Tom Berenger

Tom Berenger
Tom Berenger

Tom Berenger. TCM Overview

Tom Berenger was one of the major movie stars of the 1980’s.   Among his films from that period were “The Big Chill”, “Platoon”,”Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Major League”.   In 1990 he starred with Richard Harris in “The Field”.   In recent years he has emerged as a powerful character actor in such movies as “Inception”.

Tom Berenger
Tom Berenger

“When Tom Berenger smiles out of hi studio stills he seems a sweet-tempered gentle ma, but there are others in which he stares out as disdainfully, with his mouth twisted cruelly.   That suggests a wide range, which he effortlessly has, but even in villainy he can seem lost, wistful.” – David Shipman in “The Great Movie Stars – The Independent Years” (1991).

TCM overview :

Having first established himself in brooding, aggressive roles, actor Tom Berenger first came to the public’s attention as the self-effacing Tom Selleck-like television star in Lawrence Kasdan’s iconic drama, “The Big Chill” (1983). But it was his hard-edged turn as the Vietnam War-scarred Sergeant Barnes in “Platoon” (1986) that turned the relatively known actor into a bona fide star. Berenger next emerged in the unlikeliest of places, playing a professional baseball player in the surprise hit comedy “Major League” (1989), a role he reprised five years later in the inferior sequel. From there, he specialized in playing historical figures like Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet in “Gettysburg” (1993) and Theodore Roosevelt in “Rough Riders” (TNT, 1997), while churning out a series of low-quality genre films – many of which went straight to DVD – like “Sniper” (1993) and its two sequels. Whether occasionally popping up in more acclaimed movies like “Training Day” (2001) and “Inception” (2010), co-starring on his first regular primetime series “October Road” (ABC, 2007-08), or winning an Emmy for his work in the acclaimed miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys” (History, 2012), Berenger seemed content playing a wide array of villains and antiheroes in non-theatrical releases.

Born on May 31, 1950 in Chicago, IL, Berenger was raised in a working class home headed by a father who worked as a printer for The Chicago Sun-Times. After graduating Rich East High School in 1967, he attended the University of Missouri to study journalism, only to discover acting after trying out for a school play on a bet. Berenger made his debut in a college production of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?” before moving on to regional theater following graduation. He soon relocated to New York City, where he studied with Uta Hagen and Herbert Berghof at HB Studio while working in off-Broadway productions like “End as a Man” (1975) for the Circle Repertory Company and “The Rose Tattoo” (1977) at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT. Making his screen debut, Berenger spent a year portraying Tim Siegel on the daytime soap “Once Life to Live” (ABC, 1968-2012) before landing a small role in the biopic about a young John F. Kennedy (Paul Rudd) in “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye” (NBC, 1977).

Following his feature debut in “The Sentinel” (1977), Berenger landed a significant role as Gary Cooper White, the psychopathic killer of “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” (1977), who threatens a young teacher (Diane Keaton) looking for sexual excitement outside of her usually mundane existence. He next had his first starring role in the erotic drama, “In Praise of Older Women” (1978), which cast him in the underdeveloped role of a Hungarian stud recalling two decades’ worth of sexual conquests. Berenger fared better as the young Butch Cassidy in Richard Lester’s “Butch and Sundance: The Early Years” (1979) while returning to the small screen to take the leading role of a street tough-turned-prison boxer in the two-part miniseries “Flesh & Blood” (CBS, 1979). After a return to the stage to play Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1981) at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Berenger played a mercenary soldier opposite Christopher Walken in “The Dogs of War” (1981). Two years later, the actor gained his first widespread attention for his standout performance as an insecure television star in the ensemble drama “The Big Chill” (1983), a film that marked similar breakthroughs for Glenn Close, William Hurt and Jeff Goldblum.

