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Who is That Actor: Ricky Jay

October 21, 2010

One of the reasons I love doing the, “Who is That Actor?” series is because of all the cool things I learn about the character actors I profile. Without the series, I wouldn’t have discovered that Julian McMahon was the son of former Australian prime minister or sometimes there’s a three way fight between Miguel Ferrer, Debby Boone and George Clooney for who gets to bring potato salad to the family reunion picnic.

It was a real treat to discover prolific character actor Ricky Jay is also a well-known and accomplished magician in addition to being a regular performer in the films of PT Anderson. It was Boogie Nights where I first noticed Ricky Jay as the persnickety porno cinematographer saddled with the ridiculously porntastic character name – Longjohn. Anyhoo, Jay made appearances on The X-files and a several other places – was everyone in Mamet’s Homicide (1991 film) or does it just seem that way – but my favorite role of his was in the 2001 Mamet film Heist, where Jay plays one of Hackman’s road dawgs.

One unifying element of many of Jay’s performances is the undercurrent of trickster behavior that reminds me of Orson Welles. Though it seems, based on my limited research that Jay’s probably a better charlatan than Welles, though Welles has glossier beards. Being all that as it may (or may not) be, I cannot stop watching the many clips of Jay’s magic thang!

Ricky’s amazing card trick:

Ricky Jay on Arsenio in 1988:

Ricky Jay throws some cards:

And my absolute FAVE:

9 Comments leave one →
  1. hsofia permalink
    October 21, 2010 7:17 pm

    And he was in Deadwood!

  2. October 21, 2010 7:49 pm

    Yes, he was!!!!

  3. October 21, 2010 9:59 pm

    Ricky Jay narrated the introduction in the film Magnolia (1999).

  4. October 22, 2010 4:51 am

    @Misterkonglish – Oh yes, and he was quite good in the film itself. He’s a very enjoyable performer.

  5. October 22, 2010 8:16 am

    omg, this makes so much sense! I didn’t realize Ricky Jay was a real magician too, but I can totally see it. and given that can be a dicey profession as far as who is involved, I love that Ricky Jay is non-creepy.

    I love him in PT Anderson movies, and now his role in The Prestige makes sense….though it should have been bigger! maybe he consulted too.

  6. October 22, 2010 8:18 am

    Those clips are so funny!

  7. October 22, 2010 9:24 am

    This is completely embarrassing, but after watching “State and Main” several years ago, for whatever reason, I thought Ricky Jay was Clark Gregg, who’s also in the movie (I think he’s best known for being Christine’s ex-husband from “The Old Adventures of New Christine.”)

    Why? I have no friggin idea! And I even knew Ricky Jay was a professional magician, but this whole time I thought he was someone completely different.

    Thanks to “Who is that actor” for setting me straight! Who knows how long I would have continued thinking this otherwise…

  8. October 22, 2010 11:45 am

    His books are great too: Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women, Jay’s Journal of Anomalies, and Dice: Deception, Fate, and Rotten Luck which has gorgeous photographs by Rosamund Purcell.

  9. December 25, 2010 7:16 am

    My favorite Ricky Jay role is in David Mamet’s “House of Games”. When he wants to command attention, his personality is magnetic, and when he wants to fade into the background, you’d swear he wasn’t even there. And his performance is so multilayered, reflecting all the different overlapping levels to the scams he runs. Plus, Ricky Jay the person is cool too. I admire his integrity, such as it is. For this film, Mamet wanted his character to demonstrate on-camera how to do a certain grift that uses sleight of hand, and Jay didn’t want to betray his comrades out there. So, he invented a new move on the spot for his character to demonstrate that wouldn’t give away anyone else’s secrets.

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