Wednesday, May 15, 2019

In Character: Chelcie Ross

Chelcie Ross is the man. After receiving a Bronze Star for serving in Vietnam as an officer in the U.S. Air Force (an achievement that can justly define a life), Ross quickly became, and remains, one of the finest character actors working in film and TV. While Ross has been decorated handsomely for his previous profession, his acting work is the gift that keeps on giving. Anytime this man appears on screen, he makes whatever he is in that much better.

Five Essential Roles
Hoosiers (1986)
George
Part of the fun of Hoosiers is watching the townspeople transition from detractors to supporters. When Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) strolls into Hickory, Indiana as the new head coach of the high school basketball team, the hoop-obsessed locals are initially weary of him. George is front and center in the judgment. After Norman unceremoniously fires George from the team, George’s attitude turns from welcoming to pissed off. But what a joy it is to watch George sit in the back of the auditoriums on game night, secretly rooting for Norman’s success with each passing game. And that final slow-motion shot of George celebrating is absolute gold.

Major League (1989)
Eddie Harris
Like most of the burnouts in Major League, old Eddie Harris is just happy to have another chance to play ball. A weathered pitcher with a varied career, Eddie relies on Crisco, Bardahl, Vagisil, snot, and whatever other “ointment” he can find to give his curveball a little extra drop. But the real fun of Ross’ work in the film is the scenes he shares with Dennis Haysbert’s character, Pedro Cerrano.

Eddie is a God-fearing good old boy who takes immediate issue with Pedro’s unconventional methods in the locker room. Pedro spends most of his time catering to Jobu, a small figure that Pedro practices voodoo on to help Pedro hit a curveball. Eddie doesn’t like Pedro, and he sure as hell doesn’t like Jobu. “Are you trying to say Jesus Christ can’t hit a curveball?!” Eddie hilariously blurts at one point. Eddie Harris is one of Ross’ best comedic performances. I could watch him and Haysbert trade barbs all day.

Richie Rich (1994)
Ferguson
Okay, yes, sure, there are probably more prestigious films that could occupy a spot on this list, but I simply love Chelcie Ross in Richie Rich. Ross doesn’t break bad too often, which makes it such a joy to watch him as Ferguson, the dim-witted secondary heavy to John Larroquette’s primary villain character. Ross has a blast in this movie – mugging off screen, looking confused or falsely confident – he’s animated, he’s silly, he’s Chelcie Ross. Rewatching Richie Rich for this post (for the first time in... 20+ years, good god) was a throwback, and it was great to be reminded of what talented character actors like Chelcie Ross can do in a silly studio movie.

A Simple Plan (1998)
Carl Jenkins
The thing about A Simple Plan is that I love it. It’s one of those rural crime thrillers in which common folk are presented with a dangerous opportunity, and they have no idea what to do with it. The moral compass of the film, in some regards, belongs to Sheriff Carl Jenkins, a kind, understanding local lawman trying to unpack a crazy story.

Carl has his hands full, as this story involves a crashed plane, millions in cash, kidnapping, and murder. Two local brothers Carl trusts, Hank (Bill Paxton) and Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton), are at the center of the trouble, and Carl has to make sense of it. So then watch. Watch the moment Carl catches Hank in a lie that Hank cannot talk his way out of. They’re in an office, and once Carl detects Hank’s lie, the camera cuts to Ross’ face, and slowly pushes in on him as he processes Hank’s lie. I love when directors give character actors a moment to shine like this. And Ross, he absolutely seizes it.

Mad Men (2009)
Conrad ‘Connie’ Hilton
One of my favorite story arcs in all of Mad Men is when Don Draper (Jon Hamm) tried to land Connie Hilton as a client. We first meet Connie early in Season 3, when Don offers to make he and Connie a drink, without knowing he’s making a drink for the Conrad Hilton. But here’s Chelcie Ross, standing in an empty bar, sporting a perfect white tuxedo, talking easily with Don, and convincing us that he is indeed Paris Hilton’s great-grandfather.

What I love most about Connie is that he was a rare client Don Draper couldn’t please. Connie demanded that Don deliver him the moon (literally), and when Don couldn’t, Connie parted ways, leaving Don’s job in jeopardy. Also, how great is it to see Chelcie Ross still completely owning roles, all these years later?

The Best of the Best
Rudy (1993)
Dan Devine
You gotta love Chelcie Ross in Rudy. After Coach Parseghian (Jason Miller) agrees to play Rudy (Sean Astin) for one game during Rudy’s senior year, Parseghian suddenly retires, and is replaced by former Green Bay Packers coach, Dan Devine.

Devine has a very different coaching style from Parseghian; Devine is all business, no personal relationships. He even coaches some practices perched atop a small tower, bullhorn in hand to bark out plays and direction. But the moment Rudy’s teammates tell Devine that Rudy can dress in their place for the final game, there’s a quiet acceptance that forms over Ross’ face. He’s clearly annoyed by what’s happening, but as more teammates lay their jerseys on his desk, Devine sits back and appreciates the gesture of camaraderie taking place before him. Ross’ performance may not be what people remember most from this scene, but go back and watch his quiet resolve. It’s so assuring.

And then there’s the end, in which Devine refuses to play Rudy in the final game, prompting the players, students, and eventually the entire crowd, to chant Rudy’s name. Again, Devine is annoyed (“What the hell is he doing?!”) but he finally offers Rudy his moment to shine. And what does Devine do when Rudy has his moment? He smiles. Old Dan Devine had a heart after all.

Other Notable Roles
In Basic Instinct
Above the Law (1988)
Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991)
The Last Boy Scout (1991)
Basic Instinct (1992)
Amos & Andrew (1993)
Christy (1994-1995)
Primary Colors (1998)
The Gift (2000)
The Majestic (2001)
Waking Up in Reno (2002)
The Express (2008)
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Grey’s Anatomy (2010-2017)
The Last Rites of Joe May (2011)
Trouble with the Curve (2012)
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
Billions (2019)

3 comments:

  1. One of those great character actors that I love. He was awesome in Rudy and Hoosiers as the former is my dad's all-time favorite film. He was one of the few bright spots in Richie Rich as it's a film that I didn't think was good back then though now I think it's just OK though it is clear that Macaulay Culkin was phoning it in at that point.

    Ah... Major League. His performance is classic.

    "Oh now you're coming around. He ain't foolin'"

    "Up your butt Jobu"

    "Yo! Bartender! Jobu needs a refill!"

    "I wouldn't leave that rum if I was you..."

    I'm glad to know that the Cleveland Indians in real life does have Jobu in their locker room. It makes me hopeful that one of these days. They would win the World Series. Better them than the Cumfuck who just named the Boston Red Sox as America's team. Now I have a reason to wear a New York Yankees jersey.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh man, Richie Rich. I have not thought about that movie in a long time. lol

    ReplyDelete
  3. I loved Rudy growing up. It was such an inspirational movie. I haven't watched it in probably over 15 years or so though, so i don't remember much, but i do still remember the ending when Chelcie Ross finally lets Rudy play in the final game. That moment is unforgettable. I need to track that movie down and watch it again now.

    ReplyDelete