Top 6: Actors For Monologues

Posted in Top 6 at 4:59 am by Sam

For Episode 27, we suppose that we’re making a movie with some big monologues. Who would we want to cast to deliver them? A big monologue can crash and burn, or it can be the highlight of a film, all based on the actor’s delivery of the lines. Over film history, there have been a lot of interminable speeches, and a lot of monologues so electric and riveting, they equal the tension and visceral power of a great action scene.

It all depends on the writing and, arguably even more importantly, the delivery. I recall an anecdote often told about the Oscars, when Laurence Olivier delivered one of the most memorable and moving speeches in Oscar’s history. But when those same people, who were so moved on hearing it, scratched their heads in puzzlement the next day when they read a transcript of his speech in print. Charisma counts for more than we’d like to think.

We allowed ourselves to choose from both past and present film actors. Who would you want to cast in your monologue-heavy roles?

As always, we recommend listening to the episode before reading further.

  1. Marlon Brando
  2. Humphrey Bogart
  3. Orson Welles
  4. Jack Lemmon
  5. Christopher Walken
  6. George C. Scott
  1. N!xau
  2. Spencer Tracy
  3. Peter Finch
  4. Marlon Brando
  5. Laurence Olivier
  6. Walter Huston


  1. Ferrick (140) said,

    April 4, 2007 at 9:44 am

    Sam? Did you just have a hard time thinking of six? Wow. If you were going for comedy at the top, I would have said Belushi just for his Animal House monologue.

    I thought Morgan Freeman might end up on here but I realized I might be thinking more of voiceovers rather than monologues.

  2. siochembio (82) said,

    April 4, 2007 at 9:47 am

    Henry Fonda. He’d be in my list in a heartbeat!

  3. Sam (405) said,

    April 4, 2007 at 9:58 am

    While Freeman and Fonda and so on all obviously deserve a place on anybody’s Top 6 list of actors for monologues, I maintain that my pivotal pick made for a much more entertaining segment. Now that I think about it, it’s not even cheating: in their own way, his monologues would, after all, be outrageously entertaining.

    As for Belushi and Animal House, I’m nowhere near that bandwagon.

  4. Ferrick (140) said,

    April 4, 2007 at 10:43 am

    I’m not accusing you of cheating. I think it is a great movie, too. It was just that the pick was from so far out in left field, I think the shock and awe was just too much. I was waiting for the punchline to end and it seemed like Stephen was, too, which was the best part of it.

    In hindsight, it was definitely a memorable pick. Well done.

  5. Jeffrey (84) said,

    April 4, 2007 at 10:53 am

    N!xau sure is an unconventional choice.

    Here’s my alternate choices:
    I was pretty sure Samuel L Jackson would be on either of your lists although that’s based almost entirely on his Ezekiel 25:17 monologue. Conveniently, “Mr Smith Goes to Washington” was on TV this afternoon and so I nominate my favourite actor James Stewart and his filibuster. Other choices include Gregory Peck, Sir Ian McKellan and a couple of shouty actors Al Pacino (hoo-ha) and Jack Nicholson.

    Surprisingly I struggled to think of any actresses for my list, how about Vivien Leigh, Susan Sarandon, Jodie Foster, Ellen Burstyn, Joan Crawford and Meryl Streep.

  6. Sam (405) said,

    April 4, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    You know, I was puzzled why neither one of us could come up with any women for this list. Even reading through that impressive list there, most of which are truly great actresses, I’d still probably put 20 men ahead of any one of them. I’m at a total loss for why. It’s not sexism. (”Some of my favorite actresses are women!”) I don’t even think it’s about the sound of voices, as my theoretical Top 6 list of singers would be perhaps all women. But clearly there’s something going on there.

    As for N!xau, it probably goes without saying that my pronunciation is (probably) entirely wrong. I did some research on the Internet and found a few (but only a few) pages where people try to describe the pronunciation, and none of them agree with each other. Complicate that by the fact that even if the sounds of the Ungwatsi language mapped cleanly onto the Roman alphabet, there’s no clear idea just what letters those are. His birth name, I guess, is “Gcao Coma,” or “Gcau Coma,” or just “Gcau,” and that later became “G!xau” and then “N!xau” when a typographical error was made on the first Gods Must Be Crazy film. So “N!xau” became his stage name, so to speak, and that brought with it, apparently, a change in the accepted anglicized pronunciation…whatever that might be, since how the “x” is pronounced is another point of confusion.

