While we all adore and root for the stars and starlets of tinseltown, there is a treasure-trove of good men and women who have been integral to the success of all our favorite films. Bona fide, hard working and talented people who may never star in a film or see their name on a poster hanging in the local cineplex but will never escape our minds and imaginations when it comes to some good iconic and funny roles they play. This column is a tribute to the “Oh, That Guy” types, the common actor and the B-listers. They are the…
Number of Film & TV Roles: 84
Notable Roles: Ghostbusters; Die Hard; Die Hard 2; Real Genius; Bio-Dome
Typical Roles: A dickhead
Why He’s Great:You all know William Atherton, you know what he does for a living. No single actor has ever embraced the role of asshole quite like Mr. Atherton. Of course, he had several other roles throughout the years where he didn’t play a jerk, but he was so good at it in some of the most memorable movies of the ’80s that he’s forever seen as the greatest douchebag portrayer in cinema (with all due respect to Paul Gleason).
Career Quote: “If you have to be the antagonist, you often have a lot more creative powers. You have a lot more color to you. I’ve played heroes in my time. You go, “Jesus, you have?” [Laughs.] And it’s interesting. It can be a lot more fun in movies to be a little baroque. You can just kind of riff on stuff, and it’s a lot more fun. I always found it more fun. Oftentimes, the protagonist roles aren’t as interestingly written as the antagonists are. People can say, “Well, you’re playing the jerk,” and I don’t mind. It’s just that I don’t really approach it that way. I approach it as a comedy part; I approach it as somebody who has an agenda, and go on from there.” – from The AV Club
Biography (via Wikipedia): Atherton made a splash on the New York stage immediately after graduating college and worked with many of the country’s leading playwrights including David Rabe, John Guare and Arthur Miller, winning numerous awards for his work on and off Broadway. He got his big break playing hapless fugitive Clovis Poplin in The Sugarland Express, the feature film debut of Steven Spielberg. After this, he garnered major roles in dark dramas such as The Day of the Locust and Looking for Mr. Goodbar, as well as the big-budget disaster film The Hindenburg. He also starred as cowboy Jim Lloyd in the ground-breaking 1978 miniseries Centennial, based on the novel by James Michener.
Atherton entered pop culture history in 1984, when he appeared in the hit comedy Ghostbusters as the overbearing EPA agent Walter Peck. In 1985, Martha Coolidge chose Atherton to play Professor Jerry Hathaway in the teen comedy Real Genius. In 1988, Atherton played narcissistic reporter Richard “Dick” Thornburg in the blockbuster action film Die Hard, as well as its 1990 sequel.
Other film credits include No Mercy, The Pelican Brief, Bio-Dome, Mad City, The Crow: Salvation, The Last Samurai, Grim Prairie Tales, the TV movies Buried Alive, Headspace and Virus. He has also made guest appearances on such TV shows as The Twilight Zone, Murder She Wrote, Desperate Housewives, The Equalizer, Law & Order, Boston Legal, and Monk. Atherton also provided the voice of Dr. Destiny on Justice League. Recently, Atherton was a recurring series lead in NBC’s detective drama Life.
While starring in The Day of the Locust, Atherton was offered and accepted the opportunity to provide lead vocals for “What’ll I Do”, the main title theme for the Robert Redford film version of The Great Gatsby.
His 2007 appearances included the film The Girl Next Door, an adaptation of the best-selling Jack Ketchum novel of the same name.
He has reprised his role as Walter Peck in Ghostbusters: The Video Game, released on June 16, 2009.
Atherton was cast in the final season of ABC’s Lost.
He appeared in the musical Gigi for the Reprise Theatre in Los Angeles in the role of Honoré Lachailles throughout spring of 2011.
Following his work on the musical, Atherton steps into a comedic role in Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, produced by Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die, Gary Sanchez Productions and Abso Lutely Productions..