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15 Famous Character Actors

rushfan . . . Comments

Character actors are the unsung heroes of Hollywood. These are the guys you see in everything, you know their face, but you can’t quite place their name. Character actors have built their careers around small, yet distinctive roles. So – here are 15 of the best!


Diane Wiest


Diane Wiest has enjoyed a successful career on stage, television, and film. She might be best known for roles in Parenthood and Edward Scissorhands, and she has become better known for a series of anxious, insecure women who seem to be taxed to the breaking point just getting through the day.


Dan Hedaya

Picture 3-9

Hedaya had a minor role in Oliver Stone’s Nixon and later played Nixon himself in Dick. He was a junior high school teacher for many years before deciding to pursue acting full-time.


Jeffrey Jones

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Who can forget Jeffrey Jones in Beetle Juice or as the principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day off? Sadly, Jones became a registered sex offender in 2003, after having been accused of hiring a 14-year-old boy to pose for sexually explicit photographs, and pled guilty to a felony charge.


Daniel Stern

Daniel Stern

Acting since the age of seventeen, Stern got his start in off-Broadway productions and has built up quite an impressive list of movie credits. He starred in City Slickers and Home Alone.


Donal Logue

Donal Logue

I was surprised to learn Donal Logue attended Harvard and studied at the British-American Drama Academy in London. Logue starred in Blade and Jerry Maguire, among other things.


James Cromwell

Tn2 James Cromwell 1

Cromwell has played a US President four times – fictional President Fowler in The Sum of All Fears, fictional President Newman in “The West Wing”, Lyndon B. Johnson in the TV movie RFK, and George H.W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s film W.


Brion James

Brion James

A veteran of over 100 television and 120+ movie roles, James is best remembered for roles such as the replicant Leon in Blade Runner, Gen. Munro in The Fifth Element, Big Teddy in Cabin Boy. He died of a heart attack in 1999.


David Morse

House - David Morse 1Z

Morse is frequently cast in book-to-movie/television works by Stephen King, and I personally enjoyed his performance in The Langoliers. He claims that out of all of the films he’s done, his favorites are The Green Mile, The Crossing Guard, The Indian Runner, and The Rock.


Harry Dean Stanton


Stanton served in WWII before beginning his acting career. He also fronts a band called “The Harry Dean Stanton Band” which regularly performs in the Los Angeles area. He starred in Alien, Repo Man, Paris, Texas, and other films.


Vincent Schiavelli

Vincent Schiavelli

Vincent Schiavelli, selected in 1997 by Vanity Fair as one of the best character actors in America, made over 120 film and television appearances. Aside from his acting career, Vincent was the author of three cookbooks, and has written numerous articles on food for magazines and newspapers. He died of lung cancer in 2005. He starred in Blade Runner and Tomorrow Never Dies.


Fred Thompson

Fred Thompson Debate

Fred Thompson was a United States Senator representing Tennessee from 1994 through 2002. He has played the same character, District Attorney Arthur Branch, in five different series: “Law & Order”, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”, “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”, “Law & Order: Trial by Jury” and “Conviction”. He also ran for president in 2008! Fred ’08.


Stephen Root

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Root has developed a cult following since his performance in Office Space and says people often give him red Swingline staplers.


Hank Azaria


Most famous for being one of the principal providers of voices on The Simpsons, he became better known through his appearances in films such as The Birdcage, Godzilla and Along Came Polly. As well as Moe, Wiggum and Apu, Azaria provides the voices of Comic Book Guy, Carl Carlson, Cletus Spuckler, Professor Frink, Dr. Nick Riviera, Lou, Snake, Kirk Van Houten, the Sea Captain, Superintendent Chalmers, Duffman, the “Wise Guy” and numerous other one-time characters in the Simpsons.


Edie McClurg

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Edie McClurg is usually typecast as a middle-aged, somewhat stubborn and dimwitted Midwesterner. She has a Master of Science from Syracuse and taught radio at the University of Missouri/Kansas City for eight years. She starred in Natural Born Killers, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Mr. Mom.


Curtis Armstrong


Probably most well-known for playing Booger in Revenge of the Nerds, Armstrong also had a recurring role on Moonlighting.

Contributor: rushfan

  • bootlicker

    Thanks for listing Harry Dean Stanton. I will always see any film he is in. He's fantastic!!!

    • de

      He was good in anything, but I always look at him and think “There’s Exodor”. That’s probably unfair because he’s been good in such a wide range of roles. He can pull off comedy, drama, good guy, bad guy, super intelligent and stupid as a box of rocks. Wonderfully versatile actor!

  • bark

    Schiavelli's imdb filmography doesn't list Bladerunner; Bladerunner cast doesn't mention Schiavelli; I've seen the movie multiple times and don't recall him. Assuming he was in it somewhere, how can you say he "starred"?

    • I don’t think Schiavelli was in Blade Runner. Think it was a mistake in an otherwise great list.

  • TDavis

    Harry Dean Stanton has been in everything from the “Godfather” to “Alien”. Not a bad track record. Check out his IMDB listing and you’ll be amazed at the number of great (and NOT so great) movies he’s appeared in.

  • chris

    No Chris Cooper. No David Strathairn. no good.

  • listverse groupie

    I knew 10 of the 15 by name as well as face. It might be an 80’s thing though, 6 were in some of my favorite movies from that decade.

