“Bruuuuce Williiiiiis …” Dean Stockwell in The Player

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I love Stockwell’s frenetic cameo in The Player. He and Richard Grant play a pair of writers who have a brilliant mind-blowing idea for a film and are desperate to get it made. They buttonhole poor Griffin Mill at a rooftop restaurant – and he says, “Okay, fine, give me your pitch – but do it in 25 words.” Richard Grant begins the pitch (the two have obviously rehearsed the pitch many times – Stockwell, a fussy little New York-ish type guy in the movie, gets himself out of the way – he does “backup”). Richard Grant eventually gets so moved by his own pitch that tears flood his eyes. It’s a very very funny scene. Grant behaves as though THIS – his idea – will make all other movies irrelevant. THIS will be the best. movie. ever. made. And even cynical Griffin Mill is impressed – it certainly gets his attention.

Grant and Stockwell do this tag-team act – and as with most Altman movies, it’s hard to really tell what is scripted, what is not … it FEELS improvised, and yet it doesn’t seem random or un-focused. The event of the scene is clear. It’s one of the scenes everyone remembers from that movie – that and the first tracking shot – because it is so clear, the indictment of the Hollywood decision-making process is so apparent in the scene – yet it is obvious that these two writers, Grant and Stockwell, have the best of intentions. It’s no crime to want to make a buck. But when Grant goes off on how there shall be “NO STARS” in the picture – “I don’t even think this should be a Hollywood picture at all …” and Griffin Mill is like, “Uhm, you don’t? Then why talk to me about it?” – but when Grant goes off on a flight of fancy about how there shall be NO HOLLYWOOD STARS in the film – no “personalities” – nothing like that – Stockwell, across the table, basically mutters at Griffin Mill, hoping no one will notice his sibliminal message, “Bruce Willis …” Like – right there you can see: everyone is willing to compromise. “No Holly wood stars!! But … if Bruce Willis is available … that would be great.” Nobody has integrity. And of course at the end of the film, when we see some of the finished product -the film has now been made and everyone sits in a screening room, congratulating themselves, patting themselves on the back – and the movie within the movie now stars, of course, Julia Roberts and Bruce Willis … It’s just a perfect Altman-esque observation of how things are really done – the system in which he had operated for many years – trying to maintain his independence, etc.

Stockwell, in this part, never stops moving or talking – it’s a very different energy from many of his other parts, where he is normally sort of watchful, detached, with an ironic grin, or a snarky comment. Stockwell, at least as an adult man, is “cool”. In this? He’s desperate, impassioned, a bit fuzzy around the edges (like: his totally un-cool glasses – he’s wearing a big billowy blazer, a turtleneck, jeans, and big white sneakers – like, the guy needs a power suit and SOON) – he gestures like crazy (I love his gestures in this movie – completely unlike his other parts) – he has a definite New York writer thing – maybe a bit of Woody Allen in there. When we first see him, he is shmoozing with poor Andie Macdowall – who looks a little trapped – and he’s all curled up next to her on the couch, legs up, arms hugging his knee. Totally un-cool outfit on display – not letting her get away from him.

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And then there’s the symbiotic talking-at-same-time tag-team relationship with Richard Grant – I love watching the two of them in this movie – it’s like they are one being. Stockwell will nudge Grant, and Grant will say his “line” – or Grant will glance at Stockwell, and Stockwell will say his “line” – they are a team of writers, Grant the more passionate and idealistic, Stockwell the personable kind of cuddly guy … Their interplay is freakin’ hilarious – and it comes at the perfect moment in the movie as comic relief. Things are getting pretty damn heavy for Griffin Mill, he’s looking over his shoulder, the murder has already occurred – and we don’t even LIKE Griffin Mill – as far as I’m concerned, the guy deserves all the mental torment he gets … but still – it’s an eerie stressful movie – and then in the middle of it, boom – we’re back in the Hollywood mover-and-shaker game, Griffin Mill is ambushed by the pair of writers – they will NOT let him say “no” to the pitch, they will NOT let him put them off till tomorrow – they must pitch the project NOW. And off they go. Richard Grant’s pitch should be studied by film students. He’s hilarious. And then they go back and forth to shots of Stockwell, eagerly listening and squinting across the table – through his dime-store reading glasses.

