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Remembering M. Emmet Walsh

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Dying three days short of his 89th birthday, M. Emmet Walsh was one of the finest American character actors of the last five decades. Cinema Paradiso looks back.

'You're casting something, and you've got 12 problems,' M. Emmet Walsh once claimed. 'If they've got me, they've only got 11 problems.' It was as simple as that. Directors knew what they'd get when they hired this no nonsense actor and he never let them down. As critic Steve Persall noted in 2011, 'Walsh effortlessly makes the same old characters special, weirdos fun and extraordinary plots believable.' As Walsh admitted defiantly late on in his 55 year-career, 'They're not all Hamlet. But I'm not ashamed of any of it.'

From the Border to Broadway

Michael Emmet Walsh was born on 22 March 1935 in Ogdensburg, New York. Coming from Irish stock, he was named after Robert Emmet, who had paid with his life for leading the failed 1803 Rising against British rule. Father Harry, who had served as a machine gunner in the Great War, followed his father and brother by becoming a customs official on the border with Quebec. But he and wife Agnes set up home in Swanton, Vermont.

At the age of three, Walsh lost the hearing in his left ear followed a mastoid operation, but grew up to be sporty and academically gifted. On leaving Tilton School in New Hampshire, he earned a degree in Business Administration from Clarkson College of Technology in Potsdam, New York, where the dean informed him on leaving in 1958 that the school considered him one of its least-promising graduates in recent memory. Fortunately, Walsh had started acting in campus productions and decided to try his luck in the theatre after his faculty adviser had told him, 'Why wait to be 40 to wonder whether you should have been an actor? Get rid of it now, or find out!'

A still from Family Plot (1976)
A still from Family Plot (1976)

Although his mother didn't want him to enter such an insecure profession, father Harry had always nurtured an ambition to act and he encouraged his son to enrol at the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York. Among Walsh's classmates was William Devane, who would go on to appear in such notable pictures as Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot, John Schlesinger's Marathon Man (both 1976) and Yanks (1979), and Clint Eastwood's Space Cowboys (2000), all of which are available to rent from Cinema Paradiso.

Walsh felt he learned more from watching actors on Broadway than he did from his tutors and used to put on a suit and sneak into theatres during intervals, as no one checked the tickets of those returning from a crafty smoke. Although he missed the start of plays, he was less interested in the stories than stagecraft and picked up how to project the voice and move across the stage. 'I saw Annie Bancroft do The Miracle Worker with Patty Duke maybe 40 times!,' he confessed in one interview. Bancroft and Duke would go on to win Oscars for Arthur Penn's 1962 film version of William Gibson's play, while Walsh got to play the doorman of Bancroft's apartment in Melvin Frank's The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975).

According to Walsh, he was 'an empty disc' when it came to acting, as he had nothing to unlearn and could store up what he had gleaned from his theatre trips. He also reasoned that he could utilise the marketing techniques he had studied at Clarkson to give him an advantage at auditions. He would try to surprise casting directors by offering alternative readings of the text, knowing that this would leave an impression for the future even if it didn't land him that particular role. Walsh also signed up to lots of social and sporting groups in order to make contacts. In the process, he discovered a talent for tenpin bowling and softball, while also becoming a par golfer.

His fondness for a drink sometimes got him into trouble, however. He palled up with Jason Robards, Jr. - who would go on to win consecutive Best Supporting Oscars for Alan J. Pakula's All the President's Men (1976) and Fred Zinnemann's Julia (1977) - and was sneaking back into his apartment for a nightcap when he was attacked with a broom by his host's wife, Lauren Bacall, who had married Robards four years after the death of Humphrey Bogart in 1957 (they would divorce in 1969).

Starting out as a prop man at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania, Walsh spent the 1960s in off-Broadway productions and summer stock. Through one of his girlfriends, he landed an Esso commercial that led to the casting director introducing him to upcoming agent Don Buchwald, who helped him get better jobs. Around this time, he was forced to change his name in order to secure his Equity card. As there was already a Michael Walsh on the register, he dubbed himself M. Emmet Walsh, as he had always liked the sound of J. Carroll Naish, the character actor who had racked up 200-odd credits during the Golden Age of Hollywood and received Best Supporting nominations for Zoltán Korda's Sahara (1943) and Irving Pichel's A Medal For Benny (1945). Type his name into the Cinema Paradiso Searchline to discover more highlights from Naish's 45-year career.