    Diane- Footloose
    Jeffrey and Edie- Ferris B
    Harry- Pretty in Pink
    Vincent- Fast Times
    Curtis- Revenge of the Nerds

    Thanks for the memories rushfan.

  • Iain

    My initial impression is that Fred Thompson seems out of place here as a one note/one role actor.

  • rushfan

    Cyn ~ Thanks for the addition to Fred Thompson’s bio. I was very disappointed in his “whatever” approach to running for president. I still don’t understand why he and Rudy just sat there during the primaries until the last minute. Oh, and by the by, my husband thinks Obama is gonna announce Oprah as his VP pick.

    And Chris and any others who don’t see your personal favorite actor on this list, take heart, I don’t care, you can make your own list or list them in the comments. ;)

  • rushfan

    Iain ~ I don’t think a character actor is a one/note one/role actor, they’re just not leads, they’re supporting cast.

  • Iain

    I would also make a strong case for Giovanni Ribisi – TV, mainstream and art-house movies – comedy and high drama.

  • Iain

    rushfan – I agree – my point is that Fred, compared to the rest of the excellent actors on your list seems to be, in my view, a one note/one character actor. You haven’t presented anything beyond that one guy on Law & Order that he does.

  • downhighway61

    damn, Rushfan, you just keep coming out with the lists!
    I really enjoyed this one, thanks!

  • Iain

    Rushfan – rereading my initial statement, I can see it is a little ambiguous.

  • Another rushfan list… wow!

    Seems being a female actor is a bit ‘all or nothing’ – there are only two on the list out of fifteen. Yes, no?

  • astraya

    It seems a bit strange to say that Vincent Schiavelli “starred” in Blade Runner. I couldn’t remember him. I’ve just checked to find that he played a character named “Bullet Bob”, which leaves me none the wiser. The movie that I remember him in was “Ghost”, but I didn’t remember then name.
    I loved Harry Dean Stanton in The Straight Story.

  • Jain- ribissi is not a character actor – he has been a leading man. He is one of my favorite actors.

  • rushfan is our featured lister this week! And bravo! Great lists

  • Axel

    I think it would be better if you had provided pictures of the actors in the roles they’re known for.

  • Phil

    So are they character actors because they are typecast andalways play the same or similar roles?

  • warrrreagl

    I second Jamie’s praise. Yes, rushfan, well done!!

  • “He starred in Blade Runner and Tomorrow Never Dies.”
    Wasn’t part of my original text, you’ll have to ask Cyn or Jamie.

  • kiwiboi

    rushfan – nice list, thanks! I kinda expected to see Michael Caine…

  • Iain

    Jfrater – I’m aware of Giovanni’s lead roles, so I had a bit of a reservation. However, I would say he’s always an excellent character/support actor in smaller roles (Friends, My Name is Earl). Plus there are a few actors on this list with leading credentials (e.g. Harry Dean Stanton). I think we can both agree he’s damn good.

  • Egg

    Good job. It’s often hard to make the distinction between character actors and cult actors (like Danny Trejo), so well done. The first four mentioned are the ones I always end up scratching my head over; “Now, where the hell did I see that guy/chick?”

  • Phil

    Could have included Jordan Prentice.

  • Spocker

    You missed so many great actors and actresses. You’ve seem to have a bias for actors of the modern era. What about greats like James Gregory, Sterling Holloway, Charles Lane, Bernard Fox, Agnes Moorehead, Woody Strode, Roscoe Lee Browne, Collen Dewhurst, John Carradine, Lee J. Cobb, Henry James, and so many more.

    Besides, even if your criteria were for the modern era, you overlooked J.T. Walsh, John Rhys-Davies, Graham Greene, Donald Moffet, Charles Durning, Steve Buscemi, Linda Hunt, William Daniels, Charles Napier, Oliver Platt, and Bob Gunton.

  • Spocker ~ Congratulations! You made your own list like a big boy. Try hitting the “submissions” link at the top of the page, and follow the step by step directions for how to, now here’s the exciting part, submit your *very own* list! Isn’t that just magical?

  • kittym

    Excellent list! However, just to point it out, Vincent Schiavelli was a voice in Blade Runner the video game, and wasn’t in the actual movie. I love him as a character actor though, and thought him a good choice to be on the list! Well done, rushfan!!

  • kittym

    Sorry for the double post, but I just remembered that Schiavelli was in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, one of my favourite movies!

  • Tempyra ~ The list was actually 15 dudes and then I said to myself, “hey, self, they’re all dudes. find some chicks.” So I did. I had Laura Linney on the original list, but changed my mind, as I am inclined to do.

  • dischuker

    i would agree with iain, fred just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of these guys based on the bio given.

    i was wondering who was going to be the first peson offended by not having any people from outside the modern age.

  • As far as Giovanni Ribisi goes, did anyone see that horrible excuse for a movie Perfect Stanger? With him and Halle Berry? Did he lose a bet or something? Yikes, that movie was a crapfest. God, even Bruce Willis was in that shithole. WTF?

  • disc ~ Yeah, the bios are just kinda random info. Fred’s on there cause he’s a role player in movies like Hunt for Red October, No Way Out, Fat Man and Little Boy.

  • contrariwise

    Great list! I think you’re definitely going to need to do “Another Great 15 Character Actors” in the future.

  • Rshady

    I know all of them except Donal Logue and Thompson.

    Great list, although I was shocked to find out about Jeffrey Jones, which explains why you never see him in films anymore.

