Thursday, December 08, 2005

I Heart Fred Ward

I’ve been meaning to write something every now and then on favorite actors, actresses, directors and other film people so decided to start with a career appreciation of one of my favorite character actors: Fred Ward.

While I’m not opposed to writing about “stars,” I’ve always been drawn to character actors. They always seem to do some of the most interesting, unheralded work in film acting and Fred Ward fits into this category as his career stretches back to the early 1970s. He always provides a grizzled, off kilter, “everyman” presence to any film he's in.

My earliest memories of Ward would be in Walter Hill’s Cajun revenge picture Southern Comfort (1981). Ward plays one of the National Guardsmen (along with Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe) who are hunted down and killed by a bunch of pissed off swamp Cajuns. As a kid, this was just great, great stuff.

A year later Ward was in a movie I also loved as a kid—Timerider. In it he plays a motocross rider who goes back in time (while still on his bike!) to the old west and gets into a mess of trouble while getting to ride this bizarre looking machine around while everyone else was on horseback. In ’82 when I first saw this I thought it was such a kick ass film and I still hold a special place for it in my heart as time travel is something I always love seeing in films.

1983 was a good period for Ward as he was in some very prominent movies such as Silkwood and The Right Stuff. Ward spent some time in the Air Force and military or cop roles would become a staple of Ward’s through the years.

In 1985 he was in two more favorites from my youth—the toss away teen comedy Secret Admirer (I remember going on a “double-date” for this one at age 16) and Remo Williams. Remo Williams was intended to be a franchise action-comedy in the Indiana Jones mold that should have been more popular and made Ward a star. But, box-office didn’t come and doomed Ward to more character roles.

The early 1990s were Ward’s biggest in terms in the quality of films he did. Big name directors had noticed him and cast in films by Philip Kaufman in Henry and June (1990) and Robert Altman in The Player (1992) and Short Cuts (1993). Henry and June is notorious for being the first film ever released in the newly created NC-17 rating and Ward had the role of Henry Miller in the controversial film.

1990 also saw two cult films from Ward in Tremors and Miami Blues. Miami Blues to me is kind of a lost treasure of the 1990s with a young Alec Baldwin playing an oddball criminal and Jennifer Jason Leigh as his sweet-hearted hooker girlfriend. Ward plays a cop on their trail who is missing his teeth. Ward has had a long history of great roles but his Hoke Mosely in Miami Blues is probably my all time favorite.

Unfortunately, Ward sort of drifted into the world of b-film and TV in the mid-1990s and has never fully gotten out of it. He did have a nice little comedic role in Sweet Home Alabama (2002) but sadly he hasn’t gotten the kind of roles he did in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

It’s a shame too as Ward is so appealing a character actor and just delivers great, interesting, watchable performances. I have discussed Orlando Bloom’s lack of screen chemistry a few times lately and while Bloom doesn’t have it—watch Ward in one of these films I’ve mentioned and he jumps off the screen in a way Bloom only dreams of.

1 comment:

Replicant said...

Here's the five Fred Ward films that you should watch to see how great Ward is. Am I the only Fred Ward fan out there?

1/ Miami Blues (1990)
2/ Short Cuts (1993)
3/ Tremors (1990)
4/ Remo Williams (1985)
5/ Henry and June (1990)