Dustin has twice covered the territory of currently, or recently, famous people who just so happened to appear in movies nearly everyone has seen or heard about. You can find those lists here and here, but this isn’t that and thankfully I didn’t need to remove anybody to avoid potential crossovers. What I’m interested in is related, absolutely, but this is about watching an older movie or TV show - it doesn’t matter how long ago - and not only seeing someone you now recognize, but someone you are pleasantly surprised to recognize. These are actors and actresses who were working nobodies with steely resolves to become somebodies, damn it. Now that they’ve found a way into our hearts, their present selves indelibly shade our appreciation and affection for their past roles. You may even have hated a character in the past, because you were supposed to, but realize later that they were played by someone you now cherish.
Think about it as the opposite reaction to finding out that Joffrey from “Game of Thrones” was the little boy from the Narrows of Gotham in Batman Begins:
Apologies if you were blissfully unaware before now. Bet you never wanted to punch a nine year-old in the face more, right?
Instead, these are Past Cameos and Supporting Roles That Feature Some of Our Favorite Working Thespians Today. As such, they may induce fist pumping. You and your future arthritis have been warned:
Amy Poehler in “Undeclared”
She appeared as a major character in only two episodes, but Poehler was too perfect as the crazy head R.A. of the main cast’s dorm. I hated her for a long time, not even realizing it was the same comedian from “Upright Citizen Brigade.” Now that she’s the beguilingly wonderful Leslie Knope, I can’t help but think that crazy R.A. may just need the love of a good, nerdy young man. Speaking of which…
Adam Scott in Knocked Up
He was the impetus for this entire list, after I re-watched the movie a few weeks ago. I very clearly remember his sudden turnaround as the attractive male nurse, thinking at the time I originally saw Knocked Up in theaters that it was a brilliant joke to feature a nobody in what was clearly meant to be a cameo role. Now, though, I am actually delighted by the actual cameo from the star of “Parks and Rec” and “Party Down.”
Michael Cera in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
I recently re-watched George Clooney’s directorial debut, too, and it was a good thing I did because I had completely forgotten that George Michael Bluth (or, Scott Pilgrim if you prefer, weirdo) played the young Chuck Barris, who was portrayed by Sam Rockwell as an adult and we’ll get to him eventually. In case you don’t remember, it was Cera who insisted that his pen tasted like a strawberry lollipop.
Judy Greer in Adaptation
Since we’re on the topic of “Arrested Development” alums, did you know that Judy Greer (also from “Archer” and everything else) was in Spike Jonze’s and Charlie Kaufman’s best film collaboration? I actually remembered her right away the first time I watched “Arrested,” because she eventually flashes Nicolas Cage and I always thought it was extra hilarious that Kitty’s breasts were supposed to be horrifying. Nothing about Judy Greer is horrifying, except that she isn’t a huge star.
Glenn Howerton in Serenity
Let’s stick with beloved current TV actors for a little bit more, shall we? Howerton’s Dennis on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” might just be the best a-hole and possible date rapist in television history. But before that he was the poor bastard our Cap’n Mal shot and left to be mauled by dreaded space cannibals, the Reavers. To be fair, your sympathies for the guy may actually reverse in that early scene now. Because of the implication.
Rob McElhenney in “LOST”
Not to be outdone, Howerton’s co-star and co-creator of “It’s Always Sunny” was on ABC’s mind-bending, time-traveling, divisive epic well before his FX sitcom became a hit. He was only in one episode until the last season, and got taken out by both Kate and Claire at different points in the series. Huh. Underappreciated and terrible with women? Aldo sounds exactly like Mac to me.
Sam Rockwell in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Remember when I said we’d get to Sam Rockwell? Remember he was the main street-punk-turned-ninja-thief in Shredder’s army? Well, he was and he has the best line in the movie. I nearly used Galaxy Quest here, because apparently most people didn’t do what I did after that movie and track down the rest of the actor’s oeuvre. But that Star Trek spoof/love letter had several people we now have affection fo: Enrico Colantoni, Missy Pyle, and even Ethan Raine from “Buffy” was the big bad. But, TMNT? Talk about being shell-shocked!
Jane Lynch in The Fugitive
Perhaps the most stunning part of this entry is that Jane Lynch is more or less supposed to be unmemorable as the doctor that helps Harrison Ford prove his innocence. She only has one scene, but it’s one of the most important in the movie, and she’s not abrasive, she’s not a ball-buster and she’s not ridiculous. I didn’t even realize she’d been a working actor this long, but, yep, that’s her.
Selma Blair in “The Adventures of Pete & Pete”
I don’t recall exactly when Blair became one of my favorite actresses - between Cruel Intentions and Hellboy, most like - but I do recall getting more excited than was likely necessary when she popped up on an episode of “Pete & Pete” during a re-watch last year. It’s possible her role as Big Pete’s love interest is the entire reason I’ve been a fan. I just didn’t know it at the time.
Donald Glover in “30 Rock”
At this point in time, we all probably know that the breakout “Community” star worked as a writer on the early (and best) seasons of Tina Fey’s sitcom, so it’s no surprise that he appeared in random bit roles throughout his tenure. But he also does a spot-on Tracy Morgan impression, and it’s so good that Glover dubbed the entirety of the “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” song, despite Morgan starring in the video. Of course, now that he’s Childish Gambino, it makes perfect sense.
BONUS: Doug Benson in Blade Runner
There’s no way I’m searching through videos to find the King of the Stoners in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic. He’s in there, but just barely so. Truth to be told: I’ve never been able to spot Benson in the film, and I’ve tried at least once, but these two pictures tell the tale. And I just love knowing that.
Rob Payne also writes the comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter, tumbls on the Tumblr, and his wares can be purchased here. He’s pretty sure this list isn’t even close to being exhaustive.