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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Louis Gossett Jr.’s greatest roles: A streaming guide

Louis Gossett Jr. during the 88th Academy Awards ceremony at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, Feb. 28, 2016. (Patrick T. Fallon/The New York Times)

By Jason Bailey

When most people think of venerable character actor Louis Gossett Jr., who died Friday at 87, they unders-tandably summon up his Oscar-winning turn in the 1982 drama “An Officer and a Gentleman.” But he accumula-ted more than 200 credits over a screen, stage and television career that spanned more than 60 years, and brought a skill set that included not only drama but comedy, science fiction, action and horror. Here are a few highlights from his illustrious career and where to stream them.

‘Roots’ (1977)

Gossett had already established himself as an actor of note onstage, and in television guest shots and small but me-morable appearances on film (“The Landlord,” “Skin Game”) when he was cast in the ABC miniseries adaptation of Alex Haley’s bestseller. He plays the key role of Fiddler, an older enslaved man who becomes a mentor to the central character, Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton). Fiddler allows Gossett to display several of the gifts that would distinguish him throughout his career: an inherent dignity, a no-nonsense toughness, and a (seemingly contradictory) warmth and humanity. The minise-ries was a cultural sensation, breaking records for television viewership, and Gossett would win an Emmy for his unfor-gettable work. (Rent or buy it on most major platforms.)

‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ (1982)

Gossett was 45 when he won the Oscar for best supporting actor — the first Black actor to do so — for his magnificent turn in this Richard Gere-fronted romantic drama. The role of Sgt. Foley, a drill instructor who breaks Gere’s hotshot recruit while simultaneously becoming a father figure to the young man, could have been played as a walking, talking cliche. But Gossett, who trained for the role at Camp Pendleton’s school for drill instructors, transcends the tropes of the character, investing Foley with genuine decency and unexpected warmth under his rock-hard exterior. “Mr. Gossett, always a good supporting player, is this time a star,” a New York Times critic wrote at the time. (Stream it on Max; rent or buy it on major platforms.)

‘Enemy Mine’ (1985)

Had Gossett landed a role like Foley a decade earlier, he might have spent the 1970s playing an assortment of rich and complicated characters. But the 1980s were not exactly a golden era of studio filmmaking, and he struggled to find projects worthy of his considerable talents, often proving the most (or only) noteworthy element of otherwise marginal ac-tion pictures such as “Iron Eagle” and “Firewalker.” But he got a genuine chance to act in this futuristic sci-fi adventure from director Wolfgang Petersen (“Air Force One”). Dennis Quaid is an intergalactic pilot marooned on a distant planet with an alien life form; Gossett is said alien, given the unenviable cha-llenge of acting a leading role through pounds of scaly makeup that renders him all but unrecognizable. Yet, he’s up to the task, investing the character with pathos and gravitas, while our knowledge of the actor underneath lends serious symbolic weight to the film’s themes of understanding and commonality between races. (Rent or buy it on major platforms.)

‘Diggstown’ (1992)

One of the undiscovered gems of the Gossett filmogra-phy is this sports-tinged comedy, a bit of a specialty for direc-tor Michael Ritchie, whose credits include “Semi-Tough” and “The Bad News Bears.” James Woods is a fast-talking con ar-tist and fight promoter who descends on the Georgia town of the title, known for its high-dollar illegal boxing matches, and makes a big bet: His fighter can take on any 10 opponents in 24 hours and beat them all. Gossett is Honey Roy Palmer, the fighter, and at 48, he seems like anything but a sure bet. But in this “Sting”-style twisty tale, no one and nothing are what they seem. It’s a perfect role for the actor, who plays it with a twinkle in his eye and plenty of tricks up his sleeve, and the result is “a funny and vulgar fable” that a Times critic praised for its “speed and cheerful nerviness.” (Stream it on Tubi and PluoTV; rent or buy it on Fandango at Home.)

‘Watchmen’ (2019)

Gossett received his final Emmy nomination (for outstanding supporting actor in a limited series or movie) for this adaptation of the wildly influential graphic novel by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore. Series creator Damon Lindelof freely reframed, reinterpreted and remixed the narrative out of its 1980s origins to address not only the hidden corners of America’s racial history, but the current moment of activism and protest. Gossett appears in the vital supporting role of Will Reeves, grandfather to the protagonist, Angela Abar (Regina King), whose age and wheelchair use hide a secret past: While a police officer in the late 1930s, he took on the secret identity of Hooded Justice, righting the wrongs that his racist police department ignored. It’s a staggering performance, and one that speaks to the power of Gossett’s persona: You don’t doubt for one moment that this man was once a literal superhero. (Stream it on Max; rent or buy it on major platforms.)

‘The Color Purple’ (2023)

Although he has several posthumous projects in postpro-duction, the final feature film appearance during Gossett’s lifeti-me was his brief but stinging turn in Blitz Bazawule’s adaptation of the Alice Walker story. He appears as Ol’ Mister, father to Colman Domingo’s Mister, a abusive and domineering husband who keeps the protagonist, Celie, under his thumb. In just a handful of scenes, Gossett’s work as a growling, bitter old man tells us everything we need to know about how and why the younger Mister is the way he is. Gossett shared in the nomina-tion for outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and that might be the best way to remember him: as an invaluable piece of so many en-sembles, a team player who nevertheless always shined bright. (Stream it on Max; rent or buy it on major platforms.)

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