The Four Actors Who Defined The Addams Family's One and Only Gomez Addams
A look at a character and the four legends who lifted him above the rest.
By M.T. Bates
There are characters, both of fiction and nonfiction, that have a degree of pedigree attached to them. These are the characters that not every actor of stage or screen can portray without possessing a certain something. They require a kind of quality and presence that only few may display. Typically, you’d think of Shakespeare characters like Hamlet or King Lear, who bring with them a legacy of talent which is hard to compare to any more recent roles. Let’s face it; no one is going to compare Charles Laughton’s and Michael Gambon’s portrayals of King Lear to Michael Keaton’s and Christian Bale’s portrayals of Batman. The characters just don’t match up.
But what if there was a character of fiction from recent years that brought that level of dignity and class? This is the kind of character that only an elite few were ever able to properly portray, one beloved by many but one most don’t realize has transcended above the ranks of all other recent roles based on the legendary men who have stepped into his shoes. Today, I intend to shine a light on why the eccentric and charming patriarch of The Addams Family has earned his place among the greatest characters in history. Is it really the character, or the four men in particular who were blessed to have worn his suit and smoked his cigars, that elevated Gomez to the heights that no one has yet recognized?
It’s easy to cast aside such an eccentric character and I think that is because people fail to see the depth he possesses. Long gaps in the character’s history lend to those forgetting where he came from and who played him, but I think it is time that Gomez Addams steps out to truly be recognized for the gift he has been to us.
There are many qualities required to portray Gomez and having some of them will never cut it. He is an all-or-nothing kind of character: eccentric, boisterous, charming, agile, witty, intoxicating, and confounding (with a hint of Groucho). To this point in time, four men have had what it took to properly portray this man and, because of these four men, they have attached a pedigree to the character such that any future actor lucky enough to win that role should be wholly honored to have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of some of the greatest stage and film actors of a generation.
While there have been others who have voiced Gomez and even portrayed him, such as Glenn Taranto, those actors didn’t quite leave their mark on the character or have the legacy that the others have, but it is hard to dive into this without knowing the character first. Charles Addams, the creator, wrote and drew the family as one-panel gag strips for the New Yorker. There was no real character development within these strips to the point where they didn’t even have names until the television series reached production. In fact, you better thank John Astin for picking the name Gomez. When the show was going into production, the nameless family had to be named and Astin was given a choice between Gomez and Repelli. The legacy of Gomez truly began with John Astin and it is so fitting.
Astin had to sculpt the character from the comics, as did the whole cast of the original show, but he truly breathed life into Gomez. He was able to act just through his facial expressions and eyes alone. His bright eyes and bold smile could stretch for miles and sometimes he didn’t even need to speak to be captivating, but where would the fun in that be?
Known for his quirky physical antics on the show, Gomez was a quick-witted firecracker who always managed to come off as wholesome. It is easy to see the Groucho influences in the character and who better is there to pay homage to than him? The wealthy, cigar-smoking, energetic, and enthusiastic Gomez could have easily stood toe-to-toe with the insult blazing, turn-a-phrase master Groucho.
Perhaps the Groucho-like demeanor of Gomez is what drew in audiences. He was still a popular figure and name at the time of the show, so perhaps Astin modeling the character after the iconic Marx Brother was done on purpose to give people a taste of him without it coming off like a direct rip-off. Gomez was his own character through and through, but he had a Groucho flavoring that avoided coming off as overpowering. It was a winning combination that can still be seen in the character today.
But Gomez was nothing in the show if not a dedicated husband. Some liken him to a Latin lover type of character, very much in the vein of Cesar Romero. Astin managed to pool so many bold personalities and traits into his Gomez that it is a miracle it turned out the way it did. Trying to do that with a character today would certainly end in a disaster, but the actor came out looking like a true master of his craft.
The original show did, however, fail to catch the truly creepy and macabre feeling that the original comics portrayed, but you have to believe that studios never would have gone for that kind of tone in the show back in 1964. Light, airy, and with a touch of oddness is about as heavy and dark as you could get on a network show in the 1960s, which is why The Munsters felt very similar. The lack of morbidity did not take away from the show, as it still holds up today and fans continue to praise its characters and simple charm.
John Astin unknowingly became the first in a line of Gomez actors that would go beyond the limits of the character. He had nothing to go on, character-wise, aside from the original comics, which were great in their own way but definitely less than a blueprint for how the family should be portrayed on screen. Homages aside, Astin created an iconic patriarch which would be the path three other men would travel down many years later.
