character actors

hijacking the brief nicky katt sidebar in the “layer cake” discussion and opening it up to other people we don’t see very often or in very large roles but would like to see more of.

(katt, by the way, is very good in “boiler room” and in a brief appearance in “school of rock”. he’s one of those people who disappears into his characters and i’m often surprised to see his name in the credits.)

i would add mark rufalo to the list but he’s in a lot lately. he was also wasted in “collateral”. how do you lot feel about giovanni ribisi? he was also excellent in “boiler room”–then again whoever directed that film also drew solid performances out of ben affleck and vin diesel. ribisi was also good in “the gift” which features a shockingly good performance by keanu reeves (who i don’t wish to see very much more of). has he been in anything which doesn’t feature crap actors acting unfeasibly well?

42 thoughts on “character actors”

  1. I got Collateral wrong–that was Ruffalo, not Katt. Maybe they’re the same person.

    Ribisi can bug the shit out of me, but he’s also capable of muted and effective performances. Check out Heaven, by Tom Tykwer (the one based on the Kieslowski script).

    I’d note Catherine Keener–who is actually in a lot, but rarely gets to stretch her legs with a lead role. But see either Walking and Talking or Lovely and Amazing and she’ll blow you away.

    Liev Schreiber is in Walking, and he’s someone who always seems great, even if the surrounding is muck (with Affleck, say, in Sum of All Fears, which didn’t add up to much). Rather than leap up to leads, he heads back to Broadway, or (now) directing.

    I am also fond of David Krumholtz, who seems very funny but has yet to get a meaty role in anything worth seeing (outside of an almost-cameo in Harold and Kumar and some great work in Slums of Beverly Hills, especially a fearless rendition of Sinatra while wearing only underpants).

    And they’re already well-established, but Luis Guzman and John Leguizamo are both reliably fantastic but mis- or under-utilized.

  2. oliver platt. great in almost everything (“lake placid” anyone? a lot of fun, and hey you don’t get to hear betty white call someone a cocksucker every day. well maybe frisoli does.) both he and scott (another of my favorites) were excellent in “the impostors”. also from that cast: more hope davis would be good. which brings me to stanley tucci, someone i’d like to see a lot less of. there was a time when i liked him and then he was as ubiquitous as stupidity and the smarm got a bit much.

    that diedrich bader guy from the drew carey show was really good as a stoner in “office space”. has he been good in anything else?

  3. everybody around hollywood knows Betty has a mouth like a sewer…and, man, can she work it!

    as for character actors, you know who’s good–that Robert Ryan fellow. Also that newcomer Eve Arden.

  4. Maybe he has made the transition from character actor to something else, but I have always liked Stellan Skarsgard. He had a small part in the unsung “Savior” (Dennis Quaid’s best role, though that’s not saying much), a bigger one in the respectable “Ronin,” and was superb (as the lead) in the original “Insomnia.”

  5. Speaking of Dennis Quaid, I think Otis Young’s performance in “The Last Detail” was outstanding. I really don’t know what else he’s done, though.

    More of my favorite character actors, mostly from genre films: Dubb Taylor, L.Q. Jones, Michael J. Pollard, Ernest Borgnine, Rip Torn, Strother Martin, Eugene Pallette, Donald Meek, Thomas Mitchell, Joseph Cotten, Dean Stockwell, Sterling Hayden

    Some great character actresses: Catherine O’Hara, Joan Cusack, Thelma Ritter (esp. “Pickup on South Street”–terrific film, terrific performance), Madeline Kahn, Parker Posey…

  6. I haven’t seen the new Jarmusch (not playing here, neither is ‘2046’ or ‘Aristocrats’), but since he is in it, here is another candidate for fine character actors: Jeffrey Wright. Great in ‘Angels in America’ and ‘Ali’, and the only good thing about the ‘Shaft’ remake.

  7. I saw Wright onstage in Angels and I also watched him play the Fool opposite F. Murray Abraham’s Lear at the Public Theatre. He is an emmensely talented artist.

  8. Wright is the best thing in Ang Lee’s Ride with the Devil, too, ‘though there’s also a clammy performance by Jonathan Rhys Meyer, amid some pretty good scenes (and a few clunkers).

  9. this is probably the proper home on this blog for chris penn. i thought he was great in the funeral and pretty good in pretty much everything i saw him in. he was also great at an outdoor table tucking into a big breakfast of eggs and sausage at that english place on santa monica boulevard (off the promenade) this one morning many years ago. i wanted to tell him i enjoyed his work but i was afraid he might kill me.

  10. Yeah, what happened to Chris Penn? He was great in Pale Rider and Resevoir Dogs (and at the time I liked Best of the Best, though I think I’m over my kickboxing phase now).

  11. as of yesterday: death.

    i think the english place i saw him eat breakfast at was called brittania–anyone remember this place? am i making up the name?

