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What The Cast Of Natural Born Killers Is Doing Today

A maximalist feast complete with multiple formats, angles, filters, and styles; thousands of edits and brutal, Gerald Scarfe-style animation — basically the kitchen sink approach to storytelling — Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers" is a nightmare vision of a violence-obsessed America. The Guardian went so far as to call the 1994 satire "privileged style and cinematic effect over nuance." A box office success, the film caused a good deal of controversy in its time, mainly for its bloodshed, the "copycat murders" that took place in its wake, and the kerfuffle that erupted when Quentin Tarantino — who wrote the original story, then sold it to Stone who rewrote it with David Veloz and Richard Rutowski – disowned the film. Tarantino told Brian Koppelman on The Moment podcast, "One of the things about that script, in particular, was that I was trying to make it on the page. So when you read it, you saw the movie. And it's like why didn't [Stone] do at least half of that! It was done for him!" 

While there's no denying the film had an impact, after Stone's one-two-three-four punch of "Platoon," "Wall Street," "Born on the Fourth of July," and "JFK," one could argue that after "NBK," the director's films never captured the same critical or box office acclaim. Holding a 48% on Rotten Tomatoes, "NBK" split critics, and watching it today, you can see why. But the cast escaped mostly unscathed. Let's take a look at where they are today.

Tommy Lee Jones

By now, pretty much everyone knows Tommy Lee Jones went to Harvard and was roommates with onetime Vice President Al Gore. According to the Harvard Crimson, Jones "played for the Crimson [football team] all four years," "acted on campus" and "wrote an honors English thesis on Flannery O'Connor and was graduated cum laude." Instead of following his roomie into politics, Jones set his sights on Hollywood. By 1982, he'd starred in three projects that propelled him to the A-list: "Eyes of Laura Mars," "Coal Miner's Daughter," and "The Executioner's Song." His relationship with Oliver Stone began with "JFK," in which Stone earned the first of his four Oscar nominations. Jones took the lead role in "Heaven & Earth," then played prison warden Dwight McClusky in "Natural Born Killers." "I gave him the freedom to play something he'd never played before, which was an out-and-out redneck." Stone said in the behind-the-scenes featurette "Chaos Rising." The effect is a manic, off-the-wall performance, more akin to Jones' turn as Two-Face in "Batman Forever" than a solemn character study. It hardly matters: Jones was a megawatt star at that point in his career, having won his Oscar a year earlier for "The Fugitive."

While Jones' output has slowed a bit in recent years, he still has a few projects in the pipeline, and he's left behind a series of memorable roles in films like "Men in Black," of course, as well as "No Country for Old Men," "Jason Bourne," and "Lincoln."

Arliss Howard

Given he doesn't officially show up until the very end of the film, blink and you'll miss Leslie Richard "Arliss" Howard as Owen Traft, Mickey and Mallory's "Guardian Angel" who escorts Wayne, the killers, and their hostages out of their prison. But Howard is an actor you've seen before whether you know it or not. Before "Natural Born Killers," he was Private Cowboy, friend to Matthew Modine's Private Joker in Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket," and one of the leads in Paul Brickman's only feature after "Risky Business," 1990's "Men Don't Leave." Following Stone's film, Howard played a number of roles in high profile films. He's the spitting image of John Henry, owner of the Fenway Sports Group in Bennett Miller's "Moneyball." He appeared in two Steven Spielberg projects – "Amistad," where he played John C. Calhoun, and "The Lost World: Jurassic Park." He's in Jonathan Glazer's "Birth" and David Fincher's "Mank." Married since 1996 to actor Debra Winger, Howard has also had recurring roles on AMC's "Rubicon," HBO's "True Blood," and Discovery's Unabomber series "Manhunt."

Next up is anthology film "With/In," which lists Howard among its directors. There's also "Butterfly in the Typewriter," the remarkable story of how John Kennedy Toole's posthumous "A Confederacy of Dunces" came to be, based on the book by Cory MacLauchlin. Howard will play writer, historian, journalist, and Civil War expert Shelby Foote. 

Juliette Lewis

Though she'd appeared on TV ("I Married Dora," "The Wonder Years") and in "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," Juliette Lewis exploded on the scene in Martin Scorsese's "Cape Fear" in 1991 and was suddenly everywhere. She appeared in Woody Allen's 1992 "Husbands and Wives," "Kalifornia" with Brad Pitt, "Romeo Is Bleeding" with Gary Oldman, and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" with Johnny Depp, all before we saw her in the role of Mallory Knox in "Natural Born Killers." 