With his new moniker in place, Walsh ventured into regional theatre in order to land bigger roles and this paid off when he made his television debut, as Jason Randall in several 1968 episodes of the soap opera, The Doctors. Back in New York, he made his Broadway bow in Don Petersen's Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?, alongside Hal Holbrook, Michael Landon, and Al Pacino, who made his name by winning the Tony Award for Best Dramatic Actor in a Supporting Role. Although largely forgotten today, the play also got Walsh noticed and he was cast in two major features, as Arlo Guthrie's excitable drill sergeant in Arthur Penn's Alice's Restaurant and as a bus passenger in John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy (both 1969), which became the first X-rated title to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Bobbing and Jobbing

Aware that his strength lay in creating characters rather than emitting star power, Walsh had no illusions about his prospects as an actor. 'It was obvious I wasn't going to do Shaw and Shakespeare and Molière, my speech was simply too bad,' he explained on Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast. 'People go and try to become the next Al Pacino or Meryl Streep, but they want something new, something different; they want you! So I had to figure out who I was and what I could do, that no one else could do.'

He considered acting to be a tennis match and quickly acquired such a reputation for reliable returns that performers knew they could trust him and rarely gave him a hard time. 'What makes it interesting for the audience is that I hit the ball and the other person returns the ball and you keep hitting it harder and harder and the heads go back and forth,' he explained. 'Whether it's Mr Redford or Pacino or Hackman, once they see that I'm there, they aren't going to let me win that tennis match. We hit the ball very hard. That's why I'm brought in. These guys get up and start hitting, and I hit, and suddenly you've got a scene that works.' As he later joked, those that tried to best him 'are in the unmarked part of the cemetery'.

A still from Escape
A still from Escape

Rooming with Devane, Walsh continued to work in theatre between occasional bits in films like Arthur Penn's Little Big Man (1970), Don Taylor's Escape From the Planet of the Apes, Anthony Harvey's They Might Be Giants (both 1971), and Peter Bogdanovich's What's Up, Doc? (1972). None of these characters had names, while roles like Warden Brodski in The Traveling Executioner (1970), Art in Cold Turkey (1971), and Mr Wendell in Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972) have pretty much been forgotten, even though the last was directed by Brian DePalma, who is the subject of one of Cinema Paradiso's Instant Expert's Guides.

In 1971, Walsh appeared in episodes of Bonanza (1959-73) and Ironside (1967-75) and later bits would follow in McMillan & Wife (1971-77), The Rockford Files (1974-80), The Waltons (1972-81), Baretta (1975-78), Starsky & Hutch (1975-79), Little House on the Prairie (1974-83), and The Twilight Zone (1985-89). Walsh also guested on shows fronted by Sandy Duncan, Don Rickles, Bob Newhart, and James Stewart. He also reunited with Al Pacino to play the corrupt Chief Gallagher in Sidney Lumet's gritty police procedural, Serpico (1973). Yet, despite such seeming breakthroughs, Walsh had to make do with unnamed bits in Karel Reisz's The Gambler (1974), Hal Ashby's Bound For Glory, and Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky (both 1976) when not cropping up respectively as Harold and Father Logan in the Peter Bogdanovich duo of At Long Last Love (1975) and Nickelodeon (1976), each of which really should be on disc, even if only for curio value, as neither was well received, but have cult followings.

Having joined the all-star cast as Dr Williams in Jerry Jameson's Airport '77, Walsh got his best notices to date as Dickie Dunn, the local reporter who is manipulated by Charleston Chiefs legend Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman) in George Roy Hill's ice hockey romp, Slap Shot (both 1977). He also caused a stir when starring with Dustin Hoffman in Ulu Grosbard's Straight Time (1978). At one point, Los Angeles thief Max Dembo lashes boorish parole officer Earl Frank to a freeway buffer and pulls down his pants to stop him escaping. As full-frontal male nudity carried an automatic X certificate at the time, Walsh was embarrassed when the censor took a look at his bits and decided they only warranted an R rating!

A still from Brubaker (1980)
A still from Brubaker (1980)

On a roll after USA Today critic Mike Clark deemed Frank 'a cesspool in a flowered shirt', Walsh made the most of the bit in Carl Reiner's The Jerk (1979) in which a crackpot sniper takes pot shots at garage attendant Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin) while yelling such taunts as, 'Die, milkface!' The same year saw him team with a couple of Harlem Globetrotters as Pittsburgh Pythons manager Wally Cantrell in Gilbert Moses's unjustly overlooked basketball comedy, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh. But it was in tandem with Robert Redford that Walsh demonstrated his widening range, as crooked lumber yard owner C.P. Woodward in Stuart Rosenberg's Brubaker and as Salan, the Lake Forest swimming coach who is often insensitive towards the troubled Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton) in Redford's directorial debut, Ordinary People (both 1980), which caused a major shock by pipping Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull to the Oscar for Best Picture.

The role of Master Chief Vinnie Walker allowed Walsh to hook up again with Jason Robards on Jerry Jameson's Raise the Titanic! (1980). But he was back down the cast beneath Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones in Martin Ritt's unfashionable Back Roads and was billed only as 'Speaker At Liberal Club' in Warren Beatty's Reds (both 1981). As he later joked, 'I did it because I wanted Warren to have the experience of working with me! I told him, "I want you to know I'm here, because Jack Warden's not always going to be available."' The cameo meant that Walsh had now appeared in three Best Picture winners. But it would be his last, as he started to attract bigger roles in smaller pictures.

Not that he was bothered. He was well paid for playing parts that intrigued him, while having none of the responsibility for carrying a picture. Indeed, he had little time for fame. 'That drive for stardom,' he shrugged, 'is like the greyhounds chasing the mechanical rabbit. By the time he catches him, he's too tired to run any more, and you've got to shoot him.'As a team player, Walsh recognised his role and took pride in it. 'My job,' he said in one interview, 'is to come in and move the story along. I'm a character man. The stars don't do the I come on with a Redford or Newman or Dustin or somebody, and I throw the ball to them, and they throw it back.' However, he was about to take a step up in class that would be the making of him.

The Character Man Cometh

According to IndieWire, Walsh was 'one of these actors who aged young and stayed looking pretty much the same age forever'. His paunchy, hangdog features and seedy sense of menace were so distinctive that he became the 'go to' actor for what the Washington Post called 'troubled everymen, crooked authority figures, sadists, intense weirdos and outright maniacs'.

Having essayed Mack, the boogie-woogie pianist in David S. Ward's adaptation of John Steinbeck's Cannery Row, and Fritz in Caleb Deschanel's The Escape Artist, Walsh landed one of his most iconic roles, as Captain Harry Bryant in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (all 1982). Adapted from Philip K. Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the action is set in Los Angeles in 2019 and Bryant invites Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) to his LAPD office in a bid to coax him out of retirement in order to hunt down maverick replicants. 'I need your magic,' he snarls, as they watch a video of Leon Kowalski (Brion James) shooting Dave Holden (Morgan Pauli) during a Voight-Kampff test

A still from Blade Runner (1982)
A still from Blade Runner (1982)

'We shot down in Union Station,' Walsh later recalled. 'They set it all up in a little office over in a corner, and we had to be out by five in the morning because commuters were coming in for the train. I don't know if I really understood what in the hell it was all about.' He did know, however, that the scene cost him his next job. Scott had asked the non-smoking Walsh to draw on a cigarette to add atmosphere, but he required so many set-ups that the actor started to feel sick. Exasperated after hours of retakes, Walsh cursed, 'Ridley should be hung by his balls off the ceiling and twisted from left to right.' Unfortunately, the remark was overheard by producer Alan Ladd, Jr., who felt that Walsh had overstepped the mark and withdrew the offer to play Michael Keaton's father-in-law in his next film.

The shenanigans didn't end there, however. Walsh knew Scott had been having problems during editing, but they became apparent at the cast and crew screening. 'We all sat there and it ended,' Walsh recalled 'And nothing. We didn't know what to say or to think or do! We didn't know what in the hell we had done! The only one who seemed to get it was Ridley.' As a consequence, Walsh was summoned back on several occasions during post-production to dub new dialogue. At the end of one looping session, he made a $10 bet with producer Bud Yorkin that he'd be back for more tweaking. A couple of months later, Walsh received an irate call from Scott demanding to know why he had told Yorkin that he refused to report for dubbing duty. Walsh reassured the director that there was no problem and arrived at the recording studio to find an envelope containing $10 waiting for him.

Walsh was demoted from captain to sergeant in playing Sanger in James B. Harris's prison drama, Fast-Walking (1982). But he was boosted to colonel as Crouse in Robert L. Rosen's desert survival actioner, Courage, before revelling in the role of black marketeer Jack Tucker, who hooks up with old army buddy, Colonel James Braddock (Chuck Norris), to release the POWs held by the Vietcong in Joseph Zito's Missing in Action (1984). In a busy year that saw him punching C. Thomas Howell for letting his car roll into a river in Randal Kleiser's Grandview, USA and run up against Little Italy hustlers Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts in Stuart Rosenberg's The Pope of Greenwich Village, Walsh even went to London to play Simon Reynolds opposite John Gielgud, Pamela Stephenson, and Jim Dale in Rob Cohen's overlooked crime caper, Scandalous. But one role from 1984 stood out above all the others.

A still from Blood Simple (1984)
A still from Blood Simple (1984)

The script arrived in 1982, while Walsh was in Oklahoma playing Walt Yarborough, the boss of the Kerr-McGee Cimarron Fuel Fabrication Site in Mike Nichols's biopic, Silkwood (1983). As the shoot was approaching a three-week break, Walsh decided to head to Austin, Texas to help out the kids who were trying to make a movie on a shoestring. They were Joel and Ethan Coen and the picture was their debut, Blood Simple (1984). Walsh was cast as Loren Visser, the seethingly nasty private detective who is hired by Texas roadhouse owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) to liquidate his cheating wife, Abby (Frances McDormand), and her bartender lover, Ray (John Getz). This character was also a smoker, but Walsh took up a make-up girl's offer to blow the smoke rings for him and he later found her throwing up behind the set.

As the neo-noir storyline took its title from Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest (1929), Walsh thought back to Sydney Greenstreet in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941) and played Visser as a morally bankrupt cynic with a sneering drawl and a cruel smile that were made all the more memorable by a ten-gallon hat and the mustard leisure suit clinging to his sweatily lugubrious body. In her New Yorker review, Pauline Kael opined, 'Walsh lays on the loathsomeness, but he gives it a little twirl - a sportiness...His broad buffoonery helps to ground the picture, to keep it jaundiced and low-down.'

He was rewarded with the inaugural Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead and a cameo in Raising Arizona (1987), as Machine Shop Ear-Bender, who pops bubblegum while telling fellow prisoner Nicolas Cage about coming across a friend's severed head at the scene of a car crash: 'There's this spherical object a-restin' in the highway. And it's not a piece of the car.'

'Suddenly my price went up,' Walsh recalled, 'and everybody wanted me.' A rush of roles followed, rarely amounting to more than a few minutes of screen time in each picture. He was eager proctologist Dr Joseph Dolan probing Chevy Chase in Michael Ritchie's Fletch (1985); Walt Coes making life difficult for Goldie Hawn's aspiring gridiron coach in the same director's Wildcats; Sheriff Harv dealing with the alien Krites invading his small Kansas town in Stephen Herek's Critters; Sarge in John Korty's military funeral drama, Resting Place; Charlie in Roger Spottiswoode's eccentric buddy comedy, The Best of Times; diving coach Turnbull in Alan Metter's Rodney Dangerfield romp, Back to School (all 1986); John Lithgow's father, George Henderson, Sr. in William Dear's Bigfoot comedy, Harry and the Hendersons; and Captain Haun in Peter Werner's car theft thriller, No Man's Land (both 1987).

Reuniting with Robert Redford (with whom he had played softball in the 1960s), Walsh played the Governor of New Mexico in The Milagro Beanfield War. In a rare compassionate turn, he drew on his experiences of recovering from alcoholism to play counsellor Richard Dirk in Glenn Gordon Caron's Clean and Sober, which is unfortunately out of Cinema Paradiso's reach at the present time. As is Franc Roddam's War Party (all 1988), in which Walsh's Colin Ditweiler is caught up in a US Cavalry re-enactment brouhaha.

However, there are plenty of Walsh supporting masterclasses to choose from. He snarls with corrupt contempt for Wyatt Earp (James Garner) and Tom Mix (Bruce Willis) as Marvin Dibner, the chief of a 1920s Hollywood studio police force in Blake Edwards's highly entertaining Sunset (1988), while he has to leap into a pond in order to evade capture as journalist Dewey Ferguson alongside Dolph Lundgren's Ukrainian Spetsnaz operative in Joseph Zito's Red Scorpion. As CIA agent Fred Miller, he tries to impede Caribbean police chief Denzel Washington's investigation in Carl Schenkel's The Mighty Quinn, while his Johnny Phatmum hovers around the illegal car racing circuit in Stephen Sommers's Catch Me If You Can (all 1989). He was also Morris in Mick Jackson's Chattahoochee, Wedge in David Mitchell's Thunderground, and Mort Bisby in Anthony Hickox's Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (all 1989), with the latter seeing him casually decapitating an intruder on the land he shares with brothers Bert Remsen and Sunshine Parker. As folks were beginning to learn, you didn't mess with M. Emmet Walsh.

Scene-Stealer General

It wasn't often that Walsh shared a cast list with equally esteemed character actor J.T. Walsh. But they played murdered lawyer Michael Tarlow (J.T.) and Dominick Benti (M.E.), the detective sergeant investigating the case and trying to help Deputy District Attorney Robert Caulfield (Gene Hackman) get witness Carol Hunnicutt (Anne Archer) to court, in Peter Hyams's Narrow Margin (1990). The same year saw Walsh narrate Ken Burns's documentary, The American Civil War, and he would team with him again on Baseball (1994). Also on the small screen, he guested in episodes of Home Improvement (1991-99), The X-Files (1993-2002), NYPD Blue (1993-2003), Frasier (1993-2004), and The Outer Limits (1995-2002), while also doing voice work on What's New, Scooby-Doo? (2002-06), Pound Puppies (2010-13), and Adventure Time (2010-18).

A still from The Music of Chance (1993)
A still from The Music of Chance (1993)

After a year away from films, Walsh doubled up as Garcia and Gesundheim in Nico Mastoraki's The Naked Truth before going on to play Senator John Kane in David Winning's gritty thriller, Killer Image, Mayor Thornbush in Piers Haggard's Four Eyes and Six Guns, forensic pathologist Bert Gibson in Roger Donaldson's White Sands, and Pete Petosa, the father of the identical twins essayed by Matthew Modine in Alan Rudolph's Equinox (all 1992). Returning to the right side of the law as Sheriff Bob Brody in Duane Clark's Bitter Harvest, Walsh played fire station foreman Calvin Murks seeking to protect wealthy firefighter Mandy Patinkin from James Spaader's drifting gambler in Philip Haas's The Music of Chance (both 1993).

By a quirk of fate, Walsh was cast as another fire chief in Glenn Gordon Caron's Wilder Napalm (1993). He remained in uniform as Sergeant Miller Hoskins in Douglas Barr's Dead Badge, which has rather slipped from view, along with Walsh's performances as Earl Ladelle in George Mihalka's Relative Fear, T.R. Polk in Jonathan Prince's Camp Nowhere, and Captain Ted Corbett in Michael Ritchie's Cops & Robbersons (all 1994). The standout turn in another busy year saw Los Angeles Sheriff's Department detectives Jesse Hall (Walsh) and Gene Baker (Michael Ironside) victimise Black rookie J.J. Johnson (Michael Boatman) in Charles Burnett's The Glass Shield.

As Walsh preferred to keep active rather than wait for plum roles to land in his lap, a number of his credits from this period are unavailable to rent, including Dave Payne's Criminal Hearts, Mario Van Peebles's Panther (both 1995), Kevin Crooke's The Killing Jar (1997), Alex Zamm's Chairman of the Board, Harry Bromley Davenport's Erasable You (both 1998), Melissa Behr and Sherrie Rose's Me and Will, and Serge Rodnunsky's Jack of Hearts (both 1999).

Cinema Paradiso members can catch Walsh in a typically eclectic selection of pictures that rounded off his third decade in showbiz. Having teamed with Jon Tenney to play hissable whale thieves Bill Wilcox and John Milner in Dwight Little's Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home (1995), he played the owner of Dino's Last Chance bar in Kevin Spacey's crime drama, Albino Alligator, before appearing uncredited as Matthew McConaughey's psychiatrist, Dr Willard Tyrell Bass, in Joel Schumacher's adaptation of John Grisham's A Time to Kill. He also fulfilled a long-held wish when he popped up as the Apothecary in Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (all 1996).

In 1997, Walsh made a rare excursion into the realm of science fiction as James Belushi's gossiping friend, Sam, in Louis Morneau's Retroactive. He followed this with a delightful display as Joe O'Neal, the father of groom Dermot Mulroney, who tries to persuade him to pick Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts) as his best man in P.J. Hogan's My Best Friend's Wedding. However, he tries to break up a happy home, as blackmailer Lester Ivar in Robert Benton's neo-noir, Twilight (1998), and winds up in a confrontation with private detective Harry Ross (Paul Newman) when he makes a delivery on behalf of Jack and Catherine Ames (Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon).

Look closely between watching cop Harrison Ford and congresswoman Kristin Scott Thomas regretting the affair between their spouses in Sydney Pollack's Random Hearts and you'll spot an uncredited Walsh as Billy. You won't see him at all in Brad Bird's The Iron Giant, but you can hear him voicing Earl Stutz, the sailor who is the first to see the 50ft alien who has crash-landed off the coast of Maine in 1957. But the most notable occurrence of 1999 came when he played Train Engineer Coleman in Barry Sonnenfeld's Wild Wild West. Esteemed critic Roger Ebert had promulgated The Stanton-Walsh Rule, which decreed that, 'No movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.' However, Ebert had to admit that not even Walsh could save this unloved revival of a popular 1960s TV show that paired Will Smith and Kevin Kline as US Army Captain James T. West and US Marshall Artemus Gordon. For the record, the only film in which Walsh and Stanton appeared together was Straight Time, although they didn't share a scene.

The Old Dependable

By the turn of the millennium, Walsh was one of the most respected character actors in Hollywood. Roger Ebert called him 'the poet of sleaze'. But, while he specialised in antagonism, Walsh rarely played villains as plain baddies, as he felt they would be too dull without a spark of humanity. He also had no interest in stealing the limelight. 'I'm driving the movie forward,' he explained. 'They don't want an Emmet Walsh, they want a bus driver, they want a cop...I just try to sublimate myself and get in there and do it.'

As he told one reporter: 'I have more fun playing 10 different people than I do playing the same person 10 different times. One time it's a garbage collector, and the next time it's the president of Princeton. Princeton's not too happy, sometimes, but I have a good time finding out what I can get away with.' While Walsh expected to be taken seriously, he didn't consider himself a star. 'I'm content without having to get on the Johnny Carson show every other night,' he said, 'to say how wonderful I am. I'm a low-profile guy.' Living alone in rural Vermont (not far from where he had been brought up), he also took nothing for granted, approaching 'each job thinking it might be my last, so it better be the best work possible. I want to be remembered as a working actor. I'm being paid for what I'd do for nothing.'

A still from Snow Dogs (2002)
A still from Snow Dogs (2002)

In 2000, he found himself in Sunrise, Illinois to play the crustily outspoken Judge Pike in Michael Addis's trailer park comedy, Poor White Trash before Disney lured him to Tolketna, Alaska in order to fly a small plane as the eye patch-wearing George Murphy in Brian Levant's sled race adventure, Snow Dogs (2002). Either side of this, Walsh got into the festive spirit, as Stu O'Malley in Kate Montgomery's ski resort comedy, Christmas in the Clouds (2001), and as obnoxious neighbour Walt Scheel, who takes exception to Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis deciding to skip the holidays because their daughter is away in Joe Roth's Christmas With the Kranks (2004).

Walsh continued to act on stage during this period and was feted by the British press for his performance as Grandpa Dodge in the National Theatre's 2004 revival of Sam Shepard's Buried Child. But variety was always the spice of Walsh's life and he also played Chicago newspaper editor Randall Evans in seven episodes of the sitcom, The Mind of the Married Man (2001-02), and Sandy Westphall, the old man who goes in search of his school sweetheart while trying to repair bridges with his family in Evan Aaronson's Baggage (2003). Neither this nor Lee Shallat Chemel's Vermont rite of passage, Greener Mountains (2005) - in which Walsh plays Muggs - are available on disc. But Cinema Paradiso can bring you Walsh voicing Woodzie, the gambler who encourages a circus zebra to follow his dream of becoming a race horse in Frederik Du Chau's animation, Racing Stripes (2005).

In 2007, Walsh joined Christopher Plummer and Robert Wagner in Michael Schroeder's Man in the Chair, which saw onetime script doctor Mickey Hopkins help an aspiring teenage director make showreel for a film school competition. The same year also brought the role of hapless lawyer Lew Popper in Rob Schneider's prison comedy, Big Stan. But Walsh spent the next couple of years making indie pictures that didn't travel very widely. Consequently, we can't see him playing Hoyt in Craig Saavedra's Sherman's Way, Kroger in Matthew Wilder's Your Name Here (both 2008), Samuel in Jake Goldberger's Moment of Truth, Chief Van Owen in Tom Whitus's Sam Steele and the Junior Detective Agency (both 2009), Mr Beudreaux in Timothy J. Nelson's The Assignment, Chuck Ireland in Gregory J. Lanesey's Chasing 3000 (both 2010), or Ed in Christian Charles's Love Sick Love (2012).

You can catch him, however, as Neil, helping Sean Young with a case of domestic possession, in Harry Bromley Davenport's chiller, Haunted Echoes (2008), as well as Mr Saunders, the father of the girl of Michael Cera's dreams in Miguel Arteta's Youth in Revolt (2009). Also available to rent are Dante Ariola's Arthur & Mike, in which Walsh plays Zazek opposite Colin Firth and Emily Blunt, and Peter Hedges's The Odd Life of Timothy Green (both 2012), a Disney comedy in which Walsh and Lois Smith play Uncle Bub and Aunt Mel during the family picnic at which niece Jennifer Garner introduces her magical adopted son, CJ Adams.

Brendan Gleeson dominates John Michael McDonagh's Calvary (2014), as a County Sligo priest facing a crisis. But Walsh makes a poignant contribution as the ex-pat American author who is contemplating suicide before he loses his mind. In a complete change of tack, he cropped up as Gorak, the supplier of a much sought after map of the Tugarin Forest and a palace that is guarded by a dragon in Mike Elliott's The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power (2015). But, while his TV appearances in Damages (2007-12), Empire (2015-20), and Sneaky Pete (2015-19) are on offer from Cinema Paradiso, we can't help with a frustrating number of Walsh's later big-screen performances. As before, his readiness to help indie directors means he took roles in such little-seen items as Omar Ashmawey's Boiling Pot (2015), Jason Winn's Shifting Gears, Diane Dreyer's Change in the Air (both 2018), Bruce Dellis's Raising Buchanan, J.J. Englert's Faith, Hope & Love (both 2019), Thomas F. Mazziotti's The Mimic (2020), Michael Maren's A Little White Lie, Adam Saunders's Dotty & Soul, and Mukunda Michael Dewil's The Immaculate Room (all 2022).

In 2018, Walsh was inducted into the Character Actor Hall of Fame by Harrison Ford and promptly received the body's Lifetime Achievement Award. But, such was his commitment to emerging talent that he made several shorts in his later years, while also guesting in shows like The Righteous Gemstones (2019-) and American Gigolo (2022-). However, he remained in demand for major productions like Rian Johnson's Knives Out (2019), in which he played Mr Proofroc, a security guard at the estate of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), whose murder is investigated by maverick detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Johnson recalled, 'Emmet came to the set with two things: a copy of his credits, which was a small type single spaced double column list of modern classics that filled a whole page, and two dollar bills which he passed out to the entire crew. "Don't spend it and you'll never be broke".'

A still from A Little White Lie (2023)
A still from A Little White Lie (2023)

We have hopes that we'll soon be able to bring you Walsh's final roles, as Catfish in Mario Van Peebles's Western sequel, Outlaw Posse, and as Scotty in Anders Lindwall's God Loves the Green Bay Packers (both 2024), which was still in post-production when Walsh suffered a fatal cardiac arrest at Northwestern Medical Centre in St Albans, Vermont, on 19 March 2024. He leaves a hole in American cinema that will never be filled. But he also bequeaths a legacy that will instruct and inspire anyone interested in the underrated art of character acting.

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