Hot on the heels of “The Big Chill,” Berenger earned a cult following with “Eddie and the Cruisers” (1983), playing the former piano player and lyricist for the leader of the titular band (Michael Pare), whose alleged death in a car accident comes into question a few years later. He was underutilized as a smarmy strip club owner in the derided crime thriller “Fear City” (1984), while in “Rustler’s Rhapsody” (1985) he tried to revive the gentle singing cowboy from 1940s Hollywood Westerns, only to have the film fall off the radar and remain forgotten for the rest of his career. But Berenger hit his stride and became a star with his next film, “Platoon” (1986), director Oliver Stone’s searing and realistic look at the Vietnam War as seen from the eyes of the average infantryman. Berenger played Staff Sgt. Barnes, a battle-scarred leader of a platoon who will stop at nothing to ensure his authority, even if it means killing a rival sergeant (Willem Dafoe) while trying to corrupt a young recruit (Charlie Sheen). With his face masked by prosthetic scar tissue, Berenger delivered perhaps the finest performance of his career, earning numerous award nominations, including one for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards.

Building off that triumphant performance, Berenger starred opposite Mimi Rogers in the Ridley Scott thriller “Someone to Watch Over Me” (1987), before proving both forceful and unpredictable as the vulnerable macho white supremacist leader in “Betrayed” (1988). As veteran catcher Jake Taylor, whose damaged knees signal the end of his career, Berenger was the heart and soul of the hit baseball comedy “Major League” (1989), thanks in large part to his comedic chemistry with Charlie Sheen and romantic chemistry with Rene Russo. Following a small role in Oliver Stone’s “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989), he projected the smoldering charisma of a young Brando as the half-breed Cheyenne mercenary who goes native in Hector Babenco’s “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” (1991), adapted from Peter Matthiessen’s 1965 novel. He next delivered a solid portrayal of Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet in “Gettysburg” (1993), while appearing in several Hollywood genre films like “Sniper” (1993) and “Sliver” (1993), the former of which fizzled at the box office, while the latter was panned by most critics.

Around this time, Berenger began a short-lived recurring role during the waning days of the hit sitcom, “Cheers” (NBC, 1982-1993), playing the plumber husband-to-be of bar manager Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley). His performance earned him an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series. Following a reprisal for Jake Taylor for the woeful sequel “Major League II” (1994), Berenger appeared in a series of misfires like “Chasers” (1994), “Avenging Angel” (1995) and “An Occasional Hell” (1996), which he also executive produced, before playing a mercenary-turned-teacher in “The Substitute” (1996). He next turned in a fine portrayal of Theodore Roosevelt in the original made-for-cable movie, “Rough Riders” (TNT, 1997), which he followed with a supporting role in Robert Altman’s meandering adaptation of John Grisham’s “The Gingerbread Man” (1998). Berenger starred in “One Man’s Hero” (1998), the story of a group of Irish immigrants who fled to Mexico and fought for their adopted country as the St. Patrick Brigade in the Mexican-American War. Meanwhile, he continued appearing in low-quality genre fare like “Enemy of My Enemy” (1999), “Cutaway” (2000) and “Cruel and Unusual” (2001), which did nothing but help dim memories of strong performances like in “Platoon.”

Though only onscreen for a few minutes, Berenger delivered a memorable turn as a powerful lawyer in the District Attorney’s office who runs cover for a corrupt cop (Denzel Washington) in “Training Day” (2001). He reprised his role from the theatrically released “Sniper” for the direct-to-DVD release, “Sniper 2” (2003) and “Sniper 3” (2004), which he followed with a notable guest appearance on “Third Watch” (NBC, 1999-2005) and a supporting role among an all star cast for Steven Spielberg’s epic 12-hour miniseries, “Into the West” (TNT, 2005). For his first regular series role, Berenger played the gruff, but ultimately kindhearted father of an accomplished writer (Bryan Greenberg) who returns home after 10-year sojourn on the short-lived “October Road” (ABC, 2007-08). Berenger returned to features with several small movies like the direct-to-DVD releases “Stiletto” (2008) and “Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassin’s Ball” (2010) and low budget indies “Charlie Valentine” (2009) and “Breaking Point” (2009). He had his first taste of a major Hollywood film in a long time with “Inception” (2010), director Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster psychological thriller inspired by people’s experiences with lucid dreaming. Following a small turn as the nameless warden in the Dwayne Johnson actioner “Faster” (2010), Berenger shined in a standout performance as Jim Vance in the acclaimed miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys” (History, 2012), which brought huge ratings to the cable network and earned praise from all corners. But most importantly for the actor, it earned him an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie in 2012. The TCM overview can also be accessed online here.

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