Ned Beatty: An Actor Who Played the Ordinary and Made It Look Easy

On June 13, the world lost the great actor Ned Beatty, a true professional at his craft who personified the “good ol’ boy” archetype of Hollywood’s new cinema of the 1970s. The actor, from Louisville, Kentucky, has many distinct bullet points on his resume, but his authentic and worldly presence that is portrayed though his smile, double-chin and combover is what drew us all into his characters. He left us a legacy of people who are ordinary on the surface but also make us think, feel and reflect. 

Ned Beatty’s catalog of roles include lawyers, politicians, cops, and more often, the wingman to the conventionally better-looking male leads, such as Burt Reynolds. Beatty’s breakthrough movie is considered to be the 1972 film “Deliverance” in which he co stars with Reynolds. Written by James Dickey and directed by John Boorman, the film is about four city-dwelling friends(Jon Voight, Reynolds, Beatty and Ronny Cox) getting away from their jobs, wives, and kids for a week of canoeing in rural Georgia where they are not welcomed by the backwood locals of the area. 

“Deliverance” was where Beatty made his unforgettable and horrible impression on audiences as the hapless Bobby Trippe, a cringey ‘beta male.’ In one of the most gruesome scenes of the movie, the backwood dwellers encounter him in the trackless woodland and sexually assault him while Jon Voight’s character is forced to watch. It is a deeply shocking moment that perhaps unconsciously paved the way in which Beatty was cast for the rest of his career. These roles being minor-power roles in which he could be the victim turned bully. 

Within the 70’s movie era however, Beatty managed to to put on three other great performances in films that are highly regarded within 70’s movies: Robert Altman’s “Nashville” (1975), Alan J Pakula’s “All the President’s Men” (1976) and Sidney Lumet’s “Network” (1975). Whether it was the folksy good guy or the compromised bad guy, his characters symbolized the minor privileges of power and authority that an individual can build up over the years. Aside from Beatty also becoming a recurring comic actor as Lex Luthor’s bumptious sidekick, Otis, in the Superman Movies, one of Beatty’s greatest late roles is the Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear in Pixar’s animation “Toy Story 3”(2010). In this film he voices a seemingly kind toy at the day centre where Woody and the gang go, but is in fact a sinister teddy bear. 

Beatty maintained a thriving tv career and had a fine singing voice, even releasing an album of Christian music. Sadly, his voice was dubbed in “Hear My Song” (1991), a movie in which Beatty played the real-life 1940s Irish tenor, Josef Locke. Although his voice didn’t make it to the final cut, his performance earned Beatty a nomination for a Golden Globe for best supporting actor. Nonetheless, with guest recurrences in “Mash” and ‘Roseanne” while also playing a strong character in NBC’s 90’s crime drama show “Homicide: Life on the Street,” Beatty had a diversified oeuvre that will live on after his passing. 

Beatty was the classic character actor who made every role he played look effortless. He was a natural on the screen, had an easy address to the camera, and was a prominent leading actor in every scene in which he is featured. Every film was better with him in it. 

By Jimmy Meyer

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