By Greg Kiernan
So there I was sitting watching "The Fugitive" on TV and it was right at the exciting part where Tommy Lee Jones has Harrison Ford cornered in the dam tunnel; Harrison Ford leaps of the dam wall and plummets down into the river hundreds of feet below and disappears under the waves. I am astonished to realize how much this movie holds up today, almost twenty years after its release. One thing that I never noticed before now was how much all the minor characters add to the story and how those character actors have their claim to fame. As an aspiring screenwriter I'm beginning to realize that when it comes to people who are not Harrison Ford or Tommy Lee Jones the hours of thought, effort and time spent on filming can be dismissed or overlooked. So I decided I wanted to take the time to recognize the heroes who were once unsung.
That Guy Who Tricks People
One guy who stands out in "The Fugitive" who wasn't so big back in the day would be Joe Pantoliano. He's essentially Tommy Lee Jones' sidekick in apprehending Harrison Ford. When I see that man today I must confess I don't think of his role in "The Fugitive" so much as I do his role in "The Matrix" where he plays Cypher, the Judas character.
It would seem that "The Fugitive" was his big break while "The Matrix" and "Memento", one of my personal favorite movies, is where he hit his stride. It seems he's good as playing that guy with a dangerous weakness: in "The Fugitive" he's not as strong or cunning as Tommy Lee Jones and he almost gets himself killed; in "The Matrix" he betrays Morpheus and Neo for a piece of steak; and in "Memento" he tricks his friend Leonard into killing the wrong guy. He's that sly guy we love to hate.
That Lady From That TV Show
Another person we notice playing a minor character in "The Fugitive" is Jane Lynch. Yes, that's right. It's Jane Lynch playing that doctor who helps Harrison Ford discover evidence of his innocence and leads him to the real culprit. Unlike Mr. Pantoliano her role in this film wasn't really a big break for her and it was a while before she had a hit movie.
Several years ago she scored with the Judd Apatow movie "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and her hit TV show "Glee". Maybe those years of struggle are what contributed to the flinty charm she possesses today versus the soft, sweet, almost innocent demeanor she seemed to have in "The Fugitive." Now that she's much more successful today I'm sure she views her past role with nostalgia.
That Guy From That Chicago Movie
Finally I don't think I could write a blog about character actors (especially those in "The Fugitive") without mentioning Ron Dean. Yes, the tough cop who seems intent on taking Harrison Ford down and never has any doubt of his guilt. He was in "The Breakfast Club" and "Cocktail" and recently "The Dark Knight," the victim of Two-Face in that bar scene.
Whether people realize it or not, people know who Ron Dean is. And I'm proud to call this particular character actor my friend; oddly enough we ran into each other at a recent Network meeting in Chicago. I was there because it was the Chicago Screenwriter's Network and he was there because Andrew Davis (the director of "The Fugitive") was the guest speaker. During his honorary award acceptance speech, Mr. Davis did Mr. Dean the courtesy of giving him a shout-out, thanking him for his time and all of efforts, and then telling him to be careful not to fall off the balcony.
Whether it's by fame, fortune or just one person saying thanks, I think it's important to sing about those unsung heroes. I hope that one day I can win an award and that one day someone on stage can gives me their thanks. I just hope I don't fall off the balcony.
Until next time, see you in the movies!