ByRob Taylor, writer at
Rob Taylor

Every face tells a story, and every performance given onscreen can come from the actors knowledge, preparation or even sometimes from their demons.

Some actors are known for meticulously researching their roles or "living them" according to Method, others simply turn up and play themselves turned up to 10.

Every so often though, someone hits the screen who is actually playing themselves, or earlier versions of themselves and when you realise they once did the job or role they played for real, it makes total sense why they were so good in that role..

In honor of one of these passing last week, here is a list of 5 times life became art, and led to more success than they ever imagined.

Gil Hill

In 1984, Eddie Murphy was the hottest man in Hollywood on the back of Beverley Hills Cop, a role he'd picked up just weeks before filming began from Stallone. While Murphy became a star, for many the man who stole the show (and in it's subseqjuent sequels) was the iracsible, long suffering but loyal boss, Inspector Todd played by the late Gil Hill. Todd could see Axel's talent, and endured prank after ruse at the hands of his protege What may stun you, is that Gil Hill was a REAL Detroit Homicide Inspector, who was so good at obtaining confessions that he was drafted into The Atlanta Child Murder case.

His role as Todd seemed so effortless because it had been his real career, although by his own admission, he never cursed as much as Todd did. While the opportunity for more roles came, Hill believed that acting wasn't his calling and instead entered local politics, eventually becoming President of Detroit City Council and running for mayor.

Inspector Todd remains one of the funniest "straight men" in Hollywood history, but also one of the most realistic portrayals of a police boss. Todd's alternating fury and concern for Foley in those early films made his final cameo the highlight of the lackluster third installment... "Are you on a coffee break Axel?" summed up the character and the man perfectly.

R. Lee. Ermery

When Coppola was making Apocalypse Now, he needed someone on the picture who had knowledge of the Marine Corp and he found it in retired Marine Staff Seargent Ermery Rtd. Working as technical advisor while having a small role as a pilot opened up a new career and Ermery became perhaps the most recognisable "authority figure" actor. When Kubrick was casting Full Metal Jacket, it was Ermery who became the brutal "Gunney" Hartman who terrorises the recruits and particularly Vincent D'Onofrio's Private "Pyle" and receiving a Golden Globe Nomination along the way.

Since he has regularly played authority figures, drill sergeants and even Leatherface's dad but Ermery made a career in acting based on his real life experiences most recently in Toy Story 3. While some might feel typecast, Ermery knew what brought him to the table was his past, drilling and terrifying raw recruits. When you think about it, those guys HAVE to be showmen to whip them into Marine shape and he managed to be a damn good actor when it mattered.

Fred Dalton Thompson

Ronald Reagan famously was an actor who became a politician and then President, but Fred Thompson is perhaps the only guy to go in reverse, from political figure, to acting to Politics and indeed running for President.

A lawyer by trade, Thompson first came to prominence as part of The Watergate Committee that saw Richard Nixon forced out of office. Many sources claim that it was Thompson's shrewd questions that directly impacted the outcome and ultimately saw a President impeached, while others believed he had given the administration knowledge he shouldn't have.

Either way, Thompson played a major role in America's biggest scandal to date, and was later involved defending a whistleblower in a bribery case in Tennessee that saw the Governor ultimately removed from office for improper conduct and the lady who he had defended reinstated to her job with back pay.

in 1985, a movie starring Sissy Spacek as that whistleblower was made and the logical choice to play Fred Thompson was... Fred Thompson.

This led to a career in Hollywood, usually playing small but important roles of authority including blockbusters like The Hunt For Red October, Die Hard 2, Days Of Thunder & most recently, Sinister.

In the meantime, Thompson became a Senator for Tennessee and ran for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2008. Thompson died late last year, but is certainly is one of the most recognizable "boss man" faces of the last 20 years... and played a part in some of the biggest political battles of the last 50.

Vinny Jones

Most people know Vinny Jones as a D list "heavy" or villain in movies such as Swordfish, Gone In 60 Seconds or his best known role as "Big Chris" in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. Prior to his "big break" in the latter movie, he was actually a well known soccer player in England. Part of the famed "Crazy Gang" of Wimbledon FC, their meteoric rise from the lowest division to beating Liverpool in the FA Cup final in 1988 is worthy of its own movie. Jones was known as a hardman on the pitch, famously grabbing Paul Gascoigne's private parts as a distraction technique and had a somewhat dubious reputation for his tactics. To the amazement of many, he was called up to the Wales squad and received 9 caps (appearances) for them, despite only qualifying via his grandfather.

When his career ended and Lock, Stock was a success, he parlayed that into his first starring role Mean Machine, a British remake of the 70's Burt Reynolds flick. Here Jones was playing a footballer with a bad reputation and it was surprisingly good, if not exactly a stretch. Since then Jones has become one of Hollywood's more recognizable faces. While he'll never win an Oscar, he has had a successful career as a result of his real life image as sport's bad boy and this immortal line in Superhero lore.

Father William O' Malley

When William Friedkin was shooting The Exorcist, he sought the co-operation of the Catholic Church, particularly in helping his lead, Jason Miller to prepare and to accurately portray, as much as would be permitted the concepts the movie discussed. Father O' Malley became a technical advisor and was a seemingly natural fit to play the role of Father Dyer, friend to Damian Karras as he had some limited stage experience.

While a small role, it was a pivotal one and O'Malley was not spared or given any leeway as a first time movie actor from Friedkin's controversial methods. Famously, during the final scene, where Dyer gives his friend The Last Rites, Friedkin felt he was too cold and emotionless. When the real-life priest related that he had done several takes and that this was a difficult situation to maintain emotion, Friedkin asked him "do you trust me?", silently rolled film and belted him across the face!

The real life shock, anger and pain immediately got the performance the director was looking for and is arguably the most emotional point of the film. O'Malley's role saw more controversy when his final scene with Lee J. Cobb's Detective Kinderman was cut, to the dismay of author William Peter Blatty,.although Friedkin felt it was not needed.

Father O'Malley's portrayal didn't lead to a long term acting career, but he is known for being the first real-life Catholic Priest to also portray one onscreen, and later became a Professor of Theology.


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