Brad Dourif is one of “those guys.” You know, the actors who show up in a movie or a show, and you know you’ve seen them before, but you can’t place exactly where you know them from. Depending on what kind of movies you like, you most likely know Dourif as Chucky in Child’s Play, but you may just as well know him from Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, or even Dune if you’re a David Lynch diehard.
Even though the majority of Dourif’s most well-known roles are in genre films, he got his start as a purely dramatic actor, which shows in each of his roles, whether he’s playing a demented doll or a town doctor. His reputation with these roles also made him Tim Burton's top choice to play The Joker in Batman before the studio went with Jack Nicholson.
As one of the most gifted actors of the 20th century, it’s a pleasure to watch him change with his roles, as well as add subtleties to his craft regardless of whether he’s playing a one-off character on television or a supporting role in an Academy Award-nominated film.
- Photo: New Line Cinema
Dourif consistently takes on roles that provide him a chance to be not only creepy, but seriously intense. Wormtongue is a hideous character inside and out, and to bring this horrendous character to life, Dourif had to shave his eyebrows and do some heavy accent work. Initially, however, he didn't get the job because Peter Jackson chose someone else for the role. Dourif explained:
I didn’t get it. I did not get the part. They gave the part to somebody else who somewhere during the summer completely backed out. I think they weren’t getting paid enough... And so they called me up, and I went from Very Sad to Very Happy. And I got it and then was told that I could come a couple of weeks early, because the accent needed a little work. And I was really glad that I did, because Sir Ian’s were thicker than flies on the set and I was just Brad from West Virginia, ya know?
Wormtongue is only a small piece of the film, but Dourif so fully inhabits the role that he's impossible to forget.Awesome performance?
- Photo: United Artists
With his first theatrical role as Billy Bibbit, the stuttering bipolar mental patient, Dourif was nominated for an Academy Award, something that escapes even the most seasoned of actors.
In order to get into his role as the suicidal Bibbit, he drew upon his natural sadness, but he says that the hardest part of getting into character was learning to stutter. He told the AV Club:
I think Milos [Forman, the director] said to me before I even started to work on the part, he said the thing that he wanted to see is the courage of somebody who stutters. He said, "Because at the moment that they stutter, they’re totally alone." That made a very deep impression. I found somebody whose career was working with people who stutter, and they were trying to devise a way to cure stuttering. I got an entire textbook on stuttering, how it was broken down and so forth and so on, and I just did the reverse and taught myself how to stutter.
For his efforts, Dourif won a Golden Globe for the role.Awesome performance?
- 3Photo: 20th Century Fox
For all the nuanced roles that Dourif has played throughout his lengthy career, he rarely gets to let loose and just ham it up. That’s not really what’s required of an actor in most films, but Alien: Resurrection isn’t most films.
It’s the fourth Alien movie and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and while it’s not as genre-defining as the first two films in the series, it has developed a cult following. If any movie called for Dourif to crank up his sinister weirdness to 11, it’s this one.
As Dr. Jonathan Gediman, a scientist who clones Ellen Ripley and a bunch of Xenomorphs, Dourif is purely in camp mode, but he’s also inquisitive and interested in his subjects. It’s really interesting to see an actor who can balance the over-the-top necessities of a campy science-fiction film and truly human characteristics.Awesome performance?
- Photo: HBO
It’s not easy to be the only doctor in Deadwood - you’ve got to treat everyone no matter how bad they are. As an actor, Dourif doesn’t just have to get into the headspace of one of the morally straightforward people on the show, but he has to go toe-to-toe with some of the most intense actors on television.
Cochran could have been just another Old West doctor, a character we’ve seen over and over again, but Dourif infuses him with a sadness and realism that’s nothing like the cowardly physicians of the Wild West that we’ve seen before.
Deadwood offered Dourif a chance to build a character over a few years, something that an actor isn’t able to do on a film. This gave him the chance to try new things with Cochran and add new levels of depth.Awesome performance?