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Five Great Scene Stealers: The Boy’s Club

July 19, 2010

Prime Mister Grant and President Thornton in Love Actually

According to Wikipedia a scene stealer…

is a character in a film or dramatic performance that dominates the audience’s attention, often through charisma, humour or powerful acting, thus “stealing the scene” or “stealing the show”. The term usually (but not always) applies to a supporting character, such a sidekick, best friend, confidant, villain, etc. Sometimes the term is used for a minor character who has unexpectedly (and perhaps inappropriately) drawn attention away from the star.

Here are my favorites (in order)

5. Billy Bob Thornton as POTUS in Love Actually
In the hands of a more conventional acting choice Thornton’s role could have been easily forgettable. Despite appearing for a scant five or so minutes, Thornton makes an inedible impression – more so than the grating Rowan Atkinson. Thornton does more to inform the audience of Grant’s character’s motivations (than all Grant’s blathering) as a smarmy, cheeky and ass grabbing leader of the free world.

4. Carl Reiner as Saul Bloom in Ocean’s 11
With a cast including: Clooney, Pitt, Damon, Gould, Garcia and Cheadle, it’s easy for even an accomplished national treasure to get lost in the shuffle! Reiner is HILARIOUS as Saul Bloom, master of disguise, who spends much of the film as the shadowy faux industrialist/arms dealer a.k.a “The High Roller” and delivers the best comebacks, such as my favorite, “Tess is with Benedict? She’s too tall for him!”. Editor’s note: Benedict is played by the great Andy Garcia, who is in fact of average height, but thanks to his youthful appearance and his tendency to be closely paired with much taller actors (notably Sean Connery in The Untouchables, Garcia’s breakout role) he is assumed to be shorter.

3. Sydney Pollack in Eyes Wide Shut.
The obvious choice, if one wants to acknowledge Pollack’s delightful screen presence, is his work in Toostie, but Pollack’s work in Eyes Wide Shut is the better choice. He effortlessly outshines Cruise, as the affable, sleazy wealthy and powerful Victor Ziegler who’s plays a mediocre game of pool and coordinates the sketchy sex parties held in a creepy old house.

2. Alfred Molina in Boogie Nights.
Molina provides a blueprint for actors wishing to take a self contained role and leave quite the impression on the audience. He’s funny, creepy and ridiculously clad in a shiny bathroom and bikini underpants. He also gives a standout performance in a film filled with them.

Ken Watanabe

1. Ken Watanabe in Inception.
Inception is getting all kinds praise for its stunning visuals and incomprehensible story, but the real praiseworthy element is the masterful Watanabe whose performance keeps the film from descending into a calculating, sterile triumph of visual effects. His performance is understated, but warm and engaging. It’s the kind of performance that should be rewarded, but it’s likely the academy will maintain its bias against sci-fi fare. It’s easily to phone in a performance and allow the special effects to do all the heavy lifting, but Watanabe opts to set up his already impressive game.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. July 19, 2010 10:46 am

    Oft times my favourite character in a film is not the star but a bit player who made the most of his/her role. I can’t quite think of a defining example right now but doubtless one will occur to me.

    I do know a famous example of a “scene stealer” from the silent film era. There was a film called “Musketeers of Pig Alley” (1912) by D.W. Griffith starring Lilian Gish. There was an extra in one very short scene. Everytime the film was screened, a big buzz erupted in the audience and people would point at her and whisper. Griffith was so impressed by this reaction, he ordered his crew to find out the woman’s name. But no one knew and she was never located.

    You can watch the entire film now on youtube but it’s not really worth the trouble. The scene with the extra is right at the beginning and maybe you have to see it on the big screen to understand, but I just don’t see what the fuss was about. I know the extra appears to be looking right at the camera – right at the audience.

    I’m not sure I know how to embed photos in this blog, but here goes. The woman is staring at you – she’s right between Gish and that other woman.

  2. July 19, 2010 10:48 am

    Dang, I don’t see the picture. Try this link then:

  3. July 19, 2010 12:52 pm

    There were two great scene stealers in Oceans 11: Elliott Gould also makes the stars work when they have to share the scene with him.

    Sydney Pollack also manages to steal scenes from Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, no mean feat, even if he was the director.

  4. July 19, 2010 1:35 pm

    2. I loved Carl Reiner in Oceans 11 and I agree with redlami, Elliott Gould was excellent too.
    3. I also loved Sydney Pollack in Eyes Wide Shut. So slimy.

    I need to see Inception, I’ve been on a Netflix kick so I haven’t seen any recent movies besides Iron Man 2. RDJ is so hot, damn. I can’t think about it or I’ll need to cool off, I’m at the office.

  5. irishup permalink
    July 19, 2010 6:03 pm

    Burgess Merideth – whether as The Penguin, Mickey Goldmill, or Jack Lemmon’s dad, there is something about Burgess Merideth that always grabs me. I’m not sure if this counts, because he acutally was a headliner, but Val Kilmer’s Doc Holiday just OWNS each and every scene he is in, in “Tombstone”. He can be my huckleberry anytime.

  6. July 20, 2010 6:39 am

    How about Stubby Kaye in “Guys and Dolls”? As Nicely-Nicely, he’s the ideal sidekick. But when he comes to his “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” number, he gets to step forward and steal the scene from Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra and Jean Simmons. That’s like a trifecta or something.

  7. badhedgehog permalink
    July 20, 2010 9:28 am

    I agree, Carl Reiner and Elliott Gould are both cracking scene-stealers in Oceans 11.

    The Damned United was on telly the night before last, and Jim Broadbent as the Derby County chairman walks off with every scene he’s in. Michael Sheen is a good actor, but Jim Broadbent just acts him out of the park.

  8. July 20, 2010 10:47 am

    Jim Broadbent steals all his scenes in Bridget Jones too!

  9. andersonljb permalink
    July 21, 2010 9:33 am

    Did somebody say Val Kilmer! Yes, yes, yes. I will have what Irishup is having.
    La Mommie

  10. July 21, 2010 10:54 am

    One of my favorite scene-stealing guys recently is J.K. Simmons.

    Whether he’s Juno‘s dad, Spiderman‘s boss, or the CIA dude in Burn After Reading, he seems to make every scene he’s in its own event. And the guy is absolutely everywhere… I’m starting to think of him as the American Michael Caine.

    Is there going to be a girls’ club version of this post?


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