The Mother Brain Files Underrated Actors Special: Clancy Brown
By Mother Brain
The first time I ever heard of Clancy Brown was in an issue of Wizard Magazine sometime in the mid-90s. They used to have a piece where the editors would create a dream cast for comic book movie adaptations. This particular issue focused on X-Men and Brown was the top pic for the role of Sabertooth. Years later, I saw him in Highlander and understood why he would be so perfect for the role: His 6â€™3 frame, deep voice, and his natural villainous facial features which made him constantly get typecast as bad guys. But sadly, the character was butchered in the X-Men movies that eventually came to be and Iâ€™ve often wondered if casting Brown would have done justice to the character.
Clancy Brown was born in Urbana, Ohio in 1959. His father, Clarence Brown Jr., was a Congressman and his mother was a concert pianist and composer. He caught the acting bug early in his youth through a neighbor who introduced him to the works of William Shakespeare. After graduating from St. Albans High School in Washington D.C., Brown studied theatre at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois where he also took part in various productions in the Chicago theater scene.
During his years in Illinois, Brown landed his first major movie role in the Sean Penn prison drama, Bad Boys, in 1983. He played Pennâ€™s initial juvie nemesis, Viking Lofgren, the dominant and sadist leader of the cell block. It was a chilling debut for Brown as the role required him to not only make Pennâ€™s characterâ€™s life miserable but also terrorize other young inmates. Among those chilling moments in the film is when Viking and one of his buddies rape a skinny black kid in their cell off-screen, then send the kid falling to his death 3 levels down in the cell block floor.
Brownâ€™s next memorable role was in Rawhide in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Switching gears to play a hero, Rawhide was the lieutenant of the Hong Kong Cavaliers lead by the title character himself played by Peter Weller. Although his character gets killed mid-way through the film, Brown was contracted to return for the sequel which still has not seen the light of day. Afterwords, he plated Viktor the Monster opposite Sting in the 1985 Frankenstein-retelling disaster, The Bride. The role itself was a disaster for Brown who got sick from wearing the prosthetic makeup for the role. He vowed not to do it again in his next movie.
1986 brought Brown his signature role as the evil immortal Kurgan in Highlander. While the film was panned by critics and not a big success at the box office, the film had an enduring popularity all around the world because of itâ€™s classic good vs. evil tale, leading to multiple sequels and a television series. For Brown, Kurgan brought out the best of his acting ability as a dominant antagonist to Connor MacLeod played by Christopher Lambert. He would also be one of the few actors to kill a Sean Connery character in a movie by literally beheading him in what had to be the filmâ€™s most shocking moment. Off screen, Brown had a great experience on the film as he became friends with legendary Star Wars swordmaster, Bob Anderson, and even had some of his dialogue appear on the soundtrack by Queen.
Highlander opened up many doors for Brown. He would immediately be cast as crazed villains in movies like Extreme Prejudice and Shoot to Kill. He even broke character type to play Jamie Lee Curtisâ€™ lover in the Kathryn Bigelow police drama, Blue Steel. There was also the role of undead Sheriff Gus Gilbert in Pet Sematary II where he nearly drilled a hole into Anthony Edwardsâ€™ skull.
In 1994, Brown landed his next unforgettable role in The Shawshank Redemption where he played the antagonist prison guard chief, Bryon Hadley. Having no care in the world when it comes to beating the inmates down, Hadley as a character came natural for Brown himself who chose not to study real life prison guards because he did not want to base it on any one person. Brown should have earned an Oscar nomination for his performance; however, he along with the movie itself was snubbed come Oscar season. He would later play the exact opposite version of this character in the Denzel Washington drama, The Hurricane.
Brown continued to work steadily throughout the 90s and 2000s: The harden Sgt. Zim in Starship Troopers, a large henchman in Flubber, a Viking leader in Pathfinder, Alan Smith in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and a lawyer in Steven Soderberghâ€™s The Informant! But Brown, like Mark Hamill, is a very popular voiceover actor. He has hundreds of voiceover credits including Lex Luthor in Superman, Raiden in Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm, Rhino on The Spectacular Spider-Man, and Hades in God of War III among several others. Perhaps the most interesting voiceover credit was that of the traffic cop who gives Michael Jackson a speeding ticket in the â€œSpeed Demonâ€ segment of Michael Jacksonâ€™s Moonwalker in 1988! Brown will also next be seen as Meacham in Jon Faverauâ€™s Cowboys & Aliens next year.