Remembering Powers Boothe (1948-2017)
Powers Boothe was a force to be reckoned with whenever he graced the silver screen. His passing is so sudden that we here at Talk Film Society are in complete shock. Boothe was the consummate "That Guy" actor, always bringing a smile to your face when he'd pop up in a film. His career was filled with characters with "hard as nails" attitudes with whom you'd never want to meet in a dark alley. Cinema lost a great one with his death, as it's rare to come across an actor as dependable and intimidating as he was. The TFS Staff convenes once again to remember one of the greats.
Southern Comfort (1981) d. Walter Hill
Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort was written off by some as a Deliverance knockoff, despite having little in common with Boorman’s film (which is unrelentingly intense) but if we’re talking about southern gothic thrillers, Southern Comfort outflanks Deliverance with its ambitious story and diverse cast. Next to Fred Ward, Keith Carradine, Brion James, and Lewis Stucky is Powers Boothe. While my introduction to Boothe came in the form of Cy Tolliver in Deadwood (debut episode directed by Hill) his performance in Southern Comfort was an eye opener to his talent that had been percolating for decades leading up to the legendary status that he sustained for years in a long and rewarding career. Walter Hill was an offshoot from the New Hollywood, in tune with Sam Peckinpah, Don Siegel, Samuel Fuller, and Clint Eastwood. Hill who tended toward dissecting the machismo male psyche and in expanding the seemingly one-dimensional world of testosterone, found actors who can break that veneer with tough-minded, physical performances that show a unique vulnerability. Powers Boothe is young in Southern Comfort, but he takes a commanding presence in this stunning tale of elemental suspense and self-destruction.
- Alex Miller
MacGruber (2010) d. Jorma Taccone
Playing the title character’s old army buddy in MacGruber, the feature film adaptation of the irreverent SNL sketch, Powers Boothe helps to elevate the level of 80s action movie cheese purely through his resilient demeanour. As Colonel Faith, he acts as the higher-up figure who sets the plot into motion, and does so with a sense of impenetrability that’s completely hilarious in its own way. As the film is bombarded with a variety of gags and true feats of absurdism, Boothe’s presence helps to ground the parodic structure, and certainly adds to the part with his overtly serious tone that borders on peculiarity. But of course, as a noted character actor it’s always great to see him show up in small parts like this, especially one where he gets the chance to poke fun at his past roles as figures of authority.
- Rob Trench
Tombstone (1993) d. George P. Cosmatos
I often yearn for the tear-your-head off modern aesthetic that followed westerns in the wake of The Proposition and Deadwood, just as much as I romanticize the bygone studio years of John Ford and Anthony Mann. That said, one can’t overlook the entertaining thread of westerns appearing in the late eighties and early nineties - pictures like Silverado, Young Guns, and Dances with Wolves, were breathing new life into the Old West while serving as a throwback to the classics. Tombstone is the best marriage of old school and new, portraying the legend of Wyatt Earp, the Clanton gang, and the showdown at The OK Corral with fresh faces, modern style and a respectful re-evaluation of history with that old school studio era charm. We all the know the players who make up the Earp Brothers, but every Western is defined by their outlaws. I know we’re supposed to side with the squeaky clean lawmen, but the Clanton gang with Thomas Haden Church, Michael Biehn, Stephen Lang, and the incomparable Powers Boothe are infinitely more captivating.
What I love about Tombstone, aside from the action, witty dialogue, and sweeping scope is not only is everyone in the cast turning in top tier performances but, they're having a ball while doing so. Boothe with his louder than thou red shirt, and gravely charisma and periodic howling is something that you can’t train or learn, which is why the man was a powerhouse on screen.
- Alex Miller
Sin City (2005) d. Robert Rodriguez
“Power don't come from a badge or a gun. Power comes from lying. Lying big and gettin’ the whole damn world to play along with you.”
Powers Boothe makes an extended cameo in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, breathing life into one of Frank Miller's most sinister creations. Senator Roark, a powerful beast of a man that looms large over the wretched metropolis, has everyone on the take. No one dares to defy his will for fear of violent repercussion. The stylized cinematography of the picture only heightens Boothe's performance; filmed in black and white, cloaked in shadow, and hidden behind medical equipment, his voice alone sends shivers up your spine. Powers Boothe always brought an ominous and sometimes terrifying presence to every character he embodied, leaving an impression no matter your thoughts on the overall film. Roark is a haunting character with shades of the current POTUS in the way that he conducts business - it's a performance that sticks with you despite Boothe’s short amount of screentime. Having not seen the film in years and still being able to remember every detail is a testament to his power as an actor, and cinema as a whole will miss him greatly.
