Friday, April 12

The Real Deal: Tom Sizemore (1961-2023) | Tributes

Sizemore got the acting bug young, when he saw “Beckett,” with Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, and then a few years later, “Taxi Driver”. Robert DeNiro became his icon, the ideal to which he would forever aspire. Indeed, it can be useful to think of Sizemore as the culmination of the outsized nature of O’Toole’s Henry the 2nd, the lacerating interiority of Burton’s Becket, and the smoldering confusion and self-loathing of DeNiro’s Travis Bickle. He could be a terrifying enigma or a chummy menace, slapping you on the back just before the knife goes in. He would channel O’Toole as the villains of “Natural Born Killers” and “Strange Days,” Burton in “The Relic” and “Saving Private Ryan,” and DeNiro in “Heat,” which found him opposite the man himself. He never eclipsed his heroes and would always be a supporting player to great icons, holding down the rhythm section while soloists like DeNiro, Wesley Snipes, Robert Downey, Jr, Nicolas Cage, and Tom Hanks got the spotlight.

He graduated from Wayne State University with a theatre degree, then moved to Temple University to get his masters, and then he moved to LA to look for opportunities. Bit parts in movies, TV, and commercial gigs got him going, but it was only a matter of time before someone took notice of the magnetic Sizemore. Little parts in “Blue Steel” and “Born on the Fourth of July” were crucial to getting his foot in the door with the high profile directors of both films. Oliver Stone noticed Sizemore practicing a stunt in his wheelchair ten nights a week in the lead-up to a difficult shooting day and was impressed by his dedication. He didn’t want Stone to have to use a stunt double for him. Bigelow offered him a part in “Point Break,” which he almost declined because it wasn’t big enough, but he liked working with her so much he decided to do it uncredited. This is likely what endeared him to Bigelow, enough that when it came time to cast the mercurial second fiddle with a secret in “Strange Days,” Sizemore came to mind. It was during this early part of his career that he was introduced to cocaine. He saw successful actors doing hard drugs, people who had the kind of career he was chasing and thought, “If they were doing it so should I.” It introduced a bad pattern. He’d get sober to prepare for films and then get on set and see the beautiful people getting high and join in.

He kept getting bit parts in high profile movies that failed to live up to expectations, like Simon Wincer’s “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man” and John Milius’ “Flight of the Intruder,” when he was given the second lead in the now forgotten 1991 thriller “Where Sleeping Dogs Lie,” where he plays an unnerving muse for blocked writer Dylan McDermott. The movie is quite poor but Mcdermott and Sizemore both understand that a canvas is a canvas so they’d better paint. Sizemore’s stumbling, stuttering tenant is a great look into his mix of broader theatricality and camera-friendly subtlety. It’s a lovely performance in a movie that refuses to earn it. Everything from the way he puts a briefcase down to the uncomfortable smile he gets when thinking of his perverse past is brilliant, a great invention. He took a supporting turn in “Passenger 57,” once more as the sidekick, which did well at the box office, and as a hopeless romantic ghost in the box office flop “Heart and Souls,” where he met his friend Robert Downey, Jr, whose own struggles with addiction came to be a negative image of Sizemore’s. Downey Jr. would recover from his very public meltdown and return from rock bottom to become the biggest box office draw in the world. Sizemore’s friends would mostly stop returning his calls after his troubles became unavoidably public.

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