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That Guy: Tommy “Tiny” Lister

by on December 14, 2010
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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.

A hulking specimen, it’s not hard to realize Tom “Tiny” Lister’s name is meant to be ironic. His signature bald head and lazy eye makes him an intimidating figure to anyone, and he’s carved out a niche playing thugs, heavies, and villains. He first came to prominence in the 1989 pro wrestling film “No Holds Barred” (see entry below), and has since compiled a list of credits almost 150 deep, including “Beverly Hills Cop 2,” “Don Juan DeMarco,” “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead,” and “Austin Powers in Goldmember.”

Here is Tiny’s Top Five as told by The Yap:

Zeus, “No Holds Barred” (1989)

A bald (except for a “Z” on one side of his head…and a unibrow) behemoth, Zeus was brought in by the evil TV exec Brell (Kurt Fuller) to challenge the WWF Champion Rip (Hulk Hogan) when Rip refused to wrestle for Brell. Their climactic wrestling match ended with Zeus’ death as he fell from a balcony into (and through) the ring, but that didn’t stop Vince McMahon from pulling Zeus out of the movie and into the “real life” world of wrestling, with the storyline that Zeus was mad at Hogan for winning the match in the movie (because in “real life,” Hogan couldn’t beat Zeus). Lister wasn’t much of a wrestler (he only actually wrestled Hogan in tag team matches where his partners did most of the work), but his character was so memorable that many of his acting credits for years after listed him as Tiny “Zeus” Lister.

Winston, “Jackie Brown” (1997)

The rare time when Lister gets to play a cuddly character, Winston is, in the words of Samuel L. Jackson’s character Ordell Robbie, “a mandingo-looking ni**a,” but as bail bondsman Max Cherry’s (Robert Forster) right-hand man, he’s definitely the muscle, but seems like a nice enough guy. As Max said about him, “that’s what Winston does, find people who don’t want to be found.”

President Lindberg, “The Fifth Element” (1997)

Perhaps Lister’s most confounding role was that of the president in Luc Besson’s wild futuristic adventure. Lister is arguably the most unlikely, most muscular chief executive in movie history. He did little but look frustrated at Korbin Dallas (Bruce Willis) and Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), but you see that face in a movie, and you don’t forget it.

Deebo, “Friday” (1995)

After Zeus, probably the role Lister is most known for. The town bully, Deebo terrorizes Craig (Ice Cube) and Smokey (Chris Tucker), setting up the film’s finale a fistfight between Craig and Deebo. Craig is the hero, so of course it’s Deebo who gets knock’ddaf**kout.

Tattooed Prisoner, “The Dark Knight (2008)

His character doesn’t even have a name, but, as the man who exemplifies human goodness among those considered humanity’s worst, he’s instrumental in defeating the Joker (Heath Ledger). When the Joker plants bombs on two ferries, one full of law-abiding citizens, the other prisoners, and puts a detonator (to the other boat) on each ship, Joker expects to see one boat explode. While the law-abiding citizens vote to push the button, the prisoners sit in silence, the “warden” wondering if he has the guts to kill innocent people. Lister’s jailbird takes the detonator, and does “what you should have done 10 minutes ago,” tossing it out the window and foiling the Joker’s plan.

What’s Tiny’s biggest role? Leave a comment below!

Previous “That Guy” Columns:

Danny Trejo
Brian Cox
Keith David