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<p>Christopher Heyerdahl as The Swede on &quot;Hell on Wheels.&quot;</p>

Christopher Heyerdahl as The Swede on "Hell on Wheels."

Credit: AMC

Season premiere review: 'Hell on Wheels' - 'Viva La Mexico'

What did everybody think of the AMC Western's return?

reviewed the start of "Hell on Wheelsseason 2 this morning. Now it's your turn. For those of you who came back, what did you think of the season premiere? Did it feel like any kind of significant leap forward? Could you see the influence of new producer (and "Breaking Bad" alum) John Shiban? (Shiban, by the way, wrote next week's episode, while the premiere was written by the Gayton brothers.) Do you like the new roles many of the characters find themselves in, or would you rather The Swede was still The Swede? (For that matter, are you with me that a Christopher Heyerdahl-centered version of this show would be a vast improvement?) 

The sense I got before I stopped doing weekly talkbacks in season 1 (I won't be doing them this season, by the way) was that the people who were still watching genuinely enjoyed the show, but I'm curious if that affection survived the hiatus — and also whether anyone who gave up earlier in the run came back to see what was happening here.

Have at it.

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<p>Hayden Panettiere of &quot;Nashville&quot;</p>

Hayden Panettiere of "Nashville"

Credit: ABC

Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'Nashville'

Music-themed soap is full of terrific elements, but will they gel?

[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]

Show: "Nashville" (ABC)
The Pitch:"Take 'Dallas,' replace oil with country music, transplant it to Nashville and... BAM!" Or, if you prefer... "You know how NOBODY saw 'Country Strong'? We could ditch the title, turn it into a TV show and nobody would ever know."
Quick Response: ABC's "Nashville" has every element in place to be a potentially great show. Or at least it has every element in place to be a fun primetime soap in an underutilized location with perhaps a little extra substance. And maybe the problem that I have with this pilot, which is solidly written by Callie Khouri and solidly directed by R.J. Cutler, is that it just has too many elements in place and no way to do justice to all of those elements in 42 minutes. Every time I got into one plotline or another, I was abruptly yanked out and forced into another and just when I settled in and decided I was interested in that plotline, it was off to something else. I got no cumulative impact out of the pilot at all, but I could see how I'd happily watch a series that ACTUALLY focused on Connie Britton's Reba-esque Raya (kinda an inverted Mrs Coach, as a woman whose long overshadowed husband decides he wants his own profile) or Hayden Panettiere's Taylor Swift-esque Juliette (kinda an emotionally wounded, sexually voracious singing dwarf) or Powers Boothe's Lamar (kinda JR Ewing, only played by Powers Boothe) or the sweet dynamic between Sam Palladio and Clare Bowen (like a country-tinged "Once"). What I didn't buy was the attempt, at least in the pilot, to pretend like all of the storylines had equal value, when they clearly don't. Boothe and Britton are, of course, two actors who I'd watch do just about anything and this has the potential to be the best project for Britton since "Friday Night Lights" and for Boothe since "Hatfields & McCoys" (yes, I'm well aware that those projects were two years and one year ago). Panettiere doesn't have their chops, but she's actually perfectly cast in this role and I love the visual dexterity required to frame her in a way in which she looks full-sized. Credit to Khouri and Cutler for their treatment of the eponymous city, which gets to be the only character in every scene and therefore the only character I fully bought. And credit to T-Bone Burnett for a few original country songs that, without question, could be hits in the hands of the right artists. This is just a hard sort of sprawling epic to get right in a network TV hour. "Nashville" could be the sort of show that works best cumulatively, rather than one episode at a time. Then again, I have colleagues who loved this one, so they obviously connected in a way I did not.
Desire To Watch Again: Fairly strong. I watched a full season of "Revenge" in this time period and I didn't like "Revenge" and "Revenge" didn't have nearly the number of quality elements that "Nashville" has already, or the grasp on a grounded and interesting reality that "Nashville" may aspire to. In a perfect world, I'd have one or two additional "Nashville" episodes to see before writing a review, just to have a better idea of the focus moving forward.

