Picking at the bloated carcass of geek culture...occasionally!!!

Monday’s “That Guy:” Brion James

In Movies, That Guys on January 4, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Well, a new year and another birthday in the books.  It is during this time of year I tend to get a little nostalgic.  On this Monday, I found myself thinking of “that guys” from my childhood that are now gone.  Specifically, I thought of this week’s “that guy,” Brion James.  He was a talent so unique, that I wonder how future generations will get by without someone like him in their movies.  There are two silver linings to this, however.  One, is that films will be around long after all of us are gone, creating immortal film icons that never die.  The other is that Brion James and other “that guys” like him will continue to surprise us for years, appearing in films we forget existed while we flip through cable.  This happened to me the other day, while watching Silverado.  Brion James came on the screen and I thought: “Damn, I forgot that guy was in this movie.”  It was weird, because Brion James is not the kind of guy your forget.

Brion James, even years later, was wondering what a tortoise is.

Brion James is probably best known as Leon from Blade Runner. In the first scene in the movie, his terrifying psych evaluation stands as one of the most memorable parts of an extremely memorable movie.  James’ performance is the main reason for this.  With his insane eyes, unstable behavior, and threatening physicality, the audience was just waiting for something terrible to happen.  And it did, of course.  Brion James entered my consciousness at an early age and I always been disturbed by what he does as an actor.

You might also remember James from a ton of other movies through the 80’s.  He was a regular in tons of genre flicks, often as an unhinged, crazy-looking, sadistic heavy ready to kill without provocation.  I remember that in Tango & Cash, he played this part quite effectively, despite a weird British/Australian accent and bizarre ponytail.  But he had a physical presence and those scary, scary eyes.  He always stuck out in every flick he was in, be they terrible or really terrible.  In Steel Dawn or Red Scorpion, if Brion James was on the screen, you couldn’t pay attention to anything else.

In the 90’s, James made a few turns that were a bit lighter.  He was one of those grizzled sailors in Chris Elliot’s Cabin Boy, a film that everyone should see just so I can be sure I didn’t only imagine something so bizarre existed.  He was also in The Fifth Element as kind of a comic-relief role as a soldier recruiting Bruce Willis for that one last mission.  He gets frozen comically in a refrigerator and you’re supposed to laugh when you see him emerge from the freezer with icicles and so on, but I swear being terrified of what he was going to do to Corbin Dallas.  Like, “that’s Leon, you idiot!  He’s going to kill you!”

I remember when Brion James died in the late 90’s.  I heard about it and thought to myself, “who?”  Then I saw his picture and thought “Oh, that guy.”  There can be no more fitting memory for someone of his talent.

  1. I loved Cabin Boy. When he was dancing on the boat and they were all throwing beer cans at his head? Awesome.

  2. Don’t forget his classic role as Detective Keough in 48 Hours …

    • Yeah, that one came up but I haven’t seen 48 Hours in a while. I’ll have to catch up with it if only to strengthen my 80’s buddy movie knowledge.

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