  • JFrater

    Okay – Ribisi was brilliant in Boiler Room where he had a lead role. In that film he showed that he wasn’t a character actor – he was a lead actor. Even his small (maybe character) role in lost in Translation was extremely important.

  • astraya

    A while ago I saw “Vincent Schiavelli” and “Blade Runner” on the same page of IMDB. I’ve just re-checked that, and he was in the video game of Blade Runner. I should have noticed “VG” (for video game) and “(1997)” in the first place.

  • Giovanni Ribisi will always have a special place in my heart since he was on My Two Dads when I was a kid. I loved that show.

  • oh – after all the praise for ribisi I should point out he is a scientologist. – a great tradgedy :(

  • NO! I hate finding out people are scientaliens. Beck is too. :(

  • ohrmets

    Whoa whoa whoa, where is JOHN TURTURRO?

    He’s had very memorable character roles in “The Big Lebowski” (don’t fuck with the Jesus), “O Brother Where Art Thou?,” “Mr. Deeds” and, more recently, though not as good, “Transformers.”

    His role in “Lebowski” alone deserves a mention on the list–his two or three minutes on screen almost steal the whole movie!

  • Diogenes

    Somehow, almost all of these guys seem to be in the same movie of my mind. and it’s not pretty.

    i didn’t know that about Jeffery Jones(hell i didnt even know that was his name). Not only does he know how to play a scumbag in movies, he’s also one in real life.

    i wonder how come i always confuse Azaria with some character mafia actor. talk about typecasted character actors. whatsthatguy’sname?
    I guess Azaria is up there with the great Mel Blank ,as far as cartoon voices go. Is there an award for that?
    “…and the best cartoon voice of the year goes toooo….”

    I wonder what Vincent Schiavelli looked like as a baby? What great parents he must of had. Theres a mug!
    Teacher:”What do you want to be when you grow up Vincent?”

    I must say i despise Edie McClurg.

    “The Dao of Steve” was not all that bad, i liked it. Donal Logue was lovable “steve”. After watching, I had the urge to gain weight, smoke pot, teach school children and live blissfully within my manboy mentality.

    Harry Dean Stanton-the ultimate sad sack. if i saw him in person, ide just wanna hug him and jump on a trampolene ,
    “cheer up fella!”.

  • ohrmets ~ good addition, thanks.

  • Mom424

    What no Brian Dennehy? I thought for sure he would make the list. He’s in everything. Also kudos to Spocker for mentioning Steve Buscemi, one of my all time favorite character actors, forget that, one of my favorite actors.

    And Oliver Platt, yes! We were talking about him last night, a great and funny-ass actor in everything I’ve ever seen him in.

  • scarlettangel

    Diane Wiest was also in the Original Lost Boys!

  • Mom, you really got me thinking there. I even forgot Tim Roth and I *love* him.

  • Ghidoran

    I don’t understand why that guy’s no.1…..

  • Spocker

    26. rushfan – Hey dude, chill! Your list is…ok, if that’s your preferences. If your a number one Booger fan, that’s alright with me, man. I like “Revenge of the Nerds” as much as the other guy. I’m just pointing out that your list lacks a bit of depth. You don’t have to get all defensive just because I offer a bit of criticism.

  • It’s not a “top” 15 list, Ghidoran, it’s in no particular order. :)

  • Spocker ~ No biggie, I was actually being humorous. Please feel free to check out my and many others’ lists that are much deeper. This one is lighter fare.

  • Mom424

    Rushfan: Tim Roth is definitely worthy as well. I think we could probably double or treble this list without too much effort.

    Good job by the way – I like Rushfan week at ListVerse.

  • Sedulous

    I loved Stephen Root in “O Brother Where Art Thou”

  • Callie

    Every time I scrolled down I had an “oh my gosh I love him!” moment…except for the principal guy. ew.

  • Brickhouse

    I wouldn’t agree with Booger as #1, but really great list! :)

  • BA

    Is it just me or is James Cromwell in every single movie ever?

  • deepthinker

    I too think John Turturro should have made the list… that guy is in everything I see!! And he’s brilliant, and, I don’t think he’s a scientologist! ha!

  • Mom424

    Spocker; Rushfan is a dudette. No fear, I made the same mistake, but worse.

    BA – Cromwell was great as the farmer in Babe. A damn fine family movie by the way. He blowed himself up real good in Robocop too!

  • kittym

    “That’ll do, Pig … that’ll do.”

    I love James Cromwell!

  • Do y’all think Jeremy Piven is still a character actor or has he moved beyond? He was the guy I used to say was in every movie ever.

  • Mom424

    I think he would probably still qualify Rushfan; he doesn’t head-line any movies on his own, he’s generally part of an ensemble cast.

    Have you noted how entirely creepy David Morse can be? I find his psycho roles extremely convincing.

  • Yes! Disturbia for example. He made a lame attempt at a lead role in a movie called George B. I was embarassed for him. He has such a weird way about him, almost no personality at all.

  • chlex

    Surely Vincent D’Onofrio deserves a mention?

  • Brickhouse

    John Turturro immediately came to mind – he’s amazing! I loved him as the Jesus in The Big Lebowski, Shooter in Secret Window and Emilio the butler in Mr Deeds. He’s a great actor – in 81 movies so far, according to imdb. :D

  • Brickhouse
  • Iain

    One of the absolute best character actors is Timothy Spall – he’s that flabby, hang-dog Englishman (looks a bit like a human Droopy). mainly famous for top-class TV work in the UK – but he’s also been in loads of Hollywood fare (Enchanted, Harry Potter, Last Samurai).

