Character actor Maury Chaykin, a familiar face known equally for volatile comic performances in stuff from WarGames to Entourage as for playing the titular detective in A&E’s A Nero Wolfe Story, died earlier today. Today was also his 61st birthday.
Chaykin was born and raised in New York but moved to Toronto shortly after college, where he began a film and television career that spanned more than 150 credits. Taking on Rex Stout’s portly genius detective Nero Wolfe—a part he first assayed in 2000’s The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery—was one of Chaykin’s few lead roles, casting him opposite Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin, although he also earned critical raves (and Canada’s Genie Award) starring as a burned-out, Brian Wilson-like rock star in 1994’s Whale Music.
Mostly, however, Chaykin was known for taking small roles and making them stand out, as with his computer programmer Jim Sting in WarGames, who memorably educates Matthew Broderick on “back doors” while calling Eddie Deezen “Mr. Potato Head.”
He also had a standout scene in My Cousin Vinny, including the line, “No self-respectin’ Southerner uses instant grits.” (Chaykin’s scene begins around the 4:53 mark.)
Among his many, many other credits: Nerus on Stargate SG-1; the unstable, uniform-pissing Major Fambrough in Dances With Wolves; one of the loan shark Klane brothers in Twins; bookie Frank Perlin in the Philip Seymour Hoffman drama Owning Mahowny; Alberta Watson’s self-absorbed husband in The Sweet Hereafter; and assorted small parts in The Mask Of Zorro, A Life Less Ordinary, and Cutthroat Island, to name just a few selections from his extensive résumé. Most recently, Chaykin starred in the Canadian comedy series Less Than Kind as the patriarch of a self-destructive family, and played a thinly veiled Harvey Weinstein caricature on Entourage.
Before his death, Chaykin had been working on a new series from Trailer Park Boys creators John Paul Tremblay, Robb Wells, and Mike Smith—whom Chaykin previously worked with playing a small part on TPB as the chief of police—called The Drunk And On Drugs Happy Fun Time Hour. The mockumentary features the TPB actors playing slightly fictionalized versions of themselves prepping a new sketch comedy series, which goes awry when they’re forced to ingest a hallucinogenic drug created by Chaykin’s mad German scientist, Dr. Funtime. The show wrapped its sixth episode only two weeks ago and was set to premiere this fall on Canadian channel Showcase. There’s no word yet on what Chaykin’s death will mean for its production.