With the original show coming off so light, the sharp shift in direction for the 1991 film was quite drastic, but never had something felt so right. The admiration I have for this film and its sequel is overwhelming. While that adoring emotion stems mainly from the cast being a gift from the heavens, no man, woman, or child can deny the pure magnetism that is Raul Julia.
There are few actors I love and respect more than Raul Julia and it was all because of this role. Somehow, Julia dialed up the insanity on the Gomez character significantly, yet still managed to come off as wholesome and loving. When you watch the films today, it’s mind-boggling how he was able to pull this off, but when you realize that the man was a trained singer and Shakespearian actor for nearly 20 years before he moved into features, the pieces start to fall into place.
Boisterous isn’t a strong enough word for his portrayal of Gomez. It’s strange, as he tends to come off like an idiot in many scenes in these films, but then somehow turns it all around. His meeting with Tully in the first film is a perfect example of how excited he gets at the thought of an obviously-questionable and shady business proposition, but then he immediately stops himself in favor of the rules he has set forth. It’s a genius way to balance stupidity and lucidness.
Julia was larger than life in the role. He was brash, he was loud, but most of all he was exciting. Gomez was still energetic and over-the-top, but the acrobatic and physical quirkiness of the character had not been misplaced in this interpretation. However, gone was a bit of that Groucho wit that Astin was known for. In its stead was insanity, which is perhaps a more vocalized personification of Harpo, a sort of comparison I don’t think many make.
For a perfect example of how over-the-top and satisfying his madness was, one only needs to look at the “has the planet gone mad?” speech from Addams Family Values. It showcases the lunacy that Julia brought to the character perfectly and, as a bonus, that particular scene also happens to feature another actor who we will be discussing in just a bit. In the same vein, the “mamashuka” scene is just a joy to behold and anytime we get to hear Julia sing is just a treat, mainly because the man had some serious pipes that he just loved to stretch.
Suave, but not always collected and yet somehow always in control, Raul Julia breathed a different kind of life into Gomez Addams. The man could do it all and he did it with his own flavor of Addams’ swagger. There was a sense of comfortableness that fell upon him in the sequel and his portrayal felt even more natural as he sunk deeper into the character.
It’s hard to move away from the pure brilliance of Raul Julia and what he did for the Gomez character, but there are still two more men on this list and they both deserve just as much spotlight as Mr. Astin and Mr. Julia.
After Raul Julia’s performance, I’d think it would be impossible for another actor to be offered the role of Gomez and think that they could do it. In all honesty, how could they? Unless you were another trained stage actor with charm and charisma that seems to know no end, it would be impossible to fill those shoes. Lucky for us, Tim Curry was available in 1998 for the TV movie, Addams Family Reunion.
It’s baffling how we as fans at this point were so lucky as to continually have legends, whether established or in the making, snagging the role of Gomez. Whoever cast Tim Curry for this role needs to be hugged, as he might have been the only one during this time period with the fortitude of an actor to do this character justice. By this time, Julia had sadly passed away, so seeing someone else step into Gomez’s shoes was hard to accept, but horror fans knew it would be easier seeing Curry chomping on the end of the cigar (or pipe in this movie for whatever reason). It made the transition easier for fans to stomach.
This portrayal was a more low-key version of what Julia brought to the table, but with that unmistakable Tim Curry charm and that smile of course. Oh man, is that smile ever on display here. This portrayal suffers not because of Curry, but because of the material and script he was given. While Gomez still managed to be suave and as good a word architect as ever, he was reduced to some sillier spots and lines of dialogue. This was during an era where goofy spots and situations just played out in the most cringe-worthy ways.
Curry has always come off as the one man who could overact and not only was it acceptable, it was downright pleasurable. That type of acting is on display here in certain scenes, which isn’t really necessary because in the scenes where he falls into the character, he is brilliant. But, again, he cannot be faulted for the poor writing efforts of a made-for-TV movie from the '90s. That was almost always a recipe for disaster in one form or another. The actor alone is the only reason to ever revisit this film.
It is hard not to dwell on those shortcomings, which are many, because you want the spotlight to stay on the only aspect of the film worth shining it on. That is, of course, Tim Curry, which again stems from the poor supporting cast. He didn’t have much, if any, help in this role, which only made his portrayal more fascinating. While I believe that this portrayal is the weakest of the four being covered in this piece, we as fans can only imagine what could have been if a proper script, budget, and director were allocated to this project. The foundation for a one-of-a-kind and remarkable Gomez is present, but the structure surrounding the actor just wasn’t there.
