December 28, 2012
Name: Reg E. Cathey.
Trademark: Wry, sardonic delivery. Although he bears a slight resemblance to Morgan Freeman (recently he reprised Freeman’s role in a stage version of The Shawshank Redemption), Cathey’s rich voice steers him away from Freemanesque authority figure characters and toward skeptical outsider/observer types.
Most Famous For: Supporting roles in The Corner, Oz, and especially The Wire, in which Cathey played seen-it-all political operative Norman Wilson, who counsels the underdog white mayoral candidate Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen).
Recent Work: Funny as a talk show host on 30 Rock, scary as a crooked cop on Person of Interest, and having the time of his life as a Don King-styled boxing promoter in Lights Out (“Ah, the the-a-tuh,” he intones while watching a dirty fight).
Banal, TV-related EPK trivia: Cathey grew up watching Bonanza dubbed in German (check out his German Hoss impersonation).
Banal, TV-related IMDb trivia: Cathey’s early, late-80s bit parts include the final feature films by two major directors of the live-TV generation, George Roy Hill (Funny Farm, 1988) and Arthur Penn (Penn & Teller Get Killed, 1989).
September 19, 2012
Name: Glenn Morshower.
Persona: A solidly-built Texan whose slight but slow drawl has typed him in military and rural cop roles. Morshower: “The only people who have done more military roles than me — what they all have in common? They are dead.”
Overlap: For a four-month period in 2001, Morshower was recurring on C.S.I. (as a sheriff), The West Wing (as a presidential adviser), and 24 (as a secret service agent). A self-proclaimed “dialectician,” Morshower affected a slightly different accent for each show.
Career-Defining Role: Along with the equally sublime Mary-Lynn Rajskub (Chloe, the goofy IT whiz) and Jude Ciccolella (the nefarious, Dick Cheney-ish Beltway dealmaker), Morshower was one of the long-term 24 background players who brought some humanity to a show that dispatched its heroes and villains with a cold-blooded consistency.
Payoff: Morshower enjoyed a beautiful climactic arc on 24 – a forbidden and mostly unspoken attraction to a fragile first lady (Jean Smart) – which was perfect material for his understated style.
Also Recurring On: JAG, Friday Night Lights, the new Dallas, and the Transformers movies.
Goes Back As Far As: The Dukes of Hazzard, in 1980. Somebody else can dig up those clips.
He’s Also a Motivational Speaker: … but let’s not hold that against him.
August 21, 2012
Name: Amy Aquino.
Background: A graduate of Harvard (where she studied biology) and Yale Drama, she is currently an officer in the Screen Actors Guild and a former owner of the historic Villa Royale inn in Palm Springs.
Best Known For: Her cross-ethnic casting as the mother in a Jewish-American family in Brooklyn Bridge, Gary David Goldberg’s fifties-set Wonder Years knockoff.
Usually plays: Authority figures who are (as she said of herself in a 1992 profile) “lobster-tough on the outside, mushy on the inside.”
Recurring on: Too many series to count, including Freaks & Geeks, Everybody Loves Raymond, Crossing Jordan (as a cop), Judging Amy (as a judge), Picket Fences (as a doctor), Felicity (another doctor), Harry’s Law (another judge), and Brothers & Sisters (doctor again). And she would have been the warden on Prison Break‘s distaff backdoor spinoff, had it gone to series.
A Long Run: Starting with the famous, Emmy-winning first-season episode “Love’s Labor Lost,” she was a recurring cast member throughout ER‘s entire run as brusque obstetrician Dr. Janet Coburn. Like most of the doctors from “upstairs,” Coburn was usually a background figure … so it was a welcome surprise when Aquino enjoyed some meaty (and moving) scenes during the penultimate season, in which Dr. Coburn proved to be the perfect dispenser of tough love as Abby’s (Maura Tierney) AA sponsor during a gruesome fall off the wagon.
May 12, 2012
Name: Bruce Altman.
Known For: Supporting roles in many major films of the nineties (Regarding Henry, Glengarry Glen Ross, Quiz Show) and recurring or regular parts on Nothing Sacred, Help Me Help You, and Damages.
Typecasting: “I play guys with ties,” Altman says. Meaning: lots of doctors, lawyers, and businessmen.
The Ethnic Factor: Like the more flamboyant Saul Rubinek, Altman’s cadenced speech has led to many explicitly Jewish roles, often of the menschy variety.
