Mark Margolis, the journeyman actor who delivered an impressive performance as vengeful drug runner Hector Salamanca, a man of few words and a bell, on Breaking Bad and Better call Saul, is dead. He was 83.
Margolis died Thursday at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City after a brief illness, his son, actor and Knitting Factory Entertainment CEO Morgan Margolis, announced.
A protégé of Stella Adler who did double duty as the legendary acting teacher’s personal assistant, Margolis also stood out as Bolivian henchman Alberto the Shadow in Brian De Palma’s Scarf (1984); like the gravelly-voiced landowner Mr. Shickadance is looking for the rent in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994); and, from 1998-2003, as HIV-infected mob boss Antonio Nappa on HBO’s Oz.
The Philadelphia native played an aging math teacher for Darren Aronofsky Pi (1998), then appeared in the filmmaker’s next five films: as the guy who keeps selling Mrs. Goldfarb’s (Ellen Burstyn) TV back to her in Requiem for a dream (2000); as priest in The fountain (2006); as Randy “The Ram” Robinson’s (Mickey Rourke) landlord The breaker (2008); as the ballet patron in Black swan (2010); and as a “fallen angel” i Noah (2014).
asked by The Hollywood Reporter in a 2012 interview on why Aronofsky kept hiring him, he replied tongue-in-cheek: “He thinks he has an obligation! I started with him on his first film, $60,000 Pi, as he was unknown. I chased him for three months because he kept lying to me about when I would get my money. Finally, I threatened to call his mother, who was a handyman on the film. Then he finally paid me.”
Margolis, who did not speak Spanish, first appeared as Hector “Tio” Salamanca on Vince Gilligans Breaking Bad in March 2009 in the second episode of the AMC drama’s second season. A former enforcer of Mexican crime boss Don Eladio (Steven Bauer), his character is paralyzed and is only able to communicate using facial expressions and a brass service bell attached to his wheelchair.
In the spectacular season-four finale, “Face Off,” which aired in October 2011, Salamanca gets his revenge on drug kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) as part of a suicide mission, and he received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a a drama series in 2012. (Hector Salamanca even got his own tribute website.)
Starting in 2016 with the second season of Breaking Bad prequel Better called SaulMargolis was given another chance to play Salamanca as a younger man before he was incapacitated.
“I only touched on Breaking Bad as far as I knew for that one episode, but there’s no accounting for taste and the fans took a liking to me,” he said. “Someone asked me recently, ‘How did you manage to play such a terrible guy?’ and I said, ‘Have you talked to my friends?’ They’ll tell you I’m pretty miserable to begin with.”
Margolis was born into a Jewish family in Philadelphia on November 26, 1939. His mother, Fanya, was a decorator who worked for a wallpaper company and did a lot of painting, and his father, Isidore, was a factory worker.
He took his first acting class at 14, and after a year at Temple University, moved to New York and studied drama with Adler at The Actors Studio (he would become a lifetime member). “My first impression of her was, ‘If God is a woman, it’s him,'” he told Eric Broadbent in a Inside the Gilliverse interview in 2020. “She was larger than life. Everything I know (about acting) came from Stella.”
In exchange for tuition, he served as Adler’s personal assistant for nearly three years, fetching her cabs, carrying her groceries back to her apartment across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and checking coats for guests when she hosted a party.
“I had a real fixation with her,” he shared The Observer in 2012. “I was 19 years old and she was 60. That’s what a turn-on she was.”
Margolis later studied with Alder’s rival, Lee Strasberg, for about a year, but drifted away from acting and had trouble making ends meet. He managed a coffee house on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village – “I let Richie Havens sit there all night even though he had no money because I loved listening to his music.” he said in 2016 — built theatrical artwork and took geodesic domes to high schools around the country.
He finally made his screen debut as a grumpy airline passenger in X-rated The opening of Misty Beethoven (1976), then had small roles in Walk in style (1979), De Palma’s Dressed to kill (1980) and Arthur (1981) before his ugly Alberto was killed by Al Pacino’s Tony Montana in the Scarf.
“I’m just a journeyman actor,” he once said. “Truth be told, six months after ScarfI had to take a job with a real estate developer friend for a few months just to make ends meet.”
Margolis had a recurring role from 1985-89 as surveillance expert Jimmy on the CBS crime drama The Equalizerstarring Edward Woodward.
His character in Jim Carrey’s Ace Ventura was named after a real landowner that director Tom Shadyac once had. For Mr. Shickadance: “They wanted a voice like something out of The Exorcist,” he said. “I had never seen The Exorcistbut I thought it was.”
To play the silent Salamanca, Margolis said he took his cues from his late mother-in-law, Shirley.
“She was in a nursing home for many years in Florida, tragically, after suffering a stroke,” he said. “We used to visit her and she could not speak. But she would get excited when we entered the room, and the left side of her mouth would always do these contortions where the lips were pushing out, almost like she was chewing tobacco. So I stole it from her. I always say the role is a tribute to Shirley, who was actually an Earl Carroll Follies dancer from the 1930s.”
Margolis said Gilligan called him to say they were going to kill Hector Breaking Bad — but he “wanted to have a lot of fun doing it.”
His work also included the films The Cotton Club (1984), The secret behind my success (1987), 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), I shot Andy Warhol (1996), Absolute power (1997), The Thomas Crown case (1999), End of days (1999), The Tailor of Panama (2001), Hardball (2001), Gone baby gone (2007), Defiance (2008) and Stand Up Guys (2012) and such TV shows as Santa Barbara, Law and order, Californication, Person of interest, American Horror Story and The affair.
In addition to his son and his wife, Heide, Margolis’ survivors include his wife, Jacqueline, whom he married in June 1962; grandsons Ben, Aidan and Henry; and his brother and his wife, Jerome and Ann. He lived for years in Tribeca.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
In his interview with The ObserverMargolis said the fans he met on the street “think I’m some kind of rich guy, that everyone in the movies makes the kind of money Angelina Jolie makes,” he explained. “They don’t realize that most of my life has been a struggle.”