 

Take Me To The Pilots '12: CBS' 'Made in Jersey'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'Emily Owens, M.D.'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: FOX's 'Mob Doctor'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Animal Practice'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'Last Resort'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: CBS' 'Vegas'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'Beauty & The Beast'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's '666 Park Avenue'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Chicago Fire'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: FOX's 'Ben and Kate'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: CBS' 'Elementary'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'Arrow'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'The Neighbors'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Revolution'
All of last year's Take Me To The Pilots entries

 

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<p>2 Chainz and Nicki Minaj in &quot;I Love Dem Strippers&quot;</p>

2 Chainz and Nicki Minaj in "I Love Dem Strippers"

Watch: Nicki Minaj and 2 Chainz reunite on 'I Love Dem Strippers,' with strippers

NSFW clip features Minaj fierce and Chainz one-noting

It's not a stretch to say that 2 Chainz "I Love Dem Strippers" featuring Nicki Minaj doesn't sound like anything new. The video looks exactly like you think it would, with the Atlanta rhymer buttressed by butts and dollar bills raining from this hands. The hook is just the song title repeated over and over with Chainz bumpy slow flow oozing with the usual boasts.

The big question for MInaj: will she work the pole or is she asserting her breadwinner status on the couch with the rest of the dude bros? Because that's what this is: Dude-broage. Minaj -- whose rhymes come off way hotter -- opts to uptake the traditional male role in rap: rappers are paid to rap, and they use that money to pay women to take off their clothes. Grass is green, sky is blue.

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<p>Anson Mount and Common in &quot;Hell on Wheels.&quot;</p>

Anson Mount and Common in "Hell on Wheels."

Credit: AMC

Review: AMC's 'Hell on Wheels' returns for season 2

Western drama still not up to level of 'Mad Men' or 'Breaking Bad,' but does it need to be?

It has been five years since AMC's introduced the world to "Mad Men," and more than four since the channel debuted "Breaking Bad." That is arguably the greatest one-two punch ever from a TV network just getting into the drama game (HBO has "The Sopranos" on its side, but the two AMC dramas are close enough to that, and easily ahead of "Oz"), and it's set the bar absurdly — and probably unfairly — high for the AMC original dramas that have followed it.

Since we first met Don Draper and Walter White, AMC has had a noble failure in the spy thriller "Rubicon," a huge commercial success but uneven artistic one in "The Walking Dead, a show that invited an enormous backlash in "The Killing" and, most recently, "Hell on Wheels," which was greeted last summer by many critics (myself included) as, at best, "Deadwood" Lite.

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<p>Justin Kirk of &quot;Animal Practice&quot;</p>

Justin Kirk of "Animal Practice"

Credit: NBC

Monkey business reigns on the set of NBC's 'Animal Practice'

Can Justin Kirk and JoAnna Garcia Swisher avoid being upstaged by Crystal?
HOLLYWOOD - For new network TV shows, August is a period of exploration. Actors and producers get together for the first time since the pilot and try to establish a creative rapport. 
 
There's a lot of sniffing around and marking territory. 
 
For one new NBC show, that process is being taken to an extreme. On a hot August day on a frantic stage on the Paramount Lot, the actors are jumping through hoops to impress the producers, they're being reassured at how cute they are by total strangers, they're sniffing the butts of their new co-stars and, in case anybody gets too excited, there are conveniently located hydrants and waste receptacles.
 
This might be hard to imagine, but in a city where a Charlie Sheen sitcom is currently in production, no set in town is a bigger zoo than the one housing NBC's "Animal Practice."
 
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<p>Carly Rae Jepsen</p>

Carly Rae Jepsen

Credit: Jonathan Short/AP

Music Power Rankings: Carly Rae Jepsen, Madonna and Lady Gaga vie for No. 1

'American Idol's' Phllip Phillips also makes this week's list

1. Carly Rae Jepsen: She’s never going away...or at least “Call Me Maybe” isn’t: the song spends its 9th week at No. 1, making it officially the longest reign at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 2012.

2. Phillip Phillips: The “American Idol” champ sees his coronation song, “Home,” triple somersault its way from No. 84 to No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 following its usage as the US Olympic women’s gymnastics team theme. Just one more thing to thank Gabby Douglas for.

3. Lady Gaga: She confirms that the title of her fourth studio album will be “ARTPOP,” and tweets that all caps must be used. Can you spell PRETENTIOUS?

4. Rick Ross: “God Forgives, I Don’t” gives the rapper his fourth No. 1 album.  God politely asks if he can have the top spot back when Ross is done with it.

5. Faith Hill and Tim McGraw: The country superstars become the latest act to sign on for a stint in Las Vegas. Guess she really meant in when she sang, “Let’s Go To Vegas” all those years ago.

