Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nikos Capralos: A Heartfelt Performance

It’s been some time since I’ve seen a performance of Simon’s that I have not previously seen. But this past week I have at last seen another, an episode of The F.B.I. entitled The Maze.

Simon plays Nikos Capralos, a man grieving over the loss of his daughter due to an overdose of drugs. She gave the name of a man she claimed gave her the drugs, and now Nikos, heart-broken and devastated, wants to see this man pay for it.

A friend of his on the lam from the law, Frank Dixon Wells, stops in to see him and learns of the tragedy. He wants to see justice done too, and offers to kill the guy for Nikos. Nikos is very agreeable and relieved.

But things grow far more complicated. Tina Aliki, a pub owner who is love with Nikos, knows something he refuses to face: his daughter lied. The man who gave her the drugs was someone else. She tries again to get Nikos to listen, but he explodes and says that she’s always been jealous of his daughter.

Meanwhile, Frank is involved in a shootout with the authorities and winds up mortally wounded. With no one to knock off the man Nikos still believes is responsible for his daughter’s death, he decides to take matters into his own hands. He sets out to kill the man himself.

The F.B.I., hot on the trail, find out what’s happening from the horrified Tina. They manage to track down Nikos just in time to save both the man’s life and Nikos’s own. Finally reasoning with the devastated father, they witness Nikos dropping his knife and stepping away from the frightened man.

I was worried wondering what would happen to Nikos. The epilogue is wonderfully satisfying. The real drug pusher has been found and confessed. No attempted murder charges have been pressed on Nikos, most likely because of his mental state at the time. We see him finally beginning to heal. He appears happy again, mingling with some of the people in the pub. And he has asked Tina to marry him at last.

Simon delivers an amazing, thoroughly believable performance, as always. As Nikos Capralos, we see a man utterly torn apart by his daughter’s sudden and needless death. He doesn’t even have the will to dress neatly or, apparently, to comb his hair. Losing hold of all reasoning power, he becomes focused on one thing and one thing only: serving his brand of justice on the man supposedly responsible for his daughter’s death.

The character of Frank Dixon Wells affords Simon with the unique opportunity of interacting with another highly skilled character actor whom we lost far too soon—Czechoslovakian-born Steve Ihnat. Frank is also a multi-faceted person. In the opening scene we see him shoot and kill a man as he and his girlfriend flee. Yet he is not entirely cold-blooded; with Nikos he shows a definite softer side. The two friends even embrace during their meeting. And he is outraged by the death of Nikos’s daughter. His offer to kill the drug pusher, while of course illegal, seems to be born out of his genuine caring for Nikos and the girl.

Also of note is Ina Balin, who plays the pub owner Tina Aliki. She is forced to stand by and watch Nikos descend into hopelessness and despair. It’s even worse since Tina loves Nikos and wants only to see him be able to be happy again. For most of the episode, that seems a near-impossibility.

To see Nikos at last begin to climb out of the pit he fell into is beautiful and inspiring. Some actors would not be able to successfully portray this after having played someone so tortured. But Simon pulls it off perfectly. We believe in the character; we rejoice in his finding peace.

And this episode takes its well-deserved place among my most favorite of Simon’s performances.

~Lucky Ladybug

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Antagonists, Villains, and Anti-Heroes, Oh My!

As Lucky Ladybug mentioned in her previous entry, she and I happened upon a few archived news articles about Simon that helped us understand a bit more about him.  We already knew before that he was an extremely talented actor who could fit in flawlessly in any genre, taking on roles of different kinds.  We also already knew that he was a Renaissance man---an actor of the screen, of the stage, and also a musician, as well.  And we also knew that with a filmography covering decades of media and bringing to life several vibrant characters (featuring an impressive group of heroes, anti-heroes, and villains), there’s guaranteed to be something in Simon’s credits to please even the pickiest TV or movie watcher, if not absolutely enamor them altogether.

I have mentioned in previous posts about several of Simon’s complex characters, including ones that you couldn’t help but sympathize with a little bit, even if they were in the wrong.  I normally don’t think too much of villain or anti-hero characters, yet I found myself curious about William Poole from Bonanza, siding with and worrying for Frank Epstein in Hawaii Five-O, laughing at Nick from Follow That Dream, crying for Adam Howard in The Big Valley, pitying Howard Walters in Perry Mason, and being intrigued by Lt. Schrank in West Side Story. 

Even someone like Stawski from The Sand Pebbles---a man who, at times, was an utter brute and, if he were real, would’ve gotten a slap upside the face if he ever crossed paths with me---managed to have me captivated during the times he wasn’t making me cringe.  My feelings of intrigue and curiosity for these villains and/or anti-heroes puzzled me initially, especially in the case of Stawski, who was a character that, normally, I would’ve detested immensely at his worst.  But I found that I couldn’t hate him; he did have his good moments, plus there was the fact that I was able to see past the brutishness of the character and appreciate Simon’s acting ability.  I decided not to overthink and try to analyze why I didn’t hate Stawski, so I just shrugged it off.

After Lucky Ladybug and I made our article archive discovery, we were both thrilled to find an article where Simon described how he brought his antagonistic characters to life---that he tried to make them as multifaceted as possible and showcase their good points.  And, suddenly, the lightbulb went off in my head and I realized that was why I couldn’t find it in me to hate Stawski; Stawski did have his good moments, and that definitely factored into my accepting the character.

It’s why I couldn’t bring myself to hate Adam Howard in The Big Valley, either.  Every fiber of my being was ready to loathe Adam for some of the things he had done.  But then he just had to launch into a heartfelt speech that had me in tears, and I couldn’t hate him anymore than I could Stawski.

It’s why I sided with Frank Epstein in Hawaii Five-O, believing him when there was (initially) no evidence to otherwise, despite his short temper and sharp tongue, and why I was so worried when it became clear he was heading for a trap.

It’s also why I find myself intrigued by Lt. Schrank, whose abrasive words I would normally find repulsive and would want nothing more to do with him---but then it seems that his words are just a product of his own frustrations and that he might not even mean them.  It doesn’t excuse him, but it opens up another way to look at his character.

For a while, before I read that article, I was initially worried about myself because of my inability to detest these antagonistic characters that I normally would detest (Frank Epstein is not included among these---he was vindicated, as the Hawaii Five-O episode later revealed, which earned from me a sigh of relief and an “I knew it…”).  Was I so charmed by Simon that I was letting my personal standards slip in regards to some of those nastier characters?  I didn’t want to think so, and after reading that article, I realized that I hadn’t; it was Simon’s intent to give those antagonistic characters another side to them and make them difficult to loathe.  In the article, he referred to it as a “trick.”  Well, it looks as though I’ve fallen for that trick, and on more than one occasion, yet!

And you know what?  I don’t mind at all.

~Crystal Rose