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S Entries
  Carl Sagan
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  Roy Scheider
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(1932–2008). American actor.

Acted in: The Curse of the Living Corpse (Del Tenney 1963); Jaws (Steven SPIELBERG 1975); Jaws II (Jeannot SZWARC 1977); All That Jazz (Bob Fosse 1979); Blue Thunder (John BADHAM 1983); Tiger Town (tv movie) (Alan Shapiro 1983); 2010: The Year We Make Contact (Peter HYAMS 1984); 2010: The Odyssey Continues (documentary) (Les Mayfield 1984); Naked Lunch (David CRONENBERG 1991); SeaQuest DSV (tv series) (1993-1995); The Making of Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" (documentary) (Laurent Bouzereau 1995); The Peacekeeper (Frederic Forestier 1997); Chain of Command (John Terlesky 2000); The Doorway (Michael B. Druxman 2000); Time Lapse (David Worth 2001); Dracula II: Ascension (Patrick Lussier 2003); The Punisher (Jonathan Hensleigh 2004); Dracula III: Legacy (Lussier 2005); Dark Honeymoon (David O'Malley 2008); "Three Kings" (animated; voice) (2009), episode of Family Guy.
Roy Scheider epitomized the school of acting which confuses theatrics with calisthenics. Whenever he was cast in a film, he was determined to give audiences their money's worth; every line is portentously delivered and punctuated by an accompanying gesture or facial contortion, with bulging eyes as his specialty. Always working up a sweat on the soundstage, keeping his body and face in perpetual motion, Scheider might be admired for an athleticism that kept him fit and trim well into his seventies; but he surely found it irksome to note that all of his vigorous exertions earned him no Academy Awards, while Jack NICHOLSON garnered three of them by flaunting a lazy nonchalance. No one ever told Scheider that understatement is one key to successful film acting.

It is not surprising to learn that Scheider originally sought to excel in athletics, not theatrics, but after having his nose broken in a boxing match, he looked around for a less dangerous outlet for his fierce energies and ended up on stage. Transitioning into television in the 1960s, he also made an inauspicious film debut in The Curse of the Living Corpse, but after some other forgettable performances, he finally got the audience's attention, and an Oscar nomination, as a police officer in The French Connection (1971). This led to his first major role as the most unimpressive of the three male leads in Jaws, for which he was duly punished by being the only lead actor summoned back for the sequel, the unintentionally laughable Jaws II, wherein he essentially parodied his own weak performance in the original. A series of further embarrassments ensued: the film designed to establish him as a major film actor, the misleadingly-titled Sorcerer (1977), didn't; in the surrealistic All That Jazz, his tendency towards excess, matched by that of director Bob Fosse, drove the film way over the top; and it is just as well that the fulsome sentimentality of the Disney movie Tiger Town went largely unnoticed. Only some successfully executed routines in the mildly futuristic Blue Thunder served to counter Hollywood's growing suspicion that Scheider's laborious histrionics were box-office poison.

Regarding his next major disappointment, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, the kindest thing to say is that Scheider was miscast. In the original 2001: A Space Odyssey, Heywood R. Floyd, portrayed with appropriately limited skill by William Sylvester, was a perfect embodiment of homo bureaucratis, a functional cog in the world's societal machinery of which the supercomputer HAL was only a natural extension; and, while the film's co-author Arthur C. CLARKE fleshed out the character in subsequent novels, he remained a man most noteworthy for his humdrum ordinariness. To play such a character, why on Earth would anyone cast an actor who would endeavor to transform Floyd into a bellowing, passionate heroic figure? But that was one misguided aspect of director Peter HYAMS's misguided vision, unsurprisingly repudiated by film audiences.

In the 1990s, no longer being offered leading roles in major films (unless one counts his unexpected appearance in Naked Lunch), Scheider was called back to the spotlight one more time by Steven SPIELBERG, who, having failed to emulate the success of Rod SERLING's The Twilight Zone with Amazing Stories, now set his sights lower and endeavored to emulate the success of Irwin ALLEN's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea with SeaQuest DSV. Incredibly, he failed again, due in large part to his decision to cast Scheider as the captain of the series's high-tech submarine. Watching him flail about, vainly struggling to animate the proceedings, one gained a new appreciation for the underrated talents of Richard BASEHART. Belatedly recognizing what the problem was, the producers made a last, desperate effort to save SeaQuest DSV by humiliatingly removing Scheider from his leading role and placing Michael Ironside in command, but to no avail.

Soldiering on, Scheider maintained his excellent physical condition by acting in whatever venue might welcome him, though none of his productions ever seemed to find their way to any neighborhood theatres. Among other incongruities, he oddly emerged as a favorite choice to play the President of the United States (in Executive Target [1997], The Peacekeeper, and Chain of Command) and portrayed a priest in two direct-to-video sequels to Dracula 2000. It was officially a staph infection that ended his life in 2008, but one prefers to think that, having kept himself in overdrive for so many years, Roy Scheider simply wore himself out. Meanwhile, the laidback Nicholson, about the same age, seems to be doing fine—offering an object lesson, perhaps, for energetic young actors.

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