Named for the jaw-dropping scene in Cruising in which sad-sack murder suspect Skip Lee (Jay Acovone) is brutalized by a mysterious large black man (the uncredited Henry Judd Baker) during a police interrogation that is anything but "by the books," this section will focus on those distinctive character actors that leave large impressions, but who are perpetually known as "that guy."
"Who is that guy!?"
First up: Anthony James. With such a nondescript name, it's no wonder this guy got lost in the shuffle. However, I've been made uneasy by this actor ever since I saw him in Blue Thunder where he played syndicate hitman Grundeltus (I don't think we ever hear him addressed by this rather unwieldy name in the film). I was five years-old and my dad and I snuck into a screening of Blue Thunder after watching Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone.
James' pockmarked face, greasy hair, and dead eyes were seared into my young consciousness and I think that's why this seemingly innocuous popcorn movie has always left me a little unsettled. Without compunction, James mows down shackled rookie cop Lymangood (the lovable Daniel Stern) and masterminds the assault and murder of an innocent woman in her driveway. James is most effective in scenes where he appears in the background unnoticed by the other actors (as in the scene in which Blue Thunder's capabilities are demonstrated for a crowd). It's a testament to his abilities as an actor and striking features, that the most chilling moments in the film belong to him and not to chief villain Malcolm McDowell, a man who is not exactly revered for his "nice guy" qualities.
James' few lines reveal a suitably cold and disaffected voice, as when he and his boss (Paul Lambert) discuss what to do about an incriminating recording made by Blue Thunder that's proven hard to dispose of--"We don't have the code number." To which his boss replies, "Then, erase them all." In this case, he refers to a videocassette, but he as may well be talking about any human obstacle that might get in the way of the organization's criminal operations.
By this time, James had cornered the market on unrepentant creeps, essaying these types of roles in such high-profile films as In the Heat of the Night and Vanishing Point and over hours of episodic television (Hawaii Five-O, The Streets of San Francisco, Bonanza, Charlie's Angels). Younger audiences probably remember him best from a memorably goofy fight scene with Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear. In a way, James went out on top. He quit the Hollywood game in 1992 after playing saloon owner Skinny Dubois in Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, finishing his career with a role in a film that would go onto win Best Picture, along with three other Academy Awards.
His IMDb bio claims that James left acting behind to pursue a career as an artist, but from what I can tell it is a far different Anthony James whose work is being exhibited in galleries all over the world.
Being that Anthony James, the actor, was never very well known, at least by name, it's appropriate that his identity is now being confused with a British artist some thirty years his junior. Ah, the always reliable IMDb...