Really funny performance.

Meanwhile: I have no idea if Stockwell consciously said to himself, “Okay. Andy is going to always lead with his pointing finger.” but I would imagine not. Stockwell doesn’t work that way, meaning: planning. He’s not a cerebral actor (a la Malkovich, for example – who plans everything meticulously). Stockwell doesn’t plan (he has said as much – his approach is intuitive from when he was a little kid – and has a lot to do with going with his first impressions of a script). He doesn’t do much research, he doesn’t overcomplicate things – (not that cerebral actors like Malkovich overcomplicate – it’s just a different approach). So I see something like this pointing-finger thing in The Player – and it doesn’t seem like a conscious choice. I am not aware of the actor and his wheels turning in his head. I am aware of Andy, the character, trying to get what he needs. Stockwell, as an actor, is interested in the interplay of the scene – and being alive moment to moment to moment.

But the pointing thing. If you see the scene again, just notice him pointing – and it’s hysTERICAL – because sometimes he’s not even in the frame, and all we see is his hand – and there’s always a finger pointing.

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Andy (his character) is trying to direct this event. He is trying to force Griffin Mill to sit still and listen to the pitch – even though it’s obvious Mill doesn’t want to. Andy points this way, that way – points at his writing partner – basically saying with the gesture, “Okay – you go now …” And while Grant speaks – Stockwell stands there – listening with every fiber of his being – ready to jump back in to pick up HIS part of the pitch. They are ONE BEING, these two writers – and Stockwell keeps it all up in the air with this frantic finger-pointing. It makes me laugh out loud to see it.

Like: dude!!! What are you POINTING at?? But it’s so perfect, so … unlike anything he’s done before. Stockwell is a lot of things, and he has great versatility as an actor – but geeky and nervous are not usually the words that come up when you think of Stockwell’s persona. In this – he is both – and with the pointing finger, he keeps the action moving, he keeps the pitch up in the air – as long as he is pointing directly at Griffin Mill, or at his writing partner – then all is not lost, and his mind-blowing movie might still be made.

I love the scene. It’s a hoot.

Here are some screenshots. I don’t even have to tell you to look for the pointing finger.

Oh – and it never feels like a “bit” imposed from above. It seems like: this is something that Andy, the character, does. It looks totally real. That’s why it’s so funny.


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“Buh-bye, Griffin … let’s do lunch … we’ll do lunch … okay, Griffin? Okay?”

If you ever stop pointing with your fingers, all will be lost! You will lose all momentum! So KEEP. POINTING.

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Look at his outfit. hahahahahaha

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Uhm, who ya pointing at, Andy?

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hahahahahahaha

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“My writing partner over here ….”

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Griffin is standing up now. All is almost lost. Keep pointing at him! He will not be able to resist!!

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I don’t know – it gets funnier every time I look at it.

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hahahahahahaha Double point!! And look at Richard Grant’s face! Ha!!

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I can’t stand it.

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A brief relaxed respite. But then, of course … in the next moment …

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… we’re right back on target.

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I love this shot because just LOOK at how Grant and Stockwell are focused on Mill. It’s almost terrifying. hahahahahaha They look like they’re about to murder him.

Next scene. Pitch to studio exec complete. Stockwell and Grant go to leave.

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Stockwell has a finger-pointing EXTRAVAGANZA on his exit line. “Griffin … you move in mysterious ways … and I like it …” fingers gyrating up and down. Seriously, the performance is hysterical.

Last scene. The screening room. Griffin’s old girlfriend freaks out about how they have sold out – how the ideals are lost – the movie is now a commercial piece of shit. Stockwell (again with his GOOFBALL outfit) stares up at her, blankly. Turns slowly to Griffin … for help. “Griffin … who is .. this … this person?”

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“Doesn’t she know anything about working with grown-ups?”

Point. Point.

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20 Responses to “Bruuuuce Williiiiiis …” Dean Stockwell in The Player

  1. Kate P says:

    Oh my gosh. This is the movie I decided I didn’t want to see b/c my film class instructor showed us the ENDING (and nothing else). Of course that was 10 years ago, so maybe now–o.k., especially now that I know Dean’s in it–it’s time to put it back on the list.

