Cult Movies: The late great Ned Beatty was 'subtle, natural and always believable'

The late great Ned Beatty in Hear My Song
Ralph McLean

Ned Beatty

NED Beatty, who passed away this week at the age of 83, was the consummate character actor. In a remarkable career stretching back more than four decades, he made 150 films and appeared in any number of TV series.

The Kentucky-born actor's stocky build and lived-in face meant he rarely bagged the leading man roles, but the parts he played always stuck in the mind and elevated the material he graced.

Beatty brought an everyman believability to everything he did, imbuing the characters he created across an impressively wide range of styles and genres with a natural, persuasive charm all his own.

While never an A-lister as such, his status in Hollywood was reflected in the directors who sought him out for their films. John Boorman gave him his big screen debut in Deliverance (1972) and Beatty immediately made his mark as an adventure-seeking city boy who is gruesomely and unforgettably brutalised during a weekend canoeing trip in the wilds of the deep south.

Robert Altman used him effectively in Nashville (1976) and he found himself Oscar-nominated for his performance as a corporate CEO in Sidney Lumet's mighty media satire Network in 1977, shooting his famous monologue in a single day's filming.

Beatty made memorable appearances in the likes of All The President's Men (1976) and Superman (1978), where his turn as Lex Luther's snivelling sidekick Otis won him deserved acclaim, and he displayed his natural comic chops in everything from Rodney Dangerfield's Back to School (1986) to his scene-stealing performance as the voice of Lotso, the evil gang leading teddy bear in Toy Story 3 (2010).

He also lit up the small screen as the popular Stanley 'Big Man' Bolander in Homicide: Life On The Street in the mid-90s and even appeared as John Goodman's dad Ed Connor in Roseanne.

f there's one Ned Beatty role I'd suggest you dig out to remember the great man at his very best though, I'd pick out his beautifully nuanced performance as legendary Irish vocalist Josef Locke in director Peter Chelsom's 1991 comedy Hear My Song.

A gentle slice of Irish whimsy, it weaves a simple tale of a promoter who attempts to track down the elusive Irish tenor for a rare live appearance. It remains an essentially flimsy piece of fluff that allows all manner of Irish actors from Adrian Dunbar and Jimmy Nesbitt to swan around the beautiful countryside to fine effect, but Beatty's turn as Locke, a man who had fled the country under tax demands, raises it to a higher level.

The American actor plays the much loved Irish tenor with real heart and compassion, adding just the right amount of twinkle in the eye and world weary sadness in the smile to a role that could easily have been a cliché in lesser hands.

He was nominated for a Golden Globe award for his efforts and it's still a performance that sticks in the mind today. Subtle, natural and always believable. Just like the man himself.

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