Louis Gossett Jr. Streaming Guide: ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ to ‘The Color Purple’

Louis Gossett Jr. Streaming Guide: ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ to ‘The Color Purple’

When most people think of the venerable character actor Louis Gossett Jr., who died Friday at 87, they understandably summon up his Oscar-winning turn in the 1982 drama “An Officer and a Gentleman.” But he accumulated over 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 also comedy, science fiction, action and horror. Here are a few highlights from his illustrious career and where to stream them.

1977

Rent or buy it on most major platforms.

Gossett had already established himself as an actor of note onstage, and in television guest shots and small but memorable appearances on film (“The Landlord,” “Skin Game”) when he was cast in the ABC mini-series adaptation of Alex Haley’s best seller. 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 mini-series was a cultural sensation, breaking records for television viewership, and Gossett would win an Emmy for his unforgettable work.

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 Sergeant Foley, the 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 cliché. 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,” our critic wrote at the time.

1985

Rent or buy it on major platforms.

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 action pictures like “Iron Eagle” and “Firewalker.” But he got a genuine chance to act in this futuristic sci-fi adventure from the 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 challenge 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.

One of the undiscovered gems of the Gossett filmography is this sports-tinged comedy, a bit of a specialty for the director Michael Ritchie, whose credits include “Semi-Tough” and “The Bad News Bears.” James Woods is a fast-talking con man 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 our critic praised for its “speed and cheerful nerviness.”

2019

Stream it on Max; rent or buy it on major platforms.

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 also 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 policeman in the late 1930s, he took on the secret identity of Hooded Justice, righting the wrongs 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.

2023

Stream it on Max; rent or buy it on major platforms.

Though he has several posthumous projects in postproduction, the final feature film appearance during Gossett’s lifetime 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, the 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 nomination 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 ensembles, a team player who nevertheless always shined bright.

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