Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In Character: Denis O’Hare

Denis O’Hare is that specific type of one scene wonder. He routinely appears in a film for a handful of scenes (or just one) and completely steals the show. Whether he’s screaming at George Clooney or berating Angelina Jolie, O’Hare has proven he can stand with cinema’s most recognizable faces, dishing it out like the best of them. On stage and television, O’Hare has been given longer opportunities to flex his raw talent. But really, the length of his roles matter little. Because when this guy is on, he’s on full tilt, no looking back.

Five Essential Roles
The Anniversary Party (2001)
Ryan Rose
Ryan and Monica Rose have a beef with Sally Nash and Joe Therrian. You see, Sally and Joe are a Hollywood power couple who live a lavish life in the Hills. Their neighbors are the WASPy Rose’s, who don’t take kindly to Sally and Joe’s ceaselessly barking dog. This canine annoyance has clearly been a great source of friction between the two couples, so Sally and Joe try to save face by inviting the Rose’s to their anniversary party.

From the moment Ryan and Monica arrive at the party, Ryan makes it clear that he has no interest in letting bygones be bygones. He constantly brings up how annoying the dog is, and even gives Sally and Joe a hilariously inappropriate party gift to stress his irritation. We’ve all had neighbors like the Rose’s. And the reason O’Hare’s performance is so great is because he perfectly embodies that guy. That guy we tell our friends about. That guy we mock through our backyard fence when he isn’t looking. Seldom is a ball-busting weasel like Ryan Rose played to such hilarious results.

Michael Clayton (2007)
Mr. Greer
Mr. Greer is the quintessential film role for Denis O’Hare. We meet him early in the film, spend four minutes with him, then never see him again. Yet when I watch Michael Clayton, I find myself staying with O’Hare far longer than the film does. He gets in, gets out, and leaves his mark permanently.

You remember the scene. Mr. Greer is a longstanding client of a hotshit New York law firm. On this particular night, Mr. Greer has hit a man with his car, then run from the crime like a coward. He’s gone home, called his lawyer, and was instructed to wait for the firm’s fixer, Michael Clayton. When we meet Mr. Greer, he’s pacing in his fancy kitchen, making excuses for his crime, telling Michael how to do his job, and so on. In four short minutes, O’Hare paints an accurate picture of the loose morals that occasionally accompany entitled wealth. His rant is finally disrupted after his wife throws her wine glass on the floor. A pause. The phone rings.

“That’s the police, isn’t it? Greer asks sheepishly.

“No,” Michael says. “They don’t call.”

Changeling (2008)
Dr. Jonathan Steele
After Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) publicly declares how incompetent the LAPD have been at finding her kidnapped son, police officials have her thrown in the psychopathic ward of a hospital. The ward is run by Dr. Steele, a miserable son of a bitch whose motive is to, apparently, cause his patients dire harm. At one point, Steele promises to let Christine go if she admits that the LAPD has done right by her and her son. She refuses, so in the ward she stays.

Dr. Jonathan Steele is one of the most repulsive and quietly vindictive characters O’Hare has ever portrayed, and he has played a great many of them. He gives Changeling a much needed boost in the end of its second act, and, as is often the case with O’Hare’s characters, leaves the picture far too soon. In fact, I’d love to watch an entire film about this Steele guy. What motivates his sick desire for control?

Milk (2008)
State Senator John Briggs
In the late ‘70s, State Senator John Briggs was an American asshole who fought tirelessly to deprive gay people of their rights. He sponsored the controversial initiative, Proposition 6 (commonly referred to as The Briggs Initiative), which sought to ban gays, lesbians, and their supporters, from working in California’s public schools. The initiative ultimately failed, but needless to say, America would have been a far different country had it passed.

I try my best to not let who a person is in real life affect my perception of them as an artist. As people, there are several things some of my favorite actors and directors have done that I find repulsive. But as artists, I adore their talent. My point: Denis O’Hare is an openly gay man who is proud about his sexuality, as he certainly should be. Taking O’Hare’s personal life into perspective makes me appreciate his performance as John Briggs so much more. Listening to O’Hare, as Briggs, refer to gay people as “perverts and pedophiles” and compare what they do to acts of bestiality, is quite a brave thing for O’Hare as a person. And as an actor. Sometimes it’s necessary to view the two as one.

American Horror Story: Murder House (2011)
Larry Harvey
Larry Harvey is such a trip. He pops up occasionally in the first season of American Horror Story as a horribly burned man, always selling something hilariously random. Whether it’s begging Dylan McDermott for $1,000 for his headshots (come on… that’s funny), or whacking Kate Mara in the face with a shovel for no good reason, Larry proved to be one of the most oddly terrifying, yet endlessly amusing, characters on the show. Watching O’Hare ham it up with a bad limp and crooked posture is enough to make me smile, but there was so much more to Larry than we initially thought. Easily one of my favorite character arcs throughout Murder House.

