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''The Firm'''s supporting actors

Tom Cruise’s name may be above the title, but it’s the actors in the secondary role who steady the film

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Gene Hackman
Archetypal films: The French Connection, The Conversation, Night Moves, Hoosiers
Typical Characters: Sharp, avuncular, likable guys with a few serious flaws
Role in The Firm: Cruise’s mentor Avery Tolar, a sharp, avuncular, likable guy whose serious flaws include lechery, doing legal work for the Mob, self-pity
Defining Dialogue: ”I could give you marital advice. And hit on you.”
What he can do that Tom Cruise can’t: Compress endless shades of character into one line of dialogue
What Tom Cruise can do that he can’t: Get the girl

Ed Harris
Archetypal films: A Flash of Green, Jacknife, The Abyss, Paris Trout
Typical Characters: Hard-ass he-men or sensitive jocks
Role in The Firm: Wayne Tarrance, hard-ass FBI grunt in charge of bringing down the firm of Bendini, Lambert, and Locke
Defining Dialogue: ”Who gives a f—? I’m a federal agent.”
What he can do that Tom Cruise can’t: Shave his head for a role and still look sexy
What Tom Cruise can do that he can’t: Express confidence without the slightest glimmer of doubt

Holly Hunter
Archetypal films: Raising Arizona, Broadcast News, Miss Firecracker, The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom
Typical Characters: Terrier-voiced Southern eccentrics; with the just-released Piano, has cornered the market on mute 19th-century Gothic sexpots
Role in The Firm: Tammy Hemphill, tarty down-home secretary (and wife to an Elvis impersonator) who helps Mitch nail the bad guys
Defining Dialogue: ”I was under the desk. (Pause) I was vacuuming the rug — do you want me to draw you a diagram?”
What she can do that Tom Cruise can’t: Smoke a cigarette and look like she knows what she’s doing
What Tom Cruise can do that she can’t: Look determined without looking demented

Gary Busey
Archetypal films: The Buddy Holly Story, Bulletproof, Lethal Weapon, Under Siege
Typical Characters: Originally played cornpone leads; now handles big-boned, low-rent heroes or villains
Role in The Firm: Eddie Lomax, short-lived private eye
Defining Dialogue: (Just after a thug inquires who hired him to snoop on the firm and just before Lomax shoots said thug in the kneecap) ”His name was Julio Iglesias.”
What he can do that Tom Cruise can’t: Give the impression that he’s simply having a ball making this-here movie
What Tom Cruise can do that he can’t: Stay alive all the way to the end credits

David Strathairn
Archetypal films: Eight Men Out, Passion Fish, A League of Their Own, Sneakers
Typical Characters: Thinking-woman’s sex symbols — tall, dark, kind, and taciturn
Role in The Firm: Ray McDeere, Mitch’s tall, dark, kind, and taciturn jailbird brother (it was self-defense)
Defining Dialogue: ”Think I’d ever tell guys around here I got a brother in Harvard?”
What he can do that Tom Cruise can’t: Be ironic What Tom Cruise can do that he can’t: Be successful

Wilford Brimley
Archetypal films: The Natural, Cocoon, Hard Target, Quaker Oats commercials
Typical Characters: Gruff but kindly grandpas
Role in The Firm:In a slight change of pace, he’s Bill Devasher, head of the firm’s goon squad
Defining dialogue: ”What do you think I am here, a f—ing night watchman?”
What he can do that Tom Cruise can’t: Convey menace through a walrus moustache
What Tom Cruise can do that he can’t: Run

Hal Holbrook
Archetypal films: That Certain Summer, Magnum Force, The Star Chamber, Wall Street
Typical Characters: Impeccable leaders of industry who are revealed to be soulless villains
Role in The Firm: Oliver Lambert, partner in the firm
Defining dialogue: “We’re always doing battle with the government, Mitch.”
What he can do that Tom Cruise can’t: Go through whole scenes with arms folded, looking untouchable
What Tom Cruise can do that he can’t: Break a sweat