Top 10 "That Guys"

by Abby Olcese on August 3, 2010

in Top 10s

We’ve all had that moment. You’re watching a movie when all of a sudden a familiar face pops up. They’re not in a leading role, and may only be on screen just long enough for you to recognize their face. You may not even be sure where you’ve seen this person before, but you know you have, prompting you to exclaim (either out loud or in your own head) “Hey, it’s That Guy!”

Some actors make whole careers playing “That Guys.” Usually they end up being mainly silent-but-solid supporting players. Some are luckier, and get associated with a specific character (i.e. “Hey! It’s the principal from ‘Ferris Bueller’!”), still others make names for themselves as character actors. But for the most part, true leading-man stardom eludes these actors. I like to think of these guys as Hollywood’s blue-collar crowd; the folks that may not have $80 million mansions in the Hollywood Hills, but who work just as hard (or harder) than the big-name stars. They’re the people who, when it comes down to it, you’d probably much rather grab a beer or go to a baseball game with. Here, in an effort to put names to those faces you keep seeing, are my Top 10 “That Guys”:

Honorable Mentions:

Jeffrey jones buellerJeffrey Jones (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “The Crucible,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Ed Wood,” “Deadwood”)

If I’d had 11 spots on this list, Mr. Jones would be here. He’s been playing excellent “That Guys” his whole career, from Ferris Bueller’s frustrated high-school principal to goofy self-important newspaper publisher A.W. Merrick on “Deadwood.” You can recognize the man’s acting (and his face) a mile away. I wanted to make sure he at least got some recognition, since leaving him ignored completely would be a huge mistake.

william atherton ghostbustersWilliam Atherton (“Ghostbusters,” “Real Genius,” “Die Hard,” “Lost”)

William Atherton is mostly recognizable as a professional tool. He was Walter Peck in “Ghostbusters,” the E.P.A. pencilpusher who nearly destroys all of New York when he puts our heroes behind bars and shuts down their containment system. That role kind of followed him throughout his whole career. In “Real Genius,” he stole Val Kilmer’s ideas and used them for his own means. Even in his one-episode guest stint on “Lost,” he played the nasty principal of the high school where alternate-reality Ben Linus worked, and turned out to be almost as devious as Michael Emerson’s character. He’s not quite as ubiquitous anymore, but he’s still squarely in the “That Guy” camp.

KEVIN DURAND lost10. Kevin Durand

Where you’ve seen him: “Lost” (Martin Keamy), “Legion” (Gabriel), “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (Blob), “Robin Hood” (Little John), “3:10 to Yuma” (Tucker)

Why you should know him: Remember that thing I said before about how most “That Guy” actors seem like the kind of people you’d want to hang out with? Kevin Durand is not one of those “That Guys.” He’s part of the William Atherton school, the group who seem to be really good at playing nasty people. Maybe he’s just got a good face for it. On “Lost,” he was Martin Keamy, Charles Widmore’s hotheaded lackey who everyone loved to hate. Even when he showed up again in the show’s final season in the flash sideways, Durand kept up that menacing bully sensibility. He got that role after a casting director for “Lost” saw him as Tucker in “3:10 to Yuma,” where Durand poked and intimidated and kept singing that annoying little hangman’s song until Russell Crowe killed him spectacularly with a steak fork. But would you believe the guy got his start doing stand-up? It’s hard to fathom, considering that any way you slice it, Durand just doesn’t look like a jovial type.

ned-ryerson stephen toblowsky9. Stephen Tobolowsky

Where you’ve seen him: “Memento” (Sammy Jankis), “Glee” (Sandy Ryerson), “Groundhog Day” (Ned Ryerson), “Deadwood” (Hugo Jarry), “Thelma and Louise” (Max)

Why you should know him: Stephen Tobolowsky is pretty much the definition of a “That Guy.” He’s been around for a while, and has been in loads of film and television roles, so he’s fairly ubiquitous. But he’s not always memorable. He tends to blend into the background. But once you’ve seen him, you notice when he pops up in other places. His recurring role as disgraced former music teacher Sandy Ryerson on “Glee” has probably given him the most exposure of late (my favorite line of the series comes from Tobolowsky: “Who is Josh Groban? Kill yourself!”), and it’s funny to see when he shows up in older movies, like “Thelma and Louise,” where he plays a much more serious role as a lawman. But his real standout performance is as Ned Ryerson, Bill Murray’s obnoxious former classmate in “Groundhog Day.” Tobolowsky is the reason lists like this one exist. He’s fairly nondescript, but almost always recognizable as “That Guy you saw in that one movie that one time.” Currently, he is doing a podcast called “The Tobolowsky Files” where he shares his infinitely interesting stories from the entertainment industry.