    Now that I think about it, something like the Harry Potter series features some of the cream of British character actors (Richard Griffiths, Robbie Coltrane etc.)

  • Ben Stein! Granted, it’s the same type of character, but he’s hysterical. :)

  • solensdrottning

    I would add William H. Macy, and John C. Reilly to the list. They seem to be in everything!

  • psychosurfer

    How about Michael Madsen?

  • Oh, and Christopher McDonald. He’s one of the best things about Thelma and Louise. “Have you taken complete leave of your senses?!”

  • ZAxel

    Wasn’t Diane Wiest the DA on one of the Law & Order shows?

  • Duke of Omnium

    What? No Walter Huston or Thelma Ritter? There were character actors before the 90’s, you know …

  • logar

    Great list, rushie! A list like this, you’re going to get a ton of “you should have included X.. or what about Y?” It could have easily been “100 famous character actors.”

    Great job boiling them down.


    I most remember Harry Dean Stanton from “Pretty In Pink”


  • Spocker

    49. rushfan – It’s cool. Sorry for the gender mix-up. But anyone who is a Rush fan is ok in my book.

    How do you go about finding specific lists by author?

  • FYI ~ I’m a fan of Rush Limbaugh. :)

  • deepthinker

    Harry Dean Stanton was also in Procol Harum’s music video for “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. Brilliant song, and video.

  • Spocker

    I forgot about John Turturro. He was great in “Quiz Show” as Herbie Stempel.

  • Spocker

    74. rushfan – “FYI ~ I’m a fan of Rush Limbaugh.”

    Nobody’s perfect.

  • Cedestra

    Well, rushfan gets the award for best “Author to Annoying Drivel Comment” :) Spocker did point out Graham Greene, though: I think he’s more of a “token” character, unfortunately. His role in Maverick kind of sums up his line of work.
    No ones really discussing David Morse. He was on “House” for a few stints and also played George Washington (very well, I may add) in “John Adams”.
    #66.: Are you kidding? Both of those actors have played large enough roles to be outside “character” acting.

  • LOL Spocker. Are you a trekker or a trekkie?

  • Houguy

    What about the late greats – J.T. Walsh and Bruno Kirby, both of Good Morning Vietnam among others

  • perun99

    Ed Harris and Eugene Levy could have made the list as well, though maybe they are a bit too well known for the list?

  • great additions, Houguy! I *love* Good Morning, Vietnam!!

    “First of all, don’t make fun of the weather here, and don’t say the weather is the same all the time here. Because it’s not. In fact, it’s two degrees colder today than yesterday.
    Two degrees colder, me without my muff.”

    So many classic lines.

  • Lynn

    I had a little crush on David Morse in ‘The Green Mile’, but it went away after watching him in ‘Disturbia’. Yucky!

    Vincent Schiavelli was “Mr. Vargas” the weird science teacher from ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’. He took his students on a tour of the hospital morgue.
    He started his class with some line like, “Don’t mind me, I just switched to Sanka”.

  • Callie

    Ha. Rush.. deja vu on the name convo :)

  • dustin

    dan hedaya also had good roles in the usual suspects and mulholland drive

  • I know, right? I think I’m gonna have to start calling you Ned. ;)

  • Spocker

    79. rushfan – “Are you a trekker or a trekkie?”

    FYI, I’m a fan of Dr. Spock. ;)

  • There are so many great character actors so this list took courage on rushfan’s part to narrow them down to 15. You would have to know when writing this list there would be a lots of comments starting out “Hey what about……..” Rushfan I really like that you decided on short and sweet descriptions for each actor because if they are famous characters their face should speak for itself.
    My only “Hey what about” is Charles Durning he has been in a ton of stuff and was recently honored with the Life Achievement Award at the Screen Actors Guild Award Ceremony.

  • BrotherMan

    Great list, rushfan! It is good to know that someone is giving a well deserved shout out to the lesser known actors and actresses.

    I find it interesting to note that I Daniel Stern was actually the narrating voice (older Kevin Arnold) on the show Wonder Years. I just recently found this out when I was watching an old re-run of the show and they credited him with that part. The voice doesn’t even really sound like him.

    And no…Marilyn Manson did not play the character of Paul Pfeiffer just in case anyone was wondering.

  • sherriant

    Would Clint Howard count? Or are the only movies he’s in directed by Ron Howard?

  • NestorV

    No Steve Buscemi?
    He’s a fantastic character actor.

  • psychosurfer

    You´re all right, there are so many great ones out there.
    I propose to organize a survey between 100 of them with their picture and let´s vote for our favorite!!!

    By the way, how about Michael Clarke Duncan :)

  • kowzilla

    Pretty soon I think that the name is going to be changed to rushfanVerse. And I think that I might be OK with it… Another cool list.

  • Awe, shucks. I am but a mere spectator who occasionally joins in the fun. Long live King Jamie and Queen Cyn. And their spawn, Dangorironhide. :)

  • djb522

    gary oldman anyone?

