Character actors are an interesting breed since they don’t usually fit into pre existing personality slots. Hollywood tends to prefer actors they can reuse in various similar roles and character actors don’t usually fit that requirement. They jump around to different personalities, perhaps never solidifying exactly what their character type is but also managing to overcome that by playing many unique roles.
Some don’t become household names and that’s not a bad thing. They got into this profession to act and show their abilities. Their passion for the craft shines through in the roles they play. Even if they can’t be defined by one particular type of character, it just means that they are more willing to take chances since the audience doesn’t have specific set ideas in mind for who they should be.
People kind of know what to expect from a film with Jason Statham for example. He excels at that role, but character actors don’t have that same situation. Some may appear in various big films and cross over from time to time in Hollywood films as leads or supporting characters but unfortunately some people just don’t break into that star name category.
It depends on the person but some may prefer it that way. They stay out of the spotlight but still impress the audience with strong and unique roles. That way these actors maintain a memorable presence without being tied down to a set list of which roles they should play.
20. Eddie Marsan
Eddie Marsan is a charismatic performer who for the most part in Hollywood has been given the tough guy role. This is understandable due to Marsan’s somewhat hard edge appearance, but it’s selling him short.
Unfortunately once Hollywood finds a specific kind of role to suit an actor they tend to recycle those characters with different names in other films. Some may argue that if you find success playing a certain kind of role, why risk doing one that’s too different?
Well in Marsan’s case it reveals that he can play pretty much any kind of character. In the Simon Pegg Sci-Fi comedy The World’s End he displayed vulnerability as Peter that makes the character more relatable, especially when he encounters the man who used to bully him in school. In Happy Go Lucky he plays the driving instructor with an anger issue that builds up through the film to an eventual breaking point.
Since then he has played rough characters that are a tad aggressive. He had supporting roles before that but Happy Go Lucky was the one that really made people notice him. Marsan has been relegated to a specific role that he excels at but hopefully Hollywood will realize his range is boundless and he can hold his own in any leading role if given the chance.
19. William Fichtner
Fichtner is an actor who exudes intimidation. Some actors just have that face that can frighten others with a mere glance. Fichtner certainly has that ability but he has another side to him that many films haven’t explored yet.
He’s one we’ve seen in pivotal supporting roles in films like Armageddon as Colonel Willie Sharp and the Bank Manager in the opening scene of The Dark Knight. He lends even the small roles a hint of gravitas they would lack without his presence. His standout role is as Kent in the Robert Zemeckis Sci Fi film Contact. He plays a scientist who assists Jodie Foster’s character Ellie with looking into the possibility of extraterrestrial life.
Kent being blind adds an extra layer to the role. This has to be handled with sensitivity or it can come across as condescending. Thankfully Fichtner handles this with grace and adds a sense of compassion to the character.
Of course if you want to see him in a more villainous role it’s worth seeing the ridiculous Drive Angry where he plays the sinister Accountant who is trying to take Nicholas Cage back to hell. His best starring role was in the underrated TV series Invasion where he played Sheriff Tom Underlay, a man dealing with strange occurrences after a hurricane.
Fichtner doesn’t often get a starring role but he is always memorable so perhaps soon he will get a chance to shine in a leading role that makes him a household name.
18. Dylan Baker
The problem with playing a complex and memorable character is that people tend to associate you with that image in any role after that. Baker played the pedophilic dad Bill Maplewood in the brilliant dark comedy Happiness.
That character was so creepy and fascinating that those who have seen it find it difficult to shake the Bill character when they see Baker in other roles. He played Bill brilliantly and managed to make him sympathetic despite his horrible decisions. As an actor you usually don’t’ want to come across as patronizing.
You can judge the character’s actions but the instant you start to hate the person you’re playing, the realism is lost because the person becomes a character rather than a human being. Baker gets this and never panders to the audience’s expectations. Even in smaller roles like as Dr. Curt Conners in Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 he shows the character as being human rather than a caricature.
17. Clancy Brown
Clancy Brown pops up everywhere, often in places you don’t expect. He voices Mr. Krabs in the series SpongeBob Squarepants and his voice acting talents range from Mr. Freeze in the series The Batman to Rahzar in the recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series. His IMDB lists 245 acting credits. That gives you an idea of how much he’s done. He tends to appear in films where people don’t realize he’s there until they check the credits.
He played Victor Kruger in Highlander and Rawhide in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, which is an absurd film in every way. Despite proving to be a fantastic performer over and over again, Brown still hasn’t had the lead role in a mainstream Hollywood film that will give him recognition. Until then we can watch a great series like Carnivale where he played Brother Justin Crowe and realize that his performance in that rivals any leading role.
16. Ciaran Hinds
Ciaran Hinds has a very distinct face that many people have probably seen in countless films and TV shows. Most recently in Game Of Thrones as Mance Rayder.
He has quite a hangdog appearance, his face projects a complex combination of emotions but guilt and shame seem to his specialty. He tends to play more dour or serious characters but he has warmth that some films like the wonderful comedy Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day display where he plays the handsome older gentleman Joe who sweeps Frances McDormand’s character off her feet.
This is one of the issues with casting in Hollywood is there are a set selection of role archetypes and personalities that gets copied and pasted onto different actors who fit the image required. Hinds doesn’t really fit one specific image since his range is beyond categorization.
15. Peter Stormare
Peter Stormare will forever be associated with Fargo. His role as the mostly mute killer Gaear was a fantastic display of subtle intimidation. He conveyed more of a threat via one look than most actors manage in an entire film. Stormare tends to get cast as bad guys or oddballs.
His other most famous role was in the underrated Constantine with Keanu Reeves where Stormare played Satan. His version of that character isn’t on screen long but he makes a lasting impression with his chilling performance. He has a distinct intense presence on screen. One that tends to get him supporting roles on TV and independent films but he has the talent to justifying giving him a bigger role.