Stan­ton could lift the most or­di­nary script

Times Colonist - - Arts - LINDSEY BAHR

LOS AN­GE­LES — Harry Dean Stan­ton, the sham­bling, craggy-faced char­ac­ter ac­tor with the dead­pan voice, be­came a cult favourite through his mem­o­rable turns in Paris, Texas, Repo Man and many other films and TV shows.

Never mis­taken for a lead­ing man, Stan­ton, who died Fri­day at age 91, was an un­for­get­table pres­ence to movie­go­ers, fel­low ac­tors and di­rec­tors, who rec­og­nized that his quirky char­ac­ter­i­za­tions could lift even the most or­di­nary script. Roger Ebert once ob­served that no movie with Stan­ton in a sup­port­ing role “can be al­to­gether bad.”

He was widely loved around Hol­ly­wood, a drinker and smoker and straight talker with a mil­lion sto­ries who palled around with Jack Ni­chol­son and Kris Kristof­fer­son among others and was a hero to such younger stars and broth­ersin-par­ty­ing as Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez. “I don’t act like their fa­ther, I act like their friend,” he once told New York mag­a­zine.

Ni­chol­son so liked Stan­ton’s name that he would find a way to work his ini­tials, HDS, into a cam­era shot.

Al­most al­ways cast as a crook, a codger, an ec­cen­tric or a loser, Stan­ton ap­peared in more than 200 movies and TV shows in a ca­reer dat­ing to the mid-1950s. A cult­favourite since the 1970s with roles in Cock­fighter, Two-Lane Black­top and Cisco Pike, his more fa­mous cred­its ranged from the Os­car-win­ning epic The God­fa­ther Part II to the sci-fi clas­sic Alien to the teen flick Pretty in Pink, in which he played Molly Ring­wald’s fa­ther. He also guest starred on such TV shows as Lav­erne & Shirley, Adam-12 and Gun­smoke. He had a cameo on Two and a Half Men, which fea­tured Pretty in Pink star Jon Cryer, and ap­peared in such movies as The Avengers and The Last Stand.

While fringe roles and films were a spe­cialty, he also ended up in the work of many of the 20th cen­tury’s mas­ter au­teurs, even Al­fred Hitch­cock in the di­rec­tor’s se­rial TV show.

“I worked with the best di­rec­tors,” Stan­ton told the As­so­ci­ated Press in a 2013 in­ter­view, given while chain-smok­ing in py­ja­mas and a robe. “Martin Scors­ese, John Hus­ton, David Lynch, Al­fred Hitch­cock. Al­fred Hitch­cock was great.”

He said he could have been a di­rec­tor him­self, but “it was too much work.”

Fit­ting for a char­ac­ter ac­tor, he only be­came fa­mous in late mid­dle age. In Wim Wen­ders’ 1984 ru­ral drama Paris, Texas, Stan­ton earned ac­claim for his sub­tle and af­fect­ing por­trayal of a man so deeply haunted by some­thing in his past that he aban­dons his young son and so­ci­ety to wan­der silently in the desert.

Wiry and sad, Stan­ton’s near-word­less per­for­mance is laced with mo­ments of hu­mour and poignancy. His heart­break­ingly stoic de­liv­ery of a mono­logue of re­pen­tance to his wife, played by Nas­tassja Kin­ski, through a one-way mir­ror has be­come the defin­ing mo­ment in his ca­reer, in a role he said was his favourite.

“Paris, Texas gave me a chance to play com­pas­sion,” Stan­ton told an in­ter­viewer, “and I’m spell­ing that with a cap­i­tal C.”

The film won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val and pro­vided the ac­tor with his first star billing, at age 58.

Repo Man, re­leased the same year, be­came an­other sig­na­ture film — Stan­ton starred as the world-weary boss of an auto re­pos­ses­sion firm who in­structs Estevez in the tricks of the haz­ardous trade.

His leg­end would only grow. By his mid-80s, the Lex­ing­ton Film League in his native Ken­tucky had founded the Harry Dean Stan­ton Fest and film­maker So­phie Hu­ber had made the doc­u­men­tary Harry Dean Stan­ton: Partly Fic­tion, which in­cluded com­men­tary from Wen­ders, Sam Shep­ard and Kristof­fer­son.

More re­cently, he re­u­nited with di­rec­tor David Lynch on Show­time’s Twin Peaks: The Re­turn in which he reprised his role as the cranky trailer park owner Carl from Fire Walk With Me. He stars with Lynch in the up­com­ing film Lucky, the di­rec­to­rial de­but of ac­tor John Car­roll Lynch, which has been de­scribed as a love let­ter to Stan­ton’s life and ca­reer.

Last year, Lynch pre­sented Stan­ton with the Harry Dean Stan­ton Award — the in­au­gu­ral award from the Los An­ge­les video store Vid­iots pre­sented first to its name­sake.

“As a per­son, Harry Dean is just so beau­ti­ful. He’s got this easy­go­ing na­ture. It’s so great just to sit be­side Harry Dean and ob­serve,” Lynch said.

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