Accidental Heroes of the 20th Century: 29: Rip Torn, Actor

HE COULD have been Jack Nicholson. According to Hollywood legend, Rip Torn was due to play the part the then unknown Nicholson played in Easy Rider, but withdrew from the film for unspecified reasons.

The director, Dennis Hopper, claimed on a chat show that the actor was sacked from the picture after pulling a knife on him in a diner, a claim that cost Hopper $475,000 in libel damages in a Californian court, but one that fits rather nicely with Torn's abrasive image.

Knife or no knife, Rip Torn's failure to become a Hollywood superstar has blessed us with what may be the most brilliant comic turn in television history, the producer Artie in the midnight-dark satire The Larry Sanders Show, a work of genius and arguably as memorable as any of Nicholson's movie work .

The Larry Sanders Show has been justly praised as a deftly aimed kick in the teeth to the world of television and the cult of celebrity, but it is much more than that. Thanks in no small part to Rip Torn's Artie, the television programme transcends mere pastiche to become something approaching Greek tragedy.

Its terrible, self-absorbed characters - the monstrous egotist Larry, his emotionally-stunted sidekick Hank, the insecure writer Phil, and workaholic, womanising Artie - are the authors of their own downfall, well-rewarded materially but unable to break free from the emptiness at the centre of their lives.

When Larry (Garry Shandling) tries to escape from the show to some rural idyll, he is brought up sharp by Artie. "You're a talk show host," growls the producer, "like some creature from goddam Greek mythology - half-man, half-desk."

Artie knows there is no way out. In a previous episode he had fled to Italy to try and revive an old love-affair, which crumbled when, instead of dining al fresco on a moonlit Venetian balcony, he crept back inside to watch a dubbed Larry Sanders Show on Italian cable TV. Phil tries to build a new career as a sitcom writer, but when they mess with his script he returns to the comfort blanket of the show. Hank's plans to open a successful restaurant are constantly doomed to failure.

These are, of course, situations created by writers, but it is the acting, particularly Rip Torn's, that makes them real and rather poignant. Torn is brilliant even in scenes where he says nothing. As Larry and Hank argue over some piffling matter, Artie stands there taking it all in, brow furrowing, scowl deepening, as he decides which way he must jump to keep the show afloat. The show is all. In that sense, the programme is a satire not just on television but also on any kind of office life, where the cardboard boxes or custard creams being produced must take precedence over personal relationships.

Garry Shandling has said that much of his business with Artie is improvised, something Rip Torn is perfectly qualified to do, having trained at Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio in New York in the Fifties and being a great advocate of method acting. His insistence on authenticity has led to a reputation for being "difficult", not unlike Artie.

He also did his career no favours by speaking out against the Vietnam war and aligning himself with the civil rights movement. But his day has arrived. It is a minor miracle that something as dark and risky as The Larry Sanders Show could come from the ultra-safe world of American television.

For Rip Torn - brilliant also in films such as Defending Your Life (1991) and Payday (1972) - it is the perfect vehicle for his method acting. Shandling may insist that he will make no more episodes of Larry Sanders, but surely there can be no escape for these people now.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas