A lot of people know Tom Waits' music -- his bassy growl of a voice, clanking rhythm sections and anachronistic, wheezing accordions and harmoniums sound like no one else. Fewer people know Waits as an actor: with a face almost as distinctive as his voice and an unforced, natural weirdness, he's a popular casting choice for adventurous directors looking to fill roles of drifters, maniacs, street preachers and edge-of-madness loners. These are some of my favorite scene-stealing performances by Waits.
As Renfield in Bram Stoker's Dracula
He played Dracula's thoroughly-insane assistant to a tee in Francis Ford Coppola's excellent adaptation of Dracula.
The Fisher King
Waits plays a homeless, disabled vet begging for change, and gives a great monologue -- "ya see, I'm kind of what you'd call a moral traffic light... "
Down by Law
A great scene between Waits and Roberto Benigni.
As a crazy preacher in the desert, in the otherwise terrible Domino.
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
Heath Ledger's last film features a great performance by Waits as Satan himself.
Coffee and Cigarettes
A scene between Waits and Iggy Pop. "There's nothing worse than roadside surgery ..."
As a criminal in the early-90s indie Queens Logic.
Book of Eli
Just released in theaters, Book of Eli is a not-bad post-apocalyptic flick starring Denzel Washington. Waits plays the flinty and nostalgic owner of a dusty pawn shop. Here's a clip -- embedding disallowed.
He plays Lily Tomlin's limo-driving husband in Robert Altman's wonderful Short Cuts.