The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Michael Parks

Michael Parks

I was very sad to hear, last week, that veteran character actor Michael Parks had died (and don’t even get me started on Powers Boothe, who’ll be this column’s next subject). I actually saw Parks once, at a screening of RED STATE at Sundance, where he did a Q&A for the audience with director Kevin Smith, and he seemed very soft spoken and polite, which for some reason wasn’t quite what I was expecting, having known him mostly for his recurring appearances as the salty Earl McGraw in Quentin Tarantino/ Robert Rodriguez movies.

When Tarantino/ Rodriguez started using him, he was just beginning to re-emerge after a decades-long lull in his once red-hot career. In the sixties, Hollywood pegged him as the next James Dean, and he was given the star build up in movies like BUS RILEY’S BACK IN TOWN. His TV show, “Then Came Bronson” was a major success, but things were apparently not well behind the scenes, and some bad press and a cancellation turned Parks from a star into a bit of a scrapper. He did the occasional starring role in low-budget programmers like ARIZONA HEAT, or an OUTLAW JOSEY WALES sequel, THE RETURN OF JOSEY WALES, that he starred in and directed himself, but nothing took. It was really David Lynch casting him as Jean Renault in “Twin Peaks” that put him back on people’s lists, leading to some villain parts in the Chuck Norris vehicle, THE HITMAN, and Charles Bronson’s DEATH WISH V: THE FACE OF DEATH, but bigger and better things were in store for him.

His Best Work

Earl McGraw was a guy I kept hoping Tarantino would build a movie around. Parks was indelible as the foul-mouthed Texas Ranger. He was so good, in fact, that even though he was killed in his first big-screen outing (FROM DUSK TILL DAWN), Tarantino kept bringing him back, first in KILL BILL, and then in the GRINDHOUSE double-feature. For Parks, it was something meaty for him to sink his teeth into after years in the wilderness, and he did it with aplomb. I’ve always wondered why Parks didn’t recreate the part for the “From Dusk Till Dawn” TV series (where he was replaced by Don Johnson)?

His Most Overrated Work

Given that Parks spent so many years scrapping it out as a character actor in B-movies, only to finally manage a comeback in middle-age, calling any of his movies overrated might be a stretch. Even when the movies themselves weren’t great, such as RED STATE, which I had huge problems with, Parks was fantastic, devouring the screen and making it well worth checking out. Rest in peace sir.

His Most Underrated Film

I wish that Mel Gibson’s BLOOD FATHER had been delayed a few months, because now that he’s firmly back in Hollywood’s good graces, this down and dirty actioner might have gotten the attention it deserved. It also contained a nifty little villain turn by Parks, as Gibson’s mentor, a biker boss, turned Nazi, and Parks, despite looking a tad frail, was menacing as ever. Watching Gibson and him spew venom at each other was a big treat, and if you haven’t seen this yet, please check it out.

His Most Badass Moment

Back to FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, and that unforgettable opening where Parks, as McGraw, shoots the shit with John Hawkes’s unfortunate convenience store worker, before getting killed by the Gecko’s. It’s a great start, and firmly signaled Parks’s reemergence as a character actor to be reckoned with.

His Five Best Roles

5. "Twin Peaks"
4. "Then Came Bronson"

Up Next

While Parks may have passed-on, it’s nice that in the last act of his life, he finally got appreciation for the acting gifts he always had, and his very best work can be found in Tarantino’s work, as well as Kevin Smith’s, who, even if the movies were iffy, knew damn well how to showcase his star. Rest in peace sir.

Source: JoBlo.com



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