by Jason F. Koenigsberg
Controversial and always outspoken, 70 year old actor James Woods announced that he is retiring from acting. His reasoning is an odd one and his timing makes everything more suspicious than it seems. Woods has stated that he is choosing to retire now because he is being blacklisted from getting good roles because he is conservative. This is rather hard to believe considering James Woods has been a Hollywood mainstay for over forty years and now all of a sudden, liberal Hollywood is shunning him, yet Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jon Voight, and Robert Downey Jr. are all well known Republicans, and Adam Sandler, Clint Eastwood and Bruce Willis have all been very vocal about their criticisms of Democrats including President Obama, yet have still consistently found acting jobs. That excuse of being blackballed because of his political beliefs may be just that, an excuse.
James Woods also recently lost his mother and his brother, so that has probably taken a heavy emotional toll on the actor. Woods has also stated that he wants to get his financial estate situation settled. He currently has four homes in Rhode Island and they are all up for sale.
But perhaps the real reason James Woods is calling it quits after a high profile lifestyle in the public eye is because his moral values have become contradictory and his volatile anti-gay tweets have gotten him in trouble recently. Armie Hammer called James Woods out after Woods harshly criticized the trailer via Twitter for his new movie Call Me By Your Name where Hammer plays a homosexual and they show two men kissing. Hammer fired back reminding the world that when Woods was 66 he dated 26 year old Ashley Madison, and left her for his 20 year old girlfriend Kristen Baughess. Woods started dating Ashley Madison when she was only 19 years old. He has had a long history of being a lothario. He dated Heather Graham when they filmed Diggstown (1992) and she was only 21 at the time. Amber Tamblyn recently came out and stated that Woods tried to pick her up and her friend when they were only 16 and he is about 50 years their senior.
Despite such a controversial personal life which has been more publicized in recent weeks than usual, James Woods still has a very impressive acting resume under his belt. He has been a Hollywood A-lister since the mid-80’s and has not struggled to find good acting roles since The Way We Were (1973) opposite Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford. He has worked with some of the most iconic filmmakers of the past half century such as Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Sergio Leone, Oliver Stone, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, Sofia Coppola, and Robert Zemeckis. He is a member of Mensa, graduated from MIT and chose to pursue acting instead of being an eye surgeon. James Woods acting style and dictation are noticeably different then other American actors of his era. He does not follow the same method acting technique popularized by Marlon Brando. Instead of being another DeNiro, Pacino or Nicholson, James Woods never slurs his speech or talks slow. In fact he does the opposite, often playing eccentric, weaselly fast talking characters. That type of role became his trademark. Delivering lines at a rat-a-tat speed with wisecracks and almost always having a short fuse. His characters are usually quick to get angry but are sometimes endearing. He also does not have conventional Hollywood looks, with a narrow, pockmarked face, intense eyes, and has been willing to let his hair stay gray and belly hang over his waist for almost 20 years now.
In honor of James Woods announcing his retirement let us take a look at his five best performances. But after that, instead of looking at his five worst performances because his imdv filmography is filled with a bunch of roles most people probably have not seen and are not worth seeing, instead Pan and Slam is going to look at the top five times James Woods played James Woods. From looking at his body of work it really is surprising how many times he basically just played himself both intentionally and unintentionally.
The Top 5 James Woods Performances:
1. Videodrome (1983)
Long Live the New Flesh! One of the best sci-fi-fi/horror films of the 1980’s features the best lead performance from James Woods. He plays Max Renn, a sleazy TV programmer who runs a low brow Canadian cable network that specializes in smut, stumbles across a video that drives him mad and makes him question his own reality. What The Matrix (1999) did for computers, this film did for videotapes only instead of Kung Fu and slow motion gunplay. Videodrome gives us more dark, surreal and disturbing imagery including a gaping wound in James Woods, that looks more like a vagina than anything else. A lot of reaching in to that wound and pulling things out. It is body horror from the master of venereal terror. Videodrome is arguably David Cronenberg’s finest film and easily the best James Woods performance.
2. Salvador (1986)
His first of several collaborations with Oliver Stone. This actor/director pairing seems particularly bizarre since we know that Stone is a left-wing radical and Woods a staunch conservative. Regardless of their political beliefs they have made some great movies together and Salvador is another of James Woods’ best performances in a leading role. He plays real life photojournalist Richard Boyle, an American who got caught in a political uprising in El Salvador. It is based on the true story of his harrowing experience covering the events that lead a military regime taking over the government. Woods was nominated for Best Actor, his first of two Academy Award nominations and lost to Paul Newman in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money. There is no denying that Oscar although well deserved acted more as an achievement for Paul Newman’s career and Woods’ career was just revving up but Salvador remains one of the best performances from James Woods.
3. Casino (1995)
With all the recent controversy surrounding James Woods and his shady private life, many have referenced Martin Scorsese’s Casino as being one of his best roles. He plays Lester Diamond, Sharon Stone’s pimp who is both physically and emotionally abusive to her even after she marries Robert DeNiro’s wealthy casino boss. Some might argue that the sleaze ball he plays here renders very close to James Woods playing himself. That is possible, but this performance is dynamic and nuanced enough that even when he is being the biggest scumbag in a movie filled with degenerate characters Woods still has moments ever so slightly that make his pimp endearing. Although it is great when DeNiro’s men beat him up in the parking lot of a diner. He does his fast talking shtick that would become par for the course in James Woods roles as a lead or supporting actor. He just does his part so masterfully here and the entire cast around him is perfect, he is one of the many ingredients that make Casino such an essential work for everyone involved.
