For me, there’s a short list of actors who can do no wrong, I am there watching whatever they put out.
Actor Miguel Ferrer is on that short list.
No one does authoritative, villainous smart-asses like Ferrer, who snapped heads with his unrepentant, vile character Robert “Bob” Morton in 1987 film, “RoboCop”, a rare cult classic AND monster box office hit that showed what chops he possessed.
Ferrer appeared along with co-stars Ronny Cox and Kurtwood Smith. This trio of whip smart ass-kickers stole the film.
The DNA that Ferrer is infused with is potent stuff: His late father was Ivy League educated (Princeton), fiercely talented Tony Award and Oscar-winning actor/director José Ferrer, and his mother was the American vocalist par excellence, Rosemary Clooney.
Her clean, stripped down vocals and ability to phrase and shape lyrics stopped people in their tracks. Her voice was always around me growing up, especially at weddings (“Mambo Italiano!”) and in reruns on TV in the 1960’s of her Rosemary Clooney show. She came across warm, genuine and funny as hell.
The Clooney name is also shared with his A-Listy first cousin George Clooney, but truth be told, if I had a chance to have dinner and hear some Tinseltown tales, it would be with Miguel Ferrer, not George.
Ferrer, a low-key Hollywood prince, was brought into the acting game about six years prior to “RoboCop” by friend and fellow actor Billy Mumy (Will from Lost in Space) and the two have since collaborated musically in The Jenerators, one of Ferrer’s many creative side projects outside of acting. He also does tons of voice-over work, theater, and is a comic book auteur too.
Go figure, music has been a muse of Rosemary Clooney’s eldest son - who even jammed with the legendary late Keith Moon’s Two Sides of the Moon.
In the landmark smallscreen effort, “Twin Peaks,” Ferrer's FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield woke everyone up from the sleepy Lynchian ether fog we were lulled into by Kyle MacLachlan’s mere presence, Peggy Lipton’s pie serving, nodding ways and the weird dream midget who spoke backwards. His scenes were terse and tense, a crazy energy.
Ferrer’s ability to knock out these complicated villain/authority figures was also mined by director Steven Soderbergh in the Oscar-winning film "Traffic." Ferrer had a plum part as drug dealer Eduardo Ruiz.
Recently, the unsupported but excellent NBC series “Kings,” which starred Ian McShane also featured Ferrer briefly as a tough-as-nails Gath badass, General Mallick, who could hold his own and go toe-to-toe with the megalomaniacal King Silas (McShane).
For whatever reason, the marketing and placement of this intriguing smallscreen biblical allegory was completely cocked up, and the well-cast yarn ended prematurely.
In the newly released "Wrong Turn at Tahoe," Ferrer was cast as Vincent, a ruthless renaissance mid-level dealer who stepped into Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character Joshua's life at an early age in a pivotal scene.
This film has caught some flack - mostly because it went straight to DVD - but it has an A-level cast of characters led by Ferrer, Gooding, Jr. and Harvey Keitel who dives right into the big daddy Italian mobster role of Nino, who puts the hammer down hard on Vincent over a lousy junkie’s $3000 debt, come to find out.
Vincent likes his broads in bed, the Lord’s name to not be taken in vain, his Scotch single malt, hierarchy respected and for company to take of their shoes before entering his classically appointed manse.
This is a guy’s film, and when I say that, understand that it will hit the right notes with those drawn to Charles Bronson films, and other uber-masculine icons who deal in the underworld littered with colorful scumbags, weasels and whores in sweeping story arcs of honor and deceit.
Keitel’s scenes with Ferrer are riveting. Gooding Jr. is restrained and balances all this testosterone with the right amount of empathy and calm energy.
There is outstanding cinematography thanks to the interesting eye of Christopher LaVasseur, whose lensing evoked some of the early Coen brothers’ films like “Blood Simple” to me.
“Tahoe” has a very moody vibe, and flaws in the pacing and writing aside, I got lost in the performances and the look of this little, swept under film.
The premise involves Joshua (Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr.), a collector for a ruthless mob boss Vincent (Miguel Ferrer), and opens with the two men driving to a destination, bloodied and nearly dead.
There are loyalties that are abused, trampled on, and as the laws of gangster screenplay physics dictate, the shit rolls downhill from the top drug lord in the business, Nino (Harvey Keitel).
M&C's April MacIntyre had some questions for Miguel Ferrer about his film, “Wrong Turn at Tahoe”
The film’s DP Christopher LaVasseur's camera work hearkened some scenes from the Coen brothers film Blood Simple, and Barry Sonnefeld's great DP work on that film. Did you have any input into the visual look of this moody film?
Miguel: I really was taken with the look of the finished film when I saw it. I was deeply impressed with it. I didn’t have much or any input into the look of the film, but I looked through the camera a lot seeing what was being set up, the framing, and I did appreciate the time Chris took to make this film look the way it did. He was being rushed by producers, and it was like, ‘do you want this good, or less than good?’
