Last month, on a short road trip to literally anywhere else, I drove through Snyder, Texas. If you’re not familiar (and truly, why would you be?), Snyder, Texas is known for three things. One, and least important, it is the waypoint between Abilene and Lubbock. So if you’ve left the depression-inducing flatness of Abilene and you need a quick snack before you head on to the depression-inducing flatness of Lubbock, you stop in Snyder. Two, and slightly more important, it was the sight of a locally-famous feud in the 1910’s. Think Hatfields and McCoys-lite, partly because the feud only escalated to one death and partly because “Johnson and Sim” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Hatfield and McCoy.” A catchy name that rolls of the tongue is very important if you want your familial feud to go viral. Third, and most important, at least for the purpose of this writing, it is the birthplace of Powers Boothe.
I fell in love with Powers Boothe at a young age thanks to his performance in Tombstone, one of my ten favorite movies of all-time. My best friend, Kyle, and his family had one of those awesome mini-vans that came equipped with a seven-inch TV and VCR (the envy of every soccer mom in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex) and on a road trip to camp in probably 1995, we watched Tombstone. And it. was. so. cool. Tombstone is a perfect movie (yeah, I said, it, come and fight me, Huckleberry) but it is especially perfect when you are 12 or 13 years old. Guns, gambling, sweet moustaches, quippy lines from a drunken gunfighter…obviously these are the things you aspire to as a middle class white kid from the suburbs. That night, in the cupboards of his grandparent’s house, we found shot glasses and proceeded to pour ourselves shots of grape juice, throw them back, and slam them down upside down on the counter, just like Doc Holliday. No one in the world was cooler than we were in that moment. (Whoa, how did these two bros stay single into the mid-twenties, amirite?!)
Powers Boothe is not the star of Tombstone but Curly Bill Brocius is such a magnetic presence that even as a pre-teen I found myself a bit mesmerized by him. This became a trend anytime I spotted Boothe on screen. He was a prolific actor but went through peaks and valleys in the cultural zeitgeist. He was a character actor’s character actor, a guy who would pop up here and there to delight you, usually while reveling in the amorality of the character he played, only to move (slither?) back out of the spotlight a moment later. His distinctive voice, caked in West Texas dust, was as much a part of his act as his face was and oh but how his face fit the characters he frequently played! Boothe was a man out of his time, in some ways, who might’ve been a bonified movie star had he come up in an era that catered to his strengths And yet, I always got the impression that he loved playing the parts he received and enjoyed being the intimidating presence you brought in when you needed a dangerous antagonist with a devil’s grin to challenge your lead. He was his own man, the like of which doesn’t come along often, and I, among many I’m quite sure, will truly miss his presence on screen.
To finish this off, here are five of my favorite Powers Boothe roles.
24 – Vice President Noah Daniels
I was incredibly pumped when Boothe showed up in season 6 of 24 and his run was quite eventful, even if he was only an adversary to Jack Bauer rather than a full-on villain. This seems like a missed opportunity in hindsight.
Frailty – FBI Agent Wesley Doyle
Boothe put his trademark slick villainy on full display here, spending most of his screen time as a seemingly innocent federal agent escorting someone (Matthew McConaughey) to safety. Except that it’s Powers Boothe so you knew something terrifying was hiding in his closet.
Deadwood – Cy Tolliver
No other film or TV show used Boothe to his full potential like Deadwood did. There are no “good” people in Deadwood as good people get chewed up and spit out in this profane version of the Old West. But even in the midst of black-souled characters, Cy Tolliver stood out as perhaps the blackest and his rivalry with Al Swearengen is the stuff of TV legend.
MacGruber – Colonel Faith
In a rare turn as a good guy (I fully expected him to come out as a secret villain right up until the final credits), Boothe leans in HARD to the utter absurdity of MacGruber and as a result he gives the movie exactly what it needs opposite Will Forte.
Tombstone – Curly Bill Brocius
When I think of Powers Boothe, I will always go back to where it all began for me. Curly Bill is slick, mischievous, and downright evil and yet he’s also cool. You hate him but you LOVE to hate him. His numerous matchups with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer gives the movie a healthy amount of its grit and left me perpetually wanting more.