The last thing I saw the late actor William Hurt in was the Prime series Goliath. He played a successful, but corrupt former law partner of the Billy Bob Thornton character.The nastiness, torment and flaws fit Hurt’s acting talent perfectly.
Hurt played a lot of complicated characters, maybe because of the acting challenge, or because he was also a complicated man. I never met him so it is just conjecture on my part from following his career and reading many accounts of his life.
In the 1980s, he was one of my favorite actors, but as I read of his treatment of romantic partners, I cooled on him. Regardless, his talent was hard to ignore. He was a leading man, handsome and confident, but that role never seemed to fit his attraction to very flawed characters and idiosyncratic nature. He never seemed to convey warmth, and more often than not, projected an impenetrable persona.
Hurt won all sorts of acting awards, including the Academy Award for Best Actor for Kiss of the Spider Woman. Even after his prime leading man days, Hurt was offered high profile roles in Michael with John Travolta and Andie McDowell, Lost in Space, the Avengers series as Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Robin Hood, The Village, Syriana, The Good Shepherd, Mr.Brooks, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby and many others. Sometimes he only had a couple of minutes of screen time, but he made the most of them. He brought more than name value, he could act most actors off the screen, and often did.
That being said, here are some memorable Hurt roles:
Altered States (1980) Dr. Jessup researches the unconscious state, using drugs and a sensory deprivation tank. While he is successful in connecting with his DNA to reach back to the beginning of life, his own life is falling apart. Hurt plays Jessup as charismatic, brilliant, but self-absorbed and unfeeling.
The Accidental Tourist (1988) Hurt is Macon, a travel writer whose life is upside down. His life intersects with Muriel (Geena Davis), as eccentric as his family. He’s aloof and withdrawn, holding off Muriel’s interest, until he lets her past her wall.
The Big Chill (1983) Hurt plays Nick, one of the group that gathers for a friend’s funeral. Nick is a loose spirit, detached from the world and apparently deals drugs. He’s aloof and doesn’t buy into the sentimental vibe of his friends. Hurt plays Nick as damaged and a unlikeable person.
Broadcast News (1987) Hurt is a charismatic newsman who has the looks and style of a coming star, but not the experience or skill. He is egotistical and shallow, but is on the track to the big time. A perfect role for Hurt. He was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar.
Witness (1981) Hurt plays a building janitor who has a crush on the female news reporter and fakes having information about a murder to get an interview with her. This opens him up to the murderers and he slowing develops a relationship with her. Not a great film, but gave him a chance to play a quirky, likable character.
Children of a Lesser God (1986) Hurt is James, a new teacher at a school for the deaf. Marlee Matlin is Sarah, a deaf custodian at the school. James takes an interest in helping her and they fall in love. Hurt was nominated for an Oscar, but Matlin wins. They were involved in a relationship at the time.
A History of Violence (2005) Hurt is a mob boss who stalks a local hero, realizing the hero is a former gangster, and is requested to return to his former job. Hurt is the violence yet polished boss who usually gets his way.
Body Heat (1981) A man falls under the spell of a seductress. Nick is wrapped around her finger and helps murder her husband. Then the roof falls in. The film that made Hurt a leading man.
Goliath (2016-2021) The maniacal Donald Cooperman, former law partner of Billy McBride. Cooperman was a physically and emotionally scarred man, who used these to victimize others. Hurt portrayed him as creepy and morally crippled, yet far more complex than a Bond villain.