Underrated: The candy man: The case for Will Patton

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The Independent Culture
I got some thoughts in mah head that I don't know whadda do with,' Will Patton says in Michael Taav's Painted Heart. It's a line this forgotten nut of American cinema was born to utter. But despite having worked with Mike Nichols, Martin Scorsese, Nicolas Roeg and Karel Reisz, among others, eyes tend to glaze over at the mention of his name.

If you see him, it's unlikely you'll forget him: black piggy eyes set in a doughy face which, when creased into a smile, suggests Ted Bundy. There's the high, pink forehead, the shock of yellow hair, and a bored drawl that has drawn comparison to a young Jack Nicholson. Indeed, he shares Nicholson's grotesque, barely suppressed sexual savagery, and an ability to upstage the biggest star (as a smarmy Ollie North figure in No Way Out, he made light work of Kevin Costner).

Given his eccentric choice of parts, you'd think he would have a higher profile by now. It must lend the CV spice to say you've played an S & M bully (with eyeliner) in Scorsese's After Hours, or a psychopathic haemophiliac named Skippy for In the Soup. When he goes gaga, it's like watching a volcano roar: in Reisz's Everybody Wins, his religious zealot is so swollen by the idea of doing good that he slaloms his bike all over the road and gets splashed across the hood of a truck. The film dries up once he's gone.

Miscast, Patton can capsize a picture. His benevolence has yet to be proven, so he disrupts Roeg's unreleased Cold Heaven and Michael Tolkin's The Rapture by being inadvertently terrifying when he should have been kindly. His rightful place is as a Hollywood villain, in the kind of roles which British actors like Alan Rickman and David Thewlis (in the upcoming Dragonheart) are bagging. Or as the wild-eyed crazy, hitherto typified by Dennis Hopper in Speed and River's Edge. One thing is certain: when a little devil with bright tufts of candy- floss hair can steal a movie away from Kevin Costner, Nick Nolte or Madonna, it's time to give him something he can really sink his fangs into.

(Photograph omitted)