  12. santa monica and the promenade (3rd street)? i remember it. i ate nasty fish and chips there once. i don’t like fish and chips.

    what did chris penn die of? he was too damn young to die.

  13. Perhaps he died of fish and chips; that stuff will kill you (as will almost every quintessentially English food) and Penn became rounder and rounder as the years went on.

    So now, do I watch ‘Aristocrats’ this evening as I intended, or pay tribute to Chris Penn by watching ‘Reservoir Dogs’? Decisions, decisions.

  14. Arnab – The King’s Head I believe?

    Proper English breakfasts. Still, these days I get to NYC more often than I get to Santa Monica. Fuck, I hate the west side.

    (This is also the proper home for bitching about all things west of Fairfax?)

  15. the britannia I believe was a different pub further down the street from the king’s head where they had the breakfast room.

    I met chris penn at the cigar shop on Pico (where the bus left off at the promenade, and that tall creepy guy was always holding out his hand and rattling the change in it). I did in fact tell Penn how much I liked him in The Funeral. He politely said thank you but his main activity was drunkenly chatting up this stunning Asian woman–he was trying to browbeat her into going to Paris with him. It was a bizarre scene, more so because it was about 2 in the afternoon. I suspect that the “body is a temple” thing was not Chris Penn’s doctrine.

  16. penn was also one of the few things i liked about short cuts.

    (the place i saw him eating outside was right by the blue bus stop outside the tower records that used to be on santa monica by the promenade–he may not have been eating at the britannia but that’s the pub that’s there, right?)

  17. yes I believe that’s the Britannia–and you mean the great old diner that used to be there?? I’m having a fit because I can’t remember it’s name–I ate many a cheese omelette for very little money there. a couple doors down from the pub and next to the mexican place on the corner. how do you all like this inside santa monica/LA chat. Next I’ll reminisce about Ships (toasters at your table!) and Norms (actually not much postiive to say about it—it made Denny’s seem like Le Cirque). and Juniors where I saw Frank Gorshin (do you know how much inner strength it took to stop the impulse to run up to him and say “Riddle me This!”)….and…..

  18. i love this conversation about santa monica/LA. just so it’s not completely unrelated to movies, i’ll dedicate it to chris penn. does anyone remember pink’s? in the la brea area? shit, i just can focus on the location better than this. best hot dogs in town. is it still there?

  19. this discussion is totally related to movies–both because chris penn ate at one of the places mentioned (or close to it) and because actors eat (and many of them live in l.a). on the other hand, it is well known that actors do not read and so discussion of books is verboten.

  20. as of June 2004–the last time I was in LA–Pink’s was still there. Pann’s I never got to for some reason. but many a late night drunken revel ended at Canter’s–I don’t know how we survived the shocking brightness of the lights or the whiteness of the shoes worn by most of the waitresses. And, The Kibitz Room–my favorite bar in LA, it could be both seedy and strangely glamorous at the same time. But Norm’s I always found to be an abomination somehow, as were the donut shops in LA, none of which could touch Dunkin’ Donuts. another star sighting to keep this slightly relevant here–Pamela Anderson, Tommy Lee and their entourage at Fantasy Island, the weirdly innocent strip bar on Pico. Dom deLouise at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles (I made this one up, but wouldn’t it be pretty if true?)

  21. michael, didn’t you see bob newhart outside junior’s once?

    like tom waits, “i’ve had strange looking patty melts at norm’s”. their parking lot and their toilets after dark were like scenes out of hieronymous bosch. but i liked norm’s for some reason.

    canter’s: you have to love a place where when you drew the aged waitress’ attention to the mega roach on your booth, she flicked it to the ground, stamped on it and kept taking your order. the kibbitz room is where we saw that zodiac singer guy (“leeb leeba leebra, leeb leeba leebra, leeb leeba leeeebraaaaa”) and also where i had my run-in with the lounge singer act who turned off the jukebox to start their set before my selections had played–when they asked for requests i kept asking for “sympathy for the devil” and after a point the woman got upset. i think we left soon after (i don’t recall at this point who else was in the “we” but i think michael might have been).

    pete, nikki and i once had lethal dogs at pink’s–mine is still working its way out of my system i think.

    other “star” sightings: the younger dillon brother at the bounty (my favorite bar in l.a); fred ward at a harry dean stanton show at the mint; a miss u.s.a once lived below john and my apartment on midvale (the one who did the split in that chips commercial; she and her comely room-mate had muscular boyfriends who kept coming over to wash their car); lana turner throwing a martini in my face at the formosa.