David_Rasche Burn after reading8. David Rasche

Where you’ve seen him: “In the Loop” (Linton Barwick), “Burn After Reading” (Palmer DeBakey Smith), every TV show ever–including “Sledge Hammer!”

Why you should know him: Rasche’s been working in film and TV since the late 70s, but it seems like he’s only been coming to the forefront in the last two years, with memorable roles in “Burn After Reading” and “In the Loop,” where he played a Rumsfeldian National Security type who kept a live grenade on his desk as a paperweight, passed the buck like a pro, and tried to intimidate Peter Capaldi’s foulmouthed British PR spin doctor Malcolm Tucker. Rasche’s proved that he’s a funny guy, good at playing uptight men in suits trying to control the uncontrollable, and quirky straight men who may not be the main attraction, but still have something unique to add. His short-lived 80s action spoof series “Sledge Hammer!” is something of a cult classic.

noah-taylor life aquatic7. Noah Taylor

Where you’ve seen him: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (Mr. Bucket), “The Life Aquatic” (Wolodarsky), “Shine” (Young David Helfgott), “Vanilla Sky” (Edmund Ventura), “Almost Famous” (Dick Roswell)

Why you should know him: Noah Taylor is a great “That Guy.” He’s fun to watch, and fairly easy to pick out. Also, he’s Australian, which always helps. His first big role was as the younger version of “Shine” pianist David Helfgott (Geoffrey Rush won the Best Actor Oscar for playing him as an older man).  See if you can find him in the first 30 seconds of “The Proposition,” which is the only time in the whole movie that he appears onscreen. If you watch the film with commentary, you’ll hear Nick Cave point him out as a great character actor right before the poor guy gets shot full of lead and makes his unceremonious exit. Perhaps the real reason I like watching Noah Taylor is that he usually brings a deadpan humor to his roles that adds to the atmosphere of the film, and also makes it seem like he’s really enjoying himself. The best example of this is his turn in “The Life Aquatic” as Team Zissou crewmember and resident composer Vladimir Wolodarsky. He fits right in with the rest of the cast. To see Taylor’s skills on full display in a starring role, check out the Australian indie “He Died with a Falafel in His Hand,” in which Taylor plays a struggling writer dealing with a series of high-maintenance roommates.

alan-tudyk-serenity6. Alan Tudyk

Where you’ve seen him: “Firefly/Serenity” (Wash), “3:10 to Yuma” (Doc Potter), “Death at a Funeral” (Simon), “A Knight’s Tale” (Wat), “Dodgeball” (Steve the Pirate)

Why you should know him: Okay, so Joss Whedon fans may hold a bit of a grudge against me for calling Alan Tudyk a “That Guy.” But it’s true. In most of his roles, Tudyk ends up being the character that everyone likes who gets to be the comic relief for a while and delivers some great one-liners before dying a fairly dramatic death. He doesn’t always die, as in cases like “Death at a Funeral” and “A Knight’s Tale,” but he’s almost always “the funny one.” There’s nothing wrong with this, given the case that Tudyk is a good comedic actor. He’s one of the most memorable parts of Frank Oz’s original “Death at a Funeral” (aside from Peter Dinklage), and he’s really great in “Firefly” and its big-screen continuation, “Serenity.” Who needs to be the leading man when you can be the one who makes everyone laugh? Recently, however, he got to stretch a little as an evil, intimidating doll-gone-bad named Alpha in Whedon’s “Dollhouse.”

james-remar-dexter5. James Remar

Where you’ve seen him: “The Warriors” (Ajax), “Dexter” (Harry Morgan), “Sex and the City” (Richard), “The Unborn” (Gordon Beldon)

Why you should know him: James Remar has been acting since 1978, but for one reason or another has never made it past supporting roles. Which is fine, since he’s a really good supporting player. Remar mainly shows up on TV these days, on shows like “Dexter,” where he plays Dexter’s late adopted father, Harry Morgan. He’s a solid presence in that role, as one of the more interesting (and less irritating) parts in the show’s supporting cast, and plays an important part in the development of Michael C. Hall’s titular serial killer. But if you’re like me, and enjoy picking out recognizable actors in roles when they were super young, watch for Remar in “The Warriors.” He plays the smart-mouthed, action-oriented Ajax.

dlieep-rao-drag-me-to-hell4. Dileep Rao

Where you’ve seen him: “Inception” (Yusuf), “Drag Me to Hell” (Rham Jas), “Avatar” (Dr. Max Patel)

