Oscar Profile #437: Tom Berenger

Born May 31, 1949 in Chicago, Illinois as Thomas Michael Moore, the future Tom Berenger’s father was a printer for the Chicago Sun-Times and a traveling salesman.

After graduating from Rich East High School in Park Forest, Illinois in 1967, Moore studied journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, but decided to seek an acting career following his graduation in 1971 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Moore selected “Berenger” as his professional name after he was forced to change his surname professionally when he began to work in regional theatre in 1972, as there was already a “Tom Moore” in Actors’ Equity. He worked as a flight attendant out of Puerto Rico before settling into acting on a regular basis.

Berenger’s breakthrough role was as Diane Keaton’s killer in the 1977 film, Looking for Mr. Goodbar. The following year he played the lead in In Praise of Older Women. His physical resemblance to Paul Newman won him the starring role of Butch Cassidy in 1979’s Butch and Sundance: The Early Days. His early 1980s successes included The Dogs of War, The Big Chill and Eddie and the Cruisers. His performance in 1986’s Platoon earned him a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination.
The actor’s hits of the late 1980’s include Someone to Watch Over Me, Shoot to Kill, Betrayed, Last Rites, Major League and Born on the Fourth of July.

In such early 1990s films as The Field, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Sliver and Gettysburg, Berenger was nominated for an Emmy for his 1993 guest-starring role on Cheers. His most memorable role of the decade was as Theodore Roosevelt in the 1993 TV movie, Rough Riders. The actor’s best roles of the first decade of the new millennium were in 2001’s Training Day and 2009’s Breaking Point.

Berenger began the second decade of the new century with an important role in 2010’s Inception which became the fourth film of his career to earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination following The Big Chill, Platoon which won, and Born on the Fourth of July. Much of his work during the decade was, however, either for TV or in theatrical films that often went straight to video.

Married four times, Berenger has six children from his various marriages. His first marriage was to Barbara Wilson from 1976 to 1984 with whom he had two children. His second was to Lisa Berenger from 1986 to 1997 with whom he had three children. His third was to Patricia Alvaran from 1998 to 2011 with whom he had one child. His fourth marriage is to Laura Moretti, whom he married in 2012.

Berenger finally won a major show business award when he won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for the 2012 miniseries, Hatfields & McCoys.

Tom Berenger remains a popular actor as he approaches his 70th birthday. He currently has four films in various stages of production.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR (1977), directed by Richard Brooks

Based on the brutal real-life murder of 28-year-old New York City schoolteacher Roseann Quinn in 1973, Judith Rossner’s 1975 novel suffers from the film’s shifting of the locale to an unnamed city partially filmed in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Starring Diane Keaton, the film features great performances by her as well as Tuesday Weld as her sister, Richard Kiley as her father, William Atherton as her fiancé and in their break-through roles playing studs, both Richard Gere and Berenger who plays Keaton’s murderer. Berenger has said the role gave him nightmares after filming his scenes.

PLATOON (1986), directed by Oliver Stone

Stone’s grunt’s eye view of the Vietnam War was the first film directed by a Vietnam veteran about the war. It made a star of Charlie Sheen and significantly advanced the careers of both Berenger and Willem Dafoe. Berenger, who was known at the time for mostly playing good guys and Dafoe, who conversely was known for playing good guys, were cast against type with Dafoe playing the good sergeant and Berenger the evil one. The casting worked and both actors received Oscar nominations for their performances, with Berenger also winning a Golden Globe for his efforts.

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME (1987), directed by Ridley Scott

This thriller with George Gershwin’s 1926 song sung over the opening credits by Sting and over the closing credits by Roberta Flack provided Berenger with the opportunity to play a cop for the first time. He liked the role, which allowed him the opportunity to bring a new nuance to his ever-changing screen persona. In the film, his newly minted detective falls in love with upper-class murder witness Mimi Rogers and must chose between her and his faithful wife, played by Lorraine Bracco in her film debut. The nightclub scenes, including the murder that sets up the plot, were filmed on the Queen Mary anchored in Long Beach, California.

AT PLAY IN THE FIELDS OF THE LORD (1991), directed by Hector Babenco

This adaptation of naturalist Peter Mathiessen’s 1965 novel about missionaries in South America (Aidan Quinn and John Lithgow) and their wives (Kathy Bates and Darryl Hannah) gave Berenger another change of pace role as an American Indian trying to exorcise the ghosts of his life on the reservation by joining a stone age tribe that the missionaries are trying to convert. Filmed in the Amazon jungles of Venezuela and Brazil, the film is a visual feast from the director of Kiss of the Spider Woman that rivals the similarly themed 1986 film, The Mission.

INCEPTION (2010), directed by Christopher Nolan

Filmed all over the world, this action-adventure film was nominated for eight Oscars and won four for its Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects. It had also been nominated for Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Original Score and Art Direction. Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Wattanabe, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cottilard, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Caine and Berenger were starred in Nolan’s film about a corporate thief giving reverse orders to plant an idea into the mind of a CEO using dream-sharing technology.

TOM BERENGER AND OSCAR

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