The Mother Brain Files Underrated Actors Special: Anthony Edwards

The Mother Brain Files Underrated Actors Special: Anthony Edwards
By Mother Brain

Despite taking part in classic Hollywood blockbusters and starring in a landmark television series in the 1990s, Anthony Edwards was one of those popular character actors who never quite achieved the same level of success as his superstar co-stars. He was best known for playing good-natured but socially challenged men, often times nerds, who strived to either become the best or win over the beautiful girl. Edwards had a certain likable quality that grew on audiences the moment they lay eyes on him and on many occasions he would play the underdog hero we always love to root for.

Born in Santa Barbara in 1962, Edwards was the youngest of 5 children in a very well-blended family. At age 16, his parents pushed him in to acting. Edwards went as far as taking an acting summer workshop in London prior to graduating high school, even earned a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts but chose to attend USC where he studied theatre. He also became good buddies with another underrated actor I wrote about recently, Eric Stoltz, who went to school with him, studied ballet together, and chased after girls in their spare time. But after landing various jobs, TV guest spots, and commercial gigs, Edwards dropped out of college to pursue his career full time.

Like Stoltz, Edwards made his film debut as Stoner Bud in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High (although his first movie was a bit part in 1973’s Big Zapper, released only in the UK). Edwards along with Stoltz and Sean Penn played a group of stoner surfers in the school, signifying Edwards as being part of an elite of hot 20-something actors who would dominate cinema in the 1980s. But his first starring role was in Jeff Kanew’s comedy, Revenge of the Nerds. As freshman nerd Gilbert Lowe, Edwards would define himself as a lovable loser who defies incredible odds along side his group of nerd buddies. The huge success of Nerds proved to be a double-edged sword for Edwards’ career and with the exception of a cameo in Revenge of the Nerds II, he refused to take part in any future sequels.

In 1985, Edwards re-teamed with Jeff Kanew on the romantic comedy thriller, Gotcha! This time, Edwards plays a privileged college student and paintball master yearning to win the ladies over like James Bond and goes on a trip to Europe where he meets a beautiful woman played by Men In Black’s Linda Fiorentino and gets caught up in a web of espionage. It’s an underrated classic that showcased Edwards’ comedic ability without the absurdity element of Revenge of the Nerds and also gave him the chance to be seen as a credible romantic lead opposite Fiorentino. While Gotcha! flopped at the box office due to being misadvertised as another 80’s teen sex romp, it became a cult classic (at least for yours truly) that immediately led to a Nintendo game made specifically for the Zapper light gun as well as a controversial paintball toy line from LJN at the time when Universal Pictures (the studio that made Gotcha!) purchased the toy company to produce products based on their films.

Edwards went back to playing the sidekick role in the John Cusack comedy, The Sure Thing. But it was the memorable role as Goose in Top Gun that made Edwards a household name. He provided the necessary balance that Tom Cruise’s Maverick needed, acting as the best buddy and also being the conscious pilot with a family (his wife played by Meg Ryan). Goose was also instrumental in many of the film’s most memorable scenes including the “I feel the need…The need for speed!” moment as well as backing up Cruise’s wooing of Kelly McGillis while singing “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin”. Audiences loved the character almost immediately and (SPOILER ALERT) that made his eventual death in a flight emergency all the more important for the Maverick character to progress, grieving his death just like the audience does and having the loss of Goose drive the emotional but uplifting final act of the film.

While Top Gun became an 80’s megasmash, it did not catapult Edwards into the A-list like it had done for Cruise or even Val Kilmer for a time. Instead, Edwards fell into a sting of flops like Mr. North, Miracle Mile, Hawks, How I Got Into College, and the Lethal Weapon knockoff, Downtown. Although he did have minor success as Edward Furlong’s dad in Pet Sematary II, one of his first adult roles. One has no idea how much I was freaked out by the scene where Clancy Brown’s character tries to impale Edwards’ head with a motorized screwdriver!

Edwards fared better on television with a recurring role on CBS’ Northern Exposure, the erotic HBO movie Sexual Healing which earned him a Cable Ace Award, and the made-for-TV remake of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Then in 1994, famed novelist Michael Crichton and director Steven Spielberg developed a new hospital drama called ER and Crichton himself approached Edwards for the role of Dr. Mark Greene after seeing his performance in The Client month earlier. For the next 8 seasons, ER would not only be a ratings juggernaut for NBC but it also made Edwards one of the highest paid actors on TV. His good-natured qualities made him a winner with audiences, receive numerous award nominations including a Golden Globe win, and helped to boost his visibility even though an unknown actor named George Clooney would become the series’ breakout star.

After his departure from ER, Edwards jumped back and forth between indie films and Hollywood blockbusters. Most of the post-ER work (Thunderbirds, The Forgotten) were unsuccessful. Then he appeared as SFPD inspector Bill Armstrong in David Fincher’s Zodiac which was critically praised but not financially successful. His most recent film, Motherhood, set the record for the biggest flop in British cinema history and also bombed in the U.S. Failures aside, Anthony Edwards still makes millions on ER’s syndication run and remains a favorite for new filmmakers to work with. He may never reach another high point as he did with Top Gun but the Goose character will live in our hearts and minds forever!

One thought on “The Mother Brain Files Underrated Actors Special: Anthony Edwards

  1. J. Gallashaw says:

    He will always be gien the utmost respect for
    REVENGE OF THE NERDS, ZODIAC and his magnum opus GOTCHA one of my favorite movies, Definately better then the bad TAG (The Assassination Game) Starring Linda Hamilton and Robery Carradine

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