Nine pop culture accountants we love and hate

Hollywood often doesn’t get the portrayal of accountants right. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t secretly enjoy these characters from TV and film.

Pop cultural portrayals of accountants tend to swing between two extremes. On the one hand, you have the savant number-crunchers who have incredible power and use it for good. Think of Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption: he used his accounting know-how to hide the evil warden’s tax evasions, and ultimately exposed the corruption at the prison. On the other extreme, you have the criminal mastermind who is cold, calculating and soulless—think of Christian Wolff in The Accountant. Here now, a look at some of our favourite—and not-so-favourite—accounting characters from TV and film.

Patsy Parisi, The Sopranos (1999-2007)
The accountant for Tony Soprano and crew, Patsy Parisi (played by Dan Grimaldi) survived all six seasons on The Sopranos, despite considering turning Tony over to the FBI. He is often seen working the books for the Bada Bing and other businesses on the show. Patsy has his ups and downs with the boss, but ultimately is shown to be a trusted advisor to Tony. When the series ends, Patsy’s upstanding son (Patrick) is engaged to Tony’s daughter Meadow, likely cementing his place in la famiglia.

 

Loretta Castorini, Moonstruck (1987)
While Loretta Castorini’s (played by Cher) work as a bookkeeper in Moonstruck is not particularly relevant to the plot of this 1987 film, it certainly does inform her character. The fact that she is a no-nonsense career woman makes her the perfect foil for over-the-top romantic advances of Ronny Cammareri (played by a young Nicolas Cage). When she eventually falls for him, it feels like an especially hard-won romantic triumph precisely because she’s a serious person (with a serious job). Snap out of it!

Ben Wyatt, Parks and Recreation (2009-2015)
If there is a more lovable accountant in the world of pop culture, we haven’t found him. Ben Wyatt (played by Adam Scott) became an accountant after a stint as a teen mayor went horribly awry. As a state budget auditor, Ben’s focus on helping governments keep clean balance sheets made him kind of an accounting rock star (or at least Leslie Knope thought so). Calzones all around!

Guillermo Pallomari, Narcos (2015- )
As chief accountant for the Cali Cartel in the hit Netflix series, Narcos, Guillermo Pallomari is tasked with keeping billions of dollars out of government hands. Pallomari (as portrayed by Javier Cámara) is a headstrong figure who holds singular power within the crime syndicate, the keeper of a special code for booking transactions. That power is what ultimately brings him into a witness protection program—and brings down the world’s biggest drug cartel.

 

Christian Wolff, The Accountant (2016)
The Accountant is the most recent and direct depiction of the cool, calculating stereotype that popular culture tends to fall back on. Christian Wolff (played by Ben Affleck) is presented as a person on the autism spectrum who audits legitimate businesses, and also investigates the finances of criminal outfits like the Gambino family. His analytical skill makes him a valuable tool for big-time crime and terror organizations, and he eventually becomes the target of these high-powered clients as well. Thank goodness for the calming power of Solomon Grundy.

Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Stephen King’s short story, Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption, is about a quiet, mild mannered banker named Andy Dufresne. Dufresne is serving a life sentence in maximum security prison, convicted of killing his wife and her lover. He starts taking care of the finances of the prison, and uses his accounting skills to help the corrupt warden launder money. He is set free by his intellect when he reveals the warden’s corruption to the world (and, spoiler alert, also digs a tunnel out of his cell wall).

Skylar White, Breaking Bad (2008-2013)
Breaking Bad is a story about a man cornered and pushed to his limits. A big part of that story is how his actions affect his family—and that includes his wife, Skylar, played by Anna Gunn. Her instinct to protect her family drives the character throughout the show, and when she finally learns that Walter is making money by selling meth, she uses her accounting skills to help him launder the money through a car wash. While not quite as morally bankrupt as her husband, Skylar shows increasing comfort (and adeptness) in hiding the couple’s ill-gotten gains as the show progresses.

Louis Tulley, Ghostbusters (1984, 1987)
In the original Ghostbusters movie from 1984, Louis Tulley (played by Rick Moranis) is the square accountant who invites clients to parties so that he can write off the expenses. By the time the sequel rolls around, he’s expanded his area of expertise to include tax law, and is the official accountant of the team. Who you gonna call? An accountant, obviously.

Henry Sherman, The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Henry Sherman (played by Danny Glover) is the new love interest for Tenenbaum matriarch Etheline (Anjelica Houston) in this classic Wes Anderson movie. A quiet, kind and intellectual man, Henry is presented as the stable alternative to the lying and duplicitous Royal (Gene Hackman), Etheline’s estranged husband. It’s no coincidence that Henry is also an accountant; his steady presence and calm demeanor make him an attractive option for a woman done with drama. As Royal (who tries but fails to win Etheline back) puts it: “I didn’t think so much of him at first. Now I get it. He’s everything that I’m not.”

KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING

Did we miss any of your favourite fictional accountants? Let us know in the comments below.

You may also be interested in:

From Bob Newhart to John Grisham to the inventor of bubble gum (really!), here are some famous folks who once toyed with (and in some cases, even pursued) a career as an accountant

As Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary, we take a look back at 10 accountants who changed the face of our profession.

Public service rewards CPAs with lofty ideals and a devotion to their country. Learn how the work of Environment Canada’s Sarah Tobun, benefitting regular Canadians, owes a debt to the origins of Canada’s accounting designations.