  • Some others that haven’t been mentioned yet …

    Phillip Seymour Hoffman (pre-Capote)
    Dylan Walsh
    William Fichtner
    Clancy Brown
    William Forsythe
    Michael Rooker
    Bob Balaban
    Maury Chakin
    Paul Giamatti (pre-Sideways)
    Adam Goldberg
    Jane Lynch
    Will Patton
    Holland Taylor
    Gedde Watanabe

  • Spocker

    In the list I provided in post 25, I tried to avoid those character actors who later received major roles and established themselves above that label. But there are many who have become famous, like Phillip Seymour Hoffman above, that if we include them in the catagory the list will probably never end.

  • So many good ones were missed.

  • Spocker, I just noticed you mentioned Charles Durning too.

    I think people have different ideas on what a character actor is. Is it the actor that takes on interesting characters in a non leading roll or is the actors that are typecast lets say as a gangster and then put into that roll? I think it can be both.

  • Spocker

    I agree, Blogball

  • Christian

    I LOVE David Morse…good inclusion. What about Steve Buscemi and Adam Goldburg? Good list overall!

  • Miss Destiny

    Ok, I’m not sure I get the concept of a “character” actor, but I’ve heard of a few of these people and I know they’re good actors. I just thought a “character” actor was someone who played a famous character, like Batman or Sherlock Holmes or something. Goes to show how much I know about movies!

    Great list though! I remember seeing David Morse as Tritter on House, MD, and he was a total JERK! I have a hard time getting that character out of my head when I look at him. ;) Well done rushfan!

  • tommy 2 X 4

    And I thought that I didn’t have a life.
    Tommy 2 X 4

  • JayArr

    I loved Diane Wiest in Lost Boys!

    Jeffrey Jones – a perfect character actor you love to hate! He does such good work in that regard. ;)

    Vincent Schiavelli is the homely little man we should all miss dearly… another of my favorites.

    Gotta say, I’d like to think that Stephen Root is more than a character actor – his versatility transcends the level…

    Edie McClurg – the ultimate flighty, over-protective mom-figure of character actresses; another of my favorites in that role.

    So, I can’t believe everyone has missed some of the very greatest character actors of all time: Don Knotts (the ever funny side-kick), Ed Harris (stoic tough guy and/or Russian agent [perun99 got him!]), Walter Brennan (goofy ol’ cow poke), and I could go on with several more… but gotta get going!

  • BrotherMan

    #95 djb522: I am with you on Gary Oldman. He is not really too much of a “character actor”, although he is my favorite actor of all time. Sad thing about Oldman is that he not only plays the bad guy role most of the time, but he usually ends up dead in each film that he is in.

    The role that landed him as numero uno in my book was the movie Romeo is Bleeding. Everyone should check it out. Highly recommended!

  • Sgt. Batguano

    That’s a tough list to tackle. I could come up with 15 separate people but would have a hard time saying that those 15 were better then these 15. Either way it sparked some great discussion.

    “The Tao of Steve” starring Donel Logue has got to be the most under-appreciated movie of the last decade. It also has a very good, if short, sound track. The song “I’m No Superman” is used as the opening theme to Scrubs.

  • I can’t believe I forgot Lance Henriksen!

  • Angelina

    Great list, rushfan! Fred totally deserves to be on this list. He was also in Days of Thunder and Die Hard 2. Keep up the good work, you crazy LV addict! :-)

  • tg64

    What about M. Emmett Walsh, J.T. Walsh and Ed Lauter. There are literally hundreds of movies these guys are in going back decades.

  • kris

    well some how brother managed to get the laptop inside the hospital :twisted:
    I haven’t read any comments but managed to read every list n its just WOW!!!

  • Laura Dern should probably get an honorable mention.

  • bucslim

    I’d say Brian Dennehey (sp?) and agree with tg64 on M. Emmett Walsh, JT Walsh and probably add Jack Warden, John Cazale and about a hundred guys from old westerns and war movies. Bill McKinney comes to mind. (Redlegs from Josey Wales)

  • rushfan, thanks for another great list!
    I see all the gripes above, and all I can say is no matter who you include, you’ll no doubt exclude somebody’s favorite. There’s just no getting around it.
    Having worked with both “stars” and “character actors”, I can say without hesitation, give me a character actor any day. They have an entirely different outlook on life, and on their place in it. It’s a bit more whimsical, a bit more off-the-cuff. They simply don’t take themselves as seriously, though they take their work extremely seriously.
    They’re always a pleasure to work with.

  • 5monkeys

    Good list, Now we need one with the most annoying actor and actress, or the most anoying voices in television. I know a few already.

  • most annoying: Fran Dresher

    most overrated: Julia Roberts

    biggest dillhole: Tom Cruise

    worst tv show that won’t go away: New Adventures of Julia Louise Whatsername

  • TFisch

    Pretty much anyone ever in a Coen Brothers movie…

  • Cyn

    @ rushfan –
    “Long live King Jamie and Queen Cyn. And their spawn, Dangorironhide.”

  • Cyn ~ I’ve got one of those Olan Mills-style family photos of the three of you in my head. :) All of you looking slightly to the left. In matching white sweaters.

  • thirtytwo

    Great list :-D

    From a fellow Rush fan ;-)

  • Insaniac

    Hmm.. Noticed something.. Don’t know if its just me but there are 2 7’s and no 8..

  • Diogenes

    …and who the fuck are you, “TOMMY 2 X 4” ?
    my newest fan?

  • Hannah

    I’d add Stephen Tobolowsky to this list. He’s been in over 180 movies! Look him up on IMDB and you’ll recognize him.