  2. Emily says:

    YES! Finally a Dean Stockwell post I can get into! Not that your other posts weren’t great – you know I love your obsessive cliff dives – it’s just that they were mostly about things I hadn’t seen or couldn’t remember well enough to really understand what you were talking about. But this movie? Get out of my way.

    “No stars. Just talent.”

    I love the chemistry between Grant and Stockwell. You’d swear they were writing partners in real life. They each have a role. Grant does the talking. Stockwell’s the backup. It’s interesting that you point out how Stockwell doesn’t delve too deep into things, doesn’t over-prepare or research for roles. Maybe he’s just a really observant guy in real life who picks up on certain idiosynchrasies of people, because he and Grant just nailed it as the desperate, excited screenwriters. I love the little nuances you mention – the frantic gesturing, the way Stockwell dresses. They’re perfect. I mean, I know who these guys are, but I barely notice them as actors and literally SEE them as writers while watching the movie. I just love that Griffin tells them “25 words,” and you can tell like four words into the pitch that they’re going to overshoot that by a million.

    Most times I watch this movie and I HATE the cynicism of it. Then those two come in and the comedy of the whole thing is so subtle, so beautiful, I literally lose my cookies over it. I mean, they’re passionately pitching one of the dumbest, most generic ideas for a movie that they think is just brilliant because it’s going to have a sad ending. So bad, Griffin Mill’s going to dump it on a competing producer in the hopes of canning his promising career. But they just love it. If anyone ever watches a really bad movie and wonders how crap like it ever gets made, watch that scene and the way it plays out until the end of the film. THAT’S how.

    And I just love how Tom and Andy are kind of complicated. In a film with hardly any sympathetic characters, they’re not really detestable, but you still kind of don’t like them, but in a way you can’t put your finger on. Like it’s this whole cocoon Altman’s crafted, where everybody inside is a part of the slime that holds the whole thing together. You can’t be a part of it and not succumb to that; the people who don’t, like David Kahane, suffer for it. He even DIED for it (my goodness, can you even BELIEVE that was Vincent D’Onofrio?). Which of course, leads up to Bonnie asking these guys, after they’ve changed the ending after swearing they wouldn’t, used stars when they pledged that the very foundation of their story would crumble if they did, “how could you? What about staying true to your word? What about integrity? What about not changing the ending?”

    “What about they hated it when it tested in Canoga Park?”

    And supposedly, none of the cameo parts where scripted, so that was apparently those two just flying off the cuff. I love them.

  3. red says:

    Emily – yay for your comment! Yes yes yes – great observations!! I love that it was just the two of them, with no script – they work SO well together. It’s an enjoyable scene to watch – just because of the energy – it’s different than everything else – but still: you’re right, you can see how FRAGILE or nonexistent integrity is in this world.

    Like it’s WEIRD to Griffin Mill that Andy lives in New York – outside of that LA bubble – and Andy says something like he can’t live in LA because he’s “allergic to happiness”. hee hee

    And yes – in the screening room at the end – I love it how Richard Grant, who always seemed a bit more hoity-toity idealistic (you know, the whole “NO STARS” thing) – completely gives all that up because the previews had gone terribly.

    He has no soul.

    But in that first scene with them, you ALMOST believe they have souls. Like; hmmmmm, maybe they’re on the level??

    And:

    passionately pitching one of the dumbest, most generic ideas for a movie that they think is just brilliant because it’s going to have a sad ending

    HAHAHA yes!!!

    Like how dramatic Grant is when he sets up the opening shot – he literally trembles with excitement at his own idea – and Stockwell sits there, nodding, grinning at Griffin, like: “mm-hmm, isn’t it amazing? Yup … yup …”

    hahaha

    It’s one of the most cynical movies ever. But the individual parts – and yes, d’onofrio – wow. He was amazing in it, I thought. Like: he was NOT gonna be shmoozed by Griffin. Nope.

    And the fact that he’s at a showing of The Bicycle Thief …

    You know, it just totally makes the point.