"With Juliette, I felt something was weird, something was off-kilter," Oliver Stone said in the "NBK" featurette "Chaos Rising." No questions there. Whether she's blowing poor victims away with a shotgun, or doing her best Audrey Horne impression in jail, Mallory is the ideal muse for Mickey's revenge. During production, things actually got a little out of hand at one point. While whaling on Tom Sizemore's Jack Scagnetti, Lewis wound up breaking his nose in the process.

Lewis has never really stopped working. Her memorable post-"NBK" roles include Kathryn Bigelow's "Strange Days," Robert Rodriguez's "From Dusk Till Dawn" (opposite George Clooney and screenwriter Quentin Tarantino), and NBC's John Grisham adaptation-slash-sequel "The Firm" in 2012. During a portion of the 2000s, Lewis focused on her music career at the helm of the band Juliette and the Licks. She's since come roaring back to acting thanks to her roles on Showtime's hit series "Yellowjackets," and Peacock's reboot of "Queer as Folk." She's also slated to appear in Hulu's "Welcome to Chippendales," with Kumail Nanjiani.

Edie McClurg

Given her role as Mallory's deluded mother on the TV show-within-the-movie "I Love Mallory," few may recall Edie McClurg's role opposite the man playing her abusive husband in "Natural Born Killers," Rodney Dangerfield, in the 1986 film "Back to School." Noted for her major comic chops, McClurg worked for 10 years with the Groundlings troupe in L.A. and has played dozens of character roles since. It was in John Hughes' "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" that McClurg rose to icon status as the eminently quotable Grace, secretary to Jeffrey Jones' Ed Rooney, in a scene that was allegedly improvised. She would work on three more films with Hughes – "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," "She's Having a Baby," and "Curly Sue." Casting directors Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson, who worked with Hughes starting in the mid-1980s, recall McClurg as one of their greatest finds in their book "A Star Is Found."

They wrote, "As soon as she walked into the audition room, [Hughes] began to smile. 'Oh yeah,' I thought. 'This was meant to be.' Edie made even the tiniest role sing, and from then on, whenever we were casting a movie, John would say, 'Okay, here's the Edie part!' or 'Wait a minute, how are we going to use Edie?'"

McClurg is still with us, but sadly has been in declining health and possibly the victim of elder abuse in recent years.

Pruitt Taylor Vince

With his bald head and heavyset frame, journeyman actor Pruitt Taylor Vince cuts an imposing figure — and yet, as a character actor, he's known for melting into roles without stealing the spotlight. This is certainly the case in "Natural Born Killers," in which Vince plays Deputy Warden Kavanaugh, who spends much of the film following Warden McClusky around the prison until he's caught in the melee following Mickey's live TV interview. 

Prior to "NBK," Vince was known primarily for small roles in David Lynch's "Wild at Heart, " Alan Parker's "Mississippi Burning," and Adrian Lyne's "Jacob's Ladder" before Oliver Stone cast him as grassy knoll witness Lee Bowers in "JFK." Since "NBK," Vince has appeared in hundreds of projects, earned an Emmy Award for his guest role on the mid-1990s single-case procedural "Murder One," and had two bona fide starring roles — James Mangold's directorial debut "Heavy" with Liv Tyler, and Giuseppe Tornatore's "The Legend of 1900" with Tim Roth. In the 21st century, Vince has appeared in the recurring roles of Mose Manuel in "Deadwood," J.J. LaRoche in "The Mentalist," and Grill on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Later film roles have included lower-profile projects such as "Gotti" and the straight-to-video "Crime Story" with Richard Dreyfuss and Mira Sorvino. Coming up, he's in "Lady in the Lake," a TV series with Natalie Portman and Moses Ingram.