Why you should know him: Perhaps Dileep Rao is more of an “up-and-comer” than a “That Guy” actor, but his roles so far haven’t been huge, and when he showed up in “Inception,” the friend I was sitting with identified him as “That Guy from Avatar,” so that’s good enough for me. To my mind, Rao will always be Rham Jas, the well-intentioned Indian psychic in Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell,” one of many good performances in a movie I really enjoyed. I don’t expect Rao will remain a “That Guy” for very long. He may not have been working too long (IMDB tells me he’s only been working onscreen since 2006), but he’s been building one heck of a portfolio during that time, considering that the three movies he’s been involved with were Sam Raimi’s lauded directorial return to horror, “Avatar,” the biggest blockbuster of 2009, and “Inception” which is, well, “Inception.”

John_Hawkes_Me_and-You3. John Hawkes

Where you’ve seen him: “Lost” (Lennon), “Eastbound and Down” (Dustin Powers), “Me and You and Everyone We Know” (Richard), “Deadwood” (Sol Starr), “Winter’s Bone” (Teardrop Dolly),

Why you should know him: Hawkes has been getting some good attention lately for his recent turn in “Winter’s Bone” as the dangerous, morally questionable Teardrop Dolly (one reviewer accurately compared Hawkes’ performance to piano wire). Of the cast assembled in that film, he and fellow “Deadwood” cast member Garret Dillahunt (another formidable runner-up perhaps?) are the most recognizable, but Hawkes’ acting in particular is so natural you’d think the guy was born and raised in the Ozarks. It’s an interesting development, considering that until now Hawkes has mostly played likable loser types. On “Deadwood,” he was Sol Starr, Timothy Olyphant’s friend and business partner. He also played Richard, the object of Miranda July’s affections in “Me and You and Everyone We Know.” Hawkes brought his A-game to both roles, creating a solid supporting character in Sol (my favorite character on the show aside from Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen) and a sweet, romantic guy and surprisingly appealing leading man in “Me and You’s” Richard.

HappyGoLuckyEddie-marsan2. Eddie Marsan

Where you’ve seen him: “Sherlock Holmes” (Inspector Lestrade), “Happy-Go-Lucky” (Scott), “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” (Vic), “Hancock” (Red)

Why you should know him: Eddie Marsan is a serious character actor who seems to be showing up more and more these days. In fact, he’s becoming such a frequent presence that he’s becoming less and less “That Guy” with each passing role. Marsan had been a solid background player for quite some time in movies like “Gangster No. 1” and “Gangs of New York.” But his exposure has been on the rise since he got a lot of well-deserved buzz for his work in Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky,” where he played uptight driving instructor Scott. Marsan has since shown up in “Sherlock Holmes,” the “Red Riding” Trilogy, “Hancock,” and the soon-to-be-released in the States “The Disappearance of Alice Creed.” He brings a kind of gravitas and (when the occasion calls for it) sense of pent-up frustration that makes him exciting to watch onscreen. His scenes with Sally Hawkins in “Happy Go Lucky” are hilarious and a little uncomfortable–easily the best parts of the film. Marsan’s the kind of actor who really throws himself into his roles, no matter how big (or small) those roles might be.

vincent-schiavelli-vargas-fast-times1. Vincent Schiavelli

Where you’ve seen him: “Ghost” (Subway Ghost), “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (Mr. Vargas), “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (Fredrickson), “Death to Smoochy” (Buggy Ding Dong)

Why you should know him: There’s no way you could miss this guy. With his unmistakable hangdog face and deep voice, Schiavelli was the king of the “That Guy” actors until his death in 2005 from lung cancer. He had over 120 film and television roles over the course of his career, which started in 1971. He’s probably most remembered for his roles as Mr. Vargas, the science teacher in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” and the Subway Ghost in “Ghost,” a frustrated spectre who would really like Patrick Swayze to get off his train. He finally got his due in 1997 when Vanity Fair picked him as one of the best character actors in America.

Abby is a contributor to Scene-Stealers and also writes at her own blog, No More Popcorn. Follow her at:

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Reed August 3, 2010 at 6:39 am

Excuse me, but where in the hell is Keith David??? Dude’s played 184 roles!

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0202966/

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2 Elliot August 3, 2010 at 7:59 am

I know I’m biased because I’m a massive fan of his, but I think Timothy Busfield deserves to be on here. \The West Wing,\ \Studio 60…,\ \thirtysomething,\ \First Kid,\ and \Field of Dreams.\ He played the full spectrum (hero everyone could love to absolute jackass) startlingly well.

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3 Camille August 3, 2010 at 8:24 am

I wonder why there aren’t any \That women\? Ponder that for awhile.

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4 Gene August 3, 2010 at 8:56 am

How in the world is Steve Buscemi not on this list? Is he too well known now to be That Guy? What about Joe Pantoliano? There’s a little too much love for 21st century movies on this list.

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5 jessica maria August 3, 2010 at 9:04 am

The other night when my husband and I went to see Winter’s Bone, he exclaimed when John Hawkes came on screen, “I love that guy!” – truly great performance there.

I would add Clifton Collins Jr, who seems to show up in every movie! Last night I saw a screening of Scott Pilgrim vs The World and there he was again as a cameo! To my friends, I refer to him as “One Armed Man” due to his turn in Sunshine Cleaning. Last night I whispered to friend, “One Armed Man strikes again!”

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6 Kyle Rohde August 3, 2010 at 9:15 am

I’d say your honorable mentions are bigger “that guys” then any of the top ten. I didn’t recognize any of them as much as I did those two.

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7 Nathan Victor August 3, 2010 at 9:58 am

I watched Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party a few years ago and gained a lot of respect for the guy. His characters have been great, and he keeps the actor/himself out of the movies.
Also, I really dug John Hawkes’ truly mean role in Winter’s Bone. “I already told you to shut up with my mouth!”
Great list, Eric.

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8 James Andrews August 3, 2010 at 10:49 am

Marshall Bell

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9 Scott B August 3, 2010 at 11:04 am

Jeffery Jones also has an alternate career discovering new, young talent. I think of him as THAT guy. I’m surprised it wasn’t mentioned. I think it kinda overshadows his career as that OTHER guy.

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10 jessica maria August 3, 2010 at 11:29 am

@Camille – I think there are a few…Judy Greer would be my #1. Should def throw some women in the mix…

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11 Eric Melin August 3, 2010 at 11:33 am

I know we need to redesign the site (and we will soon, I promise!), but the author’s name is at the bottom of the post. Abby Olcese wrote this one and I think the sheer number of “that guys” she pulled out of thin air is pretty amazing.

Marshall Bell (Total Recall baby-in-stomach-guy) and Clifton Collins, Jr. (Capote, everything else) would be great additions, but I always think that Pantoliano, Buscemi, and Busfield are a little too well-known to be “that guys.” Maybe the reason the list is skewed towards this century is because after a certain point the “that guys” get a name after making a career out of supporting supporting roles…

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12 dustin.schirer August 3, 2010 at 11:33 am

Reed’s submission made me think of Deebo from Friday. That guy pops up every time a movie is in need of a giant scary looking dude.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001474/

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13 Eric Melin August 3, 2010 at 11:36 am

Tiny Lister is kind of a legend, dude. He and Michael Berryman both.

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14 Eric Melin August 3, 2010 at 11:38 am

Camille & Jessica Maria- Maybe a list of “That Girls” should follow…although is Judy Greer too big of a deal now? Hmmmm…

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15 Alan Rapp August 3, 2010 at 11:40 am

Cool list.

Not sure that Alan Tudyk belongs here (specially counting his geek cred with Firefly).

Another tweener that could have made it – William Sadler

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16 dustin.schirer August 3, 2010 at 11:49 am

“Tiny Lister is kind of a legend, dude. He and Michael Berryman both.”

yeah you are probably right, just going off the basis of solid supporting character mainly known as “Deebo”.

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17 Abby August 3, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Hey all! Thanks for the comments.

Camille and Jessica: I did consider putting some ladies on the list, but decided that I’d go for an all-male top ten here, since that’s generally the way my mind thinks about those kinds of roles. However, there are plenty of great female character actresses out there, and I like Eric’s suggestion for a top ten “that girls.” Maybe I should get started on that one!

Oh, and I’m totally kicking myself over Keith David. Major oversight.

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18 jessica maria August 3, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Eric – yes, Judy Greer may be too \known\ now. She’s always the best sidekick or bit part – a literal scene stealer. I’ll put out some other ladies I just had to look up because I only know them as \that woman!\

Nora Zehetner (she just showed up on this week’s Mad Men, and my instant reaction: \oooh, it’s that girl, she’s gonna be a character not a one-line extra!\)

Suzy Amis (at least in the 90s – I felt like I always saw her in bit parts, though she doesn’t have too many credits, The Usual Suspects and Titanic come to mind.)

Monica Keena (Thought she was going to be bigger than she was!)