His Home Turf: A Yale Drama School grad who still lives in New Haven, Altman skews toward projects shot in New York, including the inevitable recurring role on Law and Order as one of an endless rotation of upper-crust sleazebag lawyers.
Where’d He Go?: Altman was initially listed in the cast of The American, the lean, European-lensed George Clooney hit-man movie that is one of my favorite recent English-language films … but apparently Altman was cut out of, or replaced in, the film.
Last Seen: As the mayor of New York City in Blue Bloods, desperately trying to punch up a stock character in a bland cop show.
Dream Role: In an interview with the New Haven Independent, Altman says he’d like to play Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Consider my ticket bought.
March 19, 2012
Name: Robert Clendenin.
Career-Defining Line, From Cougar Town (Above): “I’d give you a shoulder to cry on, if I had one.”
Trademarks: Apart from the shoulders (or lack thereof), a bald pate and adenoidal voice that has led to typecasting in the slow-witted or deviant veins. Cougar Town also makes fun of his chin (or lack thereof).
Known As: A pervy morgue attendant on The Closer, a pervy doctor and a pervy neighbor on Bill Lawrence’s Scrubs and Cougar Town, respectively, and (per his official bio) various characters named “Slow Roger, Mr. Giggles, Plumber Dave, Louis the Stalker, Doofus, and most recently Bob the Demon.” Plus bit parts in L.A. Confidential, Dude, Where’s My Car? and the most recent Star Trek movie.
His Niche: Not yet a candidate for the meaty parts that typically define a “character actor,” Clendenin is one of the instantly recognizable small-part actors who brighten the corners of our movies and TV shows. He’s the twenty-first century Norman Leavitt.
On the Web: Clendenin has a website, a Facebook page, and a Tumblr (whatever the hell that is). Wouldn’t it be cool if all the Norman Leavitts of the last hundred years could’ve had all those?
Norman Leavitt (via Aveleyman.com)
January 30, 2012
Name: Peter Gerety.
The Rundown: A stage actor since the sixties, Gerety became prominent in movies and on television only in middle age. Now he’s one of the best specialists around playing flawed or flamboyant authority figures; if John Heard isn’t available, Gerety is your man.
The Catalyst: On The Wire, he was the egomaniacal judge who in the pilot gave iconoclast cop Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) a mandate to investigate the Baltimore drug trade, thus setting the whole series in motion. In a crowning scene for Gerety, Judge Phelan flip-flops and runs for political cover, leaving Jimmy hanging in the wind.
A New Lease: His movie career goes back to the early eighties, with bit parts in Woody Allen and Spike Lee movies and a regular role on Homicide: Life on the Street; but after The Wire, like many of his castmates, Gerety has been happily ubiquitous.
A Busy Man: Since The Wire ended in 2007, Gerety has had recurring roles on Brotherhood, Brothers & Sisters, Blue Bloods, The Good Wife, Rubicon, Prime Suspect, and . . . .
Mediocre Show Worth Watching Just For Him: Mercy. This distaff ER wannabe cast Gerety as the rowdy, hard-drinking father of the main nurse (Taylor Schilling); when he’s diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s, Gerety dodges the cliches and plays the character’s fear (and his foggy moments) with sublime tenderness.
Mediocre Show Not Quite Worth Watching Just For Him: Life on Mars. Gerety’s FBI agent turns out to be the guardian of all the show’s secrets. Think Leo McKern turning up in the last episode of The Prisoner, except everything is very literal and really lame.
January 17, 2012
Name: Cristine Rose.
Usually Plays: Formidable matriarchs, unflappable corporate execs, and other powerful women.
Relatively Insignificant Early Role That I Recall Fondly Due to My David E. Kelley Fetish: As the ex-wife of beleaguered lawman Jimmy Brock (Tom Skerritt) on Picket Fences, still the record-holder for the all-time greatest TV ensemble.
Her Magnum Opus: As the mother of two of the superpowered protagonists (Adrian Pasdar and Milo Ventimiglia) on Heroes. I suspect that Angela Petrelli was initially an insignificant or short-term part, or else they would have cast a name actress in it. But Rose, with her clenched jaw and enigmatic glare, turned Angela into one of the show’s most prominent villains, held her own against star-turn baddies Malcolm McDowell and Robert Forster, scored main-title billing, and survived till the very end of the show. Bravo.