Everett Quinton

To most of those watching "Natural Born Killers," he's Deputy Warden Wurlitzer, one of Warden McClusky's right-hand men. To an audience familiar with downtown New York theater, Everett Quinton was a legend. He'd worked for years with Greenwich Village's Ridiculous Theatrical Company, which was known for gender-blind casting, drag roles, and taking big swipes at societyal norms. Its most famous production, "The Mystery of Irma Vep," a send-up of gothic horror novels, featured seven characters played by two actors — Everett Quinton and his partner, RTC's pioneering artistic director Charles Ludlam. Quinton, who succeeded Ludlam as artistic director after Ludlam's death from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1987, is still acting in and directing Ludlam's plays. He hasn't been as active in films and TV in recent years. After starting out with a baldly stereotypical guest role known only as "Homosexual Pusher" on "Miami Vice," and aside from "NBK," his role as Guggenheim Museum chief James Johnson Sweeney in Ed Harris' "Pollock," and a role in Billy Eichner's recent "Bros," he's mainly stuck to the stage.

And as to why an actor of Quinton's background would have taken a role in "NBK," perhaps it's not as strange as you might think. Quinton told the New York Times in 1994, "An actor has to be able to think he or she could play anything. What's good taste? Charles always said good taste is the enemy of art."

Robert Downey Jr.

"I was down for anything, particularly for him," Robert Downey Jr. said of Oliver Stone in "Chaos Rising." "I would chew glass in a master [shot] in the background if that's what worked for him." It's possible Downey was chewing other substances at the time, but whatever powered Downey through his manic performance as Australian shock-journo (and host of "American Maniacs") Wayne Gale, it worked. Like other actors in the film, his performance is dialed up to eleven, such that there's barely any scenery left with a performance that's pitched somewhere between Robin Leach and Geraldo Rivera (though apparently based on reporter Wayne Darwen), Downey ably captures the media's bloodthirst.

Nine years after "NBK," Downey emerged from his own personal hell, chucking his drugs in the Pacific having met a good woman, Susan Levin, following jail time, stints in rehab, and home invasions. While in 1994 most would have connected Downey with his Oscar-nominated performance in "Chaplin," or "Less Than Zero," today he's known worldwide as the beloved, irascible Tony Stark-slash-Iron Man in multiple Marvel Studios films. But there have also been other memorable roles — the pretentious, oblivious Aussie actor Kirk Lazarus in "Tropic Thunder"; two films as Sherlock Holmes; and Paul Avery in David Fincher's "Zodiac." Upcoming for Downey: Jamie Foxx's directorial debut, "All-Star Weekend," Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer," and a reunion with "Iron Man 3" and "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" director Shane Black in "Play Dirty."

Joe Grifasi

A showbiz vet who's had roles on the fringes, in the trenches, and on the benches, Buffalo native Joe Grifasi is another great character actor who pops up amid the chaos of "Natural Born Killers." With film and TV credits spanning from 1974 to the present — including roles in "The Deer Hunter" (a part he won thanks to his classmate Meryl Streep), HBO's Yankees drama "61*" (as Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto), ESPN's "The Bronx is Burning" (as Hall of Famer Yogi Berra), and "Heavy" alongside his fellow "NBK" sheriff Pruitt Taylor Vince — Grifasi is likely best known today for his roles as a couple of judges, namely Hashi Horowitz in "Law & Order: SVU" and Arlen Rand in "Bull." He's also had a thriving theater career, with three Drama Desk Award nominations, Broadway credits including two years in the Tony Award-winning Dickens adaptation "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," and appearances at leading NYC non-profits The Public Theater, Second Stage, and Playwrights Horizons. In "NBK," as Deputy Sheriff Duncan Homolka, he has an unfortunate run-in with Mickey and Mallory towards the end of the film and is frog-marched out of the prison as a hostage.

Tom Sizemore

It all started promisingly for Tom Sizemore with a series of high-profile projects between 1993 and 1999 that made him one of our more in-demand supporting actors in the biz. Along with his sleazy turn as detective-slash-author Jack Scagnetti in "Natural Born Killers," Sizemore appeared in the Tarantino-penned "True Romance," Lawrence Kasdan's "Wyatt Earp," Kathryn Bigelow's "Strange Days" with Juliette Lewis, Michael Mann's "Heat," Martin Scorsese's "Bringing Out the Dead," and of course, Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan." But trouble with drugs and women plagued Sizemore early in the millennium, and his reputation spiraled downward, littered with allegations of and arrests for substance abuse and assault, including a charge by his former girlfriend "Hollywood Madam" Heidi Fleiss and a shocking allegation that he molested an 11-year-old. (A lawsuit surrounding the alleged incident was dismissed by a judge in 2020.)

