays such a bad-ass in Die Hard 4 that makes this particular earlier role so amusing to me.

I didn’t really intend for the entries in this series to segue into each other, but this one just so happens to follow nicely from the previous entry. That one featured Jon Favreau, who wrote and starred in Swingers, which was directed by Doug Liman. Here, we turn to Liman’s subsequent film, an oft-overlooked gem from the late 1990s called Go.

A drug-addled, raver-centric, Rashômon-style tale of a single night in the intersecting lives of several young people, Go‘s story begins with a deal gone wrong. Indie darling Sarah Polley goes over the head of her absentee dealer, making a buy directly from her local small-time kingpin named Todd Gaines, played by Olyphant. The film takes place during the holidays, and in the clip below you can see that Gaines is clearly in the holiday spirit as he interrogates Claire (a young Katie Holmes), who’s been left with him as collateral while Polley’s character Ronna goes to get the rest of the money she owes him.

While I obviously realize that it shouldn’t be particularly noteworthy that a good actor is able to play both a crazy-eyed drug dealer and a cold-blooded cyber-terrorist, and play both convincingly (that’s what good actors do!), recognizing this doesn’t make the contrast any less amusing. A large part of what I’ve intended to be the fun of this series comes from having the benefit of hindsight to compare a now-accomplished actor’s roles with where he or she started out.

I also didn’t mean for these to be particularly timely, but the Breakfast Club reference happens to fit with the recent news of the death of John Hughes, the writer and director of that film. Timothy Olyphant is currently featured as one of the headliners in the thriller A Perfect Getaway, which was just released. I’ve not seen it, but that film appears to cast him as another demented criminal, albeit one who operates on a smaller scale than did his Thomas Gabriel. It seems he’ll continue to have a fruitful career ahead of him, but I hope he doesn’t end up being repeatedly typecast as the consummate psycho evildoer; obviously he’s capable of much more—such as a Santa Claus hat-wearing drug dealer with a hidden heart of gold.

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Posted by mike in Found Roles at 11:06 pm on June 24, 2009

This is the first in what will be an ongoing series.

I derive an inordinate amount of joy from finding odd or unexpected early appearances from actors who I’ve become familiar with later in their careers. So much so that I tend to collect a mental inventory of such appearances, and so I thought it’d be fun to start to catalog them. Most of these aren’t really unknown—Internet searches would readily turn up plenty of mentions, jokes, and discussions—but they tend to be a little obscure and more often than not largely forgotten. It’s my intention to post about some of these as I find them, as well as to write about those from my already-established mental backlog from time to time, as a continuing series.

One of the funniest such roles comes from Jon Favreau. In 1994, he made an appearance in season 5, episode 20 of Seinfeld. This show is a veritable treasure trove for finding bit parts and cameos by actors who would later be much more recognizable, several of whom became established television actors and would go on to star in their own series. None are as awkward—nor as presumably embarrassing—as this one, though.

In the episode, entitled “The Fire,” George Costanza finds himself at a children’s birthday party arguing with the hired entertainment about one of the forebears of his profession. In the role of the clown is Jon Favreau, who two years later would star in the generation-defining Swingers, which he also wrote. From there, several other film roles would come, as well as further television appearances (including a stint on Friends where he played a software billionaire with unrealistic dreams of becoming an Ultimate Fighting Champion). These days, Favreau is establishing himself as a respected director, coming off the resounding success of Iron Man, the sequel to which is currently in production.

Back in 1994, though, he was Eric the Clown:

“This is just a gig, it’s not my life.”

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