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Sunday, February 12, 2006 

Respect That Actor! #2

#2 Xander Berkeley

Forever lumbered as 'that guy' or perhaps more precisely 'that evil guy', Xander Berkeley is the definiton of a hard-working character actor. Chances are you've seen him in a bunch of things, you just didn't realise it. His smattering of impressive -if hardly showcasing- roles throughout the 80s and 90s range from the sublime (Heat) to the dire (Poison Ivy II), but always maintaining a trademark swagger with unmitigated cool. He very much reminds me of Lee Van Cleef before Sergio Leone broke him into the mainstream with For a Few Dollars More. Pre- spaghetti western Van Cleef was always the second bad guy from the right, the one who always got shot half-way through the picture. It's not much different for Berkeley.

However at the age of 51 (and with a huge body of work behind him) I can't really see him being thrust into the limelight any time soon. Which is a crying shame because the guy is capable of so much more. Take a look at him in Terminator 2. He takes to the role of John Connor's foster parent with such confidence, right up until the point he's blitzed through the head by Jenette Goldstein. Likewise in Andrew Niccol's glorious Gattaca where he draws on subtleties to carry his performance. The role itself is deliberately underwritten and Berkeley is relied on to bring immediate but not overt clarity to the film's iambic climax.

Of course when he needs to be he can play anything from inquisitive cabbie (Leaving Las Vegas), dirty agent (Air Force One) or Pacino wife-stealer in Heat. He's frequently summonsed upon to liven up these one dimensional roles, and does so time and time again. When he's actually given something to do, the result is unprecedented. As George Mason in 24 -undoubtedly his crowning achievement- he not only brought about a new dynamic in the show (levying up the show's humour, which would continue to snowball with characters like Chloe O'Brian and Edgar Stiles) he also animated Mason's progression throughout 24 hours with a touching, imperfect humanity. He may have strolled on in the show's pilot as a stock bastard, but by day two this was all "background noise". The makers saw Berkeley's potential and ran with it; producing some of the series' most poignant scenes. It's a shame by season 3 he was discarded -the same has just happpened to Reiko Aylesworth- and fans consistently rank him as the character they would most like to see return, no matter how amazingly skewed in logic it would be.

Xander Berkeley just plain rocks. And I can't think of any better recommendation than that.

If you see him in one movie, see him in: Gattaca

Oh, that's who he is - I knew I recognised the picture but it didn't click until you said 'George Mason'. Sam, I respect that actor.

This makes me happy.

Well done!
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