6. Madonna: Tacky antics like flashing her audience have dogged Madge this tour, but she put her power to good in Russia when she pledged her support to jailed female rock band Pussy Riot one night and spoke out for gay rights the next.

7. The Monkees: Following Davy Jones’ death, the remaining three members decide to go on tour to perform their first concerts with Michael Nesmith in 15 years.

8. Adam Yauch: Among his final wishes, he stipulated in his will that none of the music he created with the Beastie Boys and separately may be used in advertising.  How 1990s of him.

9. 50 Shades of Grey:
It had to happen. The cottage industry surrounding the top seller now has a classical music soundtrack, brought to you by Mommy Porn Records.

10. Marvin Hamlisch:
The composer enjoyed a 45-year life span on the Billboard 100 with his music recorded or sampled by everyone from Barbra Streisand to Wu-Tang Clan. R.I.P.
 

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<p>Janet Montgomery of &quot;Made in Jersey&quot;</p>

Janet Montgomery of "Made in Jersey"

Credit: CBS

Take Me To The Pilots '12: CBS' 'Made in Jersey'

Janet Montgomery has star potential, even in a bland vehicle

[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]

Show: "Made in Jersey" (CBS)
The Pitch: "My Cousin Vinnie," if you got rid of Joe Pesci and it just turned out that Marisa Tomei was a talented lawyer, in addition to being a hilarious ethnic stereotype.
Quick Response: There was a period a few summers ago when kept looking up an attractive, vivid supporting actress who I couldn't immediately identify and it turned out to be Janet Montgomery each time, even though the parts were as different as a British Hollywood secretary and a fantasy football advice-dispensing Las Vegas stripper. After two IMDB searches and one casting announcement, I finally got her name locked in, which isn't bad by my standards. Janet Montgomery *is* a star. I agree with FOX, which brought her in in an unsuccessful attempt to goose ratings for "Human Target" and I agree with CBS, which cast Montgomery in a show called "Made in Jersey," despite a natural accent that's distinctly from the wrong side of The Pond. I don't really know what to make of "Made in Jersey," unfortunately. CBS has been running trailers which focus more on Fish Out of Water humor than the actual tone of the show, which is closer to a straight-forward character-driven legal procedural with hints of cartoony local color. Montgomery, whose Jersey accent is acceptable, if not flawless, is very good playing a woman who comes off as kinda a Sherlock Holmes for trashy, blue collar details. She's sexy and straight-forward and Montgomery really isn't mugging or over-relying on stereotypes. The same cannot be said of Donna Murphy and Erin Cummings as two members of the main character's Big Stereotypical Italian Family, an element that the producers said at TCA press tour that they intend to play up. Ugh. Bad idea. I'm also concerned by Stephanie March, whose character only exists to waltz in and out of scenes underestimating our heroine and spitting out WASP-y condemnations of Jersey. I sense that creator Dana Calvo is using March as the one-dimensional embodiment of all of the people who underestimated her, but when half of the cast seems to be living down to Jersey stereotypes, it's tough to know what to take seriously. Coming out of the pilot, I think I have a good sense of what Felix Solis and Toni Trucks are going to contribute to this show, but I don't have a clue why Kyle MacLachlan is here.
Desire To Watch Again: I think I'm curious to see what show "Made in Jersey" actually ends up being. The more serious version of the show could live up to Montgomery's talent and could make an appropriate hammock show between "CSI: NY" and "Blue Bloods" in CBS' schedule. The hammier, more gag-driven version of the show will stick out like a sore thumb in CBS' Friday lineup and will likely be gone by midseason, setting Montgomery up for better and maybe bigger things down the road. I'll give this one another week or two to see which show it becomes. Watching CBS meddle "A Gifted Man" into an early grave last year didn't give me confidence.

Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'Emily Owens, M.D.'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: FOX's 'Mob Doctor'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Animal Practice'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'Last Resort'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: CBS' 'Vegas'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'Beauty & The Beast'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's '666 Park Avenue'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Chicago Fire'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: FOX's 'Ben and Kate'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: CBS' 'Elementary'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'Arrow'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'The Neighbors'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Revolution'
All of last year's Take Me To The Pilots entries

 

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<p>There may be human actors on &quot;Animal Practice,&quot;&nbsp;but you'll probably only care about the monkey.</p>

There may be human actors on "Animal Practice," but you'll probably only care about the monkey.

