In the 1993 film The Man from Toronto, Ellen Barkin was cast as Mary Louise Weaver, who goes by the alias The Handler, who convinces the titular man from Toronto, played by Maximilian Schell, to do things he would otherwise not do. While the relationship between the two characters seems clear in this film, little is actually known about their relationship in real life, and how they developed such an unwavering trust and understanding of each other. However, one thing that is clear to me, especially after watching both actors in the film, is that they were perfect casting choices for these roles. The Man from Toronto Handler: Ellen Barkin as The Handler
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A Short History of Ellen Barkin
Ellen Barkin was born in the Bronx, New York, on April 16, 1954. Her parents were Jewish immigrants who had come to America from Poland and Russia. Barkin attended Hunter College High School and then went on to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. She made her film debut in 1976, appearing in The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. After a few more movie roles, Barkin landed her first major role in 1981’s Diner. She has since appeared in such films as Tender Mercies (1983), This Boy’s Life (1993), Bad Company (2002), and Ocean’s Thirteen (2007).
As the handler for a high-profile and dangerous criminal, Ellen Barkin brings a steely resolve and sharp intelligence to the role. She is always one step ahead of her quarry, using her quick wit and extensive knowledge to keep him in line. But there is a softer side to Barkin’s character, which is revealed when she interacts with her family. This makes her more relatable and humanizes her otherwise tough exterior.
Training Day (2001)
In this crime thriller, Denzel Washington stars as a corrupt cop who takes a young, idealistic police officer (played by Ethan Hawke) under his wing. As the two men patrol the streets of Los Angeles, they get caught up in a world of drugs and violence. But when the younger officer starts to question his mentor’s methods, things take a deadly turn. Barkin plays Washington’s partner in crime, and she’s just as ruthless as he is. Her character enjoys blackmailing people with compromising pictures, but her own backstory reveals that there may be more going on than meets the eye.
Barkin has starred in many different genres throughout her career–from drama to comedy–but Training Day was one of her most challenging roles. I’ve played bad guys before, she says, but never somebody so all-consumed with their own greed.
Law & Order
I recently had the chance to sit down and chat with one of the stars of the new NBC show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Ellen Barkin. We talked about her character, The Handler, a tough-as-nails Assistant District Attorney who is not afraid to put away the bad guys. Here’s what she had to say… I love this woman so much. She’s incredibly funny, incredibly smart. She has an empathy for people that are on both sides of the law. She doesn’t know how to be anything but blunt and direct. That’s all you can be when you’re talking about these crimes. She loves what she does because she wants justice.
Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)
Ocean’s Thirteen is a 2007 American heist film directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring an ensemble cast. The plot revolves around Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his gang of thieves who plan to rob three casinos owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). This time, they have a new ally in the form of Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould), who has his own reasons for wanting to take down Benedict.
Barkin plays the role of The Handler, a professional fixer who helps the gang with their heist. She is tough, smart, and resourceful, and she gets the job done. Her performance is one of the highlights of the film.
The Big Easy (1987)
In director Barry Levinson’s Bugsy, Warren Beatty stars as the notorious gangster Bugsy Siegel. The film chronicles Siegel’s life, from his humble beginnings in New York’s Lower East Side to his eventual rise to power in Hollywood. Along the way, Siegel meets and falls in love with Virginia Hill (played by Annette Bening), a beautiful but dangerous woman who will ultimately help bring about his downfall. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Siegel sits down with The Handler (played by Ellen Barkin) to discuss a business proposition. Though The Handler is initially resistant, she eventually agrees to Siegel’s plan, setting the stage for one of the most infamous crimes in American history.
In the crime drama Bugsy, directed by Barry Levinson, Warren Beatty stars as the title character, a gangster who falls in love with Virginia Hill (played by Annette Bening). One of the most memorable scenes in the film is when Bugsy’s right-hand man Harry Greenberg (played by Elliot Gould) tries to set him up with a date, only to have it backfire spectacularly. Enter The Handler (played by Ellen Barkin), a no-nonsense woman who takes charge and gets things done. Barkin’s performance is fierce and commanding, and she steals every scene she’s in. If you’re looking for a film with strong female characters, look no further than Bugsy.
Working Girl (1988)
In Working Girl, Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) is a Staten Island-born secretary who dreams of a better life. When her boss, Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver), is injured in a skiing accident, Tess takes over her job and finds herself in the middle of a major merger deal. She also catches the eye of Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford), a wealthy businessman who may be able to help her get ahead. Barkin plays The Handler, Tess’s no-nonsense friend and mentor who helps her navigate the waters of high finance. Barkin is great in the role, and she brings a much-needed dose of reality to Tess’s dream world.