One mark of a Cool Actor is the number of truly entertaining movies he’s appeared in. By that measure Brion James racked up one heck of a run, starting with a bit parts in Blazing Saddles and entertaining drive-in fare like Corvette Summer before his first truly memorable role in Walter Hill’s 1981 Vietnam allegory Southern Comfort where he played a one-armed Cajun. Brion’s next film was truly his big break and the role he’s still most identified with: Leon the replicant in Blade Runner. Brion was showcased in the opening scene, where he’s given the Voight-Kampff test to determine if he’s a replicant. Leon doesn’t fare well and ends the test in his own inimitable style:
Apologies for the poor quality, this is the only version that allowed embedding.
James was suddenly one of the hottest heavies in Hollywood and vaulted into the big leagues, albeit in small roles. 48 Hours with Eddie Murphy, Paul Verhoven’s Flesh + Blood, Lawrence Kasdan’s Silverado, Steel Dawn with Patrick Swayze, Red Heat, Tango & Cash, the list goes on. If you were making a big budget action movie in the 80s you needed Brion James in there somewhere.
He even had a role in Sam Raimi’s first studio picture, the bizarrely screwed up comedy Crimewave, a film plagued with studio malfeasance. During filming Brion trashed his hotel room while attempting to exorcise a ghost he believed was in the light fixture.
One of my favorite Brion James roles as the Cockney henchman in Tango & Cash. I love his delivery of “You fucking wanker!”
Sadly, Brion James passed away of a heart attack in 1999 at the young age of 54. The world of cinematic heavies just isn’t the same without him.