While there is no shortage of charismatic, layered lead characters in cinema, the supporting characters steal the spotlight in most cases. Whether they are best friends, demonic creatures, horrible bosses, loving parents or ruthless criminals, the people who take part in someone else’s story tend to draw the audience’s attention more often the narrative’s hero.
Any writer could dig deep enough to find all the interesting things that make them memorable and relevant. What follows is a selection of characters from various films that may be qualified to star in their own feature.
1. Sergeant Hugo Stiglitz – Inglorious Basterds (2009)
“Everybody in the German army has heard of Hugo Stiglitz”. That line alone, demands further insight into the exploits of the person in question. Hugo Stiglitz (played by Til Schweiger) is a German soldier who despises the Nazis, and was imprisoned for murdering numerous Gestapo officers. He is broken out of prison and recruited by the Basterds, a band of crusaders who are intent on shutting down the Nazi regime.
The film boasts a motley crew of colourful personalities, which include (but not limited to) the devious Colonel Hans Landa, the suave Lieutenant Archie Hicox, the vengeful Shosanna Dreyfus, and the obsessive Adolf Hitler. While most of these characters seem to have resolved their arcs over the course of the narrative, Stiglitz remains to be an enigma of sorts.
Schweiger portrays him as a moody fellow. Most of the time, his facial expressions showcase a mix of anger and apathy, and he seems to prefer contemplating his own existence in solitude. With the unpredictable nature that every Tarantino narrative tends to inherit, there could be any number of ways to go about exploring Stiglitz’s history.
It seems doubtful that the Nazi party is the sole reason he is a stone cold killer, as evidenced by the level of attention he gives to his knife. Who knows if he is a broken individual driven to insanity or if he is completely aware of his bloodlust and in total control of his actions? Quentin Tarantino does.
2. Fred Fenster & Michael McManus – The Usual Suspects (1995)
Before the usual suspects were rounded up, there were two partners in crime who worked well together. Michael McManus and Fred Fenster are professional thieves, with very distinct personalities.
McManus (played by Stephen Baldwin) is quite serious about his work but has a short fuse that is always ready to blow, and Fenster (played by Benicio Del Toro) is an incomprehensible but loyal accomplice to the former.What is interesting about these two is how they may harken back to the classic comedy duos of the past like Abbot & Costello, Arbuckle & Keaton and Laurel & Hardy.
While Fenster might be the comical goofball next to McManus’s straight man, but both of them seem to be equally fierce at what they do. They also seem to share a long history together, which may even extend to the possibility that they were college roommates. As insane as they might be together, the charismatic duo also seem to have pulled off some of the best jobs together.
A potential story could revolve around an assignment tasked to McManus, with Fenster tagging along for the ride. Whether it may be a small-scale heist or a grand scheme with explosive results, their adventures could be just as surreal as the murky world that birthed them.
3. “Lucky Ned” Pepper – True Grit (2010)
True Grit (based on the 1968 Charles Portis novel), focuses on a young girl named Mattie Ross, who seeks justice for the murder of her father at the hands of a dimwitted drunkard named Tom Chaney. She hires the reckless (but efficient) marshal Rooster Cogburn to help her find Chaney, and they soon embark on the hunt. The search for Chaney takes up a good deal of the story, but by the time Mattie Ross comes face to face with Chaney, she also meets a smarter, tougher outlaw, named Ned Pepper.
Ned (played by Barry Pepper) is a force to be reckoned with, commanding the screen with his menacing presence and strong authority, and is one of the few people who can be taken seriously while wearing woolly chaps.
The look in his eyes gives one the impression that he endured through the harshest of times with the civil war and the complexities of the Reconstruction period. He does not ride with a charming posse, (and he never executes the moron making the animal noises), but perhaps that is because he simply needs the company.
Perhaps he had a miserable childhood, and may not have had any siblings to share his grief with. In any case, the chronicles of Ned Pepper’s rise to iconography could be told by a very sharp member of his posse, and seeing it through the eyes of one of his men would make for another great angle for his story to take.
4. Jules Winnfield – Pulp Fiction (1994)
Tarantino’s ambitious anthology film features characters that are either ignorant or very aware of their destiny and the paths they choose to pursue. Jules Winnfield (played by Samuel L. Jackson) is a very charming assassin (who works for mobster Marcellus Wallace) and is the one person who falls in between those two categories.
Both he and his partner, Vincent Vega, are miraculously unaffected by gunshots fired at close range, and this convinces him divine intervention has spared them (Vincent believes it to be sheer dumb luck that they are still standing and nothing more). In the few scenes he has,
Jackson’s character is fleshed out well enough that he may be the most multifaceted personality in the film. His promise to give up crime and walk the earth is a huge step for a man who had no problem executing incompetent and pathetic criminals not long ago. It is Jules’s future and where his journey takes him that makes his story more compelling.
While the world of Pulp Fiction is largely gritty, it does occasionally dive into the realms of surrealism and Jules’s potential story does not have to be a direct sequel, it could have elements of the fantastic. In the hands of Quentin Tarantino, nothing is impossible, and for all Jules knows, the path he takes could lead him to a metaphysical realm never previously imagined.
5. Carl Showalter & Gaear Grimsrud – Fargo (1996)
One of the most compelling questions in the Coen brothers’ 1996 Oscar winner Fargo, is how do two very different personalities, who do not necessarily like each other, end up tolerating each other and are able to work closely on numerous assignments?
The truth is, they are not entirely professional. Carl Showalter (played by Coen Brothers’ regular Steve Buscemi) is the man with the plan but is also not very bright. His partner, Gaear Grimsrud (played by Peter Stormare), is essentially the muscle of the pair (or so he lets on). He keeps to his own thoughts, but will always act or speak when he feels appropriate.
What both of these men have in common is that they make impulsive, reckless decisions and are unprepared to deal with the consequences. When Carl screws up by attempting to bribe a state trooper, Gaer will do one better by killing the officer, and follow that up by gunning down two potential witnesses.
As monstrous as these two are, and as dark as a lot of the moments can be, one cannot help but enjoy how goofy all the situations they create unfold. Given that it is a universe crafted by Ethan and Joel Coen, they are not the only characters creating the chaotic farce, as they have to deal with the actions of the man who hires them, the father of the woman they kidnapped and the ex-convict who recommended them for the job.
It is entirely possible that things were not as hectic for these two on previous missions, and that it is all because of the incompetence of their client from Fargo. However, the dynamics between these two characters coupled with their odd behaviour towards others would indicate otherwise, and that would make for a great prequel from the Coen brothers.