Look It's Him, No Not Him, The Other One. What's His Face. 10 Actors We Feel Should Be More Famous Than They Are.
A few weeks ago, Matt Zoller Seitz over at Salon put out a list of 10 actors and 10 actresses he deemed “underrated.” Since we will, someday soon, run out of Seriously Random Lists, and since we’re not above shameless idea stealing, we, the Pajiba Staff, decided to put our heads together and come up with our own list. Well, but then an argument broke out at Pajiba HQ over the term “underrated.” It was a fearsome debate that pitted Carlson against Carlson until, finally, we settled on a loose definition. We’ve come up with 10 actors, both fairly new and weathered with time, who we feel you should know. Not just by their face. You should know their name. In our opinion, they’ve earned that much. These actors gleam in even the bad material and positively dazzle in the good. They’re magnetic, versatile and always deliver solid, if not astonishing performances. And we know you, the average Pajiba reader, may know these names. That’s not the point. You know all the things. We want your aunt Mildred to know these names too. So head on over to Salon and read Matt’s suggestions (The Actors) (The Actresses) and then check out what we have to say on the subject. If we missed your favorite “underrated” actor/actress, feel free to give him or her the love they deserve in the comments.
William Fichtner: Some actors are chameleons, virtually unrecognizable from one role to the next. That’s not the case with William Fichtner — you always know it’s him, as the only thing that changes (sometimes) is his hair style. But that almost makes him all the more impressive because, without changing up his appearance, he can move effortlessly from the warm and sweet blind scientist helping Jodie Foster find alien life (Contact) to the smarmy accountant trying to bring Nic Cage back to Hell (Drive Angry) to the ridiculous drug cop who brings Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr home to help sell Amway (Go). He’s been one of “those guys” in a few great movies (The Dark Knight, Black Hawk Down, Heat), but what makes him truly underappreciated is how he’s managed to continually shine and rise above the lesser quality shit he usually winds up in. That’s exemplified no better than by the fact that he’s probably most recognizable to a majority of you from either a shitty movie (Armageddon, where he played the prick Army colonel) or a shitty TV show (“Prison Break,” where he played a corrupt and then redeemed FBI agent). But regardless of the quality of the project, and whether he’s playing the role straight or chewing the scenery, Fichtner is always a joy to watch. Hell, even when it’s only his voice on screen (as the uncredited therapist in Mr. & Mrs. Smith), or when he’s got no voice on screen (like his brief appearances in a comedic short about women with breasts on their forehead, “Forehead Tittaes”), Fichtner just can’t help but be awesome. And more people need to start appreciating him so he can get more of the good projects, rather than having to consistently elevate himself up above the garbage he often winds up in. (I’ll always consider it a shame that the under-appreciated “Invasion” didn’t launch him into a proper TV star). And for those wondering, “Prison Break” was not Fichtner’s longest television role to date, as he started his career with a five year run on “As the World Turns”. Anyone who can start off in the dregs of soap operas and rise up to the career Fichtner’s achieved without getting his proper acclaim, well, that’s the fucking definition of under-appreciated.—Seth Freilich
Rosemarie Dewitt: I am absolutely in love with this Dewitt, who most know as Charmaine in “The United States of Tara.” Dewitt is excellent at creating memorable characters without stealing focus from the leads, as she’s done in “Tara,” Rachel Getting Married, and more recently, in the overlooked (and in my opinion, under-apprecated Company Men). You may also recognize her as Midge Daniels from the recurring role she’s had in AMC’s “Mad Men.” She’s so good at making her mark without drawing too much attention to herself that, whenever I see her, I am often at a loss in placing her other work, not because she isn’t great, but because she blends in to the supporting cast so well. In that way, she’s much like her husband, Ron Livingston: Likable and so well-placed that it’s often difficult to hold her in your mind long enough to appreciate the contributions she makes.—Dustin Rowles
Michael Peña: Frankly, I expected Michael Peña’s star to rise back in 2004 with the release of Crash. Somewhere at the crumpled center of that preachy, sh*tty movie beat the heart of Peña’s locksmith father. Was his storyline involving the near-death of a small child the most manipulative? Indubitably. But Peña sold me on that relationship, on that character and, for a few brief minutes, I was invested. And if he can hoist the crushing weighty mediocrity of Haggis’s overwrought screenplay onto his shoulders and not buckle, Peña can do anything. Though he’s been around since the early 90s, with guest appearances on TV shows, season-long arcs on “The Shield” and “Eastbound and Down” and even the second lead in an Oliver Stone film (The soon forgotten World Trade Center), Peña has yet to break out. 2011 was a banner year with roles ranging from dramatic (Lincoln Lawyer), to comedic (30 Minutes or Less) to, well, mindless (Battle For Los Angeles). In 2012 he’ll be appearing in The Gangster Squad with some of the best-known names in Hollywood. Here’s hoping this time you remember his as well. He’s earned it. —Joanna Robinson
