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Ed Corbin sinks his teeth into his Bear Man scene in 'True Grit'

Character actor Ed Corbin's part in the Coen brothers' remake of 'True Grit' is small but memorable.

December 24, 2010|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
  • Ed Lee Corbin plays Bear Man in "True Grit."
Ed Lee Corbin plays Bear Man in "True Grit." (Lorey Sebastian / Paramount…)

There is a quirky, quintessentially Joel and Ethan Coen "moment" in their remake of "True Grit" in which Rooster Cogburn ( Jeff Bridges) and Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) meet the Bear Man.

Dressed in a mammoth bear skin coat complete with the beast's head, the character rides into frame leading another horse weighted down with the body of a dead man. Speaking in a low, slow drawl, the Bear Man tells Rooster and Mattie that he obtained his cargo by trading with an Indian "who said he came by him honestly. I gave up two dental mirrors and a bottle of expectorant." Then, he asks, "Do either of you need medical attention?"

Though the scene lasts just minutes, Ed Corbin, the Los Angeles-based character actor who plays the Bear Man, makes an indelible impression with his gravel-pit of a voice, his overgrowth of gray beard and, of course, that costume.

"I had this picture that the Bear Man had been in the wilderness for 20 years and that Jeff Bridges would be the first white man I had seen in so long I just relished the conversation with him," says Corbin, who has had small parts in such TV series as "Weeds" and "Saving Grace."

A native of Rome, Ga., Corbin rode horses on his family's farm. But he had a bit of a problem with his seat during shooting.

"The Coen brothers wanted to emphasize my size," says Corbin. "They got me a small horse. I am 6 5 and weigh about 270 pounds. The outfit probably weighed 70 or 80 pounds. I got off of him as much as I could because I felt badly for him. But mainly the horse kept looking back. You could see in his eyes that he was thinking, 'There's a bear on my back.' The master shot was the toughest scene [to shoot] because the first five or six takes, the horse just wouldn't stop. Once we got into the dialogue and close-ups, I had a wrangler just out of frame underneath the horse's head."

Corbin describes working with the Coens as the biggest thrill of his career. "They knew what they were looking for at the audition," says Corbin. "Once they were on the set, they gave very little direction. Once we got into close-ups, I thought to myself, 'Well I am not getting that much direction, I think I will make one take my own.' I really slowed it down in one take. I was just relishing every syllable.

"They didn't yell 'Cut,' but after we finished the scene," Corbin continues, "I think it was Ethan who stood up and said 'Ed, that is great, but there are other scenes in the movie."'

susan.king@latimes.com

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