  7. SplishFish (29) said,

    April 4, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Maybe you didn’t pick women because very few are given good monologues? Your choices are based on past examples of the actor’s work. If you can’t think of any good monologues delivered by females, then it stands to reason that your aren’t going to pick one for your list.

    (Just to clarify, I don’t mean to make it sound like either Sam or Stephen is sexist. More of a general cultural observation.)

  8. siochembio (82) said,

    April 4, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    Like Jeffrey said above, as to women, how about Vivien Leigh? As much as I don’t like Scarlett O’Hara, she has some great monologues, as does Blanche Dubois.

    I must admit, it IS harder to come up with female actors for this list.

  9. K.T. Slager (55) said,

    April 4, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    Yeah, I noticed the lack of ladies, also. The first woman I thought of was Marissa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, but that’s probably because I love that little deer-monologue.

  10. Jeffrey (84) said,

    April 5, 2007 at 10:22 am

    Whoops, the most glaring omission from my list was Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle, and there’s also some brilliant comedic monologue scenes in “The King of Comedy”. I can’t believe I forgot about the person whom I regard as “the greatest living actor”.

  11. Sam (405) said,

    April 5, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    After some thought, I came up with four pretty memorable monologues by women. Well, besides Vivian Leigh in Gone with the Wind, which goes without saying. There is also Beatrice Straight’s monologue in Network, which I mentioned in the segment. Sally Field is all about monologues in Norma Rae. Meryl Streep has the cerulean monologue in The Devil Wears Prada. Lauren Bacall asked Humphrey Bogart if he knew how to whistle. Natalie Wood chastised both sides of a gang war in West Side Story. And there’s one I thought of yesterday that I can’t remember now, and it’s killing me.

    But I decided Katharine Hepburn must be the queen of monologues, with such outstanding ones as those in The African Queen, Stage Door, The Lion In Winter, and others. She probably should have made my list, frankly.

  12. WarpNacelle (48) said,

    April 5, 2007 at 10:14 pm

    This sure is a tough list to narrow done. Any actor worth his chops in the acting biz is worthy.

    I would go with a couple of classically trained English actors:

    1) Kenneth Branaugh
    2) Derek Jacobi

    also have to give a mention to Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington.

    As far as the ladies go:

    Judi Dench (watch Henry 5)
    Bonnie Bedilia (end of Presumed Innocent)
    Audrey Hepburn

  13. megsterjules (9) said,

    April 7, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    Whenever I think monologue, I think stoic, and I also think some form of an accent, preferably British. I can’t explain it, but if I am going to listen to a long speech, I’d rather it be given with an accent.

    WarpNacelle, you took one of mine, Kenneth Branagh. I love him, especially in his Shakespeare movies, and think he delivers some of the best lines/monologues ever. Between the St. Crispen Day speech in Henry V, or just his bantering in Much Ado About Nothing, I love him and would line up to see him give monologues.

    Another Brit that I love who embodies stoicism is Clive Owen. He gives away little emotion and just has a straight face in whatever he does, and I loved him in Inside Man, so he’s another actor I think delivers great monologues.

    Just to be fair, another actor who is no longer with us who was a fantastic actor with a presence is James Cagney. I loved Yankee Doodle Dandy so much more than I ever thought I would and while it’s the only James Cagney film I’ve ever seen (I know, I know, I’m working on it), I really do believe he’d deliver a fantastic monologue in any situation.

    I’m not so great with actresses, but I absolutely loved The Queen, so Helen Mirren would be on my list, and Cate Blanchett is one of my favorite actresses today, so she’d be another on my short list.

  14. joem18b (231) said,

    April 12, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    My king of the monologs, in quantity and quality, espcially when looking tired or when ranting: Al Pacino. The phone call in Dog Day Afternoon, which Lumet shot innumerable times; Pacino’s pitch to a customer in Glengary Glen Ross; ranting in the Devil’s Advocate, ranting in Scent of a Woman; Scarface; the Godfather; the coach in On Any Sunday; People I Know. The Merchant of Venice. I love to hear this guy talk.

  15. Stephen (221) said,

    April 12, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    I actually thought about Pacino for this list the other day when I flipped past The Devil’s Advocate on TV. That’s a really bad movie, but his ranting (especially at the end) is so incredible it almost makes it worth watching. I think Pacino could easily have made my list.

  16. Ric (21) said,

    April 16, 2007 at 1:57 pm


    You stole my thunder! I was going to complain about Pacino not being on either list, but you beat me to it.

    So I’ll complain about N!xau instead:

    What the hell?


  17. LaZorra (60) said,

    April 23, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    What? No William Shatner?

    *runs for covers, screaming, “It was a joke! A joke!”*

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