Curry has always displayed the acting chops to take on whatever was thrown at him and as far as differing roles go, not too many people can claim the kind of role diversity that he has. So, with his charisma and natural ability to draw people in, this was a character designed for him. The biggest downfalls of this film are all the unnecessary situational spots he is put in, much like a ping-pong game, a tennis match, a game of darts, or to a lesser extent the rehashed dance scene, complete with supersonic-spinning Morticia.
The film is so frowned upon that it has never even received a home video release and almost nothing about Curry’s portrayal can be found. Chances are that he realized how awful the movie was and decided not to do too many, if any, interviews around it. Thankfully, with him doing more conventions and Q&A panels lately, it might be a good idea for fans to prod him about his experience and time with the legendary character. It’s sad that his time as Gomez was so short-lived, but it was only natural given the dreck they put out.
Over a decade passed before someone as witty and captivating as the three previous men came along to once again capture our hearts. The thing is, most fans probably didn’t get a chance to see him, or even worse, didn’t know that this portrayal even happened. Regardless of that, we were lucky enough to have Nathan Lane don the suit and cigar for a 2010 Broadway rendition of The Addams Family. Keen fans will remember Nathan Lane as the officer Raul Julia was arguing with in Addams Family Values.
This was an interesting casting choice, but I remember when I first heard about it, I grinned quite hard at the thought. I’ve been an adoring fan of his work ever since I saw The Birdcage. He has an energy and a delivery few possess. It’s hard not to be enamored by his outlandish personality, especially when he is playing a character, so why not give him one of the greatest fictional characters of all time? This was a pairing made in heaven if you are even slightly familiar with Lane’s range as an actor. Giving the man a chance to sing and dance is giving him more than he needs to shine.
What makes this portrayal so absurdly unique, aside from the new medium, is how you are required to project yourself in every manner possible as a stage actor. A loud and brash Gomez is only a better version of the character in my book, but he also brought, as the others did, his own unique take. Back were the witty Groucho-like traits, combined with plenty of song and dance routines that, let’s face it, only make him more like the Marx Brother, but it is his distinct line delivery, body language, and overall chemistry with every ounce of stage available to him that makes his performance profound and unrelenting.
He feeds off his spectacular supporting cast to bring Gomez to new heights. The musical did a perfect job blending comedy, music, and light spookiness, very much in the same vein as the original television series, but it always comes back to the actor. His performance demands your respect. Thankfully for those who were not lucky enough to see him live in this role, there are plenty of clips on YouTube to help hammer home this point.
Nathan Lane does nothing halfway. When he signs on to any project or character, he goes all-in and it shows in his work. He has such a love and passion for his craft, especially on the stage, that truly makes his take on Gomez quite possibly the most endearing and captivating yet. This could be offset by the fact that this particular take is wholly unique, as it was the first Addams Family musical, but even then it is hard to argue with the results.
Coming around again to the line delivery, poise, and overall stage presence Lane displays, it makes watching his take on Gomez feel like discovering the character all over again. The way he is able to project himself over the crowd and beyond is a skill all stage actors hope to master one day. There are no over-the-top acrobatic scenes, which is a letdown on one hand, as we have come to expect such antics from the character, but on the other, it gives us a more grounded portrayal of this legend.
This is a take on the character that we may never see the likes of again, or at least for a very long time, which is why I urge any Addams Family fan to seek out some of those clips and treat yourself to the most fascinating take on Gomez you’ll ever have the pleasure of witnessing.
At the time of this article’s conception and original publishing, we are coming up to the latest incarnation of Gomez Addams, which is that of Mr. Oscar Isaac, a character actor in his own right with loads of talent and even a penchant for the stage, as the cycle of qualified Gomez actors continues. It is no coincidence that the men who play Gomez all share similar qualities and qualifications. While this is only an animated feature, it is a feature nonetheless and one very much in the style of the original comics. We don’t have much to go on yet, as we currently only have a teaser trailer, but the casting is an inspired lot and the styling is on point. I think we are in for a good time and possibly even a fifth name to add to this illustrious list.
Four men – nay, acting gods – were all blessed with the privilege of playing the same role, which has now cemented that fictional character into the annuls of media history as something beyond special. This is no longer a silly character, but rather a rite of passage for only a select few.
Character actors and stage performers alike have combined their talents to portray Gomez, because being versed in just one of those areas alone certainly wouldn’t qualify you to play Gomez. It takes more than what most actors have in them to be able to pull off a portrayal worthy of remembrance. To be chosen for the role should be taken as an honor.
There was never any denying that Gomez Addams was always a gem among fictional characters, but to be elevated to these heights because of four actors in particular is almost unheard of. As a longtime fan of The Addams Family, and especially of these four unmatched talents, what more can be said? Good show, old men, and thank you.