Michael Clarke Duncan’s Legacy
Duncan broke into show business as a bodyguard, so it’s a miracle that he didn’t get stuck in the hulking character parts he played (generic bouncers and tough guys) in his early movies. Credit goes in part to Bruce Willis (Duncan played part of his crew in “Armageddon”), who recognized something more in the six-foot-five, 315-pound actor and recommended him to director Frank Darabont for the key role in “Green Mile.” (Willis and Duncan would go on to make three more movies together.) On paper, the “Green Mile” role of framed death-row inmate John Coffey shouldn’t have worked. He’s more an allegorical symbol than a person…
Yet Duncan managed to breathe life into John Coffey. He deftly played up the contradiction between Coffey’s physically menacing presence and his lamb-gentle soul — a dynamic that would prove key to many characters Duncan would eventually play. Yet his performance was subtle, with Duncan letting his eyes and rumbling baritone voice do most of the work while his body remained still. His John Coffey may not have had much of a life, but Duncan convinced viewers he had a soul.