His irises tremble violently as the camera fixes on his glassy gaze, and before you know it, you've once again been entranced by the character with whom you're unsure if you should fear or sympathize. With the rare ability to convey the delicate blend of conflicting emotions that only the most effective character actors can convincingly portray, actor Pruitt Taylor Vince has crafted a successful film and television career playing introspective, often disturbed, loners teetering on the fringes of society. Though the portly Baton Rouge native's first onscreen role was to have been in director Jim Jarmusch's 1986 comedy drama Down by Law, his scenes were cut before the film hit theaters, and audiences would not get their first look at Vince until the release of Alan Parker's Angel Heart the following year. Vince owes something of a debt to the prolific director, since it was Parker's racially charged drama Mississippi Burning that first found audiences taking notice of the burgeoning, sometimes fearsome, actor. In 1990, Vince turned up in yet another of Parker's films, Come See the Paradise, though it was that same year's horrific thriller Jacob's Ladder that truly found Vince setting himself apart from the pack.
If the 1990s had proven kind to Vince early on, it was his emotionally compelling role opposite Paul Newman in Nobody's Fool that truly began to give audiences an idea of what Vince was capable of as an actor. Cast as the village idiot who finds a sympathetic ear in Newman's character, Vince lent an uncanny depth to a character that may have otherwise been an instantly forgettable, two-dimensional role. Though Vince's early roles were indeed noteworthy thanks to his uncommon ability to exude repression and deeply rooted malaise as few other actors could, it wasn't until director James Mangold's cast him in the lead for his 1995 drama Heavy that Vince was truly given the opportunity to shine. Mangold did something that few mainstream Hollywood efforts would allow when he dared to offer the overweight and balding actor the dramatic lead -- the role of Victor Modina, a shy cook in a small-town restaurant who secretly longs for the love of an attractive young waitress (portrayed by Liv Tyler). With his expressive eyes (their sometimes discomforting vibration the result of a condition known as nystagmus) effectively conveying the desperation of a trapped animal longing to escape his suffocating existence, Vince's heartbreaking performance eloquently conveyed the internal distress and helplessness felt by his long-suffering character.
Though the following years may not have offered Vince more roles the size or caliber of his part in Heavy, a series of small-screen performances in the late '90s showed that his talent was, without question, as potent as ever. Following an unforgettable performance as a mentally unbalanced photographer who kidnaps Agent Scully (Gillian Anderson) in a 1996 episode of The X-Files ("Unruhe"), Vince's turn as a suspicious kidnapping suspect in the miniseries Night Sins and a disturbed serial killer in several episodes of Murder One proved that he could be chillingly effective in menacing roles. The latter role even proved so effective as to earn Vince an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series. It was at this point that directors were truly beginning to discover the dramatic possibilities of casting Vince in their films, and his turn as a gifted musician and compelling storyteller proved a highlight of the wistful 1998 drama The Legend of 1900.
Supporting performances in Mumford (1999), Nurse Betty (2000), The Cell (2000), and S1m0ne (2002) found Vince steadily becoming a recognizable face to mainstream audiences, and in 2002, he sent chills down the spines of suspense fanatics as the childlike accomplice in a harrowing kidnapping scheme in Trapped. Vince's skittishly ominous performance left viewers on the edge of their seats as he held a young girl (played by Dakota Fanning) hostage with instructions to kill her on a moment's notice, and the film utilized Vince's alternately innocent and threatening character to chilling effect. He again teamed with director Mangold for the 2003 thriller Identity, cast in a key role that proved elemental to the film's startling denouement. Vince also continued to take on guest-starring roles in such TV series as Alias and The Handler. After appearing in the 2003 Aileen Wuornos biopic Monster, Vince would play a priest in the 2004 comic-to-film adaptation of Hellblazer, entitled Constantine.