A few days ago the world got a little dimmer. Harry Dean Stanton passed away at the age of 91. Celebrity deaths don’t generally hit me that hard but this one did. Stanton is the kind of actor that elevated every project he was a part of, whether he was in a lead role or a quick cameo. Roger Ebert once said that any movie with Harry Dean Stanton in a supporting role couldn’t be all bad and for my money that is a true statement.
He has one film left to come out, this years Lucky (pictured above). I’m looking forward to seeing *Lucky at VIFF next week and it is one of the films I’ve been anticipating most. I imagine now, as the last performance of a legend, it may take on a bittersweet quality.
Stanton has left a staggering filmography and each entry has a notable performance. Here now I’d like to share with you my favourite three by way of tribute to his amazing career.
Stanton’s turn in Ridley Scott’s classic horror film is, well, a classic one. Alien is basically “space truckers vs. a monster” and while Dallas and Ripley and Ash are all characters that could just as easily be in any other version of that setup it’s Stanton –along with Yaphet Kotto– as the working class engineers on the ship that really ground that premise. He gets the second death of the movie after complaining about his pay, following the cat into a storage bay, and dousing his sweaty brow with water by filling his grimy ball cap.
Ripley will always be the main character of Alien, but Stanton’s Brett was the first to make the universe feel real, and relatable.
I’m always surprised that Big Love doesn’t get more, well, love. It’s a solid show full of great performances not the least of which is Stanton as antagonist Roman Grant. Soft spoken and sweet sounding, but intelligent, malevolent, and manipulative, Stanton was maybe the perfect villain. Just watch this scene of him singing “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” to a group of children, and then watch the look he throws at Bill Paxton.
Just a look is all it took to let you know that Roman was coming for Bill and Stanton sold moments like that beautifully for three seasons.
This is maybe the best example of a Harry Dean Stanton cameo. Bruce Banner, having fallen from the Helicarrier and landed in an abandoned warehouse, wakes to find a security guard Stanton watching over him. The scene lasts just a few moments but they’re some of the more memorable moments in a film full of memorable moments.
The scene was originally going to be longer, too. You can see why it didn’t make the final cut (it would kind of steal some of the punch from the “I’m always angry” line a few minutes later, if nothing else) but the exchange between Banner and the guard arguably is what sets Banner on a path back to the team.
Basically, just show up and do your best. Stanton’s guard clearly understood, far before anyone else and probably even earlier than Banner himself, that Banner and Hulk aren’t so far removed from each other as everyone thought and he conveys all that, without saying it, in two minutes of screen time (and one of those was cut from the film). This scene alone is proof positive of Stanton’s ability to elevate any story he was a part of.