Of course, it’s the stars and A-listers that draw an audience into a movie or television show. If Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts is the lead, lots of people will flock to the theater. But the actors listed on the marquis are only as good as their supporting cast. In fact, for a movie or show to be great, it needs exceptional actors in the smaller roles. They are the bread and butter of any decent project.
How many times, though, have you watched something and said, “Oh this guy is so funny. I love him” about some actor whose name you have never heard? How often have you recognized an actress’s face, but for the life of you couldn’t name the other projects you’ve seen her in?
Character actors have the toughest jobs because they have to prop up a script with their acting chops, and they hardly get the recognition that their leading co-stars get. Here are some character actresses and actors who have made a living playing second fiddle. And they’re fantastic at their craft.
Some might be a little more familiar with Martindale in recent years thanks to her recurring guest role as a Russian spy on the FX show The Americans. She also had recurring roles on The Millers and The Good Wife. But this actress has a career that spans back to 1987, with roles in such films as Dead Man Walking, The Firm, Million Dollar Baby, and August: Osage County.
For me, Rebhorn will always be the tire expert on the witness stand in My Cousin Vinny, but he had a solid recurring role as Carrie’s father on Homeland until he passed away in 2014. Others might know him for his work on White Collar or the movie Meet the Parents.
For many teens at the time, Allison Janney was the kooky principal in 10 Things I Hate About You in 1999, but this actress has had a flourishing career in shows like The West Wing and Mom, and movies like The Help, I, Tonya (for which she won an Academy Award), and even Finding Dory.
One of Paymer’s most recent, memorable gems was the role of V.U.P (Very Unimportant Person) in Ocean’s 13, when he had to endure endless abuse from Clooney and his crew. But he has been hitting performances out of the park for 39 years. He has shown up in classics like Cheers and Family Ties, as well as The Larry Sanders Show and the movie City Slickers as Ira the ice cream businessman, opposite Billy Crystal and Daniel Stern.
Who could forget Hunt’s performance opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop as the school principal? But this talented actress packs a punch in her tiny 4’9″ frame. She has credits dating back to 1976, and has recurred in shows like NCIS:Los Angeles, Without a Trace, and Carnivàle.
Guzmàn’s credits date back to 1993, but I think I first noticed him in the 2001 film Traffic opposite Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro. He has been on the show Code Black since 2015 and has appeared in movies like Punch-Drunk Love and Anger Management.
Grant initially started out hoping to land leading lady roles, but she quickly found her niche as a supporting character actress. You might remember her from, well, everything: Rainman, Donnie Darko, Speed, Pearl Harbor, Matchstick Men, Little Miss Sunshine, and No Country for Old Men, to name just a small handful.
Cromwell was nominated for an Academy Award for his work opposite a pig in the movie Babe. But he also had extremely memorable roles in Six Feet Under, 24, and Boardwalk Empire. He has appeared in movies like The Artist, W., and The Sum of All Fears.
“Her grandmother too.” How can anyone forget McClurg’s standout performance in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as the ditsy secretary? Or as the perky car rental agent in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles opposite Steve Martin? While these two roles were unforgettable, this actress has appeared in over 200 projects over the years.