Friday, August 5, 2022

Quote of the Day (David Warner, on Not Being Choosy About His Roles)

“I said to him [actor Ian Holm], ‘What are you doing next?’ And Ian, who was always in the best way choosy, said he was doing the Kafka film with Jeremy Irons. Then he said, ‘So what are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m doing a thing called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.’”—English actor David Warner (1941-2022), quoted in Neil Genzlinger, “David Warner, Actor Who Played Villains and More, Dies at 80,” The New York Times, July 25, 2022

The year he won the first of his two Best Supporting Actor Oscars, Michael Caine was unable to pick up his statuette for his Hannah and Her Sisters because he was on location for another, rather more forgettable, film: Jaws, The Revenge.

Caine, with more than 175 film credits (and counting) on his resume, might be in the best position to understand the attitude towards work and roles exemplified by the late David Warner.

Why are such actors so prolific, so accepting of whatever jobs they are offered? Do they like the chance to work with a certain director or co-star? Is the money irresistible? Is the job a nice change of pace from what they usually do? Do they just figure the hell with it—who knows how, when all is said and done, after the director and studio wrestle over the footage, the picture will turn out, anyhow? Or are they just fearful of never working again, and figure they’ll take what they can get?

With Warner, there might be another factor involved in all those movies: his relative lack of stage credits. After a sterling beginning in the Sixties, Warner came down with such a terrible case of stage fright that he did not appear in a theatrical role until he played munitions titan Andrew Undershaft in of George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara.

I saw him in that Roundabout Theatre show back in 2001, but was so annoyed at the normally estimable Cherry Jones’ in the title role that I didn’t appreciate how lucky I was to catch Warner in such a rare appearance.

Whatever the reason or reasons involved, Warner certainly made his share of movies—about 225, or more than even Caine has appeared in so far. You might not recall his name, but there’s a good chance you’ve seen one of his films—or will soon.

In fact, the weekend following his death, I caught one of his appearances from quite a while ago: one of those Perry Mason made-for-TV movies that Raymond Burr made two decades after his long-running hourly series went off the air, now showing up again on MeTV.

In this case, Warner made a fast but memorable appearance as a not-very-likable murder victim in The Case of the Poisoned Pen. (Evidently, the experience was agreeable enough for both parties that he came back for another one of those Mason TV movies three years later.)

But the movies that cropped up repeatedly in his obituaries were The Omen (source of the still accompanying this post), Titanic, Tron, and various films in the Star Trek franchise. With that long, lean face, he was fated for character actor rather than leading man roles. It might not have made him the most prominent actor in Hollywood, but it did make him among those you’d see the most.

And sometimes, you didn’t even have to see him. His voice made him a natural not just for sci-fi and thrillers, but also voice-over work in animated movies and games, as discussed in this piece by Riordan Zentler of the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

I’m sorry that Warner is gone now, besides the fact that one hates to see the end of a performer of such versatility. Remarkably for his profession—and especially for one admired so much by his peers—he seems to have had a refreshing lack of ego.

After all, he may have played countless villains, but anyone who can joke about being in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze can’t be that bad a guy.

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