You know, he cared, he cared a lot -and unlike a lot of other guys, he did not compromise given the time constraints or over money, and the lack thereof.
You do acerbic well. Do you have fun with these badass roles that come your way?
Miguel: (Laughs) Well yes, I’ve always felt that the sort of less than good guys are a lot more fun than the good guys.
Vince seems to be a renaissance man and respectful gangster, his reverence for certain things is nicely splayed against his pathology as a killer. How did you interpret Vince when you read the script?
Miguel: When I read the script, I took away that Vincent ultimately lived by a rigid code of honor, you know he really adhered to procedures and something in his past reconciled him to this old school coda…That scene where Vincent and Harvey’s Nino talk, and he reminisces about Nino’s father was very telling, the old ways and how guys came up in the ranks.
He had respect still for Keitel’s dad and worked hard coming up and earning this honor from his peers, the old ways.
When you prep for a great face-off scene, like you had with Harvey Keitel's Nino at his home, how do you do this, do you work with Keitel in rehearsal or decide you both come at each other with your “A” game slinging the performance?
Miguel: Well, there wasn’t much rehearsal involved especially when we are talking about Harvey Keitel, you have to bring it all with him in the moment, he’s serious and 100% into it at every moment.
And not knowing what the other was going to do, that applied with Keitel too, and he pulled some surprises in that performance, just a few times and it keeps you on your toes. You can’t phone it in with him.
It was intimidating at first when we met on set. But Harvey, he was just great and he took this small film as seriously as any movie he has appeared in, and I respected that.
Did you talk to him about any performances of his you appreciated, as a fellow actor?
Miguel: With Harvey, forget it. We didn’t talk about stuff like that. I got the sense he doesn’t care much what you think of his past work, it’s what you are doing at the time he is completely absorbed with.
Happy to see you in "Kings” briefly, and from your turn as Bob in “Robocop” to “Twin Peaks,” you pick interesting roles...
Miguel: I agree with you about “Kings”, what a wasted opportunity that was for such a great cast, great effort, everything about that was so amazing, McShane has never looked or acted better, Christopher Egan was terrific.
It was a huge missed opportunity for NBC, they missed the chance. It could have been a show that could have been remembered a long time. The creator, Michael Green, had a wonderful vision.
Your parents were something. Which one of your mother’s songs is your favorite?
Miguel: You know, it’s funny you ask that because the music of hers that I loved most people don’t know, but to me, they showed off her vocalizing which was so unpretentious, so lovely and beautiful to listen to…anything she sang by Irving Berlin was wonderful.
I don’t think my favorites were among the well-known recorded ones, especially the ones in her early career that bordered on novelty tunes, but those songs made her famous.
I’d have to say her later works – the last 20 years of her life - were really her best, she recorded on the Concord Jazz Heritage series…she had a chance to do what she wanted to do. She put over a song more beautifully than anyone; I really think her best work was later in her life.
And your dad, which film role was your all time favorite?
Miguel: My favorite was “Cyrano de Bergerac,” another role of his I loved was “The Great Man” and “The Shrike” with June Allyson.
You know, strangely enough, my dad’s favorite performance of his was a small part in a film he had to be convinced by his agent he needed to take, “Lawrence of Arabia” with Peter O’Toole.
At the time he was taking big roles, and this was for a small, small part and he wasn’t sure about it.
So he was offered the part and he was counseled by his agent to ask for too much money for the small role, and strangely enough, they came up with his price… and it was like, well ‘now I am screwed…’ and the studio said ‘come in and look at the assembled footage we have, and he looked at the scenes of the taking of Akabar and some other Peter O’Toole footage; it was O’Toole and David Lean attached that sold him on doing that film.
Do you go back to your dad’s home "state" of Puerto Rico to visit family often?
Miguel: I have about a million cousins in Puerto Rico! And I visited a half a dozen times in my teens, and I do not have extensive memories of them or stay in touch as I had intended to, but I plan to take my own kids there.
I keep in a lot closer contact with my mother’s side of the family. We are not terribly close, but there are a few I am close with, my Uncle Nick and my Aunt Gail and their kids, and some of the cousins, the Clooneys and Guilfoyles…but not as close as I should be.
Whenever I go back to Maysville Kentucky, to any of my family gatherings… the stories man, what a colorful bunch of Irish, alcoholic ridge runners! Man they would get together at these family things and everyone would be drunk by noon.
Their stories! My mother’s family had these crazy bootleggers in the Clooney family tree. But my great-granddad was a craftsman watchmaker in this tiny town of Maysville, and he was also the Mayor and he built the levy; he was highly regarded
…and yet his son, my granddad, Andy Clooney, was a complete black sheep, He was a notorious bootlegger, slacker and lay about. I met him a few times!
The DVD "Wrong Turn at Tahoe," will be available on DVD for rental only on November 17, with the disc going on sale in January 2010
April MacIntyre is M&C's TV and Celebrity editor, and can be reached via Twitter http://twitter.com/AprilMac or at april.macintyre @ monstersandcritics.com