  4. red says:

    Oh and wait – Emily – what is Richard Grant’s big line that ends his pitch?

    He says it as though he’s saying “To be or not to be” but it’s the dumbest thing ever.

    Something like: “And she dies. Because sometimes that happens.” He’s SO emphatic about it.

    Sometimes. That. Happens.

    Like: is that your theme??? ‘Sometimes that happens’?

    It’s so bullshit and so FUNNY the way he says it.

  5. Kate P says:

    You’re kidding–The Bicycle Thief? I think I have to look this up at the video store on the way home from work.

  6. Emily says:

    And the way the meeting between Griffin and David is set up. Like, Mill can’t be genuine even when he’s trying his hardest, even when his very life is at stake. He acts like he’s interested in Kahane’s script, says he wants to make it into a movie and then after Kahane tells him about living abroad in Japan, Mill says “you should write about your experiences.”

    Um, dude? He did. In the script you’re feigning interest in because you think the man wants to kill you.

    I love the way that character is written so that you literally celebrate when he is humiliated like that. And then the next day, when he’s at that meeting with all the other producers and someone talks about how nobody goes to see old movies anymore and Griffin says “I saw The Bicycle Thief just last night,” as if he went for the artistic fulfillment or something and not to suck up to a guy he thinks is threatening him. He’s so phoney.

    Grant when he’s giving his pitch – I know. I just love the way he’s practically choked up as he describes the opening scene. Like, he has to pause for a moment before talking about it because he’s so moved. And it’s just so friggin’ STUPID. Especially in that final scene, after Bruce Willis bursts in to save Julia Roberts.

    “What took you so long?”
    “Traffic was a bitch.”

    You have to wince, that line is so bad, so typical, yet they cut to the audience and practically everybody in the room is in tears.

    And what about Buck Henry pitching the idea for The Graduate II? hahaha. I always get a kick out of that.

  7. red says:

    I love, too, how Bruce Willis so fiercely parodies himself in that last scene – it makes me laugh – being all butch and heroic – and julia roberts, too – going over-the-top in her wan and earnest persona. Damsel in distress with skinny little legs. It’s hilarious.

    Right – and that whole “yeah, i saw The Bicycle Thief” last night – and how self-importantly he says it …Ew!!

    And yeah, you do glory in his humiliation at the hands of Kehane – like: that guy is no-bullshit, he is having NONE of it … “You should write about it …”

    Griffin: you seriously give a shit about good writing? No, you don’t! Come ON now.

    I love Buck Henry – that’s a very funny scene.

  8. Emily says:

    Grant’s line. Yeah. Hahahaha. I think it was something like “THAT’S! REAL! LIFE!” Um, no it’s not, you idiot. Real life is something that happens everyday. Innocent people being executed is not real life. It happens, but it’s rare. The fact that he’s one of those people who thinks degeneration or fantastic, unlikely things are “real life” just adds to his jackassery in general.

    And Kate – yeah. SEE IT. It’s a really great movie.

  9. red says:

    Emily – also, how Grant opens his pitch with something like:

    “Opening. A rainy night. We see a line of people holding a vigil. They hold candles under their umbrellas – so it looks like a line of Japanese lanterns.”

    Griffin Mill muses, “Hmmm. That’s good. never seen that before.”

    Uhm – I have. A bazillion times.

    hahahahaha

    But it’s a double-edged thing – because it’s the WAY Grant does the pitch (with such passion and specificity) that makes Mill shut up and listen.

    Even though it’s all bull shit!

    Oh – we’re supposed to be sad that an innocent woman dies – because … she looks like Julia Roberts? THAT’S the tragedy?

    What are you TALKING about??

    I need to see the movie again – there’s so much in it. How ’bout Whoopi talking about her “jumbo” tampons in public?

  10. Emily says:

    Hahaha. I could talk about this movie forever. I love that scene in the police station where the cops are just messing with Griffin, trying to throw him off. The way he kind of gradually reveals his guilt. The cops can’t prove anything, but it’s like OJ. They KNOW he did it.

    And that scene in the restaurant where the phoney producers are gladhanding all the celebrities (who they wouldn’t even sneeze at if their fame declined), being friendly. The one with John Cusack and Anjelica Huston basically just blowing them off. “Uh, yeah, whatever, good to see you. Please go away.”

