James Rebhorn And The Art Of Character Acting

Chances are, if you didn’t see a photo of James Rebhorn when it was announced he had passed away, you wouldn’t have known who he was. Rebhorn is a character actor who has appeared in dozens of television shows and films. The term “character actor” was usually reserved for those who portray odd or eccentric characters but has been more recently associated with actors who play important roles in in film or television without ever garnering the title of a “star.”

Rebhorn was one such actor. There were others as well. Ed Morrissey of Hot Air mentioned them:

@JayCaruso @NathanWurtzel Paul Gleason, J.T. Walsh, James Rebhorn – great character actors who left us far too soon.

— Ed Morrissey (@EdMorrissey) March 24, 2014

These names are not instantly recognizable in the way ‘Paul Newman’ or ‘Christian Bale’ would be, but what sets these men apart is the fact that they delivered memorable performances.

One of my earliest memories of James Rebhorn was his portrayal of a cold serial killer on the second or third season of ‘Law & Order.’

Other roles include:

District Attorney Norwalk in ‘Carlito’s Way’, Defense Secretary Albert Nimziki in ‘Independence Day’, Herbert Greenleaf in ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’, Dr. Larry Banks in ‘Meet The Parents’ and Jim Feingold in ‘The Game.’ Most recently, he could be found playing Frank Mathison in the Showtime series ‘Homeland.’

Rebhorn brought a quiet subtlety to the roles he was in but that was part of his skill as an actor. He could slip into a role, appear very transparent. When an actor can convince you he’s just playing “some guy” then he’s done the work he set out to do. Here he is in ‘The Game’


Paul Gleason is probably more well known as he appeared in three iconic movies. He was nasty inside player the Duke brothers employed in the comedy ‘Trading Places’ to corner the concentrated frozen orange juice market:


Gleason also played blowhard,¬†Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson in the movie ‘Die Hard.’ But his most memorable role of course, was that of Richard Vernon, the jerk store teacher who for some reason, was tasked every Saturday with being the monitor for Saturday detention in the film, ‘The Breakfast Club.’


Of the three that Morrissey mentioned, the one perhaps with the highest profile was that of JT Walsh. Amazingly enough, Walsh only started appearing in films in 1985 and was in 50 feature films over the next 13 years until his untimely death in 1998. Some of the movies Walsh appeared in:

Hannah And Her Sisters
Good Morning, Vietnam
The Big Picture
A Few Good Men
The Client
Executive Decision
The Negotiator

Quite a list. ‘Breakdown’ is in my view, a terribly under-seen movie. Walsh who often has played jerks or weasels in his roles, this time plays the role of a villain and does it very well. Watch here as he attempts to implore his son to shoot Kurt Russell’s character:


We’re always going to remember the big stars and people often go to the movies based upon that criteria. But often, it is actors like Walsh, Rebhorn and Gleason who play roles that fill in the gaps and make it a complete film.

Thankfully the memories of these three great actors will be with us because of the work they have done.