Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Day Players: Single-Scene Attractions

Oksana Akinshina in The Bourne Supremacy
Oksana Akinshina and Danielle DuClos. Never heard of either of these actresses, have you? Neither one has had what you could call a major career, at least not in English-language films. Akinshina is a still-working Russian actress who has made only one American film, The Bourne Supremacy (2004), and American Danielle DuClos's career in movies essentially ended shortly after she appeared in her one major motion picture, Midnight Run (1988). And yet, their small contributions to both films enriched the finished product immeasurably. In both films, they were what are called in the industry a day player. Sure, it may take more than a day to shoot their scenes in a motion picture (since the process is so slow), but essentially they are hired for one scene. Fortunately, for both of them, they got to appear in an extended sequence with the film's star.

In The Bourne Supremacy (the middle film in the trilogy and probably the best of the three), amnesiac Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is simultaneously seeking vengeance on the people who killed his girlfriend in Goa, India, and also trying to recall the details of his first kill (a nearly botched assassination where he was assigned to kill a Russian industrialist, but also had to kill the man's wife when she stumbled upon the hit – Bourne then rigged the scene so it looked like the wife killed her husband and then herself). Near the end of the film, he has pieced together the details of the hit and he realizes he has left the couple's daughter an orphan and essentially penniless. In the film's penultimate scene, he tracks down the girl in order to tell her the truth (like everybody else, she has always believed her mother killed her father in a jealous rage) and to apologize.

Oksana Akinshina
We first see Akinshina as she walks home on a grim winter day in a dreary-looking Moscow suburb. An aura of melancholy hangs over her visage as the camera tracks her movements. She is a thin, pretty, 17-year-old young woman who life has not been kind to. She walks up to her grimy apartment, unlocks the door, then opens another to find Bourne sitting in a chair, a pistol on his knee. In Russian, she fearfully tells this unknown intruder that she has neither drugs nor money. In American-accented Russian, Bourne tells her that's not what he's there for. He asks her to sit, which she does, hesitantly (she sits on the edge of the chair, ready to run like a scared rabbit). She says that she speaks English and Bourne proceeds to tell her that every bad thought she had about the end of her parents was untrue. Her mother had not killed her father: he had. He tells her, “I'd want to know what really happened,” then he slowly gets up (he had been wounded in the scene before), shuffles past her, mutters “I'm sorry” and leaves.

Though Damon has 90% of the dialogue, director Paul Greengrass honours Akinshina's character by having all the reaction and feeling play out on her pretty face. One of the beautiful touches she brings to the scene is the wary way she repeatedly and quickly glances at Bourne's gun. It's a very small body language thing, but the way Akinshina flicks her eyes at the gun builds an honest tension and fear into her character. Bourne realizes this and pockets the gun, but it doesn't stop her from stealing glances at his hand and the now-pocketed gun. Bourne then proceeds to tell her what really happened. Without a further word of dialogue from her, and the elegant use of close-ups, we see her fear turn to grief as Bourne reveals the truth. Finally, a single, deeply moving tear tumbles down her cheek. The last shot we see of her is when she looks over at a solitary photo of her younger self smiling happily with her parents. The obvious hatred she had felt for her mother falls away in that glance. It's a brief, tiny, brilliant performance and adds heft and weight not only to the sequence, but the film itself.

DeNiro and Danielle DuClos in Midnight Run
I haven't seen Midnight Run since about 1990, but I've never forgotten Danielle DuClos's performance. She was maybe 13 at the time, but hers is the one scene filled with emotion in a big, loud picture. Midnight Run stars Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin. Grodin is an accountant who has absconded with Mafia funds. He was arrested, but skipped bail, so now he's being chased by the Mob, the FBI and a bounty hunter (De Niro). Long story short, De Niro catches him and then the two of them are on the run for the rest of picture trying to ... well, I don't remember. It's not important. The one detail I recall is that De Niro is divorced, with a daughter he has not seen in some time. I think the characters find themselves in Chicago where the ex-wife and his estranged daughter live. De Niro and DuClos meet up at their house. He’s hoping to borrow his ex-wife’s car to continue the trip with Grodin. But DuClos also offers her father her babysitting money to help them along. It's a very short scene, but the way DuClos handles the hard-for-her-to-understand emotions as she tries to connect to her father is very touching.

I've never been a big fan of the film, since it is a typical noisy 1980s action picture (though Grodin, as always, makes it watchable and De Niro is okay), but some day I would like to see it again just to determine if my memory of DuClos's one scene still rings true.

Day players are the under-appreciated part of any movie or TV show. Sure, the big lead does the heavy lifting, but if all elements, right down to actresses or actors who come in and shoot for a couple of days, are not up to snuff, the film can ultimately fail. Both films were hits in their day, and I'm a big fan of The Bourne Supremacy, but I think they work not just because of the top-line elements, but because of the wise choices the casting director and director made filling these smaller parts.

David Churchill is a film critic and author of the novel The Empire of Death. You can read an excerpt here. Or go to for more information.


  1. You are right. Duclos is just amazing in Midnight Run. I wonder why she didn't become a superstar!

  2. Very touching scene. Hits me every time.

  3. Dear Anonymous,

    You hit the nail right on the head! I actually watched my DVD copy of "Midnight Run" just last night, and tears welled up in my eyes during the reunion scene with DeNiro and the daughter he hadn't seen for years. A very emotional scene, if ever there was one....

  4. I thought Danielle played an exceptional in that small role... Funny thing, it took me awhile to find her name, for some reason she is not credited in imdb, just in credits at the end of the movie.
    Does anybody knows why?

    1. IMDB restored her credit about a month ago after its mysterious disappearance sometime back.

  5. David Churchill responds: Hi Gleb, thanks for note. As others say above, I'm surprised Danielle DuClos didn't have a bigger career. Why her role in Midnight Run is not on IMBD is beyond me, except that usually projects are put up by the artist's representatives (or themselves), and also by fans. Perhaps just an old-fashioned oversight. Sounds like she does theatre, but beyond the occasional movie/TV project, who knows. Maybe she just decided she didn't want it enough. From what I understand Hollywood's a pretty soul-destroying place.

  6. I agree with all of the above. DuClos has such a small role, so little screen time - but her scene gets me everytime. It's a welcome break from the roller coaster action and helped me to relate more to De Niro's character.

  7. It's clearly not De Niro's finest performance, but he's more than believable and there are scenes where he shines, like that with DuClos, helped by Brest's understated direction. Few cuts, no close ups, restrained music, just letting actors act. She says 'Hi', he says 'Denise? You got so big.' Less is more. He can't stop glancing at her, taking in how his little girl grew up, but each time he does she is staring at him. There's a reason we all remember watching that scene after so long.

  8. Just finished showing Midnight Run to spouse and stepkid, neither of whom had ever seen it, and all three of us were shocked at the tears welling in that one short scene. Perfectly written, perfectly cast, perfectly played by both of them. That hug he gives her -- hug, pull back, re-hug with her face in his collarbone and the top of her head nestled just under his cheekbone -- and the way they're both devouring each other with their eyes and ducking away, afraid both to look and to stop looking. Indelible moment.

  9. I just watched the movie and the only thing I liked, was this moving scene. The seriousness in this child's face. I didn't think that others felt the same as I about this scene. Thank you.

  10. Yes, a very moving scene though not the only tender moment in a well above average film. I think DeNero and Grodin
    are great together and the supporting actors very good too.