Famous for his role on Star Trek, Auberjonois boasted a long and varied filmography.
When we pay respects to departed film and television figures, it’s usually easy to home in on their most iconic roles. I’d imagine most people’s lists of Robin Williams’ best work would look pretty similar. When a lesser known, journeyman actor passes, there may not be the list of Oscar winning roles to easily reel off.
René Auberjonois worked across virtually every medium, from the stage to video games. While he may not have pulled down golden statues, he did appear in many classic films, plays, and shows. He’s best known for his role on Star Trek Deep Space Nine, yet his filmography is littered with gems. Here are our favorites from his filmography, in tribute.
- M*A*S*H: Two dissolute surgeons named Hawkeye (no, not THAT Hawkeye! It’s Donald Sutherland) and Duke (Tom Skerritt) arrive at a mobile hospital, having been drafted into service in the Korean War. They quickly set about breaking every rule imaginable, but always avoid court martial because of their undeniable skill while operating.
Many are familiar with the famed television series, M*A*S*H, based on the same book. The film is a much darker comedy, filled with gallows humor and obvious critiques of the Vietnam War, which was raging at the time. The film version is as much a classic as the TV show, filled with fantastic talent and great characters. Auberjonois plays Father Mulcahy, a gentle-hearted priest who nevertheless is wise enough to get in on several of Hawkeye and Duke’s schemes.
- The Big Bus: Looking to solve the gasoline crisis, Coyote Bus Lines creates the Cyclops – a nuclear-powered, double-decker luxury bus that can do a nonstop run from New York to Denver. Unfortunately, industrial sabotage kills the original driver, and a disgraced former driving legend is recruited to pilot the behemoth. As they travel across the country, the petroleum industry continues to attempt to sabotage the historic bus.
The Big Bus feels like a sibling to Airplane! separated at birth. The jokes aren’t quite as memorable, nor are the characters, but it does have plenty of laughs and quirky passengers. Auberjonois plays a jaded priest, slowly and cynically breaking up with his religion. He gets some great play against a devout seat mate, delighting in destroying the old woman’s faith all movie.
The big draw of the Big Bus is the retro-futurism; this bus has so many “house of tomorrow” features that it’s a trip just exploring them all. There’s improbably sized swimming pools, a cocktail lounge, and even a bowling alley! The Flash Gordon features of the bus are on constant display, helping the film to overcome some of its cornier elements.
- The Patriot: A widower and his family navigate the dangers of the American Revolutionary War. As a former frontier fighter, the father (Mel Gibson) is reluctant to go back into service, which estranges him from his eldest son (Heath Ledger) who wants to fight. When a rogue platoon of British dragoons massacre their town, both men take up the fight for liberty.
Aside from liberties taken for the sake of “rah rah, jingoism” The Patriot is a fine historical action epic in the mold of Braveheart. Gibson surrounds himself with talent, from Ledger’s hot-blooded portrayal of his son, to Jason Isaac‘s villainous dragoon colonel. Auberjonois plays yet another priest here (type casting!), this time of the “say a prayer while shooting the enemy” ilk. He gets a damn fine heroic death at the end, so I guess it was worth it.
- Benson: Auberjonois was known for Star Trek, but put his name on the map as the fussy foil to star Robert Guillaume’s Benson, the staff butler for a widowed governor. A smart ensemble comedy, Benson challenged many expectations of the time as we watched Guillaume move from the quick witted servant role all the way to running for governor himself.
- Fall Out: New Vegas: Auberjonois had many voice acting credits (did you know he was the french cook in The Little Mermaid?) His stern and deep voice lent itself to many villainous roles, including as the mysterious Mr. House in Fallout New Vegas. Mr. House was the shadow power broker in the post-apocalyptic oasis of Vegas, and one of the biggest forks in the game’s story is how you choose to align yourself in regards to his schemes.
- Cats Don’t Dance: This animated film won’t challenge Disney for the singing and dancing cat movie throne, but it was packed with great voice talent. Auberjonois plays a sycophantic film director who tries to wrangle the demented and vicious Darla Dimple (think Shirley Temple, if she was possessed by the devil.) It’s a fun and absurd romp of a movie…and I include it on this list since I can’t plausibly think of any other time I could bring it up!