Credit: NBC

Review: NBC's 'Animal Practice' better with monkeys than people

Everyone loves Annie's Boobs, but will they love Justin Kirk and friends?

NBC has four new sitcoms debuting this fall, and has chosen two of them to sneak preview during its Olympic coverage — a glorious two-week stretch where people are actually watching NBC again. One of those sitcoms is "Go On," which aired last night; the other is "Animal Practice," which will air a commercial-free version of its pilot episode tomorrow night in the odd timeslot of 10:38 p.m.

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<p>Mamie Gummer of &quot;Emily Owens, M.D.'</p>

Mamie Gummer of "Emily Owens, M.D.'

Credit: The CW

Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'Emily Owens, M.D.'

Is Mamie Gummer enough to make up for a weak title and predictable plotting?

[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]

Show:"Emily Owens, MD" (The CW)
The Pitch: "We need a medical drama that we can pair with 'Hart of Dixie,' but one that people won't mock because the central doctor wears formal shorts!"
Quick Response: Part of a gut reaction to a show is the reaction to its title and "Emily Owens, MD" has one of the worst titles on TV. It's a name that's evocative of literally nothing other than the main character's name and profession. "House" was briefly "House, MD," but the name/word "House" is immediately evocative. It's a word with ingrained value. "Doogie Howser, MD" has an immediate hook because the name "Doogie" juxtaposed with the profession tells you almost everything you need to know about a show focusing on a diminutive doctor. "Emily Owens, MD" is the combination of a generic name and a profession. The CW might as well just call the show "Pretty Lady Doctor," which is a crappy title, but at least contains narrative information [FOX's "Mob Doctor" has basically taken this naming approach]. And it's not like "Emily Owens, MD" doesn't have a workable hook. Mamie Gummer's eponymous character is a fresh-faced doctor who thinks she'll be able to reinvent herself in her new workplace, only to discover that the medical world is just like high school. Oh and she's at the same hospital as her med school crush Will. So the hook is something like "Undeclared" meets "Felicity" by way of "Grey's Anatomy." You won't find a second of "Emily Owens, MD" that isn't familiar, but shows of this type, shows so completely and utterly centered around a single character, can rise or fall beyond their pedestrian roots if the lead actor is good enough. Mamie Gummer -- still not quite entrenched enough in her own identity not to be best-known as Meryl Streep's eerily similar daughter -- is a good enough lead actor that I'm probably willing to give "Emily Owens" a couple episodes not instantly warranted by the awful title, the corny voice-over, the perfunctory love triangle and the rehashed medical procedure. She's funny and vulnerable when she needs to be and when she's supposed to display that the character is actually a good doctor, she's properly assertive. I sense that Gummer may be playing a slightly funnier version of the main character than the script required, but as Gummer showed on "The Good Wife," she's able to play characters who function semi-comedically within a drama. Such as the show is, Gummer makes it semi-watchable and occasionally she even makes it enjoyable, though it's going to take more than one episode before Justin Hartley, Michael Rady and Jack Coleman make impressions that go beyond "Tall," "Guy from 'Greek'" and "Guy from 'Heroes.'" None of the female supporting players make impressions that are even that concrete. 
Desire To Watch Again: Not huge, but I certainly won't actively avoid it. I watched every episode of "Hart of Dixie" and likely will continue to watch and I don't know if I'd be able to give you an empirical, objective reason why "Hart of Dixie" is markedly better than "Emily Owens, MD." It just happens that "Hart of Dixie" has more people I like in it and it also seems less hung up on its medical trappings. So OK. There's my answer for why "Hart of Dixie" is better. It's a portrait of a fantastical, imaginary Southern town that happens to have a generic medical procedural occasionally dancing around the edges. "Emily Owens, MD" is a generic medical procedural that just happens to have an interesting lead performance. I can still imagine watching "Emily Owens, MD" again at some point.

Take Me To The Pilots '12: FOX's 'Mob Doctor'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Animal Practice'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'Last Resort'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: CBS' 'Vegas'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'Beauty & The Beast'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's '666 Park Avenue'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Chicago Fire'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: FOX's 'Ben and Kate'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: CBS' 'Elementary'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'Arrow'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'The Neighbors'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Revolution'
All of last year's Take Me To The Pilots entries

 

 

 

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<p>The cover of Rick Ross' &quot;God Forgives... I Don't&quot;</p>

The cover of Rick Ross' "God Forgives... I Don't"

'Now 43' poised to knock Rick Ross out of the Billboard 200 top spot

Why is Frank Sinatra coming back into the top 5?

