Character Actor Spotlight: Powers Boothe – Setting a Foundation


Greetings and all sundry!

Having taken advantage of a welcome break in the weather and adjusting to more than a few days of temperature above 45 degrees. I’ve allowed my mind to roam and return to the idea of multi guest posts “arcs”. Regarding the well established career of a possibly second tier actor, who started small. As every other tradesman does. Yet has constantly managed to acquire bigger and better roles. And deliver in surprising ways with each opportunity.

With that said. Allow me to introduce the early days of one of the unsung masters of the craft.

Powers Boothe: Setting a Foundation


Who garnered my attention, along with countless others back in 1980. With CBS’s Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones. Portraying the charismatic con artist, charlatan, and later cult leader, Jim Jones. In what begins as a rather standard tale of deceit that takes an intriguing and well detailed journey into the sirens’ song of popularity. Then adoration and carte blanche absolute powers of life. liberty, whom to marry and when. Before establishing a religion and declaring himself its Reverend. Becoming too noticed and notorious for his own hood and fleeing to Central America ahead of the feds. And convincing his followers to commit mass suicide

The cast of the made for television film was young, starting out for its time. Though are more than up for the task. Including Veronica Cartwright, Ned Beatty, Brad Dourif. Meg Foster, Rosalind Cash, Ron O’Neal, Diane Ladd, Dennis Quaid, LeVar Burton and James Earl Jones. Regardless of the size of their roles. Their station or economic class. Or their time in front of the camera. All deliver and make the story larger than expected. Yet, it is Mr. Boothe who grabs the reins and runs for the goal posts. Slowly revealing the seductive at first. Then physically and mentally ravaging allure of power. In this creepy Horatio Alger, rags to riches to rags, again piece of history most would rather forget!

Creating a void filled months later under the direction of Walter Hill in his National Guard, Deliverance tinged, Louisiana bayou thriller, Southern Comfort. Where Mr. Boothe plays Hardin. An NCO amongst several during a weekend land navigation and familiarization exercise that starts out bad. And slowly grows worse as weather sets in. and the others in his mostly Alpha Male squad (Keith Carradine, Fred Ward, Alan Autry, Peter Coyote, Franklin Seales and T.K. Carter) just want to pack it in and return to base.
That doesn’t happen as the squad wanders deeper into the fog shrouded, rainy swaps and discover that they’re knee then neck deep in Cajun Country. And very spooked after a loud, noisy and blank round firing run in with some back water hunters may or may not have left one of the latter injured, wounded. Or dead.

In a slowly building, claustrophobic masterpiece of squad and individual disintegration under miserable, less than hospitable conditions.With Mr. Boothe’s Sgt. Harkin trying to hold the squad together as Fred Ward’s Reece slowly goes native and off the reservation. Reaching a glimpse of festivities and redemption just before an ending no one sees coming!

One of the first of a genre of film I’ve described as a “Guy Flick”. Under the deft touch of then, just starting out director, Walter Hill.

With credibility and bona fides richly enhanced. Mr. Boothe returns for John Milius’ memorably executed, medium budget rural and urban warfare icon, Red Dawn from 1984. Taking on the small though meaty role of ejected “Eagle Driver”, Col. Andy Tanner. Who quickly becomes the Tactical Officer and erstwhile father figure to Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howe and Charley Sheen’s hit and run, “Wolverines”.

It is in this film where Mr. Boothe starts to recognize and utilize the power of his voice. Projecting when necessary. Though rarely raising it as he fills in the teenagers about what’s been happening east of the Rockies since the Russians and Cubans invaded months earlier. Delivering more than asked or required for his time on film.

And a change of venue, size of cast and location for John Boorman’s wondrously lush, on location gem, The Emerald Forest from 1985. Mr. Boothe brings life to engineer, Bill Markham. Whose son, Timmy (Charley Boorman) is taken by indigenous Indians along the Amazon in the depths of Brazil.