  • nyys

    Doesn’t Jeffery Jones play proffessor Lupin in the Harry Potter movies? Or is it just me who think they look alike?

  • Deziner

    How about Jesse White- or as he is also known–The Maytag Repairman, perpetual victim of loneliness. This role is primarily a U.S. role,(I believe), but he did debut in 1947, Kiss of Death. His career lists 149 roles (IMDB), that covered movies, television and commercials.

    He passed in Jan., 1997 heart attack.

    Rushfan–thanks for the great list!!

  • Tivvyred

    No David Threwliss or something

  • Deziner

    Iain (8) –Yeah, He’s really great too. Especially in “Basic”.

  • MarkH

    Wilford Brimley called. He’s like his #1 spot on this list back, please.

  • Duke of Omnium

    Can’t forget Elisha Cook, Jr. He was Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon and Icepick on Magnum PI.

  • haha these are some good characters

  • TFisch

    Peter Stormare

  • Anon

    If we’re across the pond and dragging in the excellent Spall (Iain, 64) and Thewlis (Tivvyred, 125 – it’s Thewlis, Tivvy, and surely supporting rather than character?), can we possibly leave out sports?man-turned-actor Vinny Jones? Tim Spall is hardly famous, but who could deny Vinny?

  • cheese

    i love the green wing reference on the home page :D

  • Cyn

    @ rushfan
    whatever you’re smoking and/or drinking…send me some! ;) sick but funny!

  • Insaniac

    Hmm.. Noticed something.. Don’t know if its just me but there are 2 7’s and no 8..

  • Nejikun

    The first 2 names i thought of were Gary Oldman and Ron Perlman. A bit sad not to see these two on the list.

  • Insaniac: You’re right, the list goes from 10 to 9 and then 7, 7, with no 8.

  • Great List! The most memorable movie Vincent Schiavelli acted in would be Ghost, though, for me. I think Brent Spiner should have been on the list. He’s acted the part of a redneck on the TV show Night Court, a scientist in the movie Independence Day, and the android Data on Star Trek TNG. His credits may not be as long as others but he’s diverse in his characters.

  • Principle

    Where’s Paul Gleason? The stressed out principle of The Breakfast Club, Van Wilder, Not another Teen Movie, and Boy Meets World. Then again, wasn’t he ‘Richard Vernon’ in all of those roles?

  • Andy

    No Warren Oates? Murray Hamilton? How could you not have at least one of them on the list?

  • MPW

    I enjoyed this list, good work!

  • chershey

    James James, the man so nice they named him twice! Woot Stephen Root is AWESOME.

    I nearly started making a list of my fave “I know that guy” actors but the list really would be too long. I think though, one omission that stands out a bit more than others is Vincent Schiavelli; he was in *everything*.

  • chershey

    Oh dude I fail. It must be late because I read the whole post and then said Schiavelli was omitted….*cough* *runs and hides*

  • bird1969

    the sign of a good list is the amount of response generated. good job, but the best character actor ever is Robert Duvall, yea he has had a leading roll or two but who can forget kilgore in that vietnam movie that we all talk about.

  • Drogo

    I’ve basically disqualified myself from this list. Im a character actor fan. Whenever I see an actor a few times, I’ll look at the credits to get their name. If an American points at a TV and says, “Look, it’s that guy” or “that woman” or “There’s the guy that had *some* disease on “Scrubs”. chances are that I’ll know their name. I could keep thinking of actors but I’m not sure how “famous” some of them would be considered.

    How about:

    Eric Christmas, Frances Sternhagen, K Callan, Gordon Jump, M Emmet Walsh, Tom Poston(I met him), Eugene Roach, Paul Sorvino, Fred Stoller

  • artisan54

    so for all of you who think Fred Thompson is a “one hit wonder” look him up he has been in 24 movies. and a bunch of tv shows i was surprised myself to see how many. weird huh?

  • Dewsgirl

    Great list, I’m surprised Paul Giamatti has only been mentioned once, in the comments. He has mainstreamed into lead roles lately.

  • Tivvyred

    Tom Wilkinson
    Robert Carlyle
    Nick Frost

  • Tivvyred

    Christopher Walken has been a leading man but I would consider his best roles have been as defined in the list

  • Stranger8candy

    What’s his name? R. Lee Ermey? The coach in Saving Silverman. As well as numerous drill seargents (sic?). He’d have fit right in on this list.

  • Chickensoup

    I didn’t know Vincent Schiavelli was dead. :(

  • Ane Krel

    Great list. All of those actors are fantastic and have memorable characters. I’d like to throw in a nomination for my all time favorite character actor: Stephen Tobolowski (Ned Ryerson in “Groundhog Day”, and Werner Brandes in “Sneakers”).

  • Ane Krel

    Correction: Stephen Tobolowsky :-)

  • Lil Nic

    Michael Jeter anyone? I loved him in The Green Mile.Sadly he has now since died but i thought he was pretty good.I think he also had a part in Jurassic Park three.Or is that just me?

  • Captain Supremo III

    It seems, with the exception of Diane Wiest, that a requirement in the role of charactor actor is to be ugly as hell.

  • Anon

    Captain Super, (154),

    You’ve just offered an awful lot of people an awful lot of hope.

  • louis

    How do you have this list without Ned Beatty?

    the life and times of Judge Roy Bean
    All the Presidents Men
    Charlie Wilson’s War

    any number of TV shows from Kojak to MASH to CSI.

