The Unsung Heroes of Hollywood: James Tolkan

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…


James Tolkan

17190-875Age: 84

Number of Film & TV Roles: 80

Notable Roles: Top Gun, WarGames, Back to the Future Trilogy, Amityville Horror, Serpico, Masters of the Universe, Iceman, Turk 182, Armed and Dangerous, Dick Tracy, Wolfen

Typical Role: Hard-ass authoritarian figure, Cop, Detective, Military personnel, Teacher/Principal

Why He’s Great: When you needed a tough but fair, no-bullshit person in charge that wasn’t afraid to show dominance you called James Tolkan. How is I that I have yet to see him play a drill sergeant? He would give R. Lee Ermey a run for his money. But of course his best role to date is Principal Strickland (and his great-grandfather Chief Marshal James Strickland in part III) from the Back to Future trilogy. He single-handedly made the word “slacker” part of a generation’s lexicon. And he played these tough guys and strict boss roles with aplomb. It was also easy to not take his role too seriously though like when he’s firing a shotgun at some thugs while yelling “Eat lead Slackers!” in Back to the Future Part II, essentially spoofing his role from the original. Reading his filmography I see he played Napoleon Bonaparte in Woody Allen’s comedy Love and Death and I can easily see him playing the little corporal and hamming it up. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Tolkan act in anything but I see that he recently had a role in Bone Tomahawk which I’ve been meaning to check out soon.


Memorable Clips:


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