Acting is a skill that requires intense focus and an incredible amount of natural talent. Acting like white trash simply requires a lack of focus and an incredible amount of Natural Light. That said, some actors manage the role better than others and that’s what I’ll be examining today as I present the 12 greatest portrayals of white trash in film.
While I’m not stack ranking these performances one through twelve, it seemed appropriate to give Cage the top billing on this list. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the role of the ex-convict baby-snatcher H.I. “call me Hi” as well as he did back in this 1987 Coen brothers classic. The character lived in a trailer in the Arizona desert and required a Hollywood actor that could sell the part. Since it isn’t hard to figure if Nic Cage hadn’t gotten his big break that is exactly where he’d be right now, it is safe to say H.I. McDonnough was the role he was born to play. Johnny Blaze (Ghost Rider) on the other hand, was not.
Best line: “We figured there was too much happiness here for just the two of us, so we figured the next logical step was to have us a critter.”
Cousin Eddie is perhaps the quintessential white trash character in the comedy genre, and Randy Quaid nailed it. While the character slipped a bit in the sequels that would follow, his role in the 1983 original was nothing short of brilliant. He carries a half-finished sixer around in the yard, hits up Clark for an obscene amount of money and, according to his daughter, he is the best French kisser around. Add it all up and you’ve got a character that is a lock to make this list.
Best line: “I don’t know why they call this stuff hamburger helper. It does just fine by itself, huh? I like it better than tuna helper myself, don’t you, Clark?”
Few and far between are the 500 pound Caucasian women that are not classified as white trash. You have to have a serious addiction to soap operas, inactivity and Cheetos to get that big. I don’t know a lot about Darlene Cates’ background, but she was born in Texas and weighed around 550 pounds when she made her acting debut in this film so it’s a safe bet to assume she may have known a thing or two about acting like white trash. Just the same, she did turn in a fine performance in this film alongside two of today’s most acclaimed actors, Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio. Unfortunately for her, Hollywood’s obsession with rail-thin actresses prevented her from finding much work after the film wrapped. I guess the world just wasn’t ready for There’s Something About Mary starring Darlene Cates.
Best line: “You’re my knight in shimmering armor. Did you know that?”
First of all, if you are going to write a white trash character into a script, naming him Doyle is an excellent start. It also helps if you have him get murdered by a retarded lead character, because whether you know it or not, in the trailer parks of the flyover states it happens more frequently than you’d think. Secondly, when you cast the role, why not look to the world of country music to find your actor. It just makes sense. Dwight Yoakam’s performance as Doyle Hargraves clearly draws on what must have been real life experiences growing up as he effortlessly plays an abusive, alcoholic, homophobic, retard-hating redneck in rural Arkansas. However, not every country singer can act, as was clearly evidenced by Toby Keith in his role as Joe Bill ‘Rack’ Racklin in Beer for My Horses (yes, that is a real movie… you can look it up).
Best line: “You know better than to talk to me like that when I’m hurtin’, Linda. Don’t make me knock the piss outta you.”
In a role that forever ruined the way I look at Charlize Theron physically but enhanced my opinion of her as an actress, Monster provided a platform for a view into the world of an All-American prostitute/serial killer. And guess what? It’s a pretty goddamned scary view. As an individual that has never ventured into the world of picking up street hookers I can safely say that, while I have no immediate plans to do so, after seeing this film I can guarantee that it is something I will never do… unless she looks like the Charlize Theron from The Devil’s Advocate, in which case all bets are off.
Best line: “People always look down their noses at hookers. Never give you a chance, because they think you took the easy way out, when no one could imagine the willpower it took to do what we do. Walking the streets, night after night, taking the hits and still getting back up.”
Being from Texas himself, Office Space writer/director Mike Judge didn’t miss a beat in writing and casting the character of Lawrence. From the handlebar stash to the 16 ounce beer can in a koozie, Diedrich Bader’s role was a perfect example of suburban Texas white trash. Sure, he’s no woman beater like Doyle Hargrave but you wouldn’t want to cross him after a few pitchers in a local tavern. His understanding of his place in life is perfectly stated when he declares knowingly that he would need a million dollars to find a couple of girls to double up on “a dude like him” and his obsession with “the breast exam” on channel 9 is about what you would expect from a white trash neighbor like Lawrence.
Best line: “Tell me about it, man. I gotta wake my ass up at 6:00 a.m. every day this week, drag up to Las Colindas. Yeah, I’m doin’ the drywall up there at the new McDonald’s.”