See, I Told You About Picket Fences: Q: “You’ve appeared in many great TV shows. If you could pick any one to return to, which would it be, and why?” A: “Angela Petrelli aside, the one that comes immediately to mind is Lydia Brock, on Picket Fences. When I came out here [to Los Angeles], I had a lot of fun doing sitcoms. I came out here from New York in 1986, and I did several sitcom pilots, and in the early nineties I really wanted to dso hour-long shows. I love humor, and theatricality – humor and drama together are the perfect blend. I think you get to a person’s heart through humor, and then you get into the heart and you wrench it. It’s a very powerful way to make a point. And Lydia Brock was one of those people . . . . Kathy Baker and I used to have great scenes together. Beautifully written. A beautifully defined character.” (From a long video interview with Rose here.)
Fanboy Cred: Hey, she was even a Klingon, too!
December 3, 2011
Name: Titus Welliver.
First Noticed As: The most psychopathic, and least dull-witted, of Al Swearingen’s rogues’ gallery of henchmen in Deadwood.
(Maybe) Most Famous As: The Man in Black, the human incarnation of the island’s great unexplained evil, on Lost. Welliver was an inspired choice, because his somber mien added shades of wisdom and regret to the, y’know, evil. When the show’s labored metaphysics required one of the regulars (the equally great Terry O’Quinn) to take over for Welliver, it was a loss.
The Tilt: Every good character actor needs a reliable mannerism or two. Welliver’s is the meaningful head-tilt (see above); the more extreme the angle, the more serious the moment.
Sam Elliott Called and Wants His Voice Back: Welliver’s great asset is is unexpectedly deep, rangy, moody voice, which can make even the dumbest line sound like a quote from Steinbeck or Twain. Some producers like to cast him as furriners, and Welliver does the accents competently – as an Irish gun peddler on Sons of Anarchy, for instance – but I think he’s less interesting when he’s suppressing that grand American baritone.
Lately Seen In: The Town, in the classic #2-cop-who-follows-around-the-big-deal-detective-looking-impressed role, and The Good Wife, as scumbag state’s attorney Glenn Childs. The latter is almost a stock villain, and I hope Welliver doesn’t settle in as TV’s go-to bad guy. He has more soul than that.
August 8, 2011
Name: Stephen Tobolowsky.
Trademark: A robotic, slowed-down speech pattern that makes his delivery sound as if he’s addressing a small child, but also has a sinister quality that gets him parts as bureaucrats and villains. There’s another contrast that widens Tobolowsky’s range, too: he has milquetoasty features (sorry, Stephen) but his height (he’s 6’3″) allows for physical menace as well.
Most Famous As: Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day.
On Television: A funny but relatively small role on Glee, as a gay, toked-up, burned-out ex-choir teacher has raised his profile somewhat. But Tobolowsky had a meatier part a few years back on Heroes, as a sociopathic Company functionary; recurring roles on Deadwood, John From Cincinnati, and Californication; and a guest shot on Community as the teacher of a Who’s the Boss? symposium.
Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party: This is a documentary in which Tobolowsky, more animated and Southern-accented than when he’s in character, relates anecdotes about himself for an hour and a half. It is not terribly flattering or well-made, but the precedent has value: every great character actor should be the subject of his or her own movie.
His Definition of a Character Actor: As expressed in this witty op-ed piece for the New York Times, an actor who plays characters who aren’t given names in the script.
July 15, 2011
Name: Margo Martindale.
Distinguishing Features: A rotund figure and a rich Texas accent that can come out warm or mean.
A Holdout: She eschewed television for stage and film roles until joining the ensemble of Sidney Lumet’s 100 Centre Street in 2000.
On the Big Screen: Supporting roles in Lorenzo’s Oil, The Firm, Robert Benton’s Nobody’s Fool and Twilight, and last year’s Secretariat. Hilary Swank’s mother in Million Dollar Baby, and a lead role in Alexander Payne’s segment of Paris, Je t’aime that he wrote for her.
I Wish I Had Seen: Her Tony-nominated turn as Big Mama in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, opposite Ned Beatty.
A recent patron: Dmitry Lipkin, creator of The Riches and co-creator of Hung, middling shows with good supporting parts for character players. Martindale did her best work in years as a stifled, pill-popping McMansionite with a closeted husband on The Riches, then swung through Hung once as a timid client of the male prostitute protagonist.
The Life of the Working Actor: “I’ve worked ever since I started acting, but I’ve been very poor a major part of my career. And it didn’t discourage me. I just kept going. And today it’s pretty good. Pretty good. I might even could buy a house soon.”
Upcoming: I haven’t seen Justified yet but Martindale just snagged an Emmy nomination for a meaty role as a villain. Reason enough to move that Blu-ray to the top of the stack.