“Now That’s What I Call Music 43” will be the No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 next week as fans continue to gravitate toward the multi-artist greatest hits sets.

“Now 43,” which contains such smashes as Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and Katy Perry’s “Part of Me,” will be the 16th title in the franchise to hit the top spot, according to Billboard.

The collection is on track to sell up to 120,00 copies, twice as many as Rick Ross’s “God Forgives, I Don’t,” which will drop from No. 1 to No. 2.

In addition to “Now 43,” two other titles are poised for Top 10 bows: Ellie Varner’s debut, “Perfectly Imperfect,”  at No. 7 and country singer Colt Ford’s “Declaration of Independence” at No. 10, according to Hits Daily Double.

A very unlikely name comes in at No. 3 as Frank Sinatra’s “Nothing But The Best” is set to reenter the chart. Similarly to this week, when the Bee Gees’ best of soared back into the top 10, “Nothing” is part of Amazon’s 99-cent Daily Deals.

Also in next week’s top 10: Zac Brown Band’s “Unchained” drops to No. 4 (although it may lose that spot to Justin Bieber’s “Believe’: both are on target to sell between 30,000-35,000 copies). 

Though Varner looks good for No.7, she, One Direction’s “Up All Night” and Adele’s “21” are all slated to sell between 27,000-30,000, meaning we won’t know who’s landing at No. 6, 7, and 8 until the chart closes on Sunday.

The latest from Kidz Bop Kids will likely be No. 9 with Ford at No. 10.

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<p>Tony Gilroy seems comfortable having taken over as the lead creative talent on the franchise as we discussed at 'The Bourne Legacy' press day.</p>

Tony Gilroy seems comfortable having taken over as the lead creative talent on the franchise as we discussed at 'The Bourne Legacy' press day.

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Tony Gilroy discusses his 'Flowers For Algernon' take on 'Bourne'

The writer of the series takes over as director and tries something bold

Tony Gilroy is pretty much the model of a working Hollywood screenwriter in the year 2012.  He's crossed over and become a director as well, but when you look at his career path in general, this is a guy who had to define himself while doing works for hire, something that can easily grind up a writer, even a smart and dedicated one.

"The Bourne Legacy" is a long way from "The Cutting Edge," Gilroy's first produced piece of work, and when you look at his '90s credits, he worked on a lot of studio pictures like "Armageddon," "Extreme Measures," "The Devil's Advocate," "Bait," "Proof Of Life," and the Stephen King adaptation, "Delores Clairborne."

It was in 2002, though, that he finally got the main credit on an undeniably big hit, "The Bourne Identity" and building off of that as a starting point, he wrote both sequels and then jumped into directing with two films that he also wrote, "Michael Clayton" and "Duplicity."  The identity he's established for himself as a filmmaker now is that he crafts very slick adult entertainment, movies that are definitely big-studio friendly, but that have a little extra something to them.

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<p>Dolph Lundgren was in such a good mood at the press day for 'The Expendables 2' that he didn't even threaten to break me.</p>

Dolph Lundgren was in such a good mood at the press day for 'The Expendables 2' that he didn't even threaten to break me.

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Dolph Lundgren on folding real life into 'The Expendables 2'

He's fighting on the same side as Rocky this time, and enjoying every minute of it.

Dolph Lundgren has always looked more like a Stan Winston creation than an actual flesh-and-blood human being.

For one thing, he's ridiculously tall.  I'm 6'2", and I'm used to being one of the taller people in any given situation.  When I met Lundgren at the recent press day for "The Expendables 2," though, I was startled to realize he stands somewhere around eight-and-a-half feet tall.

Seeing him in "Rocky IV" when it was first released, I was amazed at how much he looked like a special effect, production designed rather than cast.  He remains the most visually iconic of all of Rocky's foes in the six films, and he's never really had a role that better utilized his particular talents onscreen.

He's a hard guy to cast in anything besides crazy action films, though, because he doesn't exactly radiate human warmth and kindness, and he's not a guy you give a three page monologue to as a performer.  You have to cast him right, and you have to have a role that utilizes the skills he does have instead of pushing him to do things that are outside his range.

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