Monday, 16 January 2012

Scene Stealers: Elias Koteas

Image: Screen Media Films

We love Elias Koteas. Since the 1980s he’s been one of the most sought-after character actors around and has been cast by directors such as Martin Scorsese, Terence Malick, David Cronenberg, and David Fincher. Frequently cast as grotesque villains in Hollywood films like Shooter or sinister presences in more offbeat fare like The Killer Inside Me, he’s also more than capable of playing gentler, good-natured characters. We love him and we're proud to present our Best of Koteas.

SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL/TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES – DUNCAN/CASEY JONES
Between 1987 and 1988, Koteas was cast in two Francis Ford Coppola films (Gardens of Stone and Tucker: The Man and His Dream). But fans of that era may be more likely to recognise him as Duncan, the skinhead leader from John Hughes’ Some Kind of Wonderful, who tells Craig Scheffer how it is: “I think it’s safe to say that this party is about to become a historical fact”. Anyone remember the live action Ninja Turtles movie? Remember who played the “Wayne Gretzky on steroids” ex-pro hockey player turned vigilante? Yep. Koteas. Cowabunga!

THE ADJUSTER/EXOTICA – NOAH/ERIC
We have a confession to make. We have not seen either of Atom Egoyan’s much-acclaimed dark dramas. However, we include them on this list because we are very much aware of their importance in launching the careers of Koteas as an intense character actor and Egoyan as a most unusual and interesting filmmaker. If anyone’s got something to say about these two films, tell us!


THE PROPHECY – THOMAS DAGGETT
Gregory Widen’s bizarrely sincere OTT biblical horror is probably best-known for spawning several increasingly dreadful sequels and featuring one of Christopher Walken’s most enjoyably hammy villains ever: The evil Angel Gabriel. In a film full of big performances (Walken, Eric Stoltz as Archangel Michael, Viggo Mortensen as Satan, Adam Goldberg and Amanda Plummer as suicidal henchmen), Koteas’ decision to underplay his heroic priest-turned-detective was probably the right one. Inevitably though, he’s a little overshadowed.


CRASH - VAUGHAN
It may have been James Spader and Holly Hunter on the posters, but it’s Koteas’ performance that burns itself into your brain. Stalking through Cronenberg’s notorious adaptation of Ballard’s novel like he barely needs the car at all, the twisted, driven Vaughan is the catalyst for the film’s events, pushing the characters closer and closer to the edge. Whether you love or hate the film, there’s no denying the sheer force of Koteas’ softly-spoken but incredibly powerful turn.


GATTACA/FALLEN/APT PUPIL – ANTONIO/EDGAR REESE/ARCHIE
Between 1997 and 1998, Koteas appeared in small but key roles in three interesting genre films. In Andrew Niccol’s underappreciated Gattaca he played father to naturally flawed Ethan Hawke and genetically enhanced Loren Dean. He hammed it up as Rolling Stones-singing serial killer Edgar Reese in Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen, which finds Denzel Washington haunted by a body-hopping demon. In Apt Pupil, Bryan Singer’s adaptation of the Stephen King novella, he popped up in an unsettling scene as a homeless man who shouldn’t have accepted Nazi Ian McKellen’s invitation to come in for something to eat. He makes the biggest impression in Fallen, but all three demonstrate how memorable he can be with very little screen time.


THE THIN RED LINE – CAPTAIN BUGGER STAROS
Koteas showed his versatility in Terence Malick’s stunning Pacific WW2 epic, playing the mild-mannered Captain who refuses to send his men to their certain deaths, even in the face of a snarling Nick Nolte. The Thin Red Line is brimming with superb actors, but Koteas’ good man who quietly stands by his principles stands out. In recent years it could be argued that Malick has been more interested in nature than people, but this presents a strong case against.


ZODIAC/THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON – SGT JACK MULANAX/MONSIEUR GATEAU
Director David Fincher might be someone you’d expect to take advantage of Koteas’ skill at playing sinister, so it was somewhat of a surprise to see Koteas cast twice in a row by the director as good guys. In Zodiac he’s an exasperated flatfoot who gets closer than he realises to the killer, and he’s the bereaved clock-maker who wants to turn back time in Benjamin Button’s prologue.


DEFENDOR – SGT CHUCK DOONEY
Somewhere between Kick Ass and Super is Defendor, the excellent but little seen dark comedy which finds Woody Harrelson’s vigilante going after “Captain Industry”. Koteas is the corrupt cop who is the repeated target of Defendor, putting up with his homemade artillery which includes lime juice, marbles, and bees. He’s going for laughs but he’s still a memorably unpleasant and threatening villain.


SHUTTER ISLAND/THE KILLER INSIDE ME – ANDREW LAEDDIS/JOE ROTHMAN
Martin Scorsese’s been at this long enough to know that when you need someone to play a scarred loony who’s haunting Leonardo DiCaprio, you call Koteas. Greeting the man whose family he murdered like an old friend with a warm “Hey, buddy!”, Koteas once again makes the most of his limited screen-time by playing the unexpected. He also popped up as a union man harassing Casey Affleck’s killer of women in Michael Winterbottom’s disappointing film of Joe Thompson’s novel.


LET ME IN – THE POLICEMAN
We had issues with Matt Reeves’ Let the Right One In remake but one thing we applauded it for was the casting of Koteas as one of the few kindly figures in its otherwise wintry, unfriendly world. Thinking that he’s on the trail of a satanic cult, he follows the case right to the wrong door. Let’s not forget, he won the Fohnhouse Best Scream of the Year award.


A VERY HAROLD AND KUMAR CHRISTMAS – SERGEI KATSOV
We couldn’t write a feature on Elias Koteas without mentioning his recent cameo in the latest Harold and Kumar movie. Who else are you going to cast as a psychotic mobster who blows up an ice cream truck and faces off with a cocaine-addled baby? We were inconsolable when that fight didn’t happen.


Inevitably we’ve missed out a few films and Koteas characters. If we’ve excluded one of your favourites, please leave a comment below. We anticipate a tidal wave of people demanding to know why we left out Shooter.

Next Scene Stealer: John Hawkes

JH

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