Kumar Pallana, the actor best known for small but memorable roles in Wes Anderson’s films, has died at age 94, according to a source close to his family. Pallana first came to filmgoers’ attention with Anderson’s Bottle Rocket, in which he played one of Owen Wilson’s inept partners in crime with charming guilelessness. (It helped that Pallana looked like he wasn’t exactly aware he was in a movie.)
Anderson and Wilson “discovered” Pallana at the coffee shop owned by Pallana’s son Dipak, who has also appeared in Anderson’s films. The elder Pallana went on to memorable scenes in both Rushmore—as Mr. LittleJeans, the groundskeeper—and in The Royal Tenenbaums, in which he played Gene Hackman’s sidekick (and eventual stabber). His work in Anderson’s films led to small parts in other Hollywood movies, including The Terminal and Another Earth.
Pallana led a massively interesting life before hitting the big screen at nearly 80. Born in colonial India, he lived all around the world, and first made a name for himself as an entertainer in America in the 1950s. Back then he was known as Kumar Of India, and his specialty was spinning plates—he even appeared on Captain Kangaroo in 1961. (Other feats included magic, balancing, swordplay, and juggling—you can see him do a handstand in The Royal Tenenbaums.)
Pallana had settled into a relatively quiet life in Dallas as he got older, selling Indian spices and food at his son’s coffee shop. Anderson and the Wilson brothers would frequent Cosmic Cup—to play chess and cards and take pictures, according to Pallana—and eventually they drafted him for bit parts. (As he tells it in this excellent Believer interview, they didn’t give him much of a choice.) He became an integral part of Anderson’s singular filmic universe. Though Anderson created that universe, Pallana clearly belonged there. “What’d you think of the play, Mr. LittleJeans?” “Best play ever, man.”