Waits Variations

Six ways of looking at Tom Waits, character actor

Accessories and affects: hat, cane, monotone, eye contact, soul patch

Tom Waits

An amalgam of all of the above, Waits's best role has always been that of Tom Waits. Sift through his '70s chat-show appearances and watch the shtick take shape: He's an impish riddle eager both to confound and please. Far from a cynical put-on, Waits has proved an amenable, durable construct, never more amusing than when turned back on itself (as in Coffee and Cigarettes). It's doubtful that Waits will ever top his pseudo-candid performance on Fishing With John, the short-lived fishing-expedition show dreamed up by fellow Jarmusch alum John Lurie. Rather than pawning off his persona to Hollywood, here he's making his own mischief—shoving fish down his pants for easy laughs and improvising songs that are sorta brilliant, totally dumb, and unmistakably Waits.

Accessories and affects: cool, clowning, all of the above

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