Nattyb often posts about “That Guy” actors – actors who you may recognize simply because they’ve been in so many bit roles over the years – but I wanted to pay homage to actors whose roles are far more memorable than they are and who you probably wouldn’t recognize if you saw them walking down the street. Playing a big, mindless brute or the Mouth of Sauron takes a special kind of character actor, and I imagine it must be a ton of fun for these guys to participate in the making of epic trilogies while avoiding the hassles that come with fame. Specifically, Pat Roach and Bruce Spence have been landing ridiculously awesome roles throughout their careers, and while you will surely recognize the characters they play, it’s pretty likely you’ve never actually realized how many memorable characters they’ve actually portrayed.
Roach’s first appearance in a movie was in A Clockwork Orange, when he appeared as a big, imposing bouncer in the Korova Milk Bar where Alex and his droogs gets sharpened up for a bit of the ol’ ultraviolence. This wasn’t the last time that Roach would have the privilege of working with the great Stanley Kurbick, though, as he also appeared as – what else? – a big soldier engaged in a fist fight in Barry Lyndon. And while working in bit roles in a couple of Kubrick movies is noteworthy, it pales in comparison to the fact that other than Harrison Ford, Pat Roach is the only actor to appear in the first three Indiana Jones movies. I’d like to think that Lucas and Spielberg would have found a role for him in the fourth, but sadly, Pat Roach passed away from throat cancer in 2004.
So, who was Pat Roach in the first three Indy movies? In Raiders, Roach actually played two roles. The first was as a giant Sherpa who fights Indy in a bar in Nepal, but it’s the second role that everyone remembers – the big, bald Nazi who fights Indy on and around a plane, only to be chopped to pieces by the plane’s propeller. Roach’s fate in Temple of Doom wasn’t much better, as he’s the Overseer of all the slave children who ends up being carried by a conveyor belt into a machine that crushes rocks. Between propeller blades and being crushed to death, Roach has had some terrific movie deaths. Finally, in The Last Crusade, Roach isn’t killed or even engaged in a fight, but he does appear briefly as an imposing Gestapo officer. Even though Roach’s roles in the Indiana Jones movies are small, they are certainly memorable, and it’s pretty cool that he’s appeared in the trilogy.
Other notable roles of Pat Roach are appearances in Kull the Conqueror, Clash of the Titans, Red Sonya, and Conan the Destroyer. In a more prominent role, Roach played the evil General Kael in Willow, sporting one of the coolest helmet/masks in movie history:
Very few actors besides Roach – particularly those who seem to play only small roles – can claim to have been a part of so many memorable and relevant movies over the years. He is definitely missed.
Standing at six-foot-six, Spence is tough to forget. I don’t think that Spence’s roles are nearly as memorable as Roach’s, but Spence is noteworthy simply because he’s appeared in three of the most prominent movie franchises in the history of cinema. Spence played Gyro in Mad Max 2 and also appeared as a pilot in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and he currently has a recurring role on the show Legend of the Seeker, but how many actors have roles in The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and The Matrix franchises on the resumes? None that I know of, besides Bruce Spence.
Spence played The Trainman in The Matrix: Revolutions, the gangly, homeless-looking guy with a million wrist watches who was responsible for the train that operated in a sort of purgatory and transported people and programs to and from the Matrix. In Revenge of the Sith, Spence played Tion Medon, a local administrator on Utapau who briefly converses with Obi-Wan. Most impressive, to me, is his role as The Mouth of Sauron in the extended version of Return of the King, and it’s a shame that his scene was cut from the theatrical release because it does indeed kick copious amounts of ass:
It’s a shame Bruce Spence isn’t more popular, because his work is always memorable. We often take from granted the actors who cover themselves in makeup for a mere five minutes of screen time that often includes a grisly death, but these actors are part of a team and help contribute to some of the more relevant movies in cinema history. A movie can be filled with A-list movie stars, but without the actors who play the bit roles so well, it will completely fall apart. Pat Roach and Bruce Spence both deserve a ton of credit for the awesome work they’ve done over the years.