I have been thinking lately about how awesome Garret Dillahunt is, after just recently seeing him in The Road. He was only in it for about five minutes, but man, was it a memorable scene. I mostly know him from Deadwood, but I also saw him in Last House on the Left and in his very first role, The Believer. I think this guy is a serious contender for the best bad guy in Hollywood, if not the best all-around character actor.
Dillahunt has a certain quality that is very, very rare, which is that he really makes you hate his characters. He has this combination of menace, and weasely-ness, which I think is what makes a bad guy a really good bad guy. He’s got the same aura as Andrew J. Robinson, the Scorpio killer in Dirty Harry, Kevin Gage as Waingro in Heat, and Doug Hutchison, who played the scumbag guard Percy in The Green Mile. These were the kind of characters where you wanted so badly to be able to step through the screen and beat them to a bloody pulp. The kind of characters who, when they finally get what they deserve, the audience actually cheers.
Some movie villains are evil and scary but they’re also funny, or charming, or at least somehow charismatic - and this takes away from their evilness. It gives them something positive for the viewer to grab, to give them a bit of humanity. It makes them appealing. This is not the case with the roles above, or with Dillahunt’s characters. They are not appealing. They are completely detestable, and this is what makes them so great.
Take Jack McCall in Deadwood. Even in a town full of surly drunks, McCall managed to be the only one that was completely unlikeable. That is really saying a lot. He literally had no redeeming characters. Every time he came onto the screen, you wanted to smash his head in. Dirty, filthy, cowardly, rude, and utterly useless.
And then in the next season Dillahunt comes BACK as a different character - a radically different one - and actually manages to make you forget that they were played by the same actor! He demonstrates tremendous range. Francis Wolcott is very dapper, calm, extremely well-spoken with dialog that is almost Shakespearean - despite also being a complete scumbag and savage sociopath. He was a lot like another great HBO character of recent years, Ralphie on The Sopranos. Underneath this dandy-ish exterior is an absolutely despicable worm of a man. And like Ralphie, Wolcott was the only character who really got under Al Swearingen’s skin, just like Ralphie was the only character who really drove Tony up the wall.
Actually, one of my all-time favorite scenes in Deadwood was when that bicycle arrived in town and Doc, on a bet, road it down the main street with the whole town crowded around watching. It was a really rare “feel-good” moment of the show, and there is just a brief shot, like two seconds long, of Francis Wolcott standing in the crowd, looking at the Doc on the bike, with a smile on his face - cheerfully enjoying the moment like everyone else. I think it’s the only time you ever see that character smile. It’s like, despite that he is a completely cold blooded psychopath, even he can’t help but smile. That two-second shot just added so much to the scene.
I haven’t seen Dillahunt in the Terminator show, but I just might have to watch it to see him. I expect big things from this guy in the future. I was also amazed to find that he’s 45 years old - I think he looks a lot younger.
Any other Dillahunt fans?