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M Emmet Walsh: Knives Out director pays tribute to acting 'legend'

M Emmet Walsh
M Emmet Walsh won an Independent Spirit Award for playing an amoral private detective in the Coen brothers' Blood Simple

M Emmet Walsh, one of Hollywood's most admired character actors, with roles in films including Blade Runner, Blood Simple and Knives Out, has died at 88.

Walsh memorably played the police captain encouraging Harrison Ford out of retirement in 1982's Blade Runner.

And he won an Independent Spirit Award for playing an amoral private detective in the Coen brothers' Blood Simple.

Other roles included a security guard in Knives Out, and parts in My Best Friend's Wedding, The Jerk and Serpico.

Knives Out director Rian Johnson led the tributes, calling him an "absolute legend".

"Emmet came to set with two things: a copy of his credits, which was a small-type single spaced double column list of modern classics that filled a whole page, and two dollar bills which he passed out to the entire crew. 'Don't spend it and you'll never be broke'."

M Emmet Walsh at the Knives Out premiere, 2019
He appeared as security guard Mr Proofroc in Netflix's Knives Out in 2019

Fellow director Edgar Wright wrote on X that Walsh was "a totally unique screen presence".

"The ultimate character actor? More than a character actor?!" Wright asked.

Walsh had more than 200 TV and film credits, often fleeting appearances that made a lasting impression.

He specialised in authority figures who were often corrupt, cynical or unhinged, with former USA Today film critic Mike Clark once describing his signature character as "a cesspool in a flowered shirt".

Fellow critic Steve Persall wrote in 2011: "Walsh effortlessly makes the same old characters special, weirdos fun and extraordinary plots believable."

The actor was equally at home with comedy or drama. "It's nice to know there is that range," he once said. "It goes back and forth. I like to see what I can pull off - what I can get away with."

American actor M Emmet Walsh on the set of Blood Simple, 1984
Walsh won best lead actor at the first Independent Spirit Awards in 1985 for Blood Simple

His dramas included Robert Redford's Oscar-winning Ordinary People, Warren Beatty's historical epic Reds, and another Coen brothers film, Raising Arizona.

On the comedy side, credits ranged from Christmas with the Kranks with Tim Allen to Fletch alongside Chevy Chase.

Walsh said he was happy to be a character actor rather than a leading man.

"I've been around stardom. I've been around Redford and [Dustin] Hoffman, and it's scary," he told the Orange County Register in 1989.

"That drive for stardom is like the greyhounds chasing the mechanical rabbit. By the time he catches him, he's too tired to run any more, and you've got to shoot him."

Walsh played Hoffman's crooked parole officer in 1978's Straight Time, with a supporting cast also including Harry Dean Stanton.

That movie inspired legendary critic Roger Ebert to come up with the "Stanton-Walsh" rule - which says any film that features either actor, however briefly, cannot be all bad.

However, Will Smith's 1999 adventure Wild Wild West - in which Walsh played a train engineer - was "so bad" it broke the rule, Ebert said.

Walsh's other varied credits ranged from horror-comedy Critters to Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet and Cartoon Network series Adventure Time, in which he voiced the Cosmic Owl.

The actor was born Michael Emmet Walsh, but became known as M Emmet Walsh to avoid a clash with another actor. "There was already a Michael Walsh in Hollywood when I landed there," he said.