Friday, March 16, 2012

In Character: Campbell Scott

I believe the sole reason Campbell Scott is not more well known is simply because he chooses not to be. The man is as fine an actor as we have working in movies today, yet few people know him by name. He’s cunning, witty, charming, and, at times, remarkably heartfelt. He rarely changes his appearance or the cadence of his immaculately strong voice, yet he makes every role its own unique entity.

Scott (who is the son of George C.), is one of those actors who can get me to watch any film he is in, regardless of what it is about. (This applies to television as well, which is why I wasted hours watching the horrible drama Six Degrees.) It’s true: like all actors, Scott isn’t always in the best movies, but I have yet to see him deliver a tired, phoned-in performance. The man is a genius of his craft.

(Note: I have not seen Damages or Royal Pains, both of which feature notable roles by Scott.)

Five Essential Roles

Longtime Companion (1989)
Longtime Companion chronicles several years during the AIDS epidemic through the trials and tribulations of a group of New York friends. There are many standouts in the ensemble, but no one continually steals scenes like Scott.  As each year passes, Willy looses more and more friends to something no one knows anything about. His loss manifests itself in sudden bouts of frustration that are wholly captivating to watch.

Willy is a nice man forced to deal with the world crumbling around him. A great, early performance from what would eventually turn into a great, lasting career.

Singles (1992)
Steve Dunne
As one half of a relationship that doesn’t know how (or doesn’t want to) fully commit, Scott plays Steve as a guy who knows what he wants, but is too afraid (or lazy, or boastful) to go after it. But it’s not entirely his fault, his girlfriend Linda (Kyra Sedgwick) also has no idea how to function properly within a relationship. The two spend more time wondering who is going to contact who first, than actually contacting each other.

Singles isn’t a particularly great film (Cameron Crowe’s first outing, Say Anything, is much more evolved), but I always enjoy Scott’s performance in it. Aware, yet oddly aloof.

The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
Joe Ross
Making his first (and sadly only) appearance in a David Mamet film, Scott fits into Mamet’s seedy underworld seamlessly as an entrepreneurial businessman who gets swindled out of potential millions.

As Joe Ross, Scott makes for one of the all time best Mamet marks. He’s intelligent, droll, astute, and completely unaware of just how fucked over he’s about to be. It’s criminal to spoil a Mamet con, but let me just say that Joe Ross is no lame – he bends over for no one, the resulting desperation of which merits a remarkable performance.

The Secret Lives of Dentists (2002)
David Hurst
David Hurst is a kind, amicable family man who shares a dentistry practice with his wife, Dana (Hope Davis, never better). But when David catches Dana in the warm embrace of a strange man, he is conflicted with how to handle it. David’s battling emotions of grief, disgust, and curiosity result in a poignant portrait of American middle-to-upper class marriage.

Equally funny and dramatic, The Secret Lives of Dentists was never given the credit it deserved, and an extended sequence near the end of the film, in which David, Dana and their three daughters all get the flu, is a tour de force of emotional and comic acting.

The Dying Gaul (2005)
Jeffrey Tishop
When he’s not playing a likeable everyman, no one plays a goon better than Campbell Scott. In The Dying Gaul, Scott plays a snarky movie studio exec who tells an idealistic young screenwriter (Peter Sarsgaard) that he must alter his excellent script to make it more commercial. When Sarsgaard refuses, Scott’s Jeffrey threatens to the make the film anyway. What ensues is a moderately ingenious modern film noir that combines elements of romance (marital, same sex, pornography, and so on), greed, love, death – to the point that it equates to a contemporary Greek tragedy set in the cesspool of Los Angeles.

For Scott fans, The Dying Gaul is a must, for it gets a rare, all-out villainous performance from a guy who has made a career out of blending in.

The Best of the Best
Roger Dodger (2002)
Roger Swanson
Well, shit, there’s certainly no blending in here. Ask me on an off day, and I’ll tell you that my favorite acting performance from the 2000s is Campbell Scott as Roger Swanson. I’d then of course let my brain catch up and rattle off Adrien Brody (The Pianist), Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood), and so on. Point is, Roger Dodger is a marvel of a film, and Scott is utterly flawless in it.

The story is simple: Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), a dorky kid incapable of getting laid, spends a night hitting the streets of New York City with his wiseass uncle, Roger, to chase the tail that has eluded Nick in his brief period of existence.

Roger can talk his way into and out of anything. The man has a silver tongue from God and Scott makes Roger’s antics fly with unapologetic gusto. Every single thing the man does is done with the intention of getting a woman into bed. He muses, impresses, insults – doesn’t matter. The result? A ferocious spitfire of a performance. Scott makes every word that comes out of his mouth snap, crackle, and pop with sarcastic venom, which makes the humanity Roger inhibits late in the film that much more effective.

