Let’s talk about the character actor. They’re the unsung heroes of films … those people that you almost always recognize, but maybe can’t name. “Oh,” you say, “it’s that guy.” I think we all love character actors, even if they’re maybe not a reason to see a film all by themselves. They’re the people who might put you over the edge, though, of something you’re debating seeing. My dad loves character actors, and I have inherited that love from him, along with the sometimes obnoxious ability to recognize faces and oftentimes even manage to put names to them. Obviously, we have a different generation of second- and third-stringers about whom we get excited, but I think that the role (haha, get it?) of “character actor” is a really important one in the grand scheme of Hollywood, and so I think we ought to salute some of these folks!
As such, here are some of my favorites. I’ve actually been agonizing over this list for about a month, and I just can’t look at it anymore. I have probably forgotten someone awesome, but you know, if they haven’t jumped out from my brain at this point, maybe they’re just not going to. Anyway, to the list! I’ve listed the movies in which I have seen these individuals, and bolded my favorites.
Ms. Lynskey might be the reason this entire post is happening. I love love LOVE her. She is totally talented, utterly charming, and just plain awesome. She’s usually the the sister or the kind-hearted sidekick, and she’s usually funny, but I’d recommend Away We Go for a truly dramatic, albeit brief, turn. Did you know that she’s actually a Kiwi? You would never guess from her excellent accent work. Seen in: The Frighteners, Ever After, Coyote Ugly, Sweet Home Alabama, Away We Go, Up in the Air.
Wincott was kind of the go-to bad guy back in the 90s. Like, Mark Strong 1.0, or something. Except (and I love Mark Strong) with a much more awesome voice. And possibly better swordsmanship (these things are important to the music major/ fencer, see). Actually, hmm. That’s a tough call. Oh, sorry; where was I? I first saw Mr. Wincott in Costner’s Robin Hood, but really took note of him as Top Dollar in The Crow. He’s had a pretty varied career, actually, mixing up the action with the dramatic. I kinda miss him, really. Don’t some of these up-coming superhero flicks need villains still? Hey, Hollywood! Bring back Michael Wincott! Seen in: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Three Musketeers (1993), The Crow, Before Night Falls, The Count of Monte Christo (2002).
Seriously, I defy anyone to say that they don’t love Dan Hedaya. The guy has been around forever and has done just about everything, and he’s awesome. He generally plays slightly sleazy characters, sometimes truly bad guys, but more often stooges. His absolute best role, I think, is as Cher’s dad in Clueless, where he keeps the sleaziness (because he’s a high-powered lawyer) but also manages to be a pretty great dad. That’s talent. Seen in: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, The Addams Family (1991), Benny and Joon, Maverick, The Usual Suspects, Clueless, In & Out.
What does one really need to say about Joan Cusack? She is probably one of the most well-known, yet unsung actresses working today. Sure, she seems to tag along with her (more famous) brother an awful lot, but she’s still a talented comedienne, usually to be found playing the quirky friend, sister, assistant … whatever, as long as she’s kooky. My favorite movie of hers is Runaway Bride, but she is utterly unforgettable as the villain in Addams Family Values. MAL-I-BU. BAR-BIE. Seen in: Sixteen Candles, Say Anything, Addams Family Values, Grosse Point Blank, In & Out, Cradle Will Rock, Runaway Bride, High Fidelity, School of Rock.
Larry Miller also generally tends towards slightly sleazier (if funnier) characters, but is perhaps best loved for playing a dad in 10 Things I Hate About You. He seems to appear in numerous Gary Marshall films, often uncredited, and is always memorable and funny, regardless of how small a role he may have. Seriously, if you need to identify this guy to anyone, just say “Ok, so you know the scene in Pretty Woman where Edward takes Vivian shopping, and then he tells the store manager that they need some more sucking-up?” and they will know instantly who you’re talking about. Yeah, that guy. Seen in: Pretty Woman, Necessary Roughness, 10 Things I Hate About You, Runaway Bride, The Princess Diaries, A Mighty Wind, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, For Your Consideration.
Also worth mention:
In compiling this list, the question of whether or not certain individuals were, in fact, character actors came up, and after several conversations, my husband and I have sort of determined that there are degrees of character actor-dom. Oftentimes, there are character actors who (finally?) manage to move up in the ranks, into the true B-list or even A-list categories. As such, I’m going to mention a few of these types of actors, who are no less beloved, but have maybe made a bit more of a name for themselves over time.
These guys are well-known, often have more “starring” roles, but still haven’t entirely managed to crack the true upper echelons of the acting world: David Straithairn, Bill Nighy, Mark Strong, Tom Wilkinson.
And a few who are now bonafide stars in their own right: Jane Lynch, Stanley Tucci, James Cromwell (pretty much THE A-list character actor), Steve Buscemi.
Well, readers? Who’s your favorite “that guy”?