Appearances on celebrity rehab shows followed, and roles in more and more under-the-radar films, with no less than 16 projects booked in 2017. Even with an appearance in a major prestige project (2017's "Twin Peaks: The Return"), it's a strange coda to a once-promising movie star career. As of this writing, he's got numerous projects of questionable quality in the works, including the thriller "The Legend of Jack and Diane," and something called "Barbee Rehab" with Bai Ling and Janice Dickinson.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Balthazar Getty

There's an interesting parallel between Balthazar Getty's character "Gas Station Attendant" In "Natural Born Killers" and his character Pete Dayton in David Lynch's "Lost Highway" (made three years apart). For one, both are mechanics. For another, both have some degree of sexual relations with their respective movies' female protagonists. But while Getty in "NBK" winds up dead as a result of delivering, ahem, poor service to Mallory, Pete disappears into a psychogenic fugue that turns him into Bill Pullman. Not enough space to explain that last one — let's just say that there was something about Getty that apparently made him right as an on-screen suitor for both Juliette Lewis and Patricia Arquette. Whatever Balthazar Getty (supposedly) lacked in acting talent, he made up for in smoldering good looks that make you almost forget the fact that he's the great-grandson of the man who founded Getty Oil and the son of a man kidnapped by the Italian mafia, an event dramatized in Ridley Scott's "All the Money in the World."

Getty didn't make many movies after "Lost Highway," but he did go on to play roles in The WB's "Charmed," ABC's "Brothers and Sisters" and "Alias," and worked once again with Lynch in "Twin Peaks: The Return." These days, he runs the record label purplehausrecords which hosts Getty's band Ringside after its initial self-titled release was issued on Fred Durst's Flawless label in 2005. Getty also sits on the advisory board of The Lunchbox Fund, a non-profit that fights food insecurity in South Africa.

Rodney Dangerfield

Jacob Rodney Cohen of Deer Park, New York may have gotten no respect, but as stand-up comic Rodney Dangerfield, he was a household name by 1994 when he turned up as Mallory's abusive father in the TV-show-within-the-film "I Love Mallory." A repellant figure in a stained wife beater, Dangerfield's character was a far cry from his usual persona, but it worked. Before "Natural Born Killers," Dangerfield had established himself as a beloved (and Grammy Award-winning) stand-up comic and (sort of) rapper, and as hapless (if successful) shmo in classic comedies "Caddyshack," "Easy Money," and "Back to School," and in a series of commercials for Miller Lite beer.

Already a comedy club impresario, Dangerfield went on, surprisingly, to become something of a pioneer on the internet, becoming at age 73 one of the first celebrities to have (and regularly interact with fans on) his own website. Dangerfield, who had suffered a small stroke while on "The Tonight Show" in 2001, passed away in October 2004.

Woody Harrelson

Why was Woody Harrelson chosen for the role of Mickey Knox in "Natural Born Killers?" Harrelson himself wondered aloud in a 1994 featurette: "I had to ask [Stone], why would you think of me, I mean, all I'd done at that point was 'White Men Can't Jump' and 'Cheers.' And he said, 'I see violence in you.'" In the same featurette, Stone calls Harrelson "a little sick ... he's a little crazy, and I think that's what you need for Mickey." Maybe so. Harrelson's father was indicted for murder twice and handed two life sentences, and his mother was indicted for conspiracy. But for all the furor surrounding "NBK" and performances clearly directed to go over the top, Harrelson claimed, "I was the sanest in the whole group." You can tell from Mickey's calm, zen-like demeanor, dialed up but never unnecessarily. He emerged ready to take on bigger and better roles.

Since "NBK," Harrelson has been nominated for three Oscars – for "The People Vs. Larry Flynt," "The Messenger," and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." He's also been nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards. Other memorable roles include Cletus "Carnage" Kasady in the "Venom" films, Haymitch in the "Hunger Games" films, Beckett in "Solo: A Star Wars Story," and President Joe Biden in multiple episodes of "Saturday Night Live." Currently, Harrelson can be seen in Ruben Östlund's Palme D'Or-winning "Triangle of Sadness." Coming up on Harrelson's horizon – "The Most Dangerous Man in America," with Harrelson playing LSD guru Timothy Leary, and the Watergate drama "The White House Plumbers" for HBO.