I cannot speak highly enough of this performance, it is a masterful stroke of talent – the kind of rare role that gives an actor a career pass. If Campbell Scott has made bad choices in his career, Roger Dodger surely writes them off.

Other Notable Roles
In Damages
Dying Young (1991)
Big Night (1996)
Hamlet (2000)
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Damages (2010)
Royal Pains (2009-present)
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Previous installments of In Character include:
Kevin Pollak
Erland Josephson
Richard Jenkins
William Fichtner
Guy Pearce
Shea Whigham
Viola Davis
Gary Oldman
David Morse
Michael Shannon
Emily Mortimer
John Hawkes
Jeffrey Wright
Elias Koteas
David Strathairn


  1. My favorite performance of his is from The Imposters. He plays this over-the-top German who so wants Lili Taylor in any way he can.

    He's buttoned up, combed hair, glasses, and carrying a horses whip. Like everyone in that movie, everyone was essentially over-acting but it was so much fun to watch. To hear him say "I love you" in German floored me.

    1. I'd second that. But "Roger Dodger" might tie with it for me.

    2. I have seen The Imposters since writing this post, and man, yet another incredible role from Scott. The man simply cannot miss.

  2. Congratulations! You have won the Versatile Blogger Award! Please stop by my blog, Feed Me A Stray Cat!, to pick it up. (I found you through the A-Z Challenge.)

  3. I'm also a big fan of Campbell Scott and agree that he's not nearly given enough credit for his talent. The first two roles that make me think of Scott are The Spanish Prisoner and Rodger Dodger, so it's great to that those are mentioned. He's also excellent in Singles. It's cool to see him spotlighted.

  4. @thevoid99 Ha nice. I've never seen it, but I'm a huge fan of Tucci's movies, so I'll definitely check it out. Thanks for the recommendation buddy.

  5. @Dan I love hearing that there are other Scott fans out there. The guy really is THAT good, but rarely is he discussed. Oh well, at least he has his admirers.

  6. Happy to see Roger Dodger get the praise it most definitely deserves, for too long it has languished in obsurity. A fine performance by Campbell Scott, he should have been nominated for an oscar for that. In fact it's a favorite film of mine!

    Like what you say: "the kind of rare role that gives an actor a career pass".
    We do seem to forgive actors the rotten movies, especially in comedy I've noticed.

  7. @Chris Yeah and although a love Campbell Scott, there's no denying he's been in some crap films. But, again, given what he can do when he is on point, I'm more than willing to forget the rest.

  8. Campbell Scott is one of those rare actors that can leave you spellbound and glued to the screen watching him. I loved him in The Dying Gaul. A bit of an odd movie and generally not my type of film, but he was brilliant in it. I think the independant film genre can at times outshine the blockbuster hollywood movies because the films are on such a low budget, they have nothing else to offer us but a watchable storyline and superb acting. I also loved him in Dying Young. Even though it was outside of his obviously preferred independant film, he played Victor with such conviction that he left me in tears for the majority of the movie.

    I also enjoyed watching him in Loverboy. His role was brief, probably less than 10 minutes all up, but he played a pivotal role in the film and one of my absolute lines from all of his films was when he said (to Kyra Sedgewick's character), "You must please know you are the one true love of my life."

    He was great in Six Degrees and is also good in Royal Pains, but tv isn't really his thing. I am surprised he did those shows at all. But I loved his character in Six Degrees and the whole show was awesome. (Shame they canned it).

    But! My all-time FAVOURITE role of his is, without a doubt, Hamlet. OMG!! I have only seen small parts of it on youtube (I can't find the actual dvd anywhere) but he is breathtaking in his role as Hamlet. I wish I could see this film in it's entirety. I think I would watch it over and over again.

    You are so right when you say that Campbell Scott is not more well known because he chooses not to be. He obviously acts for the sheer love and enjoyment of it. And why not, when he is so talented? Raise a glass to Campbell Scott, I say!!

    1. Campbell Scott's "Hamlet" is available on FreeVee. I know this was posted 11 years ago, hopefully you're already aware of this now, but if not ~ it's a gorgeous and riveting performance, just as you'd expect a Shakespearean role by Campbell Scott to be performed.

    2. I didn't know this, so I will certainly check it out. Thanks for letting me know!

  9. @CS Fan First off, thanks so much for stopping by and leaving such an expansive, dedicated Campbell Scott comment. Love it.

    I’m pretty sure you’re the only other person I know that has seen The Dying Gaul, and I’m ecstatic that you like it as much as I do.

    Haven’t seen Dying Young, but will definitely check it out per your recco, likewise Loverboy. I didn’t like the show Six Degrees very much, but I definitely liked him in it. Have you seen Damages?

