Michael Ontkean. Actor. b. January 24, 1946, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
From the age of four and onward, Michael Ontkean has always been an actor. Born into a family of actors, he made his debut as a toddler in his father's repertory company in Vancouver. As a child actor he appeared in the Canadian television series Hudson Bay and appeared numerous times at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. His American television debut came in 1971 when he was selected to play the role of police officer Willie Gillis on the television series The Rookies.
His introduction to the United States came not in The Rookies but a couple years earlier when he was awarded a hockey scholarship to the University of New Hampshire. This really did not seem in line with his dream of acting, but later it would come in to play...
In the early to mid 1970s, Ontkean would muddle his way through some pretty weak film projects. Such luminescent fare as The Witching and Girls on the Road would list him as a featured actor. Then in 1977 he would receive his big break in motion pictures... playing Ned Braden alongside Paul Newman in Slapshot. The hockey scholarship and acting dreams merged in a field of white and Michael Ontkean had his chance to strip off his hockey duds in front of an angry hockey crowd in one of the most memorable scenes from Slapshot. A star was born... or was he...
Unfortunately, the next dozen years were not so kind to our friend Michael Ontkean. His Ned Braden performance wasn't bringing in offers for big time lead roles in memorable movie magic. Again his resume would be dotted with question marks. Voices, Making Love, Maid to Order and Cold Front would be his projects. Then, in 1989, he would take on the role that eclipsed that of Ned Braden, his starring role in Twin Peaks standing shoulder to shoulder with Kyle MacLachlan's Special Agent Dale Cooper as Sheriff Harry S. Truman.
There seems to be a spooky theme running through the actors and actresses who were featured in Twin Peaks and perhaps it is coincidental or perhaps it has something to do with the mad genius of David Lynch. You see, the characters all in some way reflect the real life of the actors who play them. Sheriff Truman is a man of quality, integrity and who knows his stuff, but he is in some kind of exile at the edge of the forest. Sort of like Michael Ontkean, having moments but never quite making it in the public eye as an actor whose face and name are easily recognizable.
Anyway, I digress.
Ontkean remains one of the least recognizable and is generally regarded to be the least interesting actor of the cast of Twin Peaks. Or as an old girlfriend once asked me. "How can anyone care about someone whose eyes are so damned close together?"
Michael Ontkean seems resigned to not being a high roller on the acting circuit. His history suggests he is best as the second fiddle, whether to Kyle MacLachlan or Paul Newman or whatever other actor needs a sidekick next. His post Twin Peaks resume includes appearances in Postcards from the Edge, Swann and Just A Little Harmless Sex along with a host of made for television movies like In A Child's Name and that whole thing about baby Jessica.
At his best, Michael Ontkean seems like a regular guy. The kind of guy you could walk up to in a department store and ask "Hey, hows the family?" or "Quite a game last night, eh?" This seems to be his secret charm, or the reason he gets the roles he has over the past three decades. And so we raise a toast to Michael Ontkean, patron saint of the regular guy who wants to do the right thing. You'd almost want to say "Act in one for us, Mike!" except you know you aren't that kind of person. Are you?
Sources: My slowly decaying mind