'Better known as': Iconic actors
and underrated roles
by Steve Sykes, Staff Writer
Leonard Nimoy had had it. Despite a robust resume that included more than 20 years of film, television and stage experience, he felt the weight of one particular role like an albatross. The role, of course was Mr. Spock in Star Trek, and in 1975, Nimoy tried to work through his identity crisis via the autobiographical best-seller I Am Not Spock. By 20 years later, he had made enough peace with the burden of his signature role to write a sequel, I Am Spock.
Many actors have dealt with a similar phenomenon. They may have a diverse list of credits, but they can’t escape That One Role (or in the case or Harrison Ford, Those Two Roles). It may not even be their best work, but that doesn’t matter to adoring fans of one franchise or another.
In an effort to show some more well-rounded appreciation to these sometimes-reluctant icons, let’s take a look at some performers inextricably linked to a character – and the roles for which they should be remembered.
Linked with: Jean-Luc Picard
Should be remembered for: Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol
Though the X-Men franchise has earned countless billions of dollars, Professor X is not the role most people associate with Patrick Stewart. That would be Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and Stewart’s association will only grow stronger with the launch of Star Trek: Picard in late 2019. But fans of Sir Patrick really should do themselves a favor and check out his interpretation of another iconic character in 1999’s A Christmas Carol. After seeing Stewart winningly steer the humbug through his transformative journey, you may never be able to picture another Scrooge again.
Linked with: Luke Skywalker
Should be remembered for: The Joker
You can peg someone’s age and their Nerd Quotient by asking someone who Mark Hamill is. After Return of the Jedi, Hamill reinvented himself as a voiceover star, and his most indelible character in this portfolio was The Joker. Give The Killing Joke a watch, and you’ll find Hamill’s performance absolutely deserves a place next to Ledger, Nicholson and Romero on the Joker Mt. Rushmore.
Linked with: Obi-Wan Kenobi
Should be remembered for: Christian in Moulin Rouge!
Transforming Obi Wan into an action hero while honoring the legendary Alec Guinness portrayal will always endear McGregor to Star Wars fans. But as impressive as that feat is, it pales in comparison to the versatility he displays in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! Let’s put it this way: Without McGregor’s Christian, there would be no Hugh Jackman tour-de-force in The Greatest Showman.
Linked with: Captain America
Should be remembered for: Curtis in Snowpiercer
Talk about a cross to bear – Chris Evans’ clean-cut, cover-boy looks epitomize Captain America, and you can’t get much farther afield from that ideal than the scruffy, disconsolate Curtis in Snowpiercer. But Evans’ acting in the latter is much more impressive, and he grounds the high-concept actioner that far too many viewers saw.
Linked with: Ripley in Aliens
Should be remembered for: Katharine Parker in Working Girl
Ok, let’s be realistic. There’s no way Sigourney Weaver is going to be remembered for anything but Ripley. She is the cinema’s prototype for kick-ass female characters. But if you want to see her let loose and chew some scenery, I suggest revisiting her creation of another prototype – the boss from hell – in her Oscar-nominated turn as Katharine Parker in 1989’s Working Girl.
Linked with: Jack Sparrow
Should be remembered for: William Blake in Dead Man
Before Depp was tabbed as the legendary Disney rum-swiller, he was known for taking a chance on offbeat characters in offbeat movies that may never have seen the light of day had it not been for his involvement. A great example is his turn in the surreal, monochrome Dead Man. Leisurely paced but hypnotic, the film follows Depp’s William Blake on a trip through the spirit world in the Old West.
Linked with: Cersei, Game of Thrones
Should be remembered for: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
If you’re looking for something to binge now that the curtain has fallen on Game of Thrones’ final season, seek out the criminally underrated Sarah Connor Chronicles with a younger, but equally badass Headey in the title role. It was a worthy extension of the Terminator franchise, and I would have gladly taken another season or two in place of the cinematic fart that was Terminator: Salvation.
Linked with: Snake Plissken
Should be remembered for: Jack Burton
Escape from New York is solid dystopian entertainment, anchored by Russell’s eyepatch-wearing antihero Snake Plissken. But when it comes to pure fun, the glowering Plissken is nothing compared with loopy everyman Jack Burton in the insane Big Trouble in Little China. Sure, Indiana Jones reigns as the king of retro matinee idols, but don’t sleep on Burton.
Linked with: Dorothy on The Golden Girls
Should be remembered for: Maude
Sure, everyone loved The Golden Girls, but TV watchers of a certain age will also remember Bea Arthur’s breakthrough turn as Maude, one of a staggering seven spinoffs whose lineage can be traced to All in the Family. In fact, Maude was the first of the seven, and over the show’s 141 episodes, Edith’s liberal cousin was embroiled in issues like women’s lib, alcoholism, abortion and suicide – heavy stuff for an early 70's sitcom.
What overlooked roles did I overlook? Tweet me at @DrAstroZoom or chime in on The Front Row Network’s social media pages.
Steve is a marketing content developer for Horace Mann and has more than 20 years of professional communications experience. In addition to contributing for the FRN, Steve has also written columns for multiple Miami Dolphins fan sites. He enjoys karaoke, board games, community theater and taking various FRN team members’ poker money.