Brad Dourif is probably the only Oscar nominated actor that will appear in these pages. He has been the unfortunate victim of typecasting, so his name has fallen into obscurity. He has one of those faces and a style that one never forgets, yet few people know his name. I have been a fan since I saw him in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and have followed his career as best I could, through the good and the bad films.
Brad started his career on a very high note. Milos Forman spotted him in an off-off-Broadway play "When You Comin' Back Red Rider?" and cast him as the stuttering teen Billy Babbit in One Flew. He received massive amounts of critical praise for his role, winning the Golden Globe award for supporting actor, the British Oscar, and an Academy nomination. When I first saw One Flew most of the other roles in the film had little effect on me, my attention was drawn to Billy. Perhaps it was because I was about 15, and I identified with him more that than the other characters, but I like to think it was Brad's stellar performance that won me over. I still think that his suicide scene is one of the most emotionally grabbing scenes ever put on film. This is another film in which I tend to ignore the principal actors and concentrate on the supporting cast (especially Vincent Schiavelli and Christopher Lloyd).
After a period of decadence while he was living in Woodstock, NY, Brad returned to the screen in a supporting role in the Irvin Kirshner mystery The Eyes of Laura Mars, starring Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones. Dourif credits this role as being the first "bad boy" he played, a role he was eventually typecast into. After some stints in TV movies ("Sargeant Malkovich vs. the U.S. Air Force" and "Studs Lonigan") he returned to film in John Huston's Wise Blood.
I highly recommend Wise Blood to all fans of Brad Dourif, in fact I would recommend this film to anyone with a passion for slightly off-centre films. Brad is superb as Hazel Motes, a slightly deranged and obsessively religious war vet who returns to the South to attempt to start a new life. This is a very difficult character to play, and I can think of very few actors who would have been capable of conveying the haunted qualities that are integral to the character. He was originally called upon to play a supporting role in the film (Enoch Emory), but turned it down saying he wanted to play Hazel. A year later Huston offered him the role, and he took it. Dourif says of the role "That character was really really wired. He was always on the edge, so I was just always on the edge. He just took everything out of me. ... What he wanted to do was see beyond his body, he wanted to see beyond his mind, he wanted to see beyond where he was - he tortured himself in order to bring himself to some kind of life."* Perhaps it is becuase I just watched this film, but I really think that this is the best role he has had, and the best performance he has ever brought to the screen.
After Wise Blood Brad had the honour of appearing in three of the biggest big-budget flops of all time: Heaven's Gate, Ragtime (again Milos Foreman) and Dune. It's been a long time since I've seen Heaven's Gate, and I couldn't find Ragtime(!!!) so I'm going to skip straight to Dune, which, despite anything that anybody says, is still one of my all-time favorite films.
In Dune Dourif plays the Mentat master of assasins for the House Harkonen, Piter De Vries. In reference to Dune Dourif confirms what many theatre-goers thought of the film, that they made it up as they went along. "I had fun doing it because I had to make up a lot of stuff to make sense of it."* This was the first time that he worked with director David Lynch, and he fit right in to David's ideal. He was visually interesting to watch, awkward and very, very intense. He is only in the film for a few short, but memorable, scenes. His scene with the bound and gagged Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis) is one of my favorites in the entire film. "Desire clouds my reason. That is not good. That is bad." In the Frank Herbert novel Piter is not nearly as psychopatic as Lynch wanted him to be. (As we all know, Lynch likes to turn even the most ordinary character into a psycho.) Brad had a problem with that aspect of the character, worried that he would get typecast into that role. "I told David when I did Dune, the reason that I don't want to do this (because I turned it down at first). I said the reason why I don't want to do it is because I don't want to play a sociopath. If I do that's all I'll play. And I was right, that's exactly what happened. I just knew that I have a perfect kind of intensity for those kind of parts. And I gotta eat, so after a while I just fell into them. I started doing them. I try to shrug it off and wait until something better comes along, but after a while it gets a little depressing."*
After Dune they typecasting took effect and Dourif ended up in a slew of low-budget horror films and thrillers: Fatal Beauty, Child's Play I,II and III (he was the voice of Chuckie), Spontaneous Combustion, The Exorcist III, Graveyard Shift, Grim Prairie Tales, Body Parts, Critters IV, Dead Certain and Trauma. In most of the films he had small roles, always playing a psychopath. I hate to blame David Lynch for the demise of Dourif's carreer, but there seems to be a very direct correlation between his appearance in Dune and the decline in good roles he was offered. He worked again with David Lynch in Blue Velvet as Frank's henchman Raymond, and Dave asked him to be in "Twin Peaks," but he had a movie contract he couldn't get out of. (If only...) One very strange film that he did during this period was Sonny Boy, starring David Carradine in drag! Brad plays a tightly wound thief and bully in a rural New Mexico town. I really can't recommend this film, but it is much more watchable than Critters IV. Brad has also had a few roles as ignorant rural policemen in Mississippi Burning and Amos & Andrew.
Another much under-rated project he was involved in that I have a huge fondness for was the TV mini-series "Wild Palms." He plays the crippled computer genius Chickie Levitt. He is tortured and tormented, but certainly not psychotic. And in VR he dresses like an 18th century dandy. "Wild Palms" also features David Warner as Eli Levitt (Chickie's father), who also gets to step out of usual typecasting (ultimate evil) for the project. Warner will make an appearance here soon. "Wild Palms" is a brilliant psychological/political/sci-fi thriller/soap opera that is very worth the 4 1/2 hour experience. If you liked "Twin Peaks" you'll like "Wild Palms."
Recently Brad has appeared as a guest star on "The X-Files," "Babylon 5" and "Star Trek: Voyager" (he played psychopaths on all three). He also had supporting roles in the big-budget Hollywood films Murder in the First and Color of Night.
Watching One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Wise Blood it is hard to believe that a career that began so spectacularly has come down to guest shots in sci-fi tv shows. It's good to see him working, and they are shows that I like and think are worth having him, but it is still a little depressing. I really hope his carreer picks up again. I hope a director with some sense casts him in an important role in an important film, and gives a jump-start to the carreer of an actor who really deserves it. Dourif is a voting member of the Academy, but it would be really nice to hear his name called among the list of nominees again some day.