Where have all the character actors and actresses gone? I sometimes ask myself this question when I watch a great old movie and relish the supporting actors and actresses who added so much to these wonderful and not so wonderful movies from the 30’s 40’s and 50’s. Is it that some our the movie stars of today who are considered leading players are really just character actors notched up a bit? I don’t really know, but I do know that our films are lacking because of the disappearance of these characters. There is one character actress who I like very much, but unfortunately her entire screen career might take up an hour of film. Marcia Jean Kurtz has been doing movies, most of them set in New York City since the 1970’s and like all good character actresses she adds a bit of spice and truth whenever she pops up in a film. She’s a favorite of Sidney Lumet and Darren Aronofsky and just a few weeks ago while watching his gut wrenching “The Wrestler” there was Marcia Jean, a second on screen as a Admissions Desk clerk at a hospital. One second and then she was gone. Last year in “Before The Devil Knows Your Dead“ she’s another Hospital Receptionist, another second and then goodbye Marcia Jean. In Spike Lee’s very good bank heist he cast her as Miriam a bank teller, giving her the same name that Lumet gave her when she played another bank teller in another bank heist film, his “Dog Day Afternoon“. She’s also played several junkies quite convincingly in “Panic In Needle Park” and “Born To Win“. Marcia Jean is a New Yorker through and through and this might have something to do with a lack of screen credits, as living and working as a actor in New York City is limiting. When I lived in Chelsea I would see her all the time, in the street, at the post office and once she stood behind me at the supermarket checkout. “I just saw you in “ Requiem For A Dream” I blurted out. I think I startled her, but she looked pleased that someone not only recognized her, but also liked her work. We chatted for a few minutes, and I don’t really recall what was said, but I’ll tell you I was just as thrilled meeting her as I would have been if it was Meryl Streep who was on the checkout line with me. Yeah right you’re probably thinking, but its true. Since I’m a “sophisticated” New Yorker I rarely if ever talk to a celebrity who I might have a chance encounter with. Leave them alone is my motto but every now and again if they’re in my face and I like them I’ll chat them up. When I spotted Patricia Clarkson at my shit hole of a gym on 14th street, I had to go over to her, because she is one of my favorite actresses (she would certainly qualify as a character actress) and I had just seen her again for the 3rd time that previous night in “High Art.” She was as nice as can be, and she even asked me my name, and she told me to call her Patti as she shook my hand. Sweet. Once me and my friend Peter were walking down the street in the village one nice spring Saturday afternoon and Julianne Moore and her husband the director Bart Freundlich were walking right towards us, A favorite of both of ours, I sort of whispered to her as she passed “You’re superb”, and her and her husband stopped dead in their tracks and said “what” I repeated that we think “you’re superb” “Oh how nice, thank you so much“. For a second I thought she was going to hit us, thinking that I had said something nasty. I have had only one not so nice experience with a movie star, and that was when I went up to a 2 time Oscar winner to tell her how great I thought her performance was, and she pretty much ignored me, brushing me aside. “I hate her” I told Peter who was standing on the opposite side of the street watching as I made a fool of myself. ‘I’m humiliated and I will hate her forever.” “Well I never could stand her Ira Joel she‘s ugly, and could never understand what you saw in her in the first place” I think he was still upset over the fact that a few weeks previous we were walking once again in the Village and “the movie star” came barreling down the street with a Starbucks coffee in her hands, not looking where she was going and knocked into Peter, and without a sorry or excuse me just went on her way. “Bitch I hope she dies” Peter said as she walked up the avenue oblivious to everyone around her.
photos: Marcia Jean Kurtz, Julianne Moore & Patricia Clarkson