  • Anon

    louis, (156),

    Wikipedia cites a total of 78 films (including your six) for the sadly neglected (here) and splendid Ned Beatty.

  • CRSN

    Cool breif list rush :) actually helped put names to faces

  • Vera Lynn

    Hi CRSN Wanna hear a joke? We were cut off before! I know lots!

  • Vera Lynn

    I remember Daniel Stern best from “Breaking Away.” That was a great movie.

  • Sammaji

    Vincent S was the best in Ghost as the weird old dead dude.

  • kofeelite

    Vincent Schiavelli in “Blade Runner”? I think not-maybe you were thinking of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” …

  • kofeelite

    Edie McClurg? Is she the “You’re Fucked” lady in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”?

  • Anon

    Vera, (160),

    ‘Breaking Away’? That’s one of my all-time personal favourite films, but Anita absolutely loved it when it came up (Spanish-dubbed) here too. She isn’t a cycling nut like me either (well done our guys in the olympics). It’s on the *buy next time* binge-list when our American friend here goes back for a visit to her native country in December.

    I’ve quoted “The Cutters” to people as a way of adopting and turning round an insult to give your enemies the finger (not always possible, who’d want to call themselves “The Dick-Heads”?!). The encounter with the Italian *heroes* is so true of much of real-life sport, olympic spirit aside. Many competitors will do anything underhand to win, and even worse not to lose! I wonder how many idealistic young kids with talent have had similar rude awakenings during early trials in the pro world?

    I have an idea for a list of sport films, probably later rather than sooner, one film per sport. ‘Breaking Away’ would be it for cycling.

  • me

    Where’s John Cazale and Alex Rocco????

  • bucslim

    I’m sorry, but Ned Beatty from Deliverance only brings to mind one thing.

    “Squee, squee squee. . . .”

    And if you want to know, Bill McKinney, which I pointed out in a previous post, was the one forcing the action.

  • Anon

    bucslim, (166),

    Oh, boy, I love it, I love it. But you’ve just totally ruined ‘Deliverance’ for me for ever and ever. I shall never be able to watch it again without corpsing every time that scene comes on. I might as well play ‘The Cat and the Canary’ instead.

  • Anon

    It says *famous* not *good* by the way.

  • aahhMangoJuice

    I enjoyed the list but have a very difficult time calling a TWO-TIME OSCAR WINNER a character actor/actress (Diane Wiest).

  • ObeyArtGuy

    Another satisfied vote foe Clint Howard as “cooperdick”

  • Vera Lynn

    Anon (164) I love when he’s on the highway and the trucker (from the other team) flashes his fingers to show how fast he’s cycling. 40, 50, 60, and the trucker gets a ticket,and the cycler just cruises past. Great scene.

  • Anon

    Vera, (171),

    Yes, it’s full of such deft, inventive and memorable touches. Any film bought or listed to sit on our shelves has to have that repeat-worthy quality.

  • Anon

    Plus, you can see how everyone got involved and must have enjoyed making it, I’m sure. Another hallmark of any fine film.

  • #173. Anon
    Plus, you can see how everyone got involved and must have enjoyed making it, I’m sure. Another hallmark of any fine film.
    That really is true, most of the time. When the actors love their characters, and the story, there is a special extra something that goes into the work (and let me be perfectly clear everyone, making a movie is work!). Whatever the something is would be impossible to define, but it encases the entire production…sorry, I’m distracted by a woodpecker banging on the branch of a tree about 10 feet from me…and even the p.a.s, the gofers, pickup on it.
    OTOH, really talented actors can create a screen presence which would lead you to believe the work place was harmonious and serene when, in fact, it was a living hell. It may leak out here and there, just as a tension where none should exist, a pulsing blood vessel in the temple, a sharp tendon in the neck, but not anything anyone would notice.
    That’s why they are called “actors”.

  • Anon

    segue, (174),

    Sure, or in a wider sense, “pros”. No one, when our botancial books come out, could guess the internecine hatreds that have existed between co-authors and perhaps editors and publishers during their *pregnancies*! (Joint literary *conception* is usually a fairly tranquil and inspired moment!)

    You are right. Sometimes one sees a relaxed and natural film that is almost impossible to tell apart from real life (How DO they do that?). Then you hear afterwards that so-and-so (actor, director) was an evil bastard, a little Hitler, hated by the entire company. But sometimes perfectionists are made that way, and of course achieve what they seek: perfection.

    When leading small groups in fieldwork, I’ve on occasion defied all the rest in a decision I believe to be essential. Normally I only work with consultation and consensus, but in those cases I went against my own standard character and was quite agressively and uncompromisingly insistent. I’ve felt the spiky barrier of instant resentment, unpopularity and dislike, and forced myself to ride it. Happily my judgement has hardly ever failed me (I certainly won’t claim Papal infallibility and say never!), and the guys have come back with more respect and admiration than ever afterwards.

  • xKaylax

    I love Hank Azaria!
    But you forgot to mention he was also in Tuesdays with Morrie.

  • MPW

    Stephen Root also does a character voice on the show “King of the Hill”. He plays Bill.

  • K4G

    No Danny Trejo? C’mon that guy has been in more movies than morgan freeman.

  • Super-Cutie

    Hank Azaria was super-brilliant in Mystery Men. And Dabney Coleman, Ron Rifkin and Ron Lacey all come to mind.

