Tuesday, October 15, 2013

In Character: Nicky Katt

From the mid-‘90s to early 2000s, Nicky Katt was seemingly unstoppable. He was everywhere, stealing scenes on hit TV shows, while popping up on a handful of the best indie films of the time. Known for his wicked sharp sense of humor and penchant for playing incredible jerks, Katt really could do no wrong. And although he doesn’t take as many roles now as he did then, he always manages to leave his mark with the roles he’s given. If nothing else, this guy is always good for a hilariously politically incorrect laugh.

Five Essential Roles
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Who the hell are you, man? Isaac fuckin’ Newton? Well guess what, genius? I’m the one smokin’ marijuana, motherfucker. You got a problem with that?

No, of course not.

Why’d you say that, chief? Come on, don’t let your mouth write a check your butt can’t cash. So I’m blazin’ with my friends, I’m a fuckin’ pothead, man. What’s it to you? What’s a matter, pussy? Outta observations? Observe while I punch your teeth down your throat!

Come on, dude. Relax.

I’ll be watchin’ you, Newton! I only came here to do two things: Kick ass and drink some beer. Looks like we’re almost outta beer.

SubUrbia (1996)
There’s a guy like Tim in every small town in America. The hard ass loser who knows he’s better than the place he’s in. The troublemaker who, despite hating his community and the people who live in it, refuses to leave. The thing I love most about Tim is how dangerous Katt plays him. We’re never quite sure what Tim is plotting, and what his angst will ultimately force him to do. Katt has played dangerous and sarcastic before and since, but seldom to such scary results. Tim is the highlight of SubUrbia; the obnoxious voice of reason that knows no bounds. I love the fact that, while we watch him, we keep wondering He won’t actually do it, will he?

The Limey (1999)
Stacy the Hitman
Nicky Katt’s mastery of wiseassery is rarely as effective as his Stacy, a hotheaded hitman from The Limey. Whether he’s insulting the man who just paid him to whack Terence Stamp, or improvising crude bits of comedy while stalking Lesley Ann Warren, everything Katt does here is in an effort to gain a guilty laugh. Katt is in the film for roughly four and a half minutes, but he stays around for far longer.

Boston Public (2000-2002)
Harry Senate
It takes a damn fine actor to convincingly pull off all the shit high school teacher Harry Senate got into. In the pilot episode of Boston Public, Harry shot a gun in his classroom as way of making a point to his rowdy students. And that may not even be the craziest thing he did during his arc on the show. He got into a fist fight with a jock (which rendered the kid unconscious), kissed a female student, got stabbed – you name it.

I loved Boston Public while it aired, mostly because I was the same age as the students in the show. Now, the show feels dated. But when I went back and rewatched a few episodes for this post, it was clear that Katt’s power hadn’t faded in the slightest. Harry Senate was a purposefully audacious character that was thankfully brought to life with precise care.

Full Frontal (2002)
Steven Soderbergh is hesitant to let his actors improvise. He’s a very tactical filmmaker, so the faster things move, the better. Improvisation tends to bog a scene down with numerous takes, which is why it makes Soderbergh weary. On occasion, he does make the very wise decision to let certain actors run wild with their character. One of the best examples is Katt’s pathetically confident work as “Hitler” in Full Frontal.

First off, Katt isn’t playing the actual Hitler. He’s playing an actor who is playing Hitler in a shitty stage play. But Katt’s character isn’t preparing to play Hitler as some meaningless gig. He’s playing him as if he’s expecting a goddamn Tony award. In fact, Katt’s work here is easily one of the best portrayals of an egomaniac actor that I’ve ever seen. “Hitler” thinks everything he does is pure gold. Every change to the dialogue of the play (which is awful to begin with), every stage direction – every choice “Hitler” makes is the best choice ever. Full Frontal has never been a film with a great amount of fans, but it’s impossible to not be amused by Katt’s work here. He’s such a damn dope.

The Best of the Best
Boiler Room (2000)
Greg Weinstein
There are really two distinct sides to Nicky Katt’s acting talent: the sarcastic asshole, and the dead serious prick. Never has Katt blended together these two traits better than as Greg Weinstein in Ben Younger’s wildly entertaining Boiler Room.