With Bill and his wife, Jean (Meg Foster) returning each year for ten years in a search to find and recover his son. With not a lot of dialogue to propel the tale. Mr. Booth makes maximum use of each line. While allowing his eyes, face and body to add punctuation and emphasis.

Which opened the floodgates admirably to allow Mr. Boothe the opportunity to occasionally don a dinner jacket, bow tie and cummerbund and rub elbows with the elite, legal and illegal of Los Angeles in the 1930s. When not attired in a more comfortable brown or blue suit while shadowing suspects, talking it up with touts, grifters, con men and pimps. As Philip Marlowe, Private Eye.


One of HBO’s earliest, notable and well executed period mini series. Comprising two seasons (1983 and 84) and eleven episodes.With more than adept attention to detail. And a better than good writing stable adapting the works of Raymond Chandler.

I’ve writen about “Film Quality Television” and this series has it in Spades. With moody lighting and atmosphere to burn amongst assorted vamps, tramps and femmes fatale. And Mr. Boothe’s set the stage with dry, sarcastic class warfare wit. His ability to play in Noir shadows and take punches as well as deliver them. Creating a body of work equal to the novelist and his iconic anti hero.

Overall Consensus:

Mr. Boothe began with obvious talent. And its gratifying to see his successes progress so consistently. As new tools to enhance his characters and move the stories forward are discovered. Played with and slowly mastered.

Roughly, ruggedly handsome. With an initially gruff voice that softens and mellows like wine. To become an integral part of his demand, favorability and popularity in later ventures.

Stay tuned for Part 2 & 3 on Powers Boothe
Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews

Well, do add your thoughts on Mr. Boothe. And what’s your favorite film of his?

24 thoughts on “Character Actor Spotlight: Powers Boothe – Setting a Foundation

  1. He’s one of those guys I often see in films yet I often get him confused with Michael Ironside for some reason. I do remember watching him in Red Dawn, Nixon, U-Turn, and Rapid Fire as he was always great in those films.

    1. Welcome, ninvoid:

      Thanks for taking the time to peruse and begin the conversation!

      Mr. Boothe and Mr. Ironside are basically cut from the same cloth. Separately, either are easy to confuse. When combined, as in Extreme Prejudice . which will mentioned in my next segment. The results are awesome as to who can be the baddest bad guy.

      Rapid Fire will also be dissected and critiqued.

  2. I remember him vividly in Southern Comfort–what a great flick–I’ll never forget the scene where they gutted the pig. Kevin, nice tribute to a fine actor. I liked him in ‘Sin City’ — he was a perfect villain.

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Cindy:

      Thanks for such a great comment!

      What’s cool and grabbed my attention with Southern Comfort is Mr. Boothe being just one on a group of tough guy, Alpha Males and future leading men. And his leading the pack amongst Carradine, Ward, Coyote and Alan Autry. No small feat, made even more memorable through lousy, often scary conditions.

      Also interesting to see the clash of cultures between the modern with the Guardsmen. And incredibly rustic and archaic (Prepping and gutting the pig for the feast) with the Cajuns.

      The casting of Mr. Boothe as Senator Roarke was inspired. And he will be back in Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For.

      1. I look forward to Sin City 2 and hope it’s not a dud. The graphic novel come to life, the cast, the fun, erotic,gory stuff somehow resonated with me. I don’t know what that reveals about me, but I thought it very cool.

        1. jackdeth72

          Hi, Cindy:

          Frank Miller’s graphic translated well onto the screen in Sin City . Mostly due to Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino having great respect and a desire to get it right. Especially with the snow, rain and dour atmosphere. The violence, sometimes over drawn comes from the graphic work, and hence the film. And more often than not looked very, very cool.

          Frank Miller tried the same thing later with Stephen Macht (USA’s Suits ). in Wil Eisner’s noir Super Hero, The Spirit . Miller most everything right except Samuel L. Jackson as “The Octopus”. Completely miscast and misused. And the completely writing out of The Spirit’s investigative sidekick, Ebony White.

