For every chiseled, dreamboat leading man there are precisely a bajillion bit players who routinely (but spectacularly) take one for the team. These talented actors sacrifice personal affectation, appearance, and possibly on-set hygiene to add stakes and personality to what you’re watching. They contrast the hero for an extra pop; and yin to the hero’s yang. Moviegoers and A-listers have them to thank… but not often enough!
Sadly for actor Billy Drago, he lived faster than I could tell you all about how much fun he was. Last June he passed away of a stroke. His son Darren E. Burrows is also an actor, and has appeared in similar roles like the X-Files and Cry-Baby with Johnny Depp and John Waters. Today we’ll be remembering Mr. Drago and hopefully once we’re done you too will be equipped with all of the tools to spot a wild Billy Drago in his natural habitat: Depicting complete weirdos with an all too natural and individual flair.
Now, in his early days of tearing it up in Clint Eastwood movies Drago was actually pretty handsome, but maybe in a sort of alternatively beautiful way that modern audiences seem to appreciate more now in actors like Cumberbatch. For most of the roles I’ll be showcasing here though, I’d characterize him by the wisdom of his white hair worn confidently, his sunken eyes, his vampire teeth, and his waxy, glistening skin that looked like if old butter could be an alcoholic. So what do you do when your halcyon days of playing dashing rogues and sinister roadies are winnowed away? You save the production’s makeup money by using your real damn face to play the best vampires and bar none.
My first exposure to Billy Drago was a great episode of the X-Files called “Theef” (s7e14) in which he plays a cajun voodoo houngan necromancer serial killer who does his darndest to make Scully retire. It was a Gilligan script where Billy Drago preys on a surgeon’s family as revenge for failing to save his daughter’s life with medicine rather than more homeopathic methods like dried newts. In the end the role fit like a glove because, even while kidnapping Scully, the tenderness of his generally understated approach made the vengeance angle 1000% believable as X-Files outings go.
When you’re done with Carpenter’s They Live and you want some more Rowdy Roddy Piper in your life, Sci-Fighters is waiting to be discovered along with a complementary side of Billy Drago. The setting is 2009 in far-flung future Boston where detective Roddy Piper must track down Billy Drago, an alien disease infected ghoul man recently escaped from moon jail. It’s simply adorable.
To round out the sample plate and overextend my food metaphor there’s Vamp which was smack dab in the middle of the innocent 80’s movie renaissance. It also features Grace Jones doing her thing as a vampire stripper and Drago back again looking a bit like a melted Tilda Swinton. That said, Grace apparently threw parties every day of shooting and he even shared a champagne filled bathtub with her.
Unfortunately I haven’t seen The Untouchables yet which from what I gather is solid aside from being the high water mark of Drago’s whole career but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it a ton. That said, I really can’t plumb each actor’s entire oeuvre each time I want to share observations about them. I guess the last thing I want to say is if someone who knew him reads this we are, if nothing else, proof that he was a pretty cool guy who left a lot of positive memories behind.
As an aside: I just saw the new Spider-Man in theaters by myself and my third eye really opened. Not because the movie was a good time but because going to movies alone lets the experience be completely undemocratized. I chose the time I wanted, left moments later, I went on a Tuesday night for the $5 ticket price, and I didn’t even have to pretend to be too busy to watch the post credits scene. Well one of them at least, there were probably several. I also didn’t feel like a weird loner. I just felt like a grown-ass adult. (Felt like it.)
Underpromise and overdeliver, that’s what my new motto round these here parts should be. I really was excited to make this blog but I flustered myself with ideas. I really like the concept of formally introducing the actors who always elicit an “Oh yeah! It’s them!”
Especially this one, because there are many character actors I’d love to present to you. Like Patrick Fischler, and hopefully I won’t be half eulogizing him as well. I may revisit this idea.