There is probably not a lot of overlap between Sofia the First and The Dukes of Hazzard. I’m throwing that out there. I mean, I’m sure I’d be surprised, because minor actors get a lot of places, but if you throw in Highlander and The Bride, I think we’re down to just Clancy Brown. I’m genuinely no longer surprised by people cropping up in multiple voice roles no matter how contradictory they seem, because that’s a small community in a lot of ways. But Clancy Brown has been making a career since 1983 at being everywhere regardless of genre.
Oh, part of it is definitely the presence. Whether he’s scaring the pants off Jim on Trollhunters or threatening to throw Andy Dufresne off a roof in The Shawshank Redemption, you can believe the other characters would be scared of him. He’s a big guy with a big voice, and he makes it work. Even on his handful of episodes of ER, he’s not supposed to be physically intimidating in the same way, but he’s definitely not supposed to be a good guy. He’s played by Clancy Brown, so Kerry Weaver should’ve known better than to get involved with him!
But he doesn’t just coast on that, easy as it would be to do. Oh, part of that relies on writing. Gunmar’s drive to gain his father’s approval is written into the character, presumably by Guillermo del Toro when he created the character. In lesser hands, the character wouldn’t have risen much above Big Scary Troll no matter how much nuance Brown tried to instill in him. But because it was in the writing, Brown was able to develop it so well that I’m pretty sure even my kids recognize it in him.
He can also bring the comedy. His role in Hail, Caesar! is minor even by ensemble piece standards. However, he manages to sell what’s in the character and be funny even though, really, the character isn’t aware he’s funny or the situation is funny. Not least, of course, because he plays a character who has no idea what’s going on around him because he’s not supposed to. Not the comedic lack of awareness of George Clooney’s character—just a guy who’s out of the loop. Sure, he’s utterly believable as someone who will bring Ragnarok, but he’s also believable as just a working actor.
The fight over who’s the best Lex Luthor is less impassioned than the fight over the best Joker. However, for me, it’s also a fight with a right answer, and the right answer is Clancy Brown. Gene Hackman is fine and all, and I guess I can see arguments for some of the others, including the TV ones, even though I personally loathe the Eisenberg version. But the fact is, no one in live action has developed the role as well as Clancy Brown. Yes, he’s helped by the consistently good writing of the DCAU—something none of the live action versions have had. But he’s also menacing at just the right level and intelligent at just the right level and really, he takes some beating.