    “Can’t we talk about something besides movies for five minutes? We’re educated people!”

    Pause.

    Then the entire table bursts into laughter. That’s one of my favorite scenes in a movie EVER.

  11. red says:

    Emily – Oh God, that’s a great scene.

    How about the scene where Griffin goes to make a speech – about film restoration – and the boredom in that room is PALPABLE. Like he’s making this speech about preserving the great old silent films, and everyone’s quietly networking at the tables – AND nobody’s drinking. That’s another thing I think is so spot on: Hollywood is clean now (Lohan notwithstanding). There’s a bottle of EVIAN water on the table in the screenshots above, for God’s sake. The three-martini lunch days are gone! Everyone’s a careerist.

  12. Emily says:

    Hahaha. Yeah. Nobody’s even paying attention to him. Yawn, yawn. It’s like, nobody in charge of the decisions that get movies made even LIKES movies really.

    And here’s a little bit of useless trivia – did you know that a film company actually approached the screenwriter about optioning that awful movie that Tom and Andy are pimping? To make it into a real movie! Life imitating art and vice versa. It’s hysterical. Like, how did you friggin’ miss the whole joke of that movie being a really bland cookie-cutter movie? Is that ironic or what? And another thing – speaking of phoney producers – all those threating notes make to Griffin Mill were actually written by hand by Robert Altman. People said he almost took a kind of perverse pleasure in making them up. Hahaha. I love him so much.

  13. red says:

    I love that!! That moment with the rattlesnake in the car freaks me out pretty much every time I see it – even though I know it’s coming, and even though I hate Griffin.

    Like – that would be so terrifying.

  14. Emily says:

    Oh I know – it’s the vulnerability of being in a confined space, and a moving vehicle to boot. It’s such an effed up thing to do! But it’s so chilling, so scary. That’s where he really starts to lose it, too. Because he realizes this isn’t just somebody writing menacing notes to throw him off kilter or what not. This is someone who means business.

  15. mellandspell says:

    What a hysterical great classic.
    I’ve seen this probably five times, once even in cinema just to see it on big screen.
    Once I read that if the stars who appeared in this movie were paid the usual amount of money they earn for the time they appear on screen, this movie would have cost about one hundred million dollars.
    Thanks for posting about one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies!

  16. red says:

    mellandspell – You are most welcome!! most actors worked for scale when they worked for altman. Just indicative of how much they wanted to be in his movies!! And none of those movies could have been made if stars had demanded their regular salaries. Pretty cool.

  17. Jo says:

    I loved this film before I really got into Dean Stockwell and so to watch it again, albeit in my University Library, was great. I was trying so hard not to burst out laughing when Dean and Richard are on screen. Like you said, it is a great comic relief that comes at the right time in the film.

    I serioulsy hope I can get a copy of this so I can watch it at home and enjoy it further. Im going to have to re-watch it now, after such a great analysis. I was aware of the pointing-ness, but a second viewing is needed I think.

    Its so great that I have found other people who have a fascination with Dean Stockwell. He is such a great actor and, to me, has never really been honoured enough. I really enjoyed him in Quantum Leap and I feel in love with him when I saw him in Sons and Lovers. Oh, and the post on Compulsion was just great. They dont sell the DVD in the UK and I still need to get a multi-regional DVD player before I can order it online. So to see those stills and read about it was truly great. Thanks.

  18. Marti says:

    OMG, I just totally embarrassed myself by guffawing over your pointing commentary. At work.
    I love that scene and the partnership between Grant (another movie Crush [See: Withnail and I]) and Stockwell is so tight that they’re doing a little verbal dance with each other around Mill. Fantabulosity.

  19. Stockwell is hysterical and curses on the professor who dared to show the ending without showing the entire film. That’s one of the greatest punchlines ever. I can still laugh just thinking about it.

  20. “I was a director for hire. I needed the job.”

    Joe Valdez has another movie review up – and this time it’s about one of my favorites: Robert Altman’s The Player. I did not know that Sidney Lumet was originally attached as a director, and that Robert Altman did the…