    I can’t find Hamlet either! Serious bummer. I’ll do some YouTube digging this weekend.

    Thanks again for stopping by, raise a glass indeed!

  10. Thanks, Alex! And thanks for providing this blog and the opportunity to voice my admiration for Campbell Scott. Acting is obviously in his genes, with his father being George C Scott and his mother Colleen Dewhurst. I haven't seen a lot of either of his parent's work, but did you know his mother played Marilla in the Anne of Green Gables series? (Another of my favourite books/movies collections).

    I have also seen Campbell in The Secret Lives of Dentists and Rodger Dodger. There are so many movies of his that I am yet to enjoy, but I will get to them. I have seen some of him in Damages, but I haven't seen a lot of the show at all.

    Be sure that you do check out his Hamlet work on youtube, you will not be disappointed!

  11. @CS Fan I LOVE his role in Roger Dodger, love it love it. He certainly does come from a prestigious background... I'll let you know here when I watch his Hamlet work!

  12. Catching up with your actor profiles here... Again, you've made the right choice. I absolutely loved Roger Dodger as well (I can't believe that was Jesse Eisenberg as the kid), and it marks Campbell Scotts best performance. I, too, am happy you singled out The Secret Lives of Dentists, which is a criminally overlooked drama.

    1. Nice man, LOVE finding other Scott/Rodger Dodger fans.

      You and I are gonna get along just fine.

  13. Scott has this sort of... ease... about him. You just want to pay attention and see what this guy is up to. I guess that's charisma.

    (I hope you got around to seeing Damages. That was a FINE series, and I am mostly a TV snob at this point.)

    1. I still haven't seen Damages! But every few months, I'm like, "Shit, I really need to check that show out." Hopefully soon.

    2. You can binge it in a couple weekends. If you like Rose Byrne and Glenn Close even somewhat, it's highly recommended... and I very rarely recommend TV shows!

    3. I'm going to one weekend, no question.

  14. Dying Young movie intoduce me to the acting skills of Campbell Scott, He is a great actor and deserved to be recognized.

  15. I love Campbell Scott, he's a very talented actor like his mother and father before him. Seriously, he's the only reason why I even watch Royal Pains. I watch the names that pop up on the screen under 'guest star' and if his name doesn't pop up, I go about other business.

    P.S: He's so darn sexy.

    1. I've always wanted to watch Royal Pains, just to see Scott work in it. Love this dude, easily one of my all-time favorites.

    2. Hi, I love Campbell Scott, I consider him really good actor! I love him, his roles has been remarkable, and he has a voice oh my god! Sorry for my mistakes my native language is spanish, for that reason I tell you about his voice in v.o is unique.

    3. Hi there! Your comment makes perfect sense - you speak and write in very good English! So happy to hear that you're a Campbell Scott fan. He's the best. I love him in everything.

  16. I absolutely adore Campbell Scott...a very underrated actor... He makes every role he plays his ..I have watched about ten of Campbell's films...including Rodger Dodger..really .. My very favororite is Let it be me...the dying Gaul follow the stars home...and many more ...his acting is great..great actor...great person......I say good on you Campbell I love you.....

    1. So glad you're a fan! He's one of my all-time favorite actors.

  17. I'm always happy to find other fans of Campbell Scott out there. He was great in Damages and I remember some fans were saying he didn't get the recognition he deserved for his role because Martin Short was getting all the attention. Not sure if anyone else knew, but I just recently learned he did quite a few audiobook readings, so I've been scouring audible. I hope he continues doing them because I'm enjoying his of The Shining.

    1. Ohhh cool, I didn't know about the audiobooks. I love his voice, so I bet those are some great listens. Thanks for the comment - glad you're a fan of the great Campbell Scott!

  18. I don't know why I watched Royal Pains two months ago, but thank God, I did...and I watched the whole serie in French and in English only for Boris...Then, I discovered For Whom The Bell Tolls, it's very difficult to see how well something is written when it is not in you mother tongue, and listening to it, it appears so obvious. I remember very well Singles, in France, but I wasn't interested at all by this kind of movie so I missed it...Thank to the internet, I found some of the other Campbell Scott movies...what an amazing actor...I never thought I could appreciate an American Hamlet (I'm so much in love with British Engish...and a little prejudiced, I must admit...), I already liked the play, but I think he made it even more wonderful...I'm sorry, sometimes I realise my English is very poor to express what I would like to say...

    1. Don't apologize! I'm so happy to find other fans of Scott's. I can't believe I still haven't seen Royal Pains... I really need to change that ASAP. Thanks so much for the comment!

  19. No love for "The Big Night"?

    1. Love Big Night! If anything, I wish he was in it more. But I know he was busy behind the camera.