There have been many wonderful Torn performances down through the years, from his Tony-nominated early role as a sadistic young ne’er-do-well in Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, to his turn as a cynical scientist confident of David Bowie’s humanoid alien in The Man Who Fell To Earth, to his unforgettable cantankerous producer persona on The Larry Sanders Show (not to mention scene-stealing parts in Men in Black and Dodgeball).
My own personal favorite Rip Torn performance, however, is from Curtis Hanson’s 2000 adaptation of Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys in which Torn plays Q, the bombastically successful (and maddeningly prolific) foil to Michael Douglas’ blocked novelist/rumpled creative writing professor protagonist, Grady Tripp. Every scene Torn is in is a joy, whether he’s cramming his hulking, overcoated frame into the back seat of Tripp’s jalopy or sweatily dancing with/blowing hot air at Tripp’s female grad students. Q is a big pompous ass of a author, the kind who might turn up to give the keynote address at a college’s literary festival and pontificate to the aspiring-writer crowd about getting from “the water’s edge of inspiration to the far shore of accomplishment,” which he duly does.
Indeed, despite its brevity, the way Torn delivers the opening line of this address (and the rapturous applause that follows) may well be my favorite depiction of a successful male author ever committed to celluloid.