First, you recognize his face. Then you think: bad guy. If you’ve seen The Grifters, A Few Good Men, The Client, Outbreak, Nixon, or Executive Decision, then you’ve seen J.T. Walsh portraying, in his words, ”ethically challenged” individuals. Not that it bothers him. ”It’s better than doing the ‘he went thataway’ roles,” he says. His characters, which tend to be middle-aged buttoned-down authority figures, drip with what he calls ”a little juice.”
Hard-pressed to think of a nice guy he’s played, Walsh, 52, easily recalls the lowest — the porn producer having an affair with his daughter in 1991’s Defenseless. Represented on video this week by the thrillers Black Day Blue Night and Sacred Cargo and in September by the indie comedy The Low Life, Walsh says he has no problem accepting low-profile projects. ”My motto has always been, Do whatever comes next,” he laughs.
Born in San Francisco, Walsh was raised in Germany, where his father served in the military. After graduating from the University of Rhode Island, Walsh worked for a decade as, by turns, a teacher, salesman, journalist, restaurant manager, and social worker. But those became just day jobs when, at 31, the self-proclaimed hippie began acting in regional East Coast theaters. In 1974, Walsh hung out at the Theater at St. Clement’s in New York City, where he met an unknown playwright named David Mamet. Cast in the role of Bobby in American Buffalo, he made $100 for the six-week run. Ten years later, Mamet picked Walsh for the Broadway production of Glengarry Glen Ross, which was ”the pop” that got him into the movies. Walsh moved to L.A., where he’s been evil ever since.
Married briefly in his 20s, the unattached Walsh (”Who wants to go out with the bad guy?”) lives in the San Fernando Valley with his 22-year-old son, John. He’s currently playing — surprise — a morally ambiguous Navy colonel on NBC’s sci-fi drama Dark Skies. ”As an actor he conveys the attitude of the guy you call if you need a job done,” says Bryce Zabel, the show’s executive producer. ”You wouldn’t want to ask him how he got it done, but you’d call him.”
”Sure, I want bigger parts,” Walsh says. ”I call Sharon Stone and say: ‘Gimme a break. I just wanna make love to you.’ She doesn’t get back to me.”