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”:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.