  3. A thoroughly underrated actor. One who has that certain quality of presence, not all have. Along with one fo the great voices, but an ability to use it well, when called upon. Wonderful spotlight, Kevin.

    1. jackdeth72

      Greetings, Michael;

      Mr. Boothe has presence to burn. A given with the film and works I selected. Which made this segment so interesting in listening to his voice develop and softly resonate. Even more to the fore in the next. Where Mr. Boothe finds his niche and range, And expands it later in his career,

      Superior voice actor, too. Along with Michael Ironside and Clancy Brown. Whose sessions with Warner brothers’ Animation, Anderea Romano would anticipate and relish.

  4. Fantastic post, Kevin! I’m guilty that I’ve only seen him in Atilla and of course in The Avengers where he played a government member of S.H.I.E.L.D. His voice is definitely iconic, right up there w/ James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, etc.

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi. Ruth:

      Great comparison to James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman!

      One of the reasons he works so well in animation voice over. Or in the shadows as a Council member with S.H.I.E.L.D.

      Mr. Boothe really begins to use his voice as an instrument opposite Gerard Butler in Atilla . Going through all the ranges in trying to get the Hun to concede or ally with him in global conquest.

      His seductive evil emerges as Cy Tolliver locking horns with Ian MacShane’s Al Sweringen in HBO’s superb, Shakespeare enhanced Deadwood .

      His connivance and clever comes through in Fox 24 .

  5. Ted S.

    I’m a little bit late in joining the conversation here Jack but Powers Boothe has always been one of my favorite character actor. I love him Southern Comfort and Extreme Prejudice, he’s one of the few actors where he’s believable playing a very nasty bad guy or a good guy. I don’t remember the last movie I saw him in but I thought he’s pretty great as Hans Gruber wannabe in Van Damme’s version of Die Hard, Sudden Death. The movie wasn’t that great as a Die Hard ripoff but Boothe looked like he had a lot of fun playing the mean baddie.

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Ted:

      Great catch on Sudden Death .

      One of the great joys and challenges for an actor is to play a remorseless bad guy. And have the presence, wherewithal and talent to pull it off! What’s cool about Mr. Boothe is that he can pull it off with gusto and elan. Or grovelling misery before the final reel. With room to spare!

    1. jackdeth72

      Welcome, Mark:

      Thanks for such a great comment!

      I’ve been wanting to do a solid, Mr. Boothe centric post since critiquing Extreme Prejudice years ago. What started out as a few films started pleasantly expanding. As my arc on Mr. Jack Lemmon had. Creating an intriguing trek through a career that demands and deserves more attention

  6. Great essay, Jack! My favorite of Boothe’s work? Gotta be Tombstone.

    I’m your huckleberry. (I realize, of course, that that line belongs to Kilmer, not Boothe, but go with me.) 🙂

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, jjames:

      Thanks very much!

      Settle down and fear not. Tombstone will be featured prominently in the next segment.
      Though Mr. Boothe is not front and center throughout. He is a rather iconic heavy. When not going out of his way to keep Michael Biehn’s Johnny Ringo in line and safe from going off.

      I always preferred Doc’s oblique, “I don’t” when asked about having lots of friends.

        1. jackdeth72

          Hi, jjames:

          Tombstone is another great film full of memorable lines.

          And Val Kilmer has the majority of them. All politely delivered with the aplomb of a Southern gentleman.

    1. jackdeth72

      Welcome, Three Rows:

      Deadwood will be one of many favorites prominently featured in the last segment of this three segment arc. Along with U-Turn, Atilla, Frailty, 24 and Hatfield & McCoys .

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Nostra:

      My apologies for being even later with a response!

      There is something about the actor’s name that draws you in. Very much in the Robert Mitchum mold for the characters he plays. Manly. Occasionally flawed. Yet, always with a deeper, ingrained code to get the job done.

  7. Pingback: Character Actor Spotlight: Powers Boothe Part II – Meeting and Exceeding Expectations

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