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Anthony James (1942–2020), actor in “Unforgiven,” “In the Heat of the Night”

by Linnea Crowther

Anthony James was a character actor best known for roles in movies including “In the Heat of the Night” and “Unforgiven.”

A career playing villains

With a skinny, lanky build and narrow face, James was instantly recognizable, even though he was never a leading man. He was more likely to plat a villain instead, starting with his debut film, the Best Picture-winning “In the Heat of the Night” (1967). In it, he played a murderous diner employee. James went on to play bad guys in other films: He was a thieving hitchhiker in “Vanishing Point” (1971), an outlaw who killed a federal marshal in “High Plains Drifter” (1973), and a bomber in “Naked Gun 2-1/2: The Smell of Fear.” His other movies include Burnt Offerings” (1976) and “Return from Witch Mountain” (1978). He made TV appearances in shows including “Gunsmoke,” ”The A-Team,” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” James’ last role before his retirement was as brothel owner Skinny Dubois in “Unforgiven,” another Oscar winner for Best Picture. James also painted and wrote poetry.

James on his movie debut

“When I left the dressing room and walked out for the first scene in the diner, I felt I was being led to a guillotine! I tried to keep my voice from breaking I was so terrified. But I told myself to just be the character – imagine there was no camera, no crew, no marks to hit, to just always go back to being the character. Norman Jewison was a supportive director and the scene was done in one take.” —from a 2016 interview with The Spectrum


What people said about him

Full obituary: People

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