The Uncut Gems of Eric Bogosian
Rediscovering the raw talent of the writer, actor, and our board member Eric Bogosian
September 16, 2020 | by Maryam Israelyan
Known for his lightning wit and daring, Eric Bogosian is the master of modern monologue. Back in the 1980s, he took stages and audiences by storm with his Men Inside, Talk Radio, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, Drinking in America, and many other self-written performances. And while the theatre was where he started, it is far from being the only art he commanded.
Throughout his career, Eric Bogosian worked on a number of award-winning plays, produced a New York City Ballet documentary, wrote fictional stories, published a non-fiction book, Operation Nemesis, and of course, played some of the most iconic characters of our time. The Bogosian we find on the big screen and our little devices is no less compelling. His most recent film, Uncut Gems, made it into every best movie list of 2020, reminding the world of his inexhaustible talent. And while his every career – as a stage performer, writer, and producer – deserves an article of its own, today we will time-travel through five decades of remarkable performances by Eric Bogosian, the film and TV actor.
2020s – Arno Moradian in Uncut Gems
The decade has just started but Eric Bogosian has already captured everyone’s attention with his new role. Uncut Gems is everything one wants from a 2-hour-long movie — unpredictable plot, immersive setting, a sprinkle of human drama, and realistic characters, one of whom is Arno Moradian, portrayed by Eric Bogosian.
The story revolves around a gambling addict and Jewish American jeweler Howard Ratner, played by Adam Sandler, who has been borrowing so much money from everyone he knows that his life has turned into a never-ending hide-and-seek. Eric Bogosian plays Arno, his brother-in-law, who lends Howard $100,000 and now is up to everything to get the money back.
Transformed to unrecognizable, Bogosian’s Arno is twisted and dark. His character is despicable, cold-blooded but also, strangely enough, easy to empathize with. Fully absorbed in Arno’s character, Bogosian delivers a performance full of emotional turmoil that keeps the viewers on the edge of their seats.
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2010s – Gil Eavis in Succession
In the 2010s, Bogosian’s characters, even the small ones, showcased his versatility as an artist. From obnoxious Lawrence Boyd on Billions to righteous Nelson Dubeck in The Good Wife. One of the most interesting characters he brought to life during that era was Gil Eavis from the TV show Succession.
Remember family dramas? Succession is one of them; only the family is the biggest media and entertainment conglomerate in the world. HBO’s drama revolves around the aging Logan Roy and his four children, who are figuring out the future of the company. In only two seasons, the series earned itself a cult-like fan base. Its sharp writing and dark sense of humor deliver a story about a dysfunctional family that people can relate to.
Eric Bogosian’s character, Gil Eavis, is the US Democratic Senator. With his appearance, political views, and manners, he recalls the well-discussed Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders. But despite the apparent similarities, Gil is nonetheless a different character. The actor admitted that when preparing for the role he studied Sanders a little but ultimately chose to take his character in a different direction. Gil is committed and passionate about his cause on the surface but tired and almost indifferent underneath. His masterful dichotomic portrait which is part of many political figures — and, let’s be honest, people overall — is why the character is so grounded and real.
2000s – Danny Ross in Law & Order: Criminal Intent
From Ruben in Ararat to Alan Caulfield in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, in the 2000s Bogosian portrayed a great variety of interesting characters. But it is impossible to talk about Eric Bogosian’s career of that period without bringing up Danny Ross, the role that made him a household name for a wide audience.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent tells a story of investigations of the Major Case Squad in the fictionalized version of the New York City Police Department. The police procedural drama that has been on people’s screen for ten years has confidently secured its place among the most iconic shows in the history of TV.
In Law & Order: Criminal Intent Eric Bogosian portrays Captain Danny Ross. He plays a hands-on and practical policeman, who does not shrug off his duties and often goes into the field himself. Practical, traditional, and protective, his character is the grounding force of the show that tones down chaos and brings things back to their place. The quick-witted and responsible personality makes Danny Ross the major force behind the show's appeal in the few seasons he is present. So much so that – spoilers alert – many people think that the death of his character is one of the most tragic moments in the series.
1990s – Various Characters in Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll
In the 1990s, the artist worked with some of the most iconic directors, including Woody Allen, Terry George, and Taylor Hackford. He later admitted that these roles taught him the most about acting on screen.
But the role that defined his screen career of that decade – or rather 10 different roles in one – is his performance in Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll. This one-man stage movie, based on the one-man stage show of the same name, written and played by Bogosian himself, took audiences on an emotional rollercoaster. Not only the show did demonstrate the mastery of the artist’s comedic and crisp writing but also his maddening talent as an actor.
In short sketches, Eric Bogosian portrays personalities he encounters on the streets of America, borrowing their accents and inhaling their personalities. From social outcasts to the ones on the top of the social hierarchy, he finds something spiteful about each one of those fictional personas and brings them onto the screen for your amusement. His caricatures end up being as funny as they are tragic and as relatable as they are foreign. It’s a performance that leaves the viewer satisfied and yet craving more.
1980s – Barry Champlain in Talk Radio
The 1980s were a time of experimentation for Eric Bogosian on stage and on-screen. His most famous role of the time is Barry Champlain in Talk Radio.
The movie, directed by Oliver Stone, does not only star Eric Bogosian but is also based on a Pulitzer Prize-nominated play, written by Bogosian himself. The film follows Barry Champlain, a Jewish radio host in Dallas, Texas with a dark sense of humor, condescending manner of speech, and controversial political views.
Angry, cynical, and depressing Talk Radio is often referred to by people as an underrated classic. Politically charged speeches, polarizing views, self-indulgent commentaries are all materials explored by the film, many of them ringing true even today. Now, when everyone can have a “radio show,” dishonesty and hypocrisy are put under a magnifying glass.
Considering how much of the movie is about the main character, the performance of the actor is what made the movie so iconic and Bogosian delivers truly heartfelt performances. Many people consider his brilliant monologue, full of anger and spite, one of the greatest in the history of cinema. And it is easy to see why. Even though years have passed, the words of Barry Champlain brilliantly acted out by Eric Bogosian ring true. His rant and spiral down into madness give you shivers, make you self-conscious about your decisions, despite how self-loathing and at times irrational Barry Champlain is. As put by the actor himself, “When I found this character who was a talk jock, I just felt, “This guy's too good. This guy has the possibility to be a kaleidoscope of many things that will allow me to go exploring in my own self.” And everyone can indeed see themselves in this intricate and masterfully crafted personality.