Elizabeth Reaser: It’s almost impressive when someone can appear as a primary character in an absolute phenomenon of a film franchise, and still go completely unnoticed. This is both a curse and a blessing. Yes, she is ignored, but this means she could easily be the one cast member to escape the dull stink of Twilight. Mostly appearing in smaller roles in moderately decent films (Stay, The Family Stone) or short-lived television shows (TNT’s “Saved”, CBS’s “The Ex List”), Reaser is known best to me for 2005’s Sweet Land. I will work to not hyperbolize or overstate this film, because I do not wish disappointment, but I must say that it is my favorite film of this century. It’s simple, beautiful and I’m not worldly enough to have noticed anything amiss with her German accent. Her performance as Inge, a strong firecracker of German mail-order bride, without playing it as an anachronistic caricature, is enough to name me a lifelong cheerleader, Twilight or no Twilight. Spending a good chunk of the film utterly wordless, Inge’s spark and hope were so perfectly visible with just looks and movements, and her quiet resolve existed solely in that delicate, lovely face. Once the spine-cracking baby is chewed out of Bella’s womb and the series comes to an end, Reaser will next be seen in the next Diablo Cody/Jason Reitman collaboration, Young Adult, followed by Josh Radnor’s Happythankyoumoreplease follow-up. God willing, people will finally be paying attention to something other than Kristen Stewart’s open mouth and at last notice this deeply deserving performer.—Courtney Enlow
Denis O’Hare: It didn’t take me long to recognize the plot of a “Law & Order: UK” I watched about a month ago on BBC America. It, like many others of the series, was recycled from the original version. And I, being a good (read: lazy) American, know my fair share of classic “Law & Order” episodes thanks to basic cable reruns. But it wasn’t just the story I recognized — a schizophrenic attorney, homeless from not taking his medication, defends himself against multiple charges of murder — but also the actor who first told it in 1996. I could picture him perfectly; he’s a quintessential “That Guy” from numerous TV series and films, and even his turn on one “Law & Order” episode 15 years ago left an impression. I know his name now because of his recent stint on “True Blood,” but he’s a man who should have household recognition: Denis O’Hare. Yeah — him. He’s the classic character actor who can play funny or serious, charming or creepy — a chameleon. His features are classic, too, more typical of Old Hollywood than new. He can be found in one-off episodes of numerous procedurals, including others in the “L&O” franchise and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” He’s the guy who lives in a boat in Garden State, and Zach Braff wishes him good luck “exploring the infinite abyss.” He’s the skeptical INS agent trying to call Sandra Bullock’s bluff in The Proposal. He was even Rob Lowe’s annoying campaign manager for awhile on “Brothers & Sisters.” And as the vampire King of Mississippi, he chewed the scenery and stole most of his scenes in Season Three of “True Blood.” The accomplished O’Hare may be better known in the Broadway circles, but hopefully, thanks to his vampire stint and now his roles on “The Good Wife” and the upcoming “American Horror Story,” he’ll get his due. He deserves it.—Sarah Carlson
Naomie Harris: There’s been a lot of talk recently as to who might be a worthy successor to the Jolie Action-Heroine throne now that Angie has traded in muscle for sinew. I respectfully submit Naomie Harris who made an indelible mark on the Hardass Action Chick scene with her tough-as-nails-with-a-gooey-center performance in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. Boyle’s movie was elevated from mere speedzombie gorefest by virtue of great direction but, more importantly, by the instantly endearing and gut-wrenching performances from his small cast. And while her male co-stars (Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson and Christopher Eccleston) have all since garnered a degree of household recognition, Harris continues to languish in relative obscurity. It doesn’t help that in her most recognizable performance since, as Tia Dalma in the Pirates franchise, her angular beauty was hidden under a fright wig and pounds of eyeliner. I saw Harris just this last year as the bride of Dr. Frankenstein in the Danny Boyle-directed stage version of the classic horror novel. The fact that Harris was equal to the remarkable performances of both Benedict Cumberbatch and an unrecognizable Jonny Lee Miller is testament to the depth of her talent. She was beautiful and bright and earnest and empathetic and we felt her ultimate destruction as keenly as if it were our own. In short, Harris has the charisma, beauty and undeniable talent that outmatches most starlets working today. Here’s hoping her turn as Miss Moneypenny in the next Bond film well make her a household name. I mean it worked for whatsherface … the Russian one, right?—Joanna Robinson
