Celebrating Stephen Tobolowsky
Glen salutes the mighty Stephen Tobolowsky, and gets the great man to contribute a list of his ten favourite roles too...
Stephen Tobolowsky will be familiar to most of you. Even if the name isn't instantly recognisable, no doubt his face will be. He has been involved with close to 200 projects in his career and has earned a reputation as being a great character actor in the process. What's more, in addition to being a prolific character actor, Stephen Tobolowsky has writing, directing, producing and composing credits to his name.
I first remember Tobolowsky when I watched Mississippi Burning, where I was utterly scared by his portrayal as the KKK leader Clayton Townley. Since then he has gone on to appear in a number of shows and films that I love, perhaps most notably Groundhog Day, where his character Ned Ryerson is undoubtedly one of the most memorable characters. But don't discount Seinfeld and Spaceballs either.
One performance that I am particularly fond of is when he played Laurie's Professor in That 70's Show. He appeared to relish in the role and the way he interacted with the other actors was great. His was easily the best guest appearance in That 70's Show. This role also reunited Tobolowsky with Kurtwood Smith, whom he'd directed in Two Idiots In Hollywood.
In 2005, the documentary Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party was released. In this film he takes a break from the supporting roles he's often associated with and delivers a series of stories from his life and career to the camera, as well as to a number of his friends, all from the comfort of his home. The trailer is very funny. It involves him taking to the streets and asking the public if they have heard of Stephen Tobolowsky. Some of the responses are amazing, serial killer and porn star being two of the highlights.
At the end of October last year Stephen Tobolwsky started The Tobolowsky Files podcast with /Film's David Chen. Inspired by Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party, the podcast is described as: "a series of stories about life, love, and the entertainment industry".
I've become a huge fan of The Tobolowsky Files, and would say that, out of all the podcasts I listen to, this is the one for which I most eagerly await new episodes. From this and STBP it's clear that he's an incredible storyteller. His anecdotes are well prepared and delivered with an immense level of skill. He takes you on an emotional journey with his tales, often funny, sometimes devastatingly sad, but always entertaining. I really would recommend this to anyone and would strongly encourage those who haven't checked it out yet to do so. It really is a treat.
Whilst planning this piece I contacted Stephen Tobolowsky, partly to congratulate him on the podcast and partly to see if he would comment on some of his favourite roles. He very kindly sent me a list of his top ten favourite roles with a comment on each as well some personal data. I've included what was sent below, mostly unedited, although I reversed the order of the top ten to fit the countdown format and have added the names of the characters he played in each of his selections. Other than that, what's below is all his. Enjoy...
10. Sandy Ryerson - Glee
9. Bob Bishop - Heroes
"Biggest production and incomprehensible script"
8. Hugo Jarry - Deadwood
"Greatest television ever"
7. Dr. Werner Brandes - Sneakers
6. Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party
"My film that I love - no script - no rehearsal - no permits - one take"
5. Clayton Townley - Mississippi Burning
"The great Alan Parker - learned lessons in directing"
4. Max - Thelma And Louise
"Brad Pitt brought me tea and made me feel old and ugly"
3 ½. Happy Chapman - Garfield
"Made me famous with five-year-olds"
3. Mr. Bates - Freaky Friday
"Great script made me famous with 10 year olds"
2. Sammy - Memento
"I actually had amnesia in my life"
1. Ned Ryerson - Groundhog Day
"A classic. I'm good in a good movie"
Also, he added that the most fun he had was with Great Balls Of Fire. And then he also sent us through this list of personal data.
1. Held hostage at gunpoint in a grocery store.
2. Kidnapped by monks in Thailand and beaten with sticks.
3. Caught tarantulas as a child.
4. Aunt wrote the Equal Rights Amendment for the USA.
5. Made money in college reading minds.
6. Travelled across Texas with David Byrne and co-wrote True Stories.
7. Sang on Stevie Ray Vaughn's first recording. He was 14, I was 19.
I would like to say a big thank you to Stephen Tobolowsky for taking the time to provide his contribution to the piece. And if all this has whetted your appetite, you can find all The Tobolowsky Files podcasts at iTunes here or here.
Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party is available here.