Behind The Briefcase
2 Jan 2020
We work in insurance. It's not a sexy profession, really. At least not by reputation. In fact, when TV and film want to portray a boring, normal, everyday job - an easy go-to is insurance.
Actually, Hollywood has been known to portray insurance people beyond just boring and normal, and as sneaky and snivelling. From the intensely irritating Ned Ryerson, repeatedly accosting an outraged Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, to hapless, hopeless 'Old Gil’ Gunderson in The Simpsons. Bless, he only had two payments left on his hotplate.
But there's more than drab, dull and dorky. At LifeSearch there is, anyway. We'd like to challenge the stereotype with a list of Hollywood insurance people who weren't quite what they seemed. Frankly, none of us are.
And to challenge another stereotype, all entries on the list are male. We looked and looked (hours of TV and films) but there were no women of note. Here at LifeSearch our board gender split is 50/50; our company as a whole is 50/50. We're pretty proud of that. We had eight ‘Searchers up for gongs at the COVER: Women in Protection awards 2019. #JustSayin.
Anyway, here's insurance as you don't know it. Here are heroes, saviours and, well, murderers?
Oh and if you haven't seen the films/ shows in question, ahem *spoiler alert*.
1) Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) – The Commuter
Kicking us off with a bang (or several bangs and a firm chokehold), it's an indestructible Ulsterman with some very special skills. The Commuter sees retired-cop-come-insurance-salesman Michael MacCauley (Neeson) working his socks off to support his family. But after being abruptly laid-off, MacCaulay gets tangled up in a hostage situation.
As usual, Neeson plays the relatable, everyday hero, ruthlessly downtrodden but with fight enough left to save the day - and make some cash into the bargain. An honest chap, his motivation is simply to pay the mortgage, put his kid through college and smack a few bad guys around while he’s at it.
2) Truman Burbank (Jim Carey) – The Truman Show
Be honest, you thought you were Truman Burbank at one point too. Don't worry, we all have. That’s the simple beauty of this 1998 Jim Carey classic: we're so wrapped up in the daily shenanigans that we can’t see the hidden cameras for the trees.
As insurance salesman Truman earns his crust as a talented, if somewhat tormented employee, he is all the while the unwitting star of a global reality TV hit.
Events on Seahaven Island take a turn when Truman, who suspects higher powers are taunting him, rebels against his puppetmasters in a hilarious-yet-sincere battle of wills. Truman steals the show, gets the girl and brings Seahaven crashing down around him. That's one for the little guy.
3) Reuben Feffer (Ben Stiller) - Along came Polly
Holding a job through a painful divorce is no mean feat, and insurance salesman Ruben Feffer (Stiller) shows us just how true this can be after he catches new wife Lisa in the act with a French scuba instructor. On their honeymoon, no less.
Soldiering on, the risk-averse insurance man meets Polly, a girl who helps him explore the more outrageous side of life. Cue typical Stiller-esque ridiculousness as he works his tail off to shoot out of his comfort zone. When Reuben is faced with returning to his ex-wife, the audience is outraged. By now we know he and Polly – the real hero of the piece – are meant to be together. If you haven't seen it, *spoiler alert*, yes they do.
4) Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) – Fargo (TV series)
Shrinking things down to the small screen, we find Lester Nygaard (Freeman), a weedy life insurance salesman with no discernible backbone. He’s an easy character to dislike and one that gets picked on by all and sundry, especially his wife and brother. Unloved and unlucky, Lester keeps it together remarkably well for such a put-upon chap. At first, anyway.
Despite appearing like a soggy wet weakling, the audience develops an admiration for Nygaard, we actually wish him well as his mishaps and dodgy endeavours play out. Yes, including murder. Viewers gets the impression, even from the first episode, that there’s more to the man than his 9-5, and sure enough the show unravels just as Lester does. His growing resolve sees him tackle his demons – and the cops – head on and the message is clear: don’t judge a book by its cover.
5) Bob Parr (voiced by Craig T Nelson) - The Incredibles
Salesman Bob Parr gives insurance heavyweight a more literal meaning. The mild-mannered man-mountain, a one-time ‘Mr Incredible’, has cast aside his superhero spandex to save the world in a more abstract sense: one policy at a time. Parr embodies the kid inside all of us, who wants to fight bad
guys, save the day, and look cool doing it.
The problem for Bob is that he lived the superhero life and now the 9-5 kicks like a mule. Supporting a family of five, insurer Bob brings home the bacon without complaint until being unfairly fired for helping out an elderly customer - like the legend he is. But fear not, things come good when Bob reprises his superhero role and shows us all once and for all: heroes lurk in unlikely places.
Here ends our run-down of five of the most interesting, colourful and captivating on-screen insurers. Just as in real life, the stereotype doesn’t belong. There’s more to someone than just a job title.
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