  • MEG

    Missy Pyle is HILAROUS

  • joebecca


    There’s only one guy missing… Clint Howard. He’s Ron Howard’s brother and is in every movie Ron has made, as well as bit parts in a zillion other movies!! you should look up his resume!!

  • Ridge

    What about Luis Guzman?

  • snakedoctor369

    lovely, David Morse is one of my favorite actors, but its been long since i last saw him in a movie

  • Jerr


  • Jerr

    WILLIAM FICHTNER. His facial profile alone is so distinctive. Aside from Prison Break, most recently was the unflinching gun totting mafioso Bank Owner in the opening bank robbery scene of Dark Knight. Great actor, never disappoints.

  • Sarah

    Ty Burrell. Especially in Dawn of the Dead (remake) Fantastic!

  • Rennix

    Fuck the idea of character actors. An actor is an actor is an actor. It pisses me off when someone calls Kelsey Grammer “Frasier” almost as much as it pisses me off when someone calls the Terminator character “Arnold”. Actors and characters are 2 seperate things.

  • icarusfoundyou

    #6 looks a bit like Ted from Scrubs hehe

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  • bluewitch

    John Leguizamo should be there! I like him a lot especially in Ice Age!

  • Bert

    Steve Buscemi is THE best character actor in the business today. Ever so slightly behind him – John Turturro.

    Jeffrey Jones? Really? He’s memorable in what, three movies? Not that his acting isn’t good, but to leave off Steve Buscemi or Turturro for anyone on this list is just ridiculous. Those guys are amazing in every film I have seen them in.

    Also, kudos to the person who mentioned R. Lee Ermey. I seem to recall him having some great scenes in the Ernest movies as well as Full Metal Jacket. He always seems to play some kind of coach or drill instructor.

  • josh R

    Check out Donal Logue’s performance in “The Groomsman”… goes well beyond character acting in my opionion. This guy should be playing some leads

  • spack

    Vincent Schiavelli rocks!

  • davethe slave

    No Warren oates? With the exception of Harry Dean Stanton(who co starred numerous times with him) noone on this list is fit to lick Warrens boots.

  • natapillar

    i never knew some of these actors had died. and i didnt realise Jeffrey Jones was a sex offeneder!!!!

    on a happy note,i love Hank Azaria!

  • lilya2013

    THANK YOU for putting my dad so high on the list!!

  • PopeSkippyXVU

    Stephen Tobolowski has been in practically everything. Currently he’s playing the ex-glee club sponsor on Glee. He’s the perfect character actor. Nobody remembers his name but everybody knows his face.

    Another Texan whose turned into a reliable character actor would be Randy Quaid. He was excellent in Brokeback Mountain.

  • perrey

    What about all the great Character actors from Univeral Studios from the 1920’s through the 1950’s? Then of course, there’s Gloria Graham, Warren Oates, Geoffrey Lewis, L.Q. Jones, Vincent Spano, Yaphet Koto, Robert Wilke, this list could number in the thousands.

    • Just Sayin’

      Exactly. Just run through a list of Twilight Zone episodes (or Bewitched or Andy Griffith or Beverly Hillbillies) and you’ll find most of the great character actors of the 50s and 60s. Many of them appeared on several of those series. I’d say going back further than that is too far for current audiences to recognize, but many people would recognize the face of folks like Edward Andrews – even if it was from seeing his reruns.

  • ritz

    Giovanni ribisi ==> the friends series, avatar, etc… N°1

  • Chris

    Curtis Armstrong? You've gotta be joking. THAT'S your number one character actor of all time? Not David Strathairn or Luis Guzman? Sheesh…

  • Just Sayin’

    Several of these are too famous to be considered ‘character actors’, such as Diane Wiest, Hank Azaria, & James Cromwell. All have starred in major movies. They don’t even meet your own definition, which is ‘look familiar but can’t name them.’ Yes, most moviegoers could.

    A couple others, I’ve never even heard of, nor do I recognize their face. A character actor is ubiquitous – they crop up in dozens of tiny but memorable roles.

  • Kopmel

    Was Vincent Schiavelli in “Ghost”??

    • de

      Yes, and he was the spirit who so longed for a smoke. It was sad he died of lung cancer.

  • My God, No Robert Duvall !!!

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  • Natasha

    Why only two women posted? Come on, can we not do a little better than that in this day and age? It is just seriously sickening.

  • Natasha

    And while we’re at it, apparently only white people can act. Not ONE single person of color is represented, not one. No blacks, Asians, Hispanics. Strikes me as a little strange since minorities now make up approximately 30% of the population.


  • jimmcim

    An absolute travesty that M. Emmett Walsh is not on this list. Nay he is not at the top of this List. Check him out in Narrow Margin with the Great Gene Hackman or giving Decker a hard time in Blade Runner.

  • de

    All good choices, but Vincent Schiavelli has to be my favorite with Harry Dean Stanton as a close second.

  • peter8172

    Vincent Schiavelli. Also in : “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, “Amadeus”, “Fast Times At Ridgemont High”, “The People vs. Larry Flynt”, “Man On The Moon”, “Death To Smoochy, etc.

  • J T Walsh….

  • AdamJames

    No Gary Oldman!?
    Tony Hopkins?

  • Where are Clint Howard, Tracey Walter, Art LaFleur, Charles Martin Smith, Charles Napier, Bruce McGill….


    • Jim R

      Charles Durning and Ernest Borgnine are two glaring omissions.

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