- Matt Curione
Justice League Unlimited (2004-2006) d. Joaquim Dos Santos
The creative team behind the Batman Animated Series have had a spectacular run that still flourishes today. Casting potent actors to become the well known villains and heroes we all cherish was truly a masterstroke. God bless that entire team, especially my favorite heroine, Andrea Romano who was responsible for directing the voice actors selected for these iconic roles. Well, the time finally came in the Justice League series for The Flash to do battle with a classic adversary, Gorilla Grodd, and holy shit did they pick the perfect voice for the role. Powers Boothe, equipped with the smoothest Texas voice as if Satan himself were selling you a car, was playing a major baddie. Grodd is no joke either - He is extremely dangerous with his genius intellect, can speak eloquently and has a powerful psychic ability that can completely possess anyone and bend them to his will. Powers would reprise the Grodd role several more times as the show’s seasons progressed and he always brought the goods. Grodd rarely yelled, allowing Boothe to deliver his lines with a brilliant cadence which helped sell the high IQ adversary big time. Growing up on Southern Comfort, Extreme Prejudice, and Tombstone, I was simply overwhelmed already with the great casting on the shows, but adding Powers Boothe was a dream for a cinephile like me. That damn amazing voice, so singular and so powerful. I will never be able to watch his episodes again and not get misty. He brought his entire filmography to that role making Grodd extra special. Just another great example of how talented the man truly was. With all my heart I shall miss him.
- Rockie Jaurez
Deadwood (2004-2006) d. Davis Guggenheim
“You're found fucking guilty of being a cunt” spits Deadwood brothel owner Cy Tolliver at a pair of young con artists who ripped off his joint, proceeding to deal out frontier justice by beating this pair of interlopers to the brink of death. Emphasis on “brink” because he ends them by a gunshot to the head, though they would have died anyway; which might the most merciful act taken by the character throughout the entirety of the HBO series. But that’s just another day in the foul mouth, cutthroat life of Deadwood, and Cy Tolliver wasn’t just adapting to it, he was one of its prospering citizens. Powers Boothe was immediately elevated from “familiar face” to force of nature with his performance in the series. The whirlwind of fury that comprised Cy Tolliver was a standout part of the series, his fierce stare was imposing, and once the vulgarity-laden, Shakespearian dialogue came out with ferocity and composure it was evident that Deadwood was more than a gritty reimagining of the West. This was an evolution in the genre and for television as a whole. After acquainting myself with Tolliver and the rest of the fine inhabitants of Deadwood I recounted the career of Powers Boothe, and one thing was certain, and that was Cy Tolliver was the role he was born to play, and it’s how he's best remembered in my mind.
- Alex Miller
Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones (1980) d. William A. Graham
Powers Boothe won an Primetime Emmy for his portrayal of Jim Jones, the real-life cult leader who lead over 900 of his followers to their deaths by suicide at Jonestown. The two-part, star-studded TV movie goes through Jones’ early life, leading up to the murder-suicides in 1978. Jones goes from wide-eyed child to preacher and protector of the little man to an adulterer, liar, thief, and, eventually, killer. Boothe sells the slow dive into evil — a lot of us know him for his villainous roles, and he embodies the madness of Jones will chilling effect, but he also gives him humanity, which disappears as the film progresses. As the leader of the Peoples Temple, Jones fights to support every member of his group, but after a fateful meeting with spiritual leader Father Divine (James Earl Jones), Jones becomes egomaniacal. He gets hooked on amphetamines and takes anything he wants — property, political power, women, men, anything he wants, he takes. He becomes an unstoppable force, and Boothe is perfect as the paranoid cult leader, who continually takes to the mic to brainwash his followers. Boothe’s recognizable, booming voice reciting lines from the infamous FBI “death tape” as the horror of the massacre plays out is something that won’t soon leave your mind. Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones is a frightening slow burn, and Boothe’s performance is one of his very best and an essential part of his body of work.