Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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That Guy Salute: Stephen Lea Sheppard

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 3, 2007

“I’m not colorblind, am I?”

There’s something to be said for being a two-hit wonder. It’s not quite enough to establish a legitimate career, and it lacks the cultural cachet of being a one-and-done, but it means you don’t have to spend your whole life wondering how your life could’ve been different if you hadn’t done that one thing. It’s enough to prove that you’re not a fluke, but also enough to prove that you probably couldn’t have done too much better. And given the enduring legacies of some of our culture’s greatest two-hit wonders–Donald Faison, The Romantics, J.D. Sallinger, and so on–you’re not in such bad company, either.

There’s something even more to be said for being a two-hit wonder that did nothing else besides those two hits. Stephen Lea Sheppard’s two definitive roles–Harris Trinsky, the nerd Yoda of McKinley High, in Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s short-lived cult series Freaks and Geeks, and Dudley, the mentally loopy patient being studied by Bill Murray’s Raleigh St. Clair in the Wes Anderson classic The Royal Tenenbaums–are also his two only roles. As in, ever. Look at his IMDB resume: 1. The Royal Tenenbaums, 2. Freaks and Geeks. No direct-to-video horror sequels, no guest spots on Without a Trace–the dude is like the teen nerd equivalent of John Cazale. Pretty impressive.

Harris is certainly the more noteworthy of the two roles–the “We Like to Party” to Dudley’s “Boom Boom Boom Boom,” if you will. Appearing in half of the 18 Freaks & Geeks episodes, Harris was the closest thing to a legitimate father figure that Bill, Neil and Sam had, given that their fathers were missing, cheating, or the “Ya JACKASS!” guy from Happy Gilmore, respectively. The sage advice he presented on matters of life and love would’ve sounded unfounded and immature from a lesser actor (especially given that Harris couldn’t have been more than a year or two older than the boys himself, but from Sheppard the words sounded undeniably matter-of-fact and seemed to actually dwell from legitimate life experience. Plus, his one-line summation of James Franco’s Daniel DeSario pretty boy character–“You’re not a loser ’cause you have sex, but if you weren’t having sex, we could definitely debate the issue”–possibly goes down as the series’ highlight.

Sheppard gets less of a chance to show off his chops as Dudley in Royal Tenenbaums–the great majority of his mentions in the script were most likely something along the lines of “(stares blankly with mouth agape)”, and he has maybe a dozen lines the whole movie. But he does more without words–his silent scream reaction to discovering a bloody, unconscious Ritchie in the bathroom, the flipping down of his shades later at the hospital–than most actors could do with a part twice as long.

Plus, even when he’s not doing anything, he’s still almost always there–even when it makes little sense plotwise, as in why he would be showing up at Royal’s funeral, given that they exchange 0 dialogue the entire movie (and likely their whole lives). Let’s just bring him along, why not, all he’s gonna do is stare blankly with his mouth agape anyway.

There’s something to be said for three-hit wonders too, though–hey, one better is one better–and now that the Apatow ‘verse is reaching new galaxy-conquering proportions, I feel Sheppard is due a #3. Buddy cop movie with Jay Baruchel, anyone?

One Response to “That Guy Salute: Stephen Lea Sheppard”

  1. Rkye said

    Considering dude attached himself to two of the greatest nepotists of our time, I personally think it would be a greater feat to not play a bit part in the future.

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