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Top 10 What’s-His-Face Character Actors

You know them but you can’t name them. They’re the cops, criminals, freaks and geeks who populate your favourite movies.

While Tom bosses around the director and Christian screams at the guy for looking funny, these ladies and gents quietly go about their business, learning lines over stale cigarettes and shitty coffee. The final reward for that honest toil isn’t a mince about on the red carpet. Rather, it’s a spare episode of Mad Men if they’re lucky, SVU if they’re not.

TheVine wanted to shine a light on these players that filmmakers never forget, even if audiences always do. And so we sat down and argued about ten great character actors – both their names and their work – to present this humble list of Hollywood’s greatest grafters.

10. Clifton Collins Jr.

One of the most versatile actors doing the rounds in 2012, Clifton Collins Jr. is typically unrecognisable from one role to the next. An intimidating work ethic has slowly ratcheted up Collins Jr.’s profile over the last five years, leading to meatier roles in Capote and Star Trek, but it’s arguably his turn as a one-armed, pony-tailed, model-making store clerk (no shit) in Sunshine Cleaning that best displays his prized subtlety.



9. Wes Studi

 

If Clifton Collins Jr. is the Hollywood chameleon, then Wes Studi might be his granite-like counterpoint: the full-blooded Cherokee packs an unmistakable gravitas, as well as a face resembling a chewed-out moccasin. Studi broke into the mainstream playing Native American warriors in Dances With Wolves and The Last of the Mohicans – a natural ability perhaps attributable to his own experiences as a soldier in Vietnam (no Dennehy) – but he also knows how to leverage his looks for some impressive comic timing (Mystery Men) and appears onstage as much as he does on film.

 


8. Roy Billing

For local audiences Roy Billing is the hangdog distant relative in the black and white family photographs – that uncle everyone’s heard of but nobody’s actually met. Billing started his career in advertising in New Zealand before making the switch to Australian film and television in the late 80s and early 90s. Over the past 20 years he’s been one of the few constants in the local industry, appearing in countless productions and in the process climbing from bit parts to juicy roles. During the last five years Billing has appeared in Underbelly, Rake, and The Chronicles of Narnia, but perhaps remains best known as the media-obsessed small town mayor in The Dish.


 

7. Michael Ironside

 

The cut and thrust madman of 80s and 90s filmmaking, Michael Ironside is most likely the scariest actor to ever grace the silver screen. Ironside made an impact early in his career with his best role to date, that of the renegade Darryl Revok in David Cronenberg’s 1981 science fiction action horror Scanners. But it would take the better part of the following decade for Hollywood to get to grips with his distinctively volatile onscreen personality. Interestingly enough, Ironside stays in character between takes, meaning most people came away from the filming of Total Recall thinking he was a real fuckhead.


 

6. Laura Linney

 

Three times Academy Award nominee Laura Linney’s breakthrough role came in 1998 when she starred opposite Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. The New Yorker’s naturalism has since become renowned in film circles, an unaffected beauty often belying the strength and complexity of the characters she portrays. Take your pick for Linney’s best role, but many find it hard to go past that of Annabeth Markum, the flinty matriarch at the centre of a devastated family in Mystic River.

 



5. Stephen Lang

 

Ah, Stephen Lang: the guy you’d happily ridicule for playing the same character over and over, only he’d probably break your face. Truth is, Lang’s a scene-stealer, best evidenced in Avatar when, as Colonel Miles Quaritch, he unfortunately fails in his attempts to kill Sam Worthington. Lang’s been duking it out in the filmmaking trenches for almost three decades now, but as his hair has greyed so has his stock risen. In recent years you would have caught him in The Men Who Stare at Goats, Public Enemies, and Conan the Barbarian, as well as the Steven Spielberg-executive produced TV series Terra Nova.

 



4. J.K. Simmons

 

Everyone’s favourite foul-mouthed dad packs a blue-collar charisma that’s seen him populate a wealth of recent films, both indie (Juno, Burn After Reading) and mainstream (Spider-Man). Like many character actors who’ve come to prominence in the last 15 years, Simmons cut his teeth in the crime dramas that populated television around the turn of the millennium, but his turn as ardent Nazi Vernon Schillinger in HBO’s Oz proved his heavily crimped face could just as easily be utilised for pugnacious threat as it could fatherly confusion.


 

3. Linda Hunt

 

Linda Hunt may remind you of your grandmother, but that’s because she’s about as ubiquitous in your life. If you’re a sad spot you probably catch her regularly on NCIS: Los Angeles, but Hunt’s been working hard on both the big and small screens for over 30 years, making her film debut as Mrs. Oxeheart in Popeye, winning an academy award for her role as male dwarf Billy Kwan in The Year of Living Dangerously, and pissing everyone off royally in Stranger Than Fiction (actually, that might have just been the film). Need a vaguely sinister, soothsaying tiny person? Call Linda Hunt.

 



2. William Fichtner

 

The handsome rat of American film and television, William Fichtner started out sleazing his way through soaps before appearing in a bunch of mid to late 90s blockbusters, including Contact, Heat, Go and Black Hawk Down. Fichtner has an inscrutable countenance that not only makes him perfect villain material but also allows the Long Island native to carefully layer his performances and create compelling, sympathetic characters. Frequently praised by industry insiders, Fichtner earned a Screen Actors Guild Outstanding Performance Award for his role as Flanagan in Paul Haggis’ 2004 feature Crash.

 



1. Stanley Tucci

 

The ultimate character actor, Stanley Tucci’s appetite for meaty silverscreen supporting roles – each one vastly different to the next – is virtually unrivalled. He may have started off as cardboard-cut baddie in 80s shows such as Miami Vice and Wiseguy, but Tucci’s versatility is now prized by filmmakers: he’s done everything from lending menacing mobsters an air of pragmatism (Road to Perdition) to making dodgy moustaches look respectable (The Lovely Bones). Seamlessly alternating between indies and blockbusters, Tucci has a unique gift of selling us oddjobs and giving the most alien of characters a sympathetic telling, making him one of the most skilled actors doing the rounds today.


 

5 comments so far..

  • TheGoreTheMerrier's avatar
    Commenter
    TheGoreTheMerrier
    Date and time
    Friday 03 Aug 2012 - 2:15 PM
    There are so many - there is that guy who always plays the old dad; and that guy is always a bad guy in so many movies - and that dude, he is in everything!!

    Great topic - problem is, all the ones that leap out in my mind - i have no idea how to attribute them to anything cause I have't' got a clue who they are.

    Bruce Campbell for me...
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  • MattShea's avatar
    Commenter
    MattShea
    Date and time
    Friday 03 Aug 2012 - 4:11 PM
    You should see the pile I started with...

    I did consider Bruce at one point, but decided he was perhaps a bit too iconic.
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  • feystep's avatar
    Commenter
    feystep
    Date and time
    Tuesday 07 Aug 2012 - 2:14 PM
    I would have included Stephen Tobolowsky for sure! He is "that guy" that nobody knows but recognises everywhere! Amazing storyteller too: www.tobowlowskyfiles.com
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  • Jake_D's avatar
    Commenter
    Jake_D
    Date and time
    Wednesday 02 Jan 2013 - 11:29 AM
    You've got to be joking!
    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000388/
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  • mumblesmaerz's avatar
    Commenter
    mumblesmaerz
    Date and time
    Tuesday 08 Jan 2013 - 11:41 AM
    Yeah, I"ve got a few myself, Stephen Root and BD Wong are the ones I always see.
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