Great Crazy-Weirdo Actors

All great actors are crazy to a degree. Acting requires the sublimation of your own personality and adopting a new one. Essentially actors are forced to assume another identity and roll with it. It’s not hard to see why this appeals to crazies and weirdos. While some actors are straight up weirdos, others hide their eccentricities behind a veil of good looks. Regardless here seven great crazy-weirdo actors.

Klaus Kinski

Klaus Kinski tries to murder Werner Herzog with a machete.

Klaus Kinski was insane. I don’t know if he was ever diagnosed with anything, but between watching his performances and hearing all the stories about the guy, there’s no doubt that he was totally out of his mind. He is mostly known for the films he made with Werner Herzog, but almost more interesting than the films they made together are the behind the stories involving the two men. Herzog catalogued many of these stories in his documentary about the Kinski entitled My Best Fiend. One of my favorite stories took place when Herzog was a young boy and Kinski was a struggling actor living in the room above him in a boarding house. Apparently Kinski’s room was covered with piles of dead leaves and he would go into berzerker rages over literally nothing. One rage was so bad that they locked him in a bathroom for 48 hours and in that time he wrecked the place into oblivion.

Despite his deranged personality he truly was an incredible personality, he was able to be tender when it was called for (like in Nosferatu) but for the most part his characters feel like they might erupt at any second, like there’s only the thinnest thread protecting them from absolute madness. It’s quite possible that Kinski was always just playing himself.

Best Film: Aguirre, The Wrath of God (dir. Werner Herzog 1972)

Weirdo Talk: “The truth is, I can never die. For I will be in everything and see you in everything and watch over you. I am your reaction in the water of a mountain lake.” – Klaus Kinski

Crazy Factoid: Herzog and Kinski tried to murder each other. More than once.

Peter Lorre

Peter Lorre used to scare me as a child.

This entry feels incomplete without you being able to hear my killer Peter Lorre impersonation. Lorre was an Austrian native and his first major role was as a pederast/child killer in Fritz Lang’s 1931 film M. Lorre’s blubbery, bug-like features, which when put together with his signature whistle gave him an incredibly creepy presence in M. Lorre (who was Jewish) fled from Germany to escape the Nazis and found a place in Hollywood, as an actor playing creepy weirdo villains.

His most famous roles were The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, both starring Humphrey Bogart, and both playing up his weird accent and weaselly demeanor.

Best Film: Casablanca (dir. Michael Curtiz 1942)

Weirdo Talk: “Do you think we should drive a stake through his heart just in case?” -Peter Lorre to Vincent Price at Bela Lugosi’s funeral.

Crazy Factoid: Peter Lorre was sometimes featured as a character in the Looney Tunes. His appearances always scared me as a little kid. Check this one out:

Jack Nance

"There's a fish in the percolator."

Jack Nance is most famous for his work with fellow crazy weirdo David Lynch. Nance played the title character in Lynch’s seminal midnight movie Eraserhead. Nance was featured in every Lynch film from Eraserhead in 1977 to Lost Highway in 1997 (with the exception of The Elephant Man, but his most memorable performance (to me at least) is in Lynch’s (amazing) television series from the early 90s, Twin Peaks, where he played lovable lumberjack Pete Martell. Pete was an incredible change of pace for the actor. Normally Nance’s characters behaved like they were fucked up on pills and booze, but Pete was a wholesome, goodhearted guy who was good at chess.

The reason he stopped appearing in Lynch’s films in 1997 was because he died the year previous. The circumstances of his death are almost too bizarre to be true. He was allegedly at a donut shop the morning of December 29th 1996 completely hammered. Nance was a violent alcoholic and it was unclear if he was still drunk from the night before, or just from that morning, but he ended up getting into a fight with a bunch of Latino dudes outside the donut shop. He later went and had lunch with some of his friends, bragged about the fight and later that day he was found dead in his apartment. His blood alcohol level was .24 percent.

Best Film: I love his weird little cameo in Wild At Heart (dir. David Lynch 1990)

Weirdo Talk: “And now comes Pete Martell in Twin Peaks and he’s just a nice guy.” – Jack Nance

Crazy Factoid: I don’t think anything beats how he died.

Nicholas Cage

Jeez Nicholas Cage, can you tone it down just a tad?

Nick Cage is a big goofball. I think out of everyone on this list, Nicholas Cage exhibits the most amount of self awareness. Between his idiosyncratic way of speaking, his love of wearing hairpieces, and his willingness to be anything, I think Nick Cage just loves being Nick Cage.

Nicholas Cage is actually a nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola, but he changed his last name to Cage because he liked the comic book character Luke Cage. He also named his son Kal-El (Superman’s real name). In other words he’s a nerd!. His performances range from self-serious awful tripe, to absolutely goofy fun. I’m not totally sure if his persona is put on, but even if it is, it’s still weird.

Best Film: Adaptation

Weirdo Talk: “I am not a demon. I am a lizard, a shark, a heat-seeking panther. I want to be Bob Denver on acid playing the accordion.”

