Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Late Great Brent Briscoe

An argument can be made that character actors are the heart and soul of film and television. The general public usually don't recognise their names, although they almost always recognise their faces from dozens of roles they have played. One of the best character actors of the past 25 years was Brent Briscoe. He had significant roles in such films as Sling Blade (1996) and A Simple Plan (1998), and guest starred on TV shows from ER to NCIS. Like most character actors, I doubt that many people would recognise Brent's name. An exception would be here in Randolph County, where he was born. For us he was a bona fide movie star, and the whole county was proud of him.

Sadly, Brent Briscoe died on October 18 2017 at the age of 56. Brent had a serious fall that led to internal bleeding. This in turn resulted in complications to his heart. It was after a short stay in hospital that one of the best character actors in recent years died.

Brent Briscoe was born on May 21 1961 in Moberly, Missouri. He attended Moberly High School where he played baseball. Brent was very good at the sport, good enough that he received three college scholarships to play baseball. While Brent loved baseball,  his heart was truly in acting. He appeared in plays while still in high school. After graduating from high school in 1979, Brent attended the University of Missouri, Columbia where he majored in theatre. After graduating in 1984 he became an apprentice at the Burt Reynolds Jupiter Theatre in 1985. Afterwards Brent toured with such productions as Greater Tuna and A Tuna Christmas.

Brent made his television debut as a pizza delivery guy in an episode of Knot's Landing in 1991. During the 1990-1991 season he had a recurring role on Evening Shade as Luther. He also wrote two episodes of the series in 1994. In the Nineties on television he guest starred on such shows as Hearts Afire, Tracey Takes On, Maximum Bob, ER, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. He also appeared in the television movie Mulholland Dr. (1999), upon which the feature film would be based.

Brent received his big break in films as repair shop employee Scooter Hodges in Sling Blade. He would have a much greater role in the film A Simple Plan, in which he was fourth billed. Brent played Lou, the town drunk, who with Hank Mitchell (played by Bill Paxton) and Hank's brother Jacob (played by Billy Bob Thornton), discover a crashed plane filled with cash. He also appeared in the films Grey Knight (1993), U Turn (1997), Another Day in Paradise (1998), Break Up (1998), The Minus Man (1999), Crazy in Alabama (1999), The Green Mile (1999), Man on the Moon (1999), and Beautiful (2000).

Brent Briscoe reprised his role as Detective Domgaard in the feature film version of Mulholland Dr. in 2001. That same year he played Sheriff Cecil Coleman in The Majestic. He co-wrote the movie Waking Up in Reno (2002) with Matt Fauser and appeared in it as Russell Whitehead. He also appeared in such films as Driven (2001), Say It Isn't So (2001), Journey of Redemption (2002), Good Cop, Bad Cop (2006), In the Valley of Elah (2007), National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007), Crazy (2008), The Grind (2009), and Small Town Saturday Night (2010). He made frequent guest appearances on TV show in the Naughts, including such series as The Handler, Deadwood, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, 24, JAG, House M.D., Grey's Anatomy, Bones, and Desperate Housewives.

In the Teens Brent had a recurring role on Parks and Recreation as JJ, owner of JJ's Diner, as well as a recurring role on the revival of Twin Peaks as Detective Dave Macklay. He guest starred on such shows as NCIS: Los Angeles, Hell on Wheels, Justified, NCIS, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. He continued to appear regularly in feature films, including such movies as Born Wild (2012), Ambush at Dark Canyon (2012), and Term Life (2016). His final completed film, 5th of July, is set for release later this year.

Like myself Brent Briscoe was born in Randolph County, and he was only two years older than I am. It should then come as no surprise that I knew him when we were younger. I did not know Brent well. He attended Moberly High School while I attended Westran, and he was attending Mizzou by the time I began college. That having been said, our paths would cross from time to time. I can definitively say that Brent was a truly nice guy. When he talked with you, he was always genuinely interested in what you had to say. He was not only very intelligent, but also open and friendly. And he was one of the kindest people one could ever meet. Randolph County was proud of him, not only because he made a name for himself as a character actor, but also because he was simply an outstanding human being. In turn, he was proud of the area from which he came. His Twitter handle was BBMoberly.

Of course, Brent was a truly great character actor, and he had a very naturalistic style.  What is more, he could play a variety of roles that were quite unlike himself. Certainly he had nothing in common with his most famous role, that of Lou, the none too bright town drunk in A Simple Plan. Regardless, he gave a bravura performance in the role. While Brent often found himself cast as rural types similar to Lou, he was also often cast as police officers. He played Detective Domgaard in Mulholland Dr.,  Sheriff Cecil Coleman in The Majestic, and a veteran cop in The Dark Knight Rises. In many respects he was perfect casting for the unflappable Detective Dave Macklay on Twin Peaks.  On the TV Western Hell on Wheels Brent gave one of his more remarkable performances in one of his more singular roles. He played trader and guide Jimmy Two Squaws.

While Brent was very good playing in dramas and very good in playing cops, he also had a knack for comedy. Among his most memorable performances for me was a humorous turn on House, on which he played a farmer with leg pain in the episode "Three Stories". He was one of the best things about the comedy Double Take, in which he played an emu farmer determined to collect the reward for capturing a fugitive. And, of course, he was soft spoken diner owner JJ Lipscomb on Parks and Recreation. In many respects JJ was the role that was closest to Brent in real life, quite simply a truly kind hearted guy. As good as Brent was in more serious roles, I think I sometimes look forward to his comedic roles the most. Even when a particular film might not be that good, he always was.

As I bring this post to a close, I want to say that my thoughts are with Brent's family and friends, many of whom I know personally. The press release regarding Brent's death described him as "a class act", and I certainly have to agree. He both a wonderful person and a truly talented character actor. He may be gone, but he will not be forgotten, particularly here in his home county.

No comments: