“The whole film evolved on a very organic level. It almost had a documentary feel to it. It wasn’t odd to be in the lead. I took the same approach as I would to any other part. I play myself as totally as I possibly can. My own Harry Dean Stanton act... I don't know whatever happened to Travis. I’d say...it’s me still searching for liberation, or enlightenment, for lack of a better way to put it, and realizing that it might happen, it might not.” Harry Dean Stanton on his role in Paris, Texas (1984)
A productive character actor with a drooping, weather-beaten appearance and excellent acting talent that have been his ticket to appearing in over 100 films, and 50 television episodes, Harry Dean Stanton spent the first 25 years of his career concentrating on playing interlopers, heavies and psychotics. Then, in 1984, he had the distinguished leading role of Travis, a broken man trying to rekindle his life, in director Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, a performance that won the actor a British Film Critics Award. The same year, he further gained a good reputation with his role in the cult classic Repo Man. Now recognized as one of the premiere character players of the American screen, Stanton’s more recent credits include Wild at Heart (1990), Never Talk to Strangers (1995), She’s So Lovely (1997), The Mighty (1998), The Green Mile (1999), The Man Who Cried (2000), The Pledge (2001), The Big Bounce (2004), The Wendell Baker Story (2005), Alpha Dog (2006) and The Good Life (2007). On the small screen, the supporting actor is probably best known as Roman Grant on the Bill Paxton vehicle “Big Love” (HBO, 2006-?), which is a series about polygamy.
Off camera, Stanton was the victim of a home attack robbery in January 1996 when thieves broke into his home, tied him up in the bedroom and hit him in the face with a pistol. The goons ran away with electronic goods and his 1995 Lexus, which was set with a GPS tracking device. After two hours, the police found the car and arrested two of four thieves. The two others were later found and accused of smaller charges. Stanton is a favorite of movie critic Roger Ebert, who has stated that “no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.” Albert, however, later confessed that 1989’s Dream a Little Dream, where Stanton appeared, was a “clear contravention” of this rule. As for his romantic life, Stanton was once linked to actress Rebecca De Mornay.
WW II Veteran
Childhood and Family:
In West Irvine, Kentucky, Harry Dean Stanton was born on July 14, 1926. He is the son of Ersel and Sheridan Harry Stanton, who split up when Harry was in high school. He had two younger brothers, Archie and Ralph.
After his military service during World War II, Harry enrolled at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky, where he studied journalism and radio arts. He dropped out after three years. He then attended the celebrated Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, California.
A veteran of World War II, Harry Dean Stanton decided to pursue a career in acting after starring in a college production of “Pygmalion” at the University of Kentucky. He then left his journalism and radio arts studies and headed to California, where he honed in on his craft at the famed Pasadena Playhouse. Stanton joined the American Male Chorus and toured around the US before settling briefly in New York to work with Strawbridge Children’s Theatre. Upon returning to California, he tried his luck in Hollywood.
Soon after arriving in L.A, Stanton made his motion picture debut in 1957’s Western Tomahawk Trail, and the next year, portrayed a villain, opposite Alan Ladd, in The Proud Rebel. He then successfully played many criminal roles for the next ten years. After acting in an unsold pilot for CBS in 1966, Stanton played a criminal in the Paul Newman starring vehicle Cool Hand Luke (1967), appeared with Clint Eastwood in the war movie Kelly’s Heroes (1970) and was cast as Homer, a thug shot by “Dillinger” (1973). He went on to increase his profile by appearing in such movies as the Francis Ford Coppola-directed The Godfather: Part II (1974), where he played an FBI agent protecting Michael V Gazzo, and Ridley Scott’s sci-fi thriller Alien (1979). Also in 1979, he displayed his musical talent again by playing an older country-western singer in The Rose and was seen in the CBS Flatbed Annie & Sweetpie: Lady Truckers, costarring Annie Potts.
Following performances in such movies as The Black Marble (1980), Private Benjamin (1980), Escape from New York (1981), Young Doctors in Love (1982) and John Carpenter’s Christine (1983), Stanton delivered what would become his finest role to date in the touching Paris, Texas (1984). Under the direction of Wim Wenders, he brilliantly starred as Travis, a man attempting to put his life back together and reunite with his alienated family, and won a British Film Critics for Best Actor. A favorite of the art film crowd, Stanton cemented his status among the hipsters that same year with the Alex Cox cult classic Repo Man, playing a veteran repo man opposite Emilio Estevez. Also in 1984, he played the father of Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze in Red Dawn. Stanton next could be seen as a bad-tempered old man in Robert Altman’s big screen adaptation of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love (1985), as an adorably shameless, chronically jobless man, opposite Molly Ringwald, in Pretty in Pink (1986) and Saul/Paul in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).
From 1990-1996, Stanton kept busy by taking on roles in a variety of films. He was cast as sensitive and unlucky private investigator Johnnie Farragut in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990), rejoined Lynch for a starring role in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), played the serial killer Max Cheski in Never Talk to Strangers (1995), costarred with Kelsey Grammar in Down Periscope (1996) and had a supporting role in the George Hamilton thriller Playback (1996). Meanwhile, on television, he had a lead role in the HBO original film Hostages (1993), portrayed Kyle MacLachlan’s dad in Against the Wall (1994) and starred as Shadrach on the ABC miniseries “Larry McMurtry’s ‘Dead Man’s Walk’” (1996). Unstoppable, even after becoming the victim of a home invasion burglary, the actor undertook the role of Sean Penn’s best friend in Nick Cassavettes’ She’s So Lovely (1997), supported Damian Chapa in Midnight Blue (1997) and teamed up with Steven Seagal in Fire Down Below (1997. He then offered an earnest portrayal as the grandfather of a large and learning disabled teen boy (Elden Henson) in The Mighty (1998). After the movie version of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), he rounded out the decade by appearing in David Lynch’s low-key, G-rated drama The Straight Story (1999) and director Frank Darabont’s The Green Mile (1999), starring Tom Hanks.
Kicking off the new millennium, the talented character actor was cast as the cool manager of an opera company in the flamboyant and often exaggerated period drama The Man Who Cried (2000) and had a small part, opposite Michael Vartan, in Sand (2000). He appeared with Jack Nicholson in director Sean Penn’s The Pledge (2001), played a troublemaker thief and gambler in Nicholas Cage’s terrible directorial debut Sonny (2002), and in 2004, he had small roles in the unsuccessful films Chrystal and The Big Bounce. Back to television, Stanton appeared as himself in an episode of the CBS hit comedy “Two and A Half Men” (2004) before landing a regular supporting role on HBO’s “Big Love” (2006-?), as Roman Grant, the strict head of a fundamentalist commune in Mormon Utah. The show centers on a polygamist (Bill Paxton) and his relationship with his three wives.
Stanton then appeared in The Wendell Baker Story (2005), Alpha Dog (2006), Alien Autopsy (2006) and Inland Empire (2006). More recently, he played Gus in writer-director Stephen Berra’s The Good Life, which was screened at the Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2007. Among his costars in the comedy/drama were Mark Webber and Zooey Deschanel.