After starring in two of the biggest movies of the ’70s, Jackie Earle Haley found himself struggling to make ends meet. He was delivering pizzas, driving limos and making corporate videos to pay the bills.
Then came the call that changed everything. Todd Field needed someone to play sex offender Ronnie McGorvey in his film Little Children.
1. Kelly Leak in The Bad News Bears
The Bad News Bears is an atypical kid’s sports movie but it is an effective and entertaining film. The rag-tag group of misfit Little League players goes from abject losers to championship contenders under the leadership of Buttermaker (Walter Matthau).
The film stars Tatum O’Neal as Amanda Wurlitzer, a tough-talking, iron-armed tomboy and star pitcher, and Jackie Earle Haley as Kelly Leak, a Harley-riding juvenile delinquent who becomes the best hitter on the team. These are the kinds of characters that only a gifted actor can make real and convincing. It’s too bad Haley hasn’t been given a big-screen role to match his talent.
2. Moocher in Breaking Away
A teen-aged group of Bloomington, Indiana, friends — Dave (Dennis Christopher), Mike (Dennis Quaid), Cyril (Daniel Stern) and Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) — struggles to figure out what to do with their lives after graduating from high school. Moocher is below average height and sensitive about it, going off on anybody who calls him “shorty.”
Director Peter Yates and writer Steve Tesich, an alumnus of Indiana University, capture the essence of the period with humor and insight. The acting is top notch, including excellent work from Earle Haley as the diminutive Moocher. The film was a sleeper hit in 1979. It spawned a short-lived TV series based on the same name in 1980.
3. Rorschach in Watchmen
Rorschach, the vigilante whose mask shows a face of ever-changing ink blots, has earned a certain degree of popularity among Watchmen fans. Despite the fact that creator Alan Moore has said he doesn’t like the character, Rorschach has become one of the most popular parts of the book series. His hatred of moral compromise, his unflinching judgment of basically everyone, and his use of household products to fight the police – including expressionless drownings in toilets – make him cool and compelling.
Rorschach also has issues with women, and his violence, brutality, and Black-and-White Morality have made him a controversial figure. But everyone seems to agree that Haley was pitch perfect in the role.
4. Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street
Parents can use this film to discuss the idea of guilt and responsibility. In the movie, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) realizes that she and other kids killed Freddy Krueger in a dream and now he’s coming back to punish them.
Using his power to warp and control dreams, Freddy can attack people in their sleep and hurt them in real life. He’s terrifying and he knows it.
Haley succeeds at making Freddy his own in this reboot of the classic horror franchise. His performance gives the movie a reason to exist, despite its many flaws. The scene where he cuts Tina’s chest open is a chilling highlight.
5. Ronnie McGorvey in Little Children
A perceptive and wry look at suburban life, this film’s social satire has plenty to say about its characters — from the smart Sarah to her disempowered husband Richard. And even pedophilic pervert Ronnie McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley), who lives with his mother May and suffers from a mental illness, has his moments of remorse.
Field and Winslet deserve much of the credit for this film’s success, but it’s hard to forget about Haley’s eerie performance as the town pariah. He makes his character both repugnant and sympathetic, adding depth to a movie that would have been one-note without him. A first Oscar nomination for Winslet and Haley, this was also the start of an impressive screen career for both of them.
6. Alexander Stephens in Lincoln
Born in Crawfordville, Georgia, Stephens graduated from Franklin College in 1832 and established a law practice. He sat in both houses of the Georgia General Assembly and was elected to Congress in 1843 as a Whig. A strong opponent of the Mexican-American War, he supported the Compromise of 1850 and was opposed to secession. He believed that the Union was a “leaky boat” that could be fixed, and that advocates of secession were “people run mad.”
As the Whig Party collapsed in the 1850s, Stephens joined the Democratic Party. His views on slavery shifted dramatically. He thought that African slavery rested upon principles that could not be successfully assailed by reason or discussion.