Great Character Actors of Today #5

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.  

The Meta-Character Actor: Tobolowsky has also done a book and a podcast about, in part, the life of a working actor.

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.


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