47 Movie Blogs #25 – An Underappreciated Movie Actor

Today we are talking about under-appreciated movie actors, or one in particular. There are a few different approaches one could take with this. I could talk about Tom Cruise, who I think is a pretty good actor even though many that I speak to seem to disagree. But it’s hard to argue that he’s genuinely unappreciated – obviously, he is a super-famous bankable movie star.

(Incidentally, this is #25 in a series of 47 posts about movies, with topics selected by my friend, each given to me after the previous one is written.  For more information, check out #1 here.)

I could talk about Michael Durrell, who is an actor that I have always liked a lot and looked out for ever since I saw him in the original V miniseries from the early 1980’s. But even though he does have a small part in the original Sister Act, he’s someone that really I know from television, and this is a series of movie posts.

So today, we’re talking about a guy who is not so much looked down upon, but rather simply not that well known. But I think he’s really good and has added a fair bit to all three of the major films that I have seem him in.

(Perhaps three doesn’t seem like that much, but still it’s a decent number of films to notice an actor in that I’ve otherwise never heard of, especially when two of them are amongst my all-time favorites).

His name is Ray McKinnon.

I guess I first saw Ray McKinnon when he played “Trooper #1” in Driving Miss Daisy in 1989, and then later in A Perfect World as Bradley and in The Net as Dale (whoever they were). But it was when I was watching O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000 – directed by Joel and Ethan Coen) that I first became aware of the guy. In that he was playing Vernon T. Waldrip, the “suitor” who is marrying George Clooney’s ex-wife. It’s a minor role, but McKinnon makes it memorable, with his long and angular face, his dry and hilarious way of delivering his lines, and his a bizarre but threatening way of raising his fists against Clooney’s character.

Later, I was re-watching Apollo 13 (1995 – directed by Ron Howard) and was particularly paying attention to the Mission Control scenes. I eventually realized that one of them, the Flight Dynamics Officer (FIDO) during the launch, is played by McKinnon. The guy’s real name is Jerry Bostick, and he is of course a completely different character than Vernon T. Waldrip. Part of the strength of Apollo 13 is how much all of these guys seem like real people, and Bostick is no exception. McKinnon’s performance is not flashy and is not meant to be, but he imbues the character with real believability through simple things like his body language and again a natural way of delivering his dialogue.

After realizing this was the same actor, I considered writing about him but I wanted to wait until I had come across him a third time, and that finally happened when I saw The Blind Side (2009 – directed by John Lee Hancock). In this movie, McKinnon played Coach Cotton, or Michael Oher’s high school football coach. It’s a larger role than the other two that I’ve mentioned but overall less interesting. That’s in part because the movie doesn’t have the same sort of quirky sense of humor as O Brother, Where Art Thou? or the detailed thoroughness of Apollo 13. Still, McKinnon does a good job and makes the somewhat thankless part believable.

Ray McKinnon doesn’t have any acting credits on IMDb for the last five years. Instead, it looks like he’s been spending his time as the creator and executive producer of the critically acclaimed TV series Rectify, which I have never seen. He’s also written a lot of the show and even directed a few episodes. I can’t comment on the guy as a writer, but I’ll definitely keep an eye out for the show someday, and also for the next time that McKinnon gets in front of the camera.

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