John Mahoney plays the heavy again in 'Article 99'

March 19, 1992|By Steven Rea | Steven Rea,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

In "Article 99," John Mahoney plays Dr. Henry Dreyfoos, the callous director of a Veterans Hospital who's more concerned with his institution's budget than with the care accorded its patients. "I'm this incredibly unfeeling administrator who is basically using his position as a stepping stone to a political career in Washington," the actor reports.

Ray Liotta, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker and Kathy Baker are the four young, dedicated docs who do battle with Mahoney in the Howard Deutch-directed black comedy. "Once again I'm the heavy," Mr. Mahoney adds with a laugh. "It's them against me -- with them winning, of course."

Playing the heavy is a job to which Mr. Mahoney, 51, is accustomed. A white supremacist in "Betrayed," an unsympathetic judge in "Suspect," a coldblooded colonel in "The Manhattan Project" -- Mr. Mahoney brings a bureaucratic chilliness to his bad-guy roles. But the Chicago-based character actor, a veteran of more than 30 productions with the renowned Steppenwolf Theater company, is anything but chilly in person. And anything but one-note.

In the Coen Brothers' "Barton Fink," Mr. Mahoney turned in a deft portrait of a boozing Southern writer, a William Faulkner type who has sold out to Hollywood. In Cameron Crowe's "Say Anything," Mr. Mahoney was the amoral but nonetheless sympathetically drawn father of Ione Skye. In Barry Levinson's "Tin Men," he sold aluminum siding with Richard Dreyfuss.

Mr. Mahoney, who grew up in Manchester, England, but lost his accent when he moved to the States in the late '50s, pegs the typecasting to his first New York stage role: as the drunken, manipulative Harold in Lyle Kessler's "Orphans." (Mr. Mahoney's friend and fellow Mancunian, Albert Finney, starred in the film adaptation.)

Mr. Mahoney, who didn't start acting professionally until he was 37, continues to jump back and forth between stage, screen and television. On April 7, CBS will debut the Dick Wolf-produced series "The Human Factor," in which Mr. Mahoney stars as a doctor who gives up private practice to teach in a med school.

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