4. True Crime (1999)
One of the lesser known Clint Eastwood films that is often lost in the discussion of his directorial prowess, True Crime was released in March of 1999 to not much fanfare, critics were lukewarm and audiences ignored it. However, this is a supreme example of Eastwood tackling a topical issue, the death penalty, and doing it with riveting suspense while also developing interesting characters that the audience will care about. It is one of his most underrated movies from the 1990’s and assembled a cast that was both very much a Who’s Who of 90’s actors but they all were in superb form. Eastwood is a has-been investigative reporter who is an alcoholic and womanizer, Isaiah Washington as the death row inmate that Eastwood uncovers evidence that could prove his innocence, Denis Leary as his boss, Bernard Hill as the prison warden, Diane Venora as Eastwood’s suffering wife and James Woods as his fast talking colleague who steals a few office scenes that could have been banal with a lesser actor in the role. When the movie needs a jump start, James Woods is there to provide it. True Crime is one of Eastwood’s most interesting and left leaning portraits of justice. By the time the end credits role it is doubtful anyone will be in favor of capital punishment.
5. Nixon (1995)
Another Oliver Stone film and another terrific performance from James Woods as a real person. Woods plays Nixon’s Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman. He even has the ridiculous haircut to boot. Woods does his fast talking, no-nonsense shtick but with an added layer of deceit knowing that he is involved in the Watergate scandal. He says some despicable things about minorities and seems willing to do anything to pin the blame on a scapegoat that is not a Washington insider only this time with a shred of empathy making his interpretation of Haldeman a bit more human than one might expect.
The Top 5 Times James Woods Played Himself:
These are mostly for fun, but all play on James Woods’ greatest strength’s as an actor, his confidence and speaking style.
1. Dice (2017)
He has a great monologue on this show about his legacy and how he was getting paid $2 million for the Hamilton spoof, a James Monroe Musical with Woods as the President and Andrew Dice Clay as his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. The only problem is neither one can sing. That hilarious clip of a foul mouthed James Woods lecturing Dice was unavailable online, but instead here is a great clip of them somewhat reconciling after the Monroe debacle.
2. Family Guy (2005-2016)
James Woods is a big celebrity in Rhode Island. He lived there in his youth and many locals have stories of their ties to James Woods Since the Griffin’s live in the fictitious town of Quahog, Rhode Island they decided to name the High School after him. Woods has had a recurring role as himself on the show and gotten into a number of hijinks with Peter and the rest of the crew, sometimes wreaking havoc and other times being buddies. There have been a bunch of funny moments over the years involving James Woods, the clip below is probably his most well known moment from Family Guy.
3. The Simpsons (1994)
James Woods has a small but pivotal role in a classic Simpsons episode. It is one of the most memorable in the shows history. Homer gets Apu fired from the Kwik-E-Mart for serving him tainted food. The corporate suits are searching for Apu’s replacement when James Woods interviews because he wants to get into character for a movie where he plays a convenience store employee. Below is a compilation of all his moments from the episode and they are absolutely hilarious… Yes, yes, a movie, yes.
4. The Specialist (1994)
A semi-silly, very self-serious and ultra 90’s thriller. Sylvester Stallone tried to cash in on the mad bomber craze of 1994 after Speed and Blown Away. His movie The Specialist focused on showing off Miami as a great place to visit, or at the very least shoot a film, and also spent a lot of time showing off its stars bodies. Stallone and Sharon Stone are photographed to show off their physiques moving about slowly and speaking ridiculously slowly to each other. It is more distracting than erotic. This is the second movie from the mid-90’s with James Woods and Sharon Stone mentioned in this article. She was very much in demand at the time to play sexy seductresses and femme fatales, he was in demand to play sleazy villains. James Woods gets to keep his clothes on the whole time and prances around in a suit in his most unhinged and wily sleaze ball performance. He has made a career out of playing scumbags but this may be his most over the top villain. The audience can tell he is having fun playing this part and that in turn makes The Specialist more fun. Even more outlandish is Rod Steiger in this movie, but those scenes you can find on your own. Below is a great compilation of James Woods and all of his scenery chewing moments from The Specialist.
5. Any Given Sunday (1999)
Another Oliver Stone movie with James Woods as a football teams physician, but he is an evil doctor who will do unscrupulous things to keep the players on the field. Basically playing himself, a sleaze ball who dates cheerleaders at least half his age. The only difference is that he is a doctor. He delivers a great monologue in one of the films best scenes describing the players as gladiators of their time. Either they tailored the script to fit James Woods, or only James Woods could have played this part. Check out the scene below where he verbally spars with Al Pacino and Matthew Modine and eventually breaks down, allowing the audience to see a glimpse of his humanity. Sadly this scene is much more relevant today with the current state of the NFL than it was in 1999.