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!
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 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.