Noah Emmerich is the perfect everyman. His career is full of characters that you know and grew up with: the loyal friend, the drinking buddy, the dedicated family man, the all around good guy. And while Emmerich has made a name for himself playing such men, he’s proved that he’s capable of far more. Humility, rage, deceit, all aspects of Emmerich’s craft that he can play effectively.
A few years ago, I was genuinely apathetic about the impending release of J.J. Abrams’ Super 8. Then I watched the trailer, and there he was, Noah Emmerich as a military Colonel. I figured his role would be small, but it didn’t matter, I was sold. I’m always sold when he’s on screen.
Beautiful Girls (1996
Ted Demme’s Beautiful Girls is an amusing ensemble that continually switches from comedy to drama. When it’s not about a bunch of neighborhood friends boozin’ and livin,’ it’s a cautionary tale for misguided men. Case in point: when Willie (Timothy Hutton) returns home for his high school reunion, he soon takes a liking to his next door neighbor… who happens to be 13. The girl (played perfectly by Natalie Portman) and Willie develop a rapport based on understanding and curious maturity. He likes her, but he likes her in a way that makes his best friend, Mo (Emmerich) weary.
Hutton and Emmerich share a great scene in which Mo, slightly drunk and confident, politely lashes out at Willie for even talking to the girl. Hazed by a night’s worth of drinking, Willie relents that in a few years time, age won’t matter, and maybe he and the girl can date. Mo acts as the voice of reason Willie so desperately needs. And the film is better off for it. It can be really hard for one specific actor to stand out in such a vast ensemble piece, but Demme gives Emmerich his scene to shine, and boy does he nail it.
The Truman Show (1998)
As Truman Burbank’s best friend, Marlon has the tough task of being friend, confidant, and, most importantly, method actor. He’s always in character, and it’s his job to make sure the story flows business as usual. And while I love everything about Emmerich’s work in The Truman Show, his bravado performance really comes down to one scene. Sitting on the edge of an unfinished road, sipping beer, tears in his eyes, convincing Truman that there is no conspiracy, because if there was, he’d been in on it. And there’s no way Truman’s best friend has been hosting a lie for all these years, right? Cut to show runner Christof (Ed Harris) feeding Marlon the lines, word for word. Christof says it, and Marlon makes it real. I love dissecting the layers of that scene. This isn’t Noah Emmerich playing Marlon. It’s Noah Emmerich playing Louis Coltrane playing Marlon. What an expert manipulator.
Famed hockey coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) tells his U.S. Olympic team early on that he isn’t their friend. If they want a friend, they should confide in their assistant coach, Craig Patrick. And, in a sense, Craig is the audience’s gateway to the emotional side of Miracle. Brooks is a purposefully closed off character, yet Miracle is a Disney film (a very good Disney film) which relies on compassion to tell its story. Craig is such a facilitator, and Emmerich does subtle wonders with it.
When director Gavin O’Connor gave his friend Noah Emmerich the script for Miracle, Emmerich read it and noted that there was nothing for him to do. Craig Patrick was an underwritten part, and O’Connor let Emmerich develop it how he saw fit. This includes Emmerich improvising my favorite moment in the film, in which, after defeating the seemingly invincible Russian hockey team, Russell moves in to shake Emmerich’s hand. Instead, Emmerich dodges the hand and goes right in for the hug. A nice touch that says everything about both characters involved.
Pride and Glory (2008)
Franny Tierney, Jr.
Emmerich has been featured in every film Gavin O’Connor has made since Tumbleweeds (including the upcoming Jane Got a Gun); a collaboration that always produces fine results. Chief among them is Emmerich’s tortured performance as Franny in Pride and Glory.
Franny is a police captain woefully unaware of the corruption within his own division. Once he learns that his own brother-in-law is essentially the leader of a gang of crooked ass cops, Franny is stuck in a moral dilemma: rat, or take the dirty money. He’s forced to defend the thugs who work under him, while lashing out at his brother who is investigating them all. He cares for his cancer-stricken wife, while trying to not have his life fall out from under him. As Franny, Emmerich knows when to be assured and when to accept guilt. It’s a challenging role, one that, in my opinion, binds the film together. Nearly the best performance Emmerich has ever given.
The Americans (2013)
Agent Stan Beeman
The Americans is a new hit show about Russian spies posing as Americans during the Cold War. Early in the pilot episode (which was directed by Gavin O’Connor), spies Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) meet their new neighbor, FBI Agent Stan Beeman. The second Beeman is cordially introduced to the Jennings family, he makes his occupation known, sending the clever spies into constant paranoia. But Beeman isn’t onto them, he’s simply the guy next door. Or is he? From Emmerich’s first scene, we’re never quite sure how much he knows, and what he’s planning to do. He could be two steps ahead, or he could just be some aimless desk worker.
Like the show as a whole, Beeman has a mysticism to him that we’re compelled to follow. As season one progressed, we quickly learned that Beeman is far from a perfect man, and discovering his flaws made for some of the season’s most memorable moments. I wouldn’t be surprised if an Emmy nomination is to soon follow. The Americans was recently picked up for a second season, which is great. I can’t wait to see what Emmerich does with this character.
The Best of the Best
Little Children (2006)
When I see a character like Larry – a man who is so angry and vengeful concerning something that doesn’t directly affect him – I always wonder “Why?” Why is Larry as mad as he is? Why can’t he let Ronnie be? Make no mistake, I’m not justifying Ronnie’s misdeeds, but I’d just as soon leave him alone than torment him. But not Larry. What from his past makes him go after Ronnie with such vindictiveness? I suppose we’ll never know, but the fact that I’m still wondering certainly says something.
Other Notable Roles
Love & Sex (2000)
Julie Johnson (2001)
Beyond Borders (2003)
White Collar (2009-2010)
Fair Game (2010)
The Waking Dead (2010)
Super 8 (2011)
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (2012)
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (2012)