James Rebhorn, who died of melanoma over the weekend, was the rarest of accomplished actors. James who? True, he never won an Oscar. He could walk down Fifth Avenue and not be mobbed by starstruck fans. With his receding hairline and shy smile, he was anything but a matinee idol.
You know this terrific character actor by his work. Rebhorn, 65, seemed forever to play men who wore suits and carried themselves with a quiet dignity and a sense of irony. You know him by sight. He appeared in such acclaimed films as varied as "The Game," "Scent of a Woman," and "Meet the Parents."
He played Claire Danes' father in the hit TV show "Homeland." He also had a prominent role in the finale of "Seinfeld," as he doggedly tried to prosecute the gang for breaking the "Good Samaritan" law. He played the straight man to perfection.
Indeed, Rebhorn was recognizable by his solid performances, playing supporting roles in films and on stage. In an era when everyone seems to want to be famous, Rebhorn was a durable character actor. If he instead been a basketball player, you can be sure he would have been the one who passed the ball that led to a basket.
Normally I prefer to write about instantly familiar subjects, such as the president, the media, and the world scene. These are big subjects that we never tire thinking about in public.
So, why am I writing about James Rebhorn? And why should you care?
It is unusual today, in this era of media frenzy, when everyone is famous for his or her 15 minutes and then fades away, that we encounter someone like Rebhorn. He was a professional. He was perfectly content to do his job, whatever it called for while others stood in the spotlight.
Acting is certainly a glamorous line of work, but there was nothing glitzy or showy about this man's approach to his craft. He did his work in a dependable, unspectacular way. He never stole a scene from Al Pacino or Michael Douglas or Robert DeNiro. But their performances would have been surely poorer without Rebhorn's contributions.
We should remember Rebhorn as a vanishing breed — someone who does the job for the pleasure of the work, not necessarily for the limelight. In everyone's life, there is a person like him. Let's appreciate them while we can. Appreciate people who get the job done.
Jon Friedman writes the Media Matrix blog for Indiewire.com. He is also the author of "Forget About Today: Bob Dylan's Genius for (Re)Invention, Shunning the Naysayers, and Creating a Personal Revolution." Read more reports from Jon Friedman — Click Here Now.
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