Ernest Borgnine was an actor I enjoyed.
He wasn’t necessarily a stamp of approval for a film. The film itself could still have the potential to be awful but for me, you always knew he was going to be good in it.
Borgnine was a character actor. This is not to diminish any of his lead roles in things like Marty (which is an excellent film that all the kids really should see) or his run on McHale’s Navy (the tv show, not the abomination starring Tom Arnold) but Ernest Borgnine will probably be most remembered for his supporting roles.
And it is in his work as a character actor that we all loved Borgnine. The Dirty Dozen. The Wild Bunch. Escape From New York. Hell, even his supporting turns on the small screen in Airwolf and The Single Guy are fondly remembered.
For me, it’s mostly Escape from New York.
On any given day, Escape from New York is in my top 20 films of all time and my second favourite film of John Carpenter’s. Carpenter has always been the master of casting character actors and Escape from New York especially has its skillful share: Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau and Donald Pleasence. But it’s Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie that I enjoy the most (beyond Snake Plissken… because let’s face it, he’s bad ass). Just the nature of the character – happy go-lucky but yet able to choose his sides. I just like the idea of the cab driver in a prison.
And I really think up-and-coming actors could learn from the example Borgnine set.
There is nothing wrong with being a character actor if you are good at it.
You might not having the “leading” man or woman looks but that doesn’t mean you can’t still take pride in your work and craft.
Let me give you an example.
If you’re reading this column, I can almost guarantee you do. In fact you’re probably looking at the screen going “YEAH! I’VE SEEN THAT GUY!”
His name is Mark Sheppard. You’ve seen him on Firefly, 24, Supernatural, Battlestar Galactica and a crap ton of other shows. Mark’s a character actor and a good one at that. I’m not sure why he isn’t doing more in terms of lead roles. He’s a little pudgy I suppose and doesn’t have typical movie star looks but he’s a solid character actor that, much like Borgnine, may not be in everything good, but he’s good in everything he’s in.
In fact, he comes from good acting stock.
This, is Mark’s Dad.
William Morgan Sheppard or W. Morgan Sheppard or Morgan Sheppard.
Morgan has been in pretty much everything ever made.
Okay, that might be an exaggeration but he has done a lot of things that there’s a good chance you’ve seen. Max Headroom, MacGyver, various Star Treks, Seaquest, a metric ton of voice overs in video games, cartoons (Gargoyles!) and commercials. Morgan, like his son, is a solid, recognizable actor.
And there are tons of others like him.
Character actors aren’t guys who can’t make it due to skill because let’s be honest, Channing Tatum is a great looking guy but so far, has yet to prove he could act his way out of a paper bag.
And while Ernst Borgnine has left of us with some true gems in terms of starring rolls, it will be his work as a character actor that will stick with us even longer.
Rest in Peace Mr. Borgnine.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!