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UPI Arts & Entertainment -- Scott's World

HOLLYWOOD (UPI) -- The best way for a producer to enrich his cast, be it comedy or drama, is to find a role for Dabney Coleman. Coleman plays the perfect lout, obstinate curmudgeon, outrageous chauvinist, garrulous grouch, hostile husband, cranky critic and all-around choleric, cantankerous cuss on screen.

In more than 150 movies and TV appearances Coleman has provided a potent dash of cayenne pepper in the tepid mix of nice guys and inoffensive villains in confrontational stories.

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No matter what other actors are thrown together, Coleman invariably proves to be the flash point individual adding zest and zing to the screen.

Remember his vile boss in "Nine to Five" (1980) with Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton? His scathing broadcaster in the TV series "Buffalo Bill"? How about Coleman's nervous wreck in "North Dallas Forty" (1979)?

Now Coleman is at his best again in the hot new TV series "The Guardian," playing Burton Fallin, father of newcomer Simon Baker.

The Texas native who'd prefer to live and work in New York City has struck gold in Hollywood where he has worked regularly in quality projects since 1965.

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Coleman's explosive presence on screen is as fascinating as the fulminations of Mount Etna. No one knows if or when his character is going to blow his top, which can be as spectacular as an Etna eruption.

Off-camera Coleman is a laid back, charming guy with a keen sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye that portends mischief of unknown relatedness.

There is nothing humorous, however, about the 60-year-old actor on the tennis court where he is perhaps the best celebrity player in Hollywood -- including Robert Duvall, a top player, whom he trounces regularly.

One day this week Coleman cheerfully observed, "Our show, 'The Guardian' just got picked up for 22 episodes."

How many series does that make for the indomitable Coleman?

"Let me see, I've done five or six starting with 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,' 'Apple Pie,' 'Slap Maxwell,' 'Buffalo Bill,' 'Drexell's Class,' "Madman of the People' and this one.

"This show, 'Mary Hartman' and 'Buffalo Bill' were a ball. The rest of them were tough; trying to be funny when the material isn't funny is the toughest. I was a victim of that.

"If the material is good as it is in 'The Guardian,' subtle, unpredictable and suspenseful it's nothing but high cotton.

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"My character, Fallin, is tough but he's fair, unlike some of the other horses asses I've played. My roles are often tough and mean and I get a kick out of playing them.

"Playing Harry Jeeter in 'Mary Hartman' started me on the road to curmudgeons. I fell into a kind of groove. It's fun to play those guys."

But it may have been costly to Coleman who realizes his outspoken, hard-edged roles clash with the politically correct characters that Hollywood writers and producers cherish. They don't want to offend anyone.

Coleman's characters often offend everybody in a film or TV show. He plays the equal opportunity offender supreme.

"I get to say a lot of outlandish things," he said grinning, "some of which I share personally with the particular oaf I may be playing.

"Series keep me here in town instead of out on locations somewhere, but where I want to be is in New York. It would be Nirvana if this show were in Manhattan.

"I lived in New York for four years and attended acting school there. That's my town. I'm from Texas but New York and I just hit it off.

"I've had a romance with the Mets for the past 40 years. The city has so much to offer and it likes individuality."

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Coleman appears satisfied with his career and the characters he plays, lamentably, however, he hasn't played romantic roles.

"I never get the girl," he said reproachfully.

"Never!

"Jobeth Williams was a guest on the show last week. At least I got to kiss Jobeth and then she ran out on me.

"Playing Fallin is challenging, which is the most fun for an actor. The better people you work with, the more challenging it is. Our guests are incredible."

Regardless, Coleman gives a welcome and refreshing performance whenever and wherever he is found by the camera. The audience is instantly aware something different is going to happen -- for better or worse.

Coleman, twice divorced, lives comfortably in Brentwood.

He chuckles about the sort of rascal/lecher he often plays on screen, the sort of guy who would bring attention to a homely woman whose slip is showing, but if she were sexy and beautiful he would try to take it off of her.

Few actors play a better boor, comic or nasty, than Dabney Coleman. Such clowns abound everywhere, but Coleman isn't one of them.

He just plays them better than anyone else.

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