When we first meet Greg, he’s polite and a tad elitist as he plays poker in the home of Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi). When we see him next, he’s giving instructions to Seth like a stern general, unwilling to accept compromise or insubordination. As the film goes on, we come to fully understand Greg’s game. That initial encounter with Seth was Greg’s subtle sales pitch. “Come work for me, and I’ll make you filthy rich.” But once Greg is the boss, Mr. Nice Guy is long gone and his true inner asshole is revealed.

The ongoing tension between Greg and Seth is one of the most compelling aspects of the film. I so love Greg’s character arc from the cool rich guy, to the jealous douchebag. Few guys can play assholes this well. Which is certainly saying something.

Other Notable Roles
In Sin City
The Babysitter (1995)
Strange Days (1995)
A Time to Kill (1996)
One True Thing (1998)
The Rules of Engagement (2000)
The Way of the Gun (2000)
Waking Life (2001)
Insomnia (2002)
School of Rock (2003)
Sin City (2005)
World Trade Center (2006)
The Brave One (2007)
Snow Angels (2007)
Grindhouse (2007)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Sitter (2011)
Behind the Candelabra (2013)


  1. Nice. For me, Katt is the classic "whats-his-face." I've seen him in a ton of movies and almost always recognize him, but I've never known his name until reading this post. Thanks!

    1. My pleasure! I really do love Nicky Katt. Think the man is crazy talented. But I do wish he got more excellent roles like he did 10 years ago.

  2. Nicky Katt is awesome. He is so memorable in Dazed & Confused and subUrbia. I remember him in The Limey as he was hilarious in Sin City. I liked his role in Behind the Candelabra as Scott's dealer as he had some cool-ass threads.

    1. I loved his bit part in Candelabra. He always makes the best of the time he has. Really happy to hear you're a fan.

  3. Nicky Katt is one of those guys that always brings it, even when he's just appearing for a small part. The Limey is a great example. He's only in a few scenes, but they're some of the most entertaining in the movie. It's always good to see him spotlighted.

    1. Hell yeah man. He's in The Limey for such a brief period, but he is hysterical (and kind of terrifying). Love this guy.

  4. I've seen him in The Limey, but I've not seen the rest of these. Though it didn't make your top picks, I'm watching Behind the Candelabra soon. Ha, it's a start I suppose.

    1. Oh man, you MUST see Dazed and Confused. It's the quintessential '70s film. Even though it was made in the '90s. So great!

  5. Nicky Katt is definetly one of my favorite actors. Although he isnt well known like Matt Damon or someone he is really talented. I totally agree with the fact that he may not have a lot of screen time, but he makes em memorable. I have seen just about all his movies and even though some of them werent the best the time he was in it were worth it.

    1. So glad to hear you're a fan. I really admire Katt's work... I only wish he was given more quality roles to bite into.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

  6. I agree with you. The time he was on screen he really made it memorable.He is definetly one of my favorite actors. Although he isnt very popular it doesnt mean he isnt talented. Also he's freaking hott lol

  7. SUPERB actor! My favorite out there!

  8. Nicky katt is a superb actor! My favorite. :) mer

  9. I miss Nicky Katt so much!! Has he done anything since behind the candelabra? I wish someone would give him a legitimate role or put him back on TV where we can see him on the regular.
    He is so amazing a all his bit roles, sometimes you have to look twice to even realize it's him. I watched the twin towers movie the other day, he showed up for like two seconds and I spent the rest of the movie on edge hoping to see him again.

    1. Yeah, I'm not sure what happened here, but I do miss Katt's work a lot. Seems like he hasn't had a substantial sole in nearly 10 years. A shame, because he's such a good actor. Hoping for a comeback!

  10. I have a terrific lead in a drama for Nicky - a true story based on my book about the prison system and an ex-cop. Wish I could contact him.

  11. Have a terrific lead role for Nicky - a drama based on my book about an ex-cop who enters a private prison as a new teacher. Gritty true story. Wish there was some way to contact him directly.