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That Guy: Jeffrey Jones

by on February 2, 2011
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The Film Yap Presents ”That Guy” celebrates those character actors who are instantly recognizable as the glue that holds countless films together, but because they are not huge movie stars, remain largely anonymous by the general moviegoing community. Say their name and you’ll get a confused look; say “you know, that guy from XXXX” and you’ll get a smile and nod of approval.

Long the “That Guy” of choice when you need a mousy-looking villain, a priggish loser or out-and-out smarmy a-hole, Jeffrey Jones certainly has always looked the part.

Best known as Principal Rooney, the nemesis of the title character in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (see below), and with important roles in films like “Amadeus,” “Ed Wood” and “The Hunt for Red October,” Jones is certainly no stranger to high-profile films, but has also seen roles in smaller films like “Mom and Dad Save the World” and the John Candy vehicle “Who’s Harry Crumb?”

Unfortunately, it seems Jones’ douchiness carried over to real life: Jones pleaded guilty to charges of possessing child pornography and coaxing a 14-year-old boy into posing for explicit photos, then years later pled guilty to violating his probation by neglecting to update his sex offender registry. So it turns out he’s not just a weasel in the movies, but in real life as well.

Here are a few of J0nes’ more memorable roles:

Charles Deetz, “Beetlejuice” (1988)

When the Maitlands (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) shuffled off this mortal coil, they left their wonderfully large, quaint small-town house empty, and the Deetzes (Jones, Catherine O’Hara, and Winona Ryder) swooped right in and took it over.

The wormy, spineless dunderhead Charles never knew he was buying a haunted house, but for him that’s not a drawback, but a perk: He can just convert the property into a museum of the paranormal, with the help of his chubby friend, Otho (Glenn Shadix)! Of course, with his wife’s artwork, it already was virtually that anyway. Turns out the Beetlesnake dropping him off the staircase was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Dr. Walter Jenning, “Howard the Duck” (1986)

This doctor was a good enough guy, though he accidentally whisked Howard away from his parallel duck-filled world to, of all places, Cleveland — hardly the bastion of humanity’s pleasures.

Things went from bad to worse for Howard, though, when Dr. Jenning was impregnated by the Dark Overlord of the Universe, making the doc a sweaty, laser-shooting bad guy, at which point Howard had to teach him that, demon or not, you don’t get in the way of a duck gettin’ down with Beverly (Lea Thompson).

Principal Ed Rooney, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986)

Say what you will about Principal Rooney, but he was at least doing his job.

Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) was skipping school, and that’s one go-getter principal that will do a house call to make sure the students are actually sick when they’re not at school. Of course, you could argue that it’s saddlebags like Rooney with their stodgy, stagnant policies that create the atmosphere that makes people afraid to use sick time as adults that they’re given as part of their work salary.

What does he care if Bueller wants to take a siesta? Ferris is obviously an intelligent, resourceful young man with a successful future ahead of him, and Rooney just wants to quash him to prove that he can’t be beaten. On second thought, this guy’s a butt pirate after all.

Spike, “Stay Tuned” (1992)

As the big bad in this oft-overlooked guilty pleasure (directed by Peter Hyams!), Jones played Spike, Satan’s personal cable TV provider.

To populate the couple of hundred channels the Prince of Darkness demands, Spike, in a wicked move ahead of its time, scheduled plenty of reality TV for Satan, with real people existing within fictional stories (which is pretty much what reality TV is today), with titles like “Murder, She Likes,” “David Dukes of Hazzard,” “Duane’s Underworld” and “The Golden Ghouls.”

When those people die in the story, ol’ Dev gets their souls and Spike’s approval rating goes up. But Spike meets his match in suburban housecouple Roy and Helen Knable (John Ritter and Pam Dawber), who somehow manage to survive long enough to make Spike nervous enough to try to finish the job himself with the help of his handy remote control. Who do you think wins this one?

What’s your favorite Jeffrey Jones role? Leave a comment below!

Previous “That Guy” Columns:

Danny Trejo
Brian Cox
Keith David
Tommy “Tiny” Lister