Some character actors never seem to stop working. The number of movies and TV shows (Think Starship Troopers, Shawshank Redemption, and Highlander) that the Urbana, Ohio-born actor Clancy Brown has appeared in is staggering, and for everything you’ve seen him in, there are another five guest-starring roles where you didn’t even notice him. That doesn’t mean he’s unrecognizable - he’s just an actor who knows how to change his mannerisms to fit the performance.
Aside from playing heavies in about every show of the '90s and 2000s, Clancy Brown, who has been steadily employed since 1997, voices many of our most beloved characters. He explained, "Getting into voice work was a little bit by design. I really got involved just after my daughter was born. There wasn't that much production in L.A. at the time. I always seemed to be working in Canada or New Orleans. And I wanted to be with this new miracle in our lives. So I started concentrating on voice work, and I just sort of took to it at just the right time."
He originated the role of Lex Luthor in the mid-'90s, and he’s the voice actor behind SpongeBob's Mr. Krabs. There are so many ways that Brown disappears into his roles, either with voice acting tricks, makeup, or just real-deal acting chops.
Which of his roles do you remember best?
- Photo: Columbia Pictures
As Captain Hadley, Brown disappeared into this role in a way that feels at odds with itself. Hadley was the sadistic leader of the prison guards who took delight in torturing inmates under his care, and Brown somehow managed to chew the scenery while adopting a kind of realism, making him the perfect villain.
Brown was undeniably monstrous in Shawshank, and even though the film was based on a short story by Stephen King, Brown said it was screenwriter Frank Darabont who helped him create a villain for the ages.
He told The A.V. Club, "In the short story, there’s a whole turnover of the administration of that prison, and he had to figure a way to keep those characters consistent. So Hadley and the warden were absolute Frank Darabont constructs, based on stuff that happened somewhere in the novella that Stephen [King] wrote. But those are Frank Darabont characters through and through."1,45130Great performance?
- Photo: 20th Century Fox
For a generation of millennial nerds, Highlander was the starting point for a lifelong love of Clancy Brown. As the Kurgan, Brown flexed all of his acting muscles that wouldn’t be appropriate in a stiff drama.
Every one of his lines was delivered with a grumbling bravado and a cackling laughter that let audiences know he understood how ridiculous the storyline was, which is why it’s so good. Whether he was fighting Sean Connery in medieval Scotland or threatening nuns while safety pins hold his neck together in 1980s New York City, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of him.
Reminiscing about the 1986 fantasy movie, in which he revealed he went to a biker pub to gain inspiration for the role, Brown told The Herald, “It's one of those movies that is greater than the sum of its parts. It is very silly, there's a lot of plot holes and strange characters. Yet it has great set pieces, fantastic camera work, and some moving scenes with these amazing operatic songs from Freddie Mercury and Queen. It’s a weird movie but it seems to keep on striking a chord with people.”1,07041Great performance?
- Photo: Sony Pictures Releasing
Starship Troopers was multiple things at once. It was a campy science fiction film that was also a sturdy denouncement of fascism and America’s obsession with xenophobia.
As Sergeant Zim, Brown showed up first as an antagonistic drill sergeant who only respects recruits who live to fight for the government. He took every drill sergeant trope and cranked it up until you could feel him screaming in your face.
"As soon as I saw they were doing Starship Troopers - I mean, that’s classic sci-fi canon, man," he told The A.V. Club of the 1997 military film based on Robert A. Heinlein's 1959 science fiction novel. "You’ve got to do it. No matter how good it is, no matter how crappy it is, you’ve got to do it. I’d do anything that’s classic sci-fi canon. I actually really like that movie. I liked it very much from the beginning."
Brown had fun with the role, which took his hardened exterior and kind of flipped it by the end of the movie to give Zim unexpected pathos.1,02244Great performance?
Who else can take on the role of Surtur, the destroyer of Asgard, and make it seem natural? Brown was only in Ragnarok for a few minutes of its sprawling run time, but he made those minutes count. He said to Screen Anarchy, "I’ve done some animation stuff, but Thor: Ragnarok was the first time anybody asked me to do a Marvel movie. Taika [Waititi] makes really quirky little movies, he’s terrific, and I love his little movies."
Surtur was one of the most important characters in the film. Not only did he destroy Asgard and wipe out Hela (maybe), but he explained the whole concept of Ragnarok to the audience in the film's opening scene.
Even if you're a fan of Brown's, you probably didn't realize he was voicing the giant fire demon. His booming voice was pitched up just a bit, and there was a lot to take in during the scene. It would have been great to see Brown more often, but he shines in small roles like this whether or not you know he's playing the part.86042Great performance?