The Best of the Best
True Blood (2010-2012)
Russell Edgington
I’m always hesitant to call an actor’s performance on a television show their best work. It doesn’t seem fair, for instance, to compare O’Hare’s startling and perfect four minutes in Michael Clayton, to the hours of screentime he had on True Blood. But I just can’t help myself. Russell Edgington was a man of lavish wealth and style, impeccable manners, and ruthless spite. He was, simply put, as juicy and rich a character as True Blood ever had, and O’Hare played him to devilish perfection.

Russell Edgington is a centuries-old vampire of enormous power. As the king of Mississippi, he has control over a great deal. But because of his insatiable lust for control, he cooks up an extreme plan to undermine the vampire Authority, and marry the queen of Louisiana, thereby making his powers even grander. But all that is just plot filler. The heart of Edgington is in his ridiculous antics. The way he swiftly punishes someone who behaved improperly, or kills for the sake of recreating love lost. The crux of O’Hare’s work as Edgington is in a two and a half minute monologue on live television. As a reporter delivers the news, Edgington zooms into frame, ripping out the reporter’s spine, killing him instantly. He then tells the viewing public how much he despises the human race, and has every intention of promoting a vampire takeover. It’s a highlight of the entire series. The kind of wonderful scene made great because of fun writing, sure, but namely because of the fearless actor delivering the lines.

Other Notable Roles
In Garden State
21 Grams (2003)
Garden State (2004)
Derailed (2005)
Half Nelson (2006)
A Mighty Heart (2007)
Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
Brothers & Sisters (2007-2009)
Quarantine (2008)
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (2009)
The Good Wife (2009-2013)
Duplicity (2009)
The Proposal (2009)
J. Edgar (2011)
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
American Horror Story: Coven (2013)


  1. Oh my God. I LOVE this post. This is so amazing how you always choose people who I love, consider underrated and then you go and write about their work and often highlight things that were so awesome they are burnt in my brain forever - 'They don't call' <3

    O'Hare is such a fantastic actor. He makes those short moments his characters appear so memorable. I'm sorta glad he is usually there for few minutes because if he was longer than that, who knows if the script wouldn't wreck the promise of his fascinating characters.

    Have you seen more recent TB season where he was dug up and brought back? He was the only good thing about that season.

    Have you seen Dallas Buyer Club? I read he plays a homophobe, so this is yet another brave gig for him. He is so awesome on Coven - his character is mute and he is doing even better job than in first season. He conveys so much with gestures and expressions. Ridiculously talented guy.

    1. I had no idea you were such a fan of his! I love that. So happy you enjoyed the post :)

      I do know that he came back for Season 5 of TB, but I didn't watch it. I tuned out early in Season 4... just wasn't working for me anymore (probably because O'Hare was absent).

      I wouldn't call his character in Dallas Buyers Club homophobic, more like a confused and somewhat greedy doctor. I don't think, at that time, many health professionals knew the full ramifications that AIDS would have on the world. I think his character spoke to that well.

  2. I fucking love this guy and man, his performance as Russell was w/o a doubt one of my favorite things about the show. He just fucking killed it in every moment he's in. And yet, they kill him and the show fucking sucks now. I'm never going to watch it ever. It just got so fucking stupid.

    1. It really did go off the rails there, didn't it? I remember trying to follow along during Season 4 and thinking, "Yeah... this isn't remotely interesting anymore." Damn shame, because O'Hare was so great in it.

  3. Love this post and this man! He definitely is a scene stealer. That newsroom scene in TB is one of my favorite moments in TV history. I'm so annoyed that he went out so easily on TB. Hewas so much more poweful than that! Love what you said about Milk too.

    1. Thanks! Glad you like him :)

      That's definitely one of my favorite TV moments as well. Did you watch Season 5? Apparently they brought him back for a little while.

  4. I'm enjoying his Coven character a lot more than his season 1 character. What do you think about it? If you are watching???

    1. Ahh I'm not watching, but I clearly need to be! I don't have TV, so whenever I watch shows, it's always after the fact on DVD/Netflix. But I love AHS.

  5. The True Blood scene is one of my most favourite scenes of all time, TV or film. It's perfect and he's perfect.

  6. I haven't seen his TV work, but I love his performance in Michael Clayton. Nice post man.

  7. Once again, I think "was that all the same person?". Amazing. He is terrifying on this seasons american horror least I think it's him...... Great highlights of a fantastic actor.

    1. I didn't know you watched AHS! I love that show. Haven't been able to catch this season yet though. This guy is so great.

  8. I met Denis O'Hare in Brisbane. It was just after Season 3 ended. I said it was a damn shame that they killed him off, and that he was the best part. Then he told me that Russell Edgington may make another appearance, and I fucking lost it!

    I'll never forget it :) Love him! Plus, I didn't realize that he was the homophobic politician in Milk. I saw that a couple of days ago and still couldn't see it.

    1. That's so cool that you met him! And I love that he revealed a little to you about Russell... that's awesome.

      He's SUCH an asshole in Milk. He played that role to perfection.