Kate Mara (another \that girl\ I thought was on her way to bigger things…now apparently, her sister is – Rooney Mara)

Alison Pill

Hope you decide to do a That Girl list – would be supremely interesting…as I tend to see \character actors\ are always male. Perhaps similar female characters just aren’t as well written or developed as for males?

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19 Eric Melin August 3, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Jessica Maria-
Suzy Amis. Totally. What ever happened to her?
Alison Pill (‘Milk,’ ‘Scott Pilgrim’)and Nora Zehetner (‘Brick,’ ‘The Brothers Bloom’): Nice! I immediately recognized both of their faces.
I think you’re right–it probably is harder to find those edgier, memorable supporting roles for women. It would make a fantastic list, though!

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20 Xavier August 3, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Was Rasche in In the Loop as well, I think I recognize him from that more than anything

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21 Jamie's FanGirl August 3, 2010 at 5:37 pm

I don’t know any guys on this list except James Remar. (Sadly, I don’t know any of the names of my possible contributions! LOL)

Jamie is a great, great actor and he should have lead roles in movies that people have actually heard of! (Instead of B/C movies like “Sharpshooter” and “Blowback”.) Maybe someone will get their head on their shoulders one day and hire him for something big. But Dexter is suitable for now.

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22 voxwerx August 3, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Wallace Shawn. For reals.

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23 Blake August 3, 2010 at 8:27 pm

My favorite “that guy” has to be Peter Stormare – http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001780/

Clint Howard has to be the most famous “that guy” – http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0397212/

And a great “that girl”; Lin Shayne – http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005417/

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24 Abby August 3, 2010 at 9:55 pm

For me, Wallace Shawn and Peter Stormare are kind of on the edge. They’ve had lots of memorable roles in lots of movies (especially Peter Stormare), but I guess the same could be said for some of my picks, too. It’s hard, since I’ve got a lot of love for people in small roles. If I ever do a “top ten character actors” (I think it’s totally possible to argue that there’s a difference), those two will surely make the list.

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25 Jamie's FanGirl August 3, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Oh yes…I heartily agree with Wallace Shawn. He’s a “that guy” if I’ve ever seen one! xD

(I hear D.B. Sweeney is trying to be a “that guy” too…except the only list of mine he’d ever make is “actors I hate”!)

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26 Laura August 4, 2010 at 6:52 am

Rick Ducommun. Bruce McGill. Chelcie Ross. Clancy Brown.

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27 Reed August 4, 2010 at 9:08 am

OK, so I’ve been giving this some more thought after my initial (overly aggressive) comment. Here are some more polite ones:

Aside from Keith David, you also have David Keith (a big role in An Officer and a Gentleman and played the dad in Firestarter). 104 credits to his name.

I’ve long been a fan of That Guy Delroy Lindo.

The original “that guy” would have to be Peter Lorre, right?

Wallace Shawn, absolutely! He’s like Mini Schiavelli.

I also think there are two cases of guys who are no longer That Guys that are worth mentioning:

Bill Paxton went from being “Chet” to a That Guy to Bill Paxton. That’s an impressive turn. And if he keeps working long enough, he could always end up going back to being a That Guy.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman was a total That Guy (even playing the role of “That Guy” in Twister – aka the movie that moved Paxton from That Guy to Bill Paxton). Now he’s an A-list star.

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28 Duane August 4, 2010 at 9:23 am

In my opinion Treat Williams is the greatest actor of a generation, I’m not sure which.

In the future, you need to find a way to work him into every single Top 10. Or else.

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29 Abby August 4, 2010 at 9:30 am

Arrrgh! Clancy Brown! How the hell did I miss him? Seriously, I’m really disappointed in myself.

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30 wayne swab August 4, 2010 at 11:19 am

Awesome list Abby!
Colm Meaney is in everything
One of my favorites- Clarence Williams III

Clancey Brown could be the ultimate That Guy

Notice that most are red-headed?

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31 David August 4, 2010 at 1:17 pm

I would suggest David Morse. Prior to reading this I always referred to him as \That Guy\…and typically you find him in some sort of uniform. In Langoliers he is an airplane captain, in 12 Monkeys he’s the weird scientist, in the Negotiator he is a police officer, and a military officer in the Rock. Oh and Jody Foster’s dad in Contact.

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32 Abby August 4, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Wayne–I noticed that, too! Jones, Atherton and Tudyk all have red hair. Not sure what that says about Hollywood casting agents…

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33 Oliver August 8, 2010 at 2:51 am

Where’s the love for Clint Howard? He was like in every 80s movie! Bruce Greenwood as well, though he’s had his own show…

But Stephen Tobolowsky should be closer to #1

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