July 5, 2011
Name: Zeljko Ivanek.
Best Known As: The courtly, corrupt, and ultimately tragic high-powered lawyer Ray Fiske on Damages, a very affecting performance despite the shakiness of Ivanek’s Southern accent.
Trademarks: Hiding behind an unpronounceable Slovenian name, this very American stage actor has a dimunitive frame, a prominent forehead, and a crooked, sardonic mouth, all of which tilt his casting toward the debauched or the demonic.
First Glimpsed In: The cult horror film The Sender, with our friend Shirley Knight.
First Big TV Exposure: Part of the Tom Fontana repertory, Ivanek played a prosecutor on Homicide and the governor on Oz.
High Art Moment: Ivanek was part of the amazing ensemble in Dogville, Lars Von Trier’s best film, and its disastrous sequel, Manderlay.
Ivanek the Terrible: Lately he’s been overexposed as TV’s go-to guy for generic villainy: miscast as a rogue military operative in Heroes, miscast as a deranged redneck on Big Love, nothing to do as a vampire judge in True Blood. Somebody should use Ivanek against type as a nice guy, before I get tired of him.
June 8, 2011
Name: Michael Paul Chan.
Not Charlie, But …: Chan hit a recent career peak on The Closer, as part of what may be TV’s best-ever character-actor cop ensemble. (Sorry, Hill Street.) He plays the only guy on the squad who understands computers, and he gets endless mileage out of his primary prop, the glasses perched on his shaved head. Chan is one of those actors who can’t play dumb; he exudes intelligence and confidence and he’ll take over a scene anytime the director lets him. He can do Chinese and Chinese-American stereotypes on cue but, like the great James Hong, Chan is adept at undermining them with humor.
First Noticed In: The Wonder Years. Chan cracked me up as the pidgin-English-speaking nightmare boss when Kevin took a crummy Chinese restaurant job.
His Best Patron: Michael Mann. Small roles in Thief and The Insider built to a great supporting role on Mann’s cop opus redux, Robbery Homicide Division. Counterbalanced by the great, hounddog-faced Barry Shabaka Henley, Chan’s fast-talking RHD detective was a first draft of his Closer character.
Obligatory Age/Race-Related Stereotype: Turns out Chan is over 60 (past retirement age for cops!), and has been doing bit parts since the days of Police Woman and Baretta. Tell me the man can’t pass for 45.
What Now: He’s plateaued as a team player. Somebody write a leading role for Chan, a meaty, fully-rounded part that digs beneath the surface of his trademark sharp-edged cynicism.
Read More About It: Here’s a brief interview with Chan.
May 25, 2011
Name: James Rebhorn.
Description: Tall, angular, and toothy, Rebhorn specializes in villainy of every nuance, from psychopathic to weaselly to merely bureaucratic.
Famous As: The headmaster in Scent of a Woman (1992); the defense secretary in Independence Day (1996).
Recently Seen As: A creepy small-town doctor with a gruesomely funny death scene in the odd neo-noir Don McKay (2010).
What He Needs to Do Next: Play some nice guys. He has the range. His villains are always strangely likable; I’d like to see Rebhorn play some worldly grandpas as he approaches Social Security age.
On TV: Recently a regular on Big Lake and recurring on White Collar. I haven’t seen either show, but eventually I’ll take a look, if only to see what Rebhorn is doing in them. If this new series of quick takes on underappreciated, contemporary actors needs a subhead, it would be that: Actors whose movies (or TV shows) I’ll watch just because they’re in them.