The late, great J.T. Walsh was one of Hollywood’s best villains. Actors try to avoid typecasting in their careers since they want to play different types of characters. Performers such as Meryl Streep or Daniel Day-Lewis managed to mostly avoid this, jumping from different genres and roles with relative ease. Producers like to make safe bets, however, so if an actor does a great job with one type of character, that’s what they tend to get offered. Following the success of Die Hard, for instance, Bruce Willis spent around a decade playing blue-collar action heroes, while occasionally branching out to other genres like The Sixth Sense.
The offer of a nice paycheque plays a part too, though certain performers refuse to be defined this way. Alan Rickman also received a breakout role thanks to Die Hard’s Hans Gruber, but after playing a couple of villains in movies like Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, he decided to mostly steer clear of bad guy parts later in his career. While J.T. Walsh never became a leading man, he carved a distinct niche for himself playing villainous roles in a number of big movies.
J.T. Walsh’s first big break was playing the role of Sgt. Major Dickerson in Good Morning, Vietnam, opposite Robin Williams. Dickerson was a petty, vindictive character and Walsh excelled at making him easy to loathe. He would build up a selection of similar roles in the following years, including a sinister movie executive in The Big Picture and a slimy Alderman in Backdraft.
He received acclaim for a supporting appearance in A Few Good Men, and his string of villains would continue with thrillers Red Rock West opposite Nicolas Cage and Needful Things, an adaptation of the Stephen King novel. Walsh would also collaborate with Kurt Russell (The Hateful Eight) several times, including playing an opportunist politician in Executive Decision and the intense thriller Breakdown. The latter project would give Walsh arguably one of his best parts, as the calculating kidnapper of Russell’s wife.
J.T. Walsh also made notable TV appearances, including an episode of The X-Files and a major role in sci-fi series Dark Skies. His final roles saw him share the screen with Samuel L. Jackson in thriller The Negotiator and comedy-drama Pleasantville with Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man). Tragically, the actor died at the age of 54 from a heart attack in 1998, with his final performances dedicated to his memory. Jack Nicholson would also dedicate his Academy Award for As Good As It Gets to Walsh’s memory.
J.T. Walsh crafted a career filled with memorable performances and made a big impression with even small roles, such as his appearance in Sling Blade. He was one of Hollywood’s great villains, and his presence is still missed.
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