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As one of Hollywood's most recognizable character actors over the past four decades, M. Emmet Walsh says he enjoys roles with variety, having portrayed cops, crooks, colonels, coaches and various screwball characters with equal conviction.

"I don't want to play the same type of character 10 times," Walsh said. "I want to be a garbage collector in one film and a governor in the next."

Raised near the Vermont/Montreal border, Walsh graduated from Clarkson College, but not in dramatics.

"I got a degree in business administration and marketing," he said. "That background taught me to live modestly when you're working so you can survive on your savings when things aren't going so well. I've had actor friends who made 10 times the money I did, but they have nothing now. I knew what to do with a dollar."

Against his mother's wishes, Walsh made his way to New York in 1959 to study acting. "I knew nothing when I arrived. I didn't speak well and was deaf in one ear, but I didn't want to look back when I was 40 and wonder whether I should have given acting a try."

So he became an audience fixture in theaters around town, watching and learning from the best in the city, eventually returning to school and graduating from New York's Academy of Dramatic Arts.

"No one falls off a turnip truck and does Hamlet," said Walsh. "You've got to learn this stuff and it takes time."

A decade later, after several years of regional theater in New England, Walsh found his way to television and film in 1969.

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Since then, his career has taken him around the world for shooting assignments, including trips to the Philippines in 1984 to costar with Chuck Norris in "Missing in Action" and to Africa for "Red Scorpion" (1988) and "Racing Stripes" (2005).

Still on the move, last year he traveled to Ireland and Romania for two films due out this year, "Calvary" and "The Scorpion King 4." However, Walsh, a master of self-depricating humor, admits he doesn't especially like to play the role of tourist when on location.

"I'll go off and look around a bit," he said. "But if you gave me $10,000 and told me I could go anywhere, I'd just as soon sit home and remove the lint from my naval."

Off camera, Walsh enjoys sailing and golf, and has remained single.

"If you marry another actor, there's always competition. And if you marry a 'civilian,' they don't understand what you're doing and why you have to travel to, say, Nova Scotia for several months." Besides, he added, "I never met a woman who was stupid enough to think I was a great catch!"

With more than 250 feature film and TV credits now behind him, Walsh's talent for tackling dramatic and comedy roles has made him a fan favorite, and he isn't planning on retiring any time soon.

"I'll be 79 in March and am still in relatively good shape, although I have to pass on the hard physical stuff now," he said. "I approach each job thinking it might be my last, so it had better be the best work possible."

Nick Thomas is the author of "Raised by the Stars: Interviews with 29 Children of Hollywood Actors"

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