written by clint mcelroy
BRAD DOURIF, THE BEST ACTOR TO EVER COME OUT OF HUNTINGTON, IS RIDING
HIGH WITH AN UPCOMING WESTERN SERIES ON HBO AND A CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED
ROLE IN THE HIT MOVIE LORD OF THE RINGS
online and visit the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com), type in Brad
Dourif and the screen will start scrolling past movie after movie, TV
show after TV show. In anyones book, it is an impressive resume. You
would think, after a 30-year career in show business, with his many accomplishments,
Dourif would have been the guest of honor at a parade through downtown Huntington,
or would have had a street named after him, or at least would have a spot on
the Huntington Wall of Fame. None of that has happened. Why not?
When it came to vocation, though, it was Joan who had the biggest influence on him. His mother was very active in community theatre and that was his main inspiration to go into acting.
If I trace back to the beginnings of my desire to be an actor, I can remember one specific incident, he recalls. It was when I saw her in rehearsal doing Anastasia and she was so extraordinary in rehearsal, I knew I wanted to act from then on.
Act he did, becoming heavily involved with the Community Players and other groups, himself. He even had the privilege of sharing the stage with his mother in a Community Players production of The Lion in Winter.
Eventually, he attended Marshall University, pursuing the academic side of acting, while still staying very involved in community productions. Dr. Elaine Novak was one of his professors and she remembers Dourifs remarkable turn as Romeo in a classroom production of Romeo and Juliet. He was terrific, remembers Dr. Novak. Even then you could tell there was something very special about him.
I was just talking about that the other day, recalls Dourif. He and his girlfriend were baby-sitting the children of some friends and as one of them pulled out her homework, Brad saw she was studying Romeo and Juliet. He says it jogged memories of that presentation: I did that with a girl by the name of Nancy Polino, and we nailed it pretty good, if I remember correctly.
One of the productions Dourif participated in at Marshall was a political review, kind of a take-off of Firesign Theater, he says. Afterwards another Marshall student approached him and asked him: What are you doing here?
I told her: Wasting my life. Whats it look like? Im
going to college. The young woman said: You should come to
In 1969, Dourif left Marshall University and headed for New York City. In many ways it was the stereotypical story of a young man with stars in his eyes, heading to the Big Apple to make it big on the New York stage. Most of those stories end with the young man (or woman) parking cars or waiting tables until they can save enough money for a bus ticket home.
But not this time.
When Dourif first moved to New York, he became roommates with Ferrel, Chatty as he calls her. Me and Chatty started out in this apartment on 58th Street between 10th and somewhere really, really west. It was a pretty tough neighborhood and a long way from the theater. That long commute was probably a problem since he found himself working, a lot, with the respected Circle Repertory Company.
It was hard. I didnt have a day off for three years. I had just enough money to get by. I could live, as long as I didnt go out or anything like that.
One of the productions in which he worked was When You Comin Back,
Red Rider. Sitting in the audience was film director Milos Forman
who was putting together the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoos
Nest. Dourifs performance that night prompted Forman to offer
him the part of Billy Bibbit.
It was a defining moment in Dourifs career. The role put him on screen with heavyweights like Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. To say he held his own is a huge understatement, since his performance as the stuttering, emotionally-fragile Billy earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. But, when asked about memories of the production he remembers the preparation for the part: I worked with some speech therapists. I even had a textbook on how to stutter. It was very, very strange.
In addition to the Oscar nomination, Dourif won a Golden Globe, a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) nomination and many other honors for the role. As is usually the case, that led to many more screen offers. But, Dourif walked away from them. Cuckoos Nest brought about a lot of changes in my life and I think I was a little too young for it. For me it was a little too soon. He returned to New York and theater, acting and teaching acting and directing classes at Columbia University.
Eventually though, in 1988, he moved to Hollywood and began racking up that impressive list of movie and television appearances mentioned earlier. Believe it or not, he has a hard time watching his own work. He only recently watched Cuckoos Nest on video, and even then didnt make it all the way through. I cant stand looking at myself.
Obviously, someone out there enjoyed watching him. He had major roles in The Eyes of Laura Mars, Ragtime and Mississippi Burning. He worked with some of the most admired directors in film history, including David Lynch (who directed him in both Blue Velvet and Dune and John Huston (who directed him in Wise Blood in 1979).
Davids wonderful, the kind of guy youd give your right arm to, says Dourif. He was one of the most fun directors I ever worked with.
Huston may not have been quite as much fun, but was just as impressive. He would pretty much decide that a movie was either there or it wasnt. Of all the people Ive worked with, he was the most economical. We were finished by 3:30 in the afternoon almost everyday.
Currently, Brad finds himself working with one of todays most successful directors Peter Jackson who cast him as Grima Wormtongue in the second and third parts of his Lord of the Rings trilogy.
I auditioned several times and it looked like I was going to get it, but then I didnt get it, he recalls. The role went to someone else, who ended up turning it down. Jackson immediately went to Dourif. I struggled with it a bit at the very beginning because the English accent turned out to be a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. By the time we started shooting, though, I was able to get to the point where I could do it easily.
The part of Wormtongue has become one of his favorite roles, since the serpentine Grima is one of the few evil humans in the trilogy. One of my favorite scenes (in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) was the scene with Miranda Otto. In that scene, Wormtongue uses his powers of persuasion to try and seduce the princess Eowyn, played by Otto. I love that scene because the language was so beautiful and because its such an interesting character exploration of both parts.
He enjoys working with director Jackson as well, because once an actor is cast, Jackson has the writers write to the character. You would go in and meet with them (the writers) and they would write dialogue based on your take on the character.
Wormtongue will also appear in the conclusion of the film trilogy: The Return of the King, although he doesnt know to what extent. I may have to go back to New Zealand for reshoots, but I dont think I can shave my eyebrows. And Im supposed to have a mustache for a new TV series.
That new TV series is called Deadwood, set to premiere on HBO in 2003. Its a western with a twist, as you might expect, set in the real town of Deadwood, South Dakota. The series starts with the day Wild Bill Hickok rode into town. He was dead ten days later. So the series is really about the town. Dourif plays the town doctor, and since its a Brad Dourif part, this doctor has a few idiosyncrasies: Hes very interested in dissection. He likes to cut up dead bodies. Hes an interesting character.
Brad Dourif knows a thing or two about interesting characters. Many of his film roles have been in some of the most successful horror and thriller movies of the last 30 years. Which is ironic since he says: I couldnt sit through a scary movie myself to save my life. When I was young, I really loved Halloween and I loved to tell spooky stories, but that didnt last. He remembers as a teenager going to see the movie Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte.
I was under the seat for that one. I couldnt handle it.
Adding to the irony is the fact that Brad Dourif provides the voice of one of the screens scariest monsters, Chucky, the murderous doll from the Childs Play series of movies.
Hes a lot of fun, says Brad. He really enjoys his work. Dourif says even though Chucky is a wildly fantastic character, he has a real aspect to him as well, which makes him appealing to the actor. At this point, hes pretty easy for me to do.
Like most actors, Dourif says his background shapes a lot of his performances. Even as far back as his childhood in Huntington.
I was in Huntington a few years ago and drove out to Staunton Road. I didnt go in the house or knock on the door or anything. But hey, its where I grew up, of course its been an influence on me.
He does return to the old stomping grounds occasionally, and will be returning for a family reunion in the next few months. So if anyone plans on organizing that parade, or that street re-naming, go ahead and start working on it. You might even consider a film festival of his best-known movies.
Just dont expect him to sit through them especially the scary ones.
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