Crazy Factoid: He apparently went on a shopping spree and bought a bunch of mansions all around the world, including a haunted house known as the LaLaurie Mansion in New Orleans.

Gary Busey

I once heard a joke that went like this: Gary Busey can no longer do things that surprise us. We expect him to be totally out of his mind. We could be up on the International Space Station gazing out into the cosmos and then all of a sudden Gary Busey would be floating outside the window, and we’d think to ourselves, “Well I kind of expected that.”

I don’t think Gary Busey was always crazy. In 1988 Busey was in a motorcycle accident while not wearing a helmet and he suffers from permanent brain damage which causes him to act and speak without any self control.

Best Film: Point Break (dir. Katherine Bigelow 1991). He loves meatballs sandwiches.

Weirdo Talk: Just watch this:

Crazy Factoid: He was arrested in 1995 for cocaine possession after overdosing on cocaine and GHB. GHB is a date rape drug… Ew Gary Busey.

Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper was in his element during Apocalypse Now. On drugs and in the jungle.

Dennis Hopper made a big splash in the 1960s with his directorial debut Easy Rider. The film featured him and Peter Fonda traversing across America on motorcycles doing lots of drugs. One scene in particular sees Hopper and Fonda tripping on LSD in a cemetery. No reenactment there, Hopper and Fonda were actually on acid. Much like his character Billy the Kid, Hopper loved drugs and he didn’t understand moderation and he quickly became Hollywood’s most notorious drug addict. He had a difficult time in Hollywood during this time, and a few exceptions aside (like his role as Colonel Kurtz sycophant/photojournalist in Apocalypse Now,) his career was in the shitter.

He made a comeback in the mid 80s after a stint in rehab that cleaned him of his addictions. His blood may have been clean, but he still had the same manic energy. There’s just something in the guy’s voice and the way he moves that lets you know that he’s out of his mind.

Best Film: Blue Valentine (dir. David Lynch 1986)

Weirdo Talk: “You want to hear about insanity? I was found running naked through the jungles in Mexico. At the Mexico City airport, I decided I was in the middle of a movie and walked out on the wing on takeoff. My body… my liver… okay, my brain… went.” – Dennis Hopper

Crazy Factoid: According to Kris Kristofferson, Hopper got a Priest defrocked because he was performing some kind of strange mass in honor of James Dean.

Ryan Gosling

Fellow List Offer Jim Adair poses with Ryan Gosling. There's too much handsome in this picture. It's gross.

Don’t let his Adonais good looks fool you, Ryan Gosling is an incredibly weird guy. His obsessions range from eating lots of candy, riding roller coasters, skeletons and children’s choirs. Tell me ladies, if Ryan Gosling looked less like this, and more like Peter Lorre, would you still swoon over him? The man seems to be stuck in a weird sort of arrested development which probably stems from his stint as a child actor and a Mickey Mouseketeer.

That being said, he’s still a great young actor and while I don’t think he’s actually been in many good movies, he’s always great, and I’m looking forward to his career moving forward.

Best Film: Drive (dir. Nicholas Winding Refn 2011)

Weirdo Talk: “If I eat a huge meal and I can get the girl to rub my belly, I think that’s about as romantic as I can think of.” – Ryan Gosling

Crazy Factoid: Just read this recent interview/profile from Esquire.

Who else is crazy enough to deserve to be on this list?


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Categories: Film, People

Author:Colin Holmes

I love movies. I love watching them and I love writing about them. My taste ranges from Jean Pierre Melville to Jean Claude Van Damme and everything in between as long as it isn’t mediocre. I’ll take a crazy failure of a movie over a middle of the road one any day. I'm an American currently living abroad in Oz and am relishing how my accent makes me sound like a cowboy to everyone I meet here.

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3 Comments on “Great Crazy-Weirdo Actors”

  1. 11.21.11 at 5:35 PM #


  2. Mara
    01.12.12 at 9:59 PM #

    @Ryan Gosling – have you guys seen The Believer? That is just one of the examples where his acting simply freaks one out…and by no means I mean that in a derogatory way. His career is already heading in the right direction because he plays in the right kind of films. By that I mean films which are not exactly mainstream but still appeal to wider audiences. That allows him to maintain some sort of thespian integrity, while enjoying some publicity. I really hope he will never chose to play in action-hero movies, like his fellow Canadian Ryan Reynolds. As for the Adonis part… that’s what saves Gosling from becoming a baby-doll, like the before-mentioned, or even like Brad Pitt (regardless of how many Fight Clubs or Snatchs kind of movies he will play in, he will never rid himself of the “America’s pretty boy” image). I really think Gosling is already the best contemporary male actor.

    BTW, I’m intrigued to learn what your take is on actresses.

  3. sunflowerpower
    12.7.12 at 1:32 PM #

    This should be an ongoing list that crew and directors can add new names of crazy to as we encounter them on location. TMZ or someone, please start such a website for Hollywood insiders to add names to. Productions need to be warned.

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