Chris Messina: Messina is one of those affable, good-looking guys that isn’t tall or striking enough to be a leading man, so he tends to play the boyfriend or husband in female-driven movies (see, Julie & Julia, where he’s the only redeeming part of the Julie plotline). But he also has a scruffy charm that sneaks up on you, which makes him well suited to supporting boyfriend roles. He has better than decent acting skills, which he is demonstrating in this season of “Damages” and in last year’s surprisingly good Devil (the M. Night Shyamalan produced movie most ignored because of M. Night Shyamalan). He’s the kind of underappreciated actor that Hollywood needs on occasion: A guy that can take on a substantial role without being a substantial presence, the guy you hire when you can’t afford James Marsden.—Dustin Rowles
Anna Chancellor: Americans likely recognize her, regrettably, from her role as Duckface in “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” but Anna Chancellor has been a mainstay on British television and movies for 20 years now, where that duck face has elevated into a charming, elegant actress, who can currently be seen as the older, sensual Lix Storm in “The Hour” (currently airing on BBC America). She kind of reminds me of a British Patricia Clarkson. Throughout her career, she’s excelled in the role of cold, British female authoritarian (see “MI:5” or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as the best examples) and femmes fatales (particularly in her stage work). The Duckface part funneled her into a career of roles as the “unwanted woman,” opposite the more soft-featured leading women, but she’s thrived in these roles, and it’s always a pleasure to see her unexpectedly appear in guest spots or as recurring characters in British series. It’s not, however, a matter of Chancellor deserving bigger, better roles — she’s created a solid niche for herself — it’s that I simply wish she were more recognized and rewarded for the crucial but thankless supporting roles that she often takes on.—Dustin Rowles
August Diehl: After the success of Inglourious Basterds, a few cast members have broken out from relative obscurity into the Hollywood mainstream. Among them are Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz (who has gone on to do Green Hornet, Water for Elephants, and Three Musketeers) and Til Schweiger (who has also done Musketeers and, strangely, will soon appear in New Year’s Eve … what the hell?). However, one of the best performances in the entire damn movie seems to have been overlooked. Of course, I’m talking about August Diehl, who played Major Dieter Hellstrom, who is head of the Gestapo and strikes fear into the heart of Shoshanna Dreyfus in Act III before figuring out (and putting a meandering yet remarkably swift end to) the Allies’ game in Act IV. While he’s relatively well known in his native Germany, Diehl remains a virtual unknown (and yes, underrated) quantity to U.S. audiences who only recognize him as “that creepy guy from Basterds,” which is an utter shame because he’s got a very diverse body of work that has yet to be noticed by the mainstream. Well, other than a bit role, much of which was left on the cutting room floor, as Angelina Jolie’s sweet, sensitive husband in Salt. Otherwise, Diehl’s best work involves playing a terribly charismatic, seductive cult leader in Mouth to Mouth (the one where Ellen Page shaves her head) and giving a gripping performance as the Auschwitz-imprisoned Adolf Burger in The Counterfeiters. At any rate, I suppose it’s better that Diehl remains a man of substance while toiling unnoticed than to end up in crap like New Year’s Eve, right?—Agent Bedhead
Clifton Collins Jr.: Allegedly, Clifton Collins Jr. became a household name in 2005 when he starred opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote. Is he a name in your household? Go ahead and check, I’ll wait. He failed the name test in my house and that’s why he’s rounding out this list. Because Clifton Collins Jr. is, for me, the epitome of this whole exercise. While nearly as chameleonic as Andy Serkis, Collins is immediately recognizable to me (and has been since his fragile turn in 2000’s Tigerland) and his presence makes me instantly sit up and take note. I’d watch him in anything. And it doesn’t matter how small his role (one half of the Vegan Police duo in Scott Pilgrim, Lt. Tattoo Face to Eric Bana in Star Trek), nor how bizarre (the wry, ponytailed, one-armed, model helicopter-building love interest to Amy Adams in Sunshine Cleaning), his is always welcome. And while you couldn’t have paid me to stay away from Guillermo Del Toro’s upcoming Pacific Rim (Idris Elba! Charlie Day!), the addition of Clifton Collins Jr. to the cast has me convinced the film is being made just for me. And for you. So you can learn his name. At last. —Joanna Robinson
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