Friday, October 2, 2009

British Actor(s) of the Month: Completely Different Edition

In 1969 the writing teams of John Cleese and Graham Chapman and Terry Jones and Michael Palin teamed up with Eric Idle and American animator Terry Gilliam to write and perform in their own sketch show, which premiered on the BBC forty years ago this month. Love it, hate it, or just plain don't get it, Monty Python's Flying Circus would change television--and comedy--forever. So, this month we pay tribute to

Monty Python

Back l-r: Chapman, Idle, Gilliam; front l-r: Jones, Cleese, Palin

Graham Chapman. A fully-qualified doctor, Chapman was best known for playing the lead roles--King Arthur, Brian--in the Python films, and for being the colonel who would occasionally break up a sketch when it got "too silly." Chapman's post-Python career was cut short when he died of cancer in 1989.

John Cleese. Cleese appears as the begrudged purchaser of a Norwegian blue in the famous "Dead Parrot Sketch," which he helped write, but his most iconic role on the show was as the BBC announcer who would occasionally say, "And now for something completely different." Of all the Pythons, Cleese's career has probably been the most high profile since leaving the group. He wrote and starred in the acclaimed sitcom Fawlty Towers as well as the films A Fish Called Wanda and Fierce Creatures. Cleese's most recent Hollywood role has been in the James Bond franchise as Q.

Eric Idle. Perhaps best remembered as "Mr. Nudge" (wink, wink say-no-more), Idle also wrote the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from The Life of Brian. His career has, in a way, continued on in a musical bent. Idle created The Rutles--the pre-fab four whose music would last "a lunchtime" and whose career and music seemed suspiciously similar to a certain other Liverpool pop group. He was also behind bringing Monty Python and the Holy Grail to the stage as the Broadway musical Spamalot.

Terry Jones. Jones was the Python most frequently in drag, appearing as a middle-aged Pepperpot and Brian's mother. But the role Jones is best known for is that of Meaning of Life's disgusting Mr. Creosote. (Trust me, if you don't know, you don't want to.) He went on to become a director, working on the Python films, as well as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, in which he starred alongside Idle and Palin.

Michael Palin. As a Python, Palin played either uber-wimps like Arthur Putney or sleazy gangster types. But Palin has become better known for making several travel shows for the BBC, which he parodied in A&E Biography's episode about Monty Python. In addition, he has performed in many films written or directed by his former cohorts, and wrote a rather good novel called Hemmingway's Chair.

And, finally, last but not least, honorable mention goes to...

Terry Gilliam, who isn't really an actor and definitely isn't British. Minnesota-born Gilliam animated Flying Circus's surreal cartoons, and occasionally played parts that required excessive makeup, like the Old Man from Scene 23. Gilliam, though, has received much critical praise as the edgy and always studio embattled director of films like Brazil, The Fisher King, and Twelve Monkeys.

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