The year 1986 was an amazing time for Kurt Russell and white trash characters. In the two movies he was in that were released that year he played Taft High football legend turned custom van painter Reno Hightower in The Best of Times and truck driver turned Lo Pan spirit fighter in John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China. It was tough to choose between the two, but in the end it didn’t really matter. He was equally convincing in both roles and his mullet flowed gracefully across the silver screen in each of the films. However, his work as Jack Burton featured the misplaced arrogance common in real life white trash and so in the end that was what won out. Besides, we had to pick one and it’s like Jack Burton always says, “What the hell.” Right?
Best line: “What does that mean? Huh? ‘China is here.’ I don’t even know what the hell that means. All I know is this Lo Pan character comes out of thin air in the middle of a goddamn alley while his buddies are flying around on wires cutting everybody to shreds, and he just stands there waiting for me to drive my truck straight through him, with light coming out of his mouth!”
In a role that required very little acting (other than “acting” like her normal self) Courtney Love pulled off the role of Althea Flynt in The People vs. Larry Flynt well enough to earn herself a Golden Globe Nomination for Best Actress. Again, you have to give the casting director a lot of credit for choosing Love to play the runaway stripper that eventually marries smut king Larry Flynt. I’m not sure anyone would have bought Julia Roberts in the role, despite the fact that she had played a hooker before in Pretty Woman. The role wasn’t for a hooker with a heart of gold. It was for a hooker with a heart of cold, bitterness and anger. Even Kurt Cobain would agree, who better for that than Courtney Love?
Best line: “I’ve had an epiphany once, Larry. When my daddy shot my entire family in the head, and I was the only one to identify the bodies, and I was sent to an orphanage full of good Christian nuns who shoved my face into their pussies with their crucifixes on for eight goddamn years!”
Christina Ricci’s role as a Tennessee nymphomaniac that uses drugs and bangs anything with a pulse when her National Guard boyfriend gets deployed is nothing more than your average story about the probable consequences of such actions. In her case, the result was a rape attempt turned murder attempt at the hands of her boyfriend’s buddy (appropriately named Gill) followed by the usual dumping of her body on the side of the road only to be discovered by a religious African American bluesman that chains her up in his home and attempt to cure her of her sinful ways. Of course, a Stockholm syndrome of sorts kicks in and she stays on her own free will and in the end confronts her mother about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child and reunites with her boyfriend with whom she goes on to live happily ever after. You know, that same tired old story.
Best line: “Well if they weren’t you could kiss my rebel coochie, faggot.”
This is another character that joins the perfectly named character club in Brad Pitt’s role as Early Grayce, a white trash fella with a penchant for good times, Lucky Lager and murdering people. In fact, if you consider this list and the white trash roles Hollywood has put out over the years, you’d think that all white trash people do is get wasted and murder each other. I suppose in some ways that’s not too far from the truth, but it does seem a bit exaggerated in the movies. Just the same, Pitt balanced out a sweet year in 1993 with his role as a psycho in this film and in True Romance as the honeybear-bong smoking stoner Floyd showing a range of personalities that would eventually lead to him being better known today by most housewives as the better half of Brangelina.
Best line: “Is it just me, or did this trip go downhill since we ran out of Lucky Lager?”
If you are part of a tight crew and you are doing a big job that requires skill, precision and discipline, you’d be best to reconsider bringing Waingro along. This was Neil’s fatal mistake in Heat and he paid dearly for it. As for Waingro himself, the role was played flawlessly by Kevin Gage, so much in fact that he probably has a hard time visiting African American hookers in real life for fear that he may notify them that they are visiting with the Grim Reaper. But if that’s the biggest problem Gage has these days he needs to really rethink his priorities because unfortunately for him he hasn’t been able to take his career beyond character-actor status. But nevertheless, he’ll always have his role as Waingro under his belt and we’ll never forget him for that.
Best line: “I am cowboy, looking for anything heavy. Billy Rickets sent me so that is wh I am here.”
There was no way we could do this list and not find a place for Billy Bob Thorton. He has made a career out of playing white trash characters and so choosing just one was difficult, but his role as Jacob in A Simple Plan stands out above the rest, probably due to the excellent direction of Sam Raimi. Whatever the reason, you have to believe that a guy that came to Hollywood to be an actor and kept the name Billy Bob would be able to deliver as Jacob and when the time came, he did. He even racked up quite a few Best Supporting Actor awards for his efforts. Oh, and in another achievement that was no small task, he also was banging Angelina Jolie quite a bit around that time. Unfortunately for him it seems that Billy Bobjelina didn’t have enough of a ring to it for things to work out.
Best line: “Yeah, in my wildest f*ckin’ dreams a Trans-Am!”