  22. Okay, beat this:

    Jay Leno pretending he didn’t see me see him outside Matteo’s. Jim Carrey with his daughter and her friend at the Daily Grill in West Hollywood. A mean-looking John Malkovich outside the Beverly Center. Tim Roth in a used furniture store on La Brea. A very nervous looking Giovanni Ribisi in the Virgin Megastore. Christopher Guest in the Borders on Westwood. Kevin McDonald in El Coyote. Helena Bonham Carter in an elevator in Century City Mall. Jennifer Aniston on Runyon Canyon. A very smelly Benicio Del Toro in Rhino Records. Henry Rollins buying mayonnaise at the Vons on Pico and Fairfax. A surprisingly short Steve Winwood in Aardvark’s (my wife-then-girlfriend approached him and he went to hide in the changing room). Philip Seymour Hoffman with a shopping cart full of booze in the Thrifty (now the Rite-Aid) on Fairfax and Sunset. David Alan Grier in the Record Store on La Cienega. Ray Liotta pulling a Joe Pesci with his kid in the parking lot of the Ralph’s in Pacific Palisades. Steven Spielberg pulling out of his driveway in Pacific Palisades. Randy Newman going for a walk in his bathrobe in Pacific Palisades. Sir Paul McCartney at the Wine Store in West L.A.

  23. Gio – Pink’s is still there. I drove past there the other day because it was pouring down rain and thought I wouldnt have to wait in line.

    Wrong. People were geting soaked.

    They’ve added many new varities: The Gandalf Dog, The Huell Howser Dog, There might even by a Killian’s Red Eye Red Hot, not sure.

    But a young upstart on Hollywood Blvd called Skooby’s serves a much more limited variety, but has quite good dogs, very good fries (with a garlic sauce) and they play whole Clash albums from beginning to end there – a lot. and no lines.

  24. waitaminute. John – are those really all real? Randy Newman in his bathrobe?!

    I saw Dee Snider 2 days ago. I saw Kevin Nealon on the boat to Catalina on Thanksgiving. He can’t shuffle cards and got a little sea-sick. I saw John Bruns at Aron’s. (Now closed. So is Rhino Records) Danny Bonaduce at a pet store across from Jerry’s Videos. Ben Stiller at a furniture store on La Brea; trying to get his parking validated (My sister said that Zero Effect sucked in front of him.)

    I saw Ed begley Jr. at a Valley Trader Joe’s. He was buying booze and some snacks.

    Glenn Danzig – 10 times. John C Reilly – 20 times. Michael Penn at Coffee Bean across the street from Yucca Hut. …and that almost brings us back full circle.

  25. i forgot: eric clapton in line for the movies at the century city mall. they zoomed up the escalator when it became clear i’d recognized him. plus somebody from party of five at the swingers in hollywood. i’m sure there were more–it is just that i am such a celebrity in my own mind that no one else registers.

    this one time there was a tap at the window, and you’ll never guess who it was: bloody greta garbo, hangin’ onto the windowsill in a see-through nightie. i had to smash her down with a broomstick.

    edited to add: mark, your sister is wrong–zero effect does not suck.

  26. mark, i didn’t know you lived in LA. as frisoli will concur, leaving LA was our biggest mistake, like, ever. we now live of memories. but i did see john malkovitch looking old, fat, and bedraggled at insomnia on beverly blvd one night. i didn’t drink when i lived in LA (miami took care of that, fast), so i’m afraid i missed out on all the exciting stuff that happens in places where alcohol is sold. but i smoked, and it was certainly a great pleasure to be able to smoke inside.

    john is full of shit. arnab too, though i totally believe the cockroach scene at canter’s. some place, man. greasiest chicken soup on earth.

  27. i think gio meant to say that going to LA was my biggest mistake. but LA then left me–I didn’t leave it! in any case, I was present for the altercation with the lounge act at Canter’s—a bad lounge act that took longer to set up than Pink Floyd. I saw Bob Newhart in Borders in Westwood–and asked for an autograph. I told him I could still smell First Family (I keed). back in those days, when I was on the demon rum, I heckled Luna at The Troubador (boring!) and also teased indulgent child-prodigy Jon Brion at Largo’s (I drunkenly demanded that he play “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”—just please dear god stop the musical theater art rock piano noodlings). commiserated with Malcolm McDowell on the death of Lindsay Anderson while waiting for a coffee at Starbuck’s on Main in Santa Monica (and, jesus, don’t I sound like an LA jerk). told him that I could smell his sitcom with Rhea Perlman from there (I keed). one night I was eating a patty melt at The Grinder on Figueroa while a mere quarter mile away The Chairman of the Board was doing one of his last performances at the Shrine for his 80th birthday–small world, eh? imagine a new utopia where I would eat a greasy sandwich on stage and Frank Sinatra would sing “Summer Wind” in a vinyl booth from behind a menu featuring the Turkey Club….

  28. Mark and Gio, I do not lie.

    I should add that Philip Seymour Hoffman was not alone. He had a friend with him–someone I did not recognize.

    Hey, between me and Arnab, we’ve got half of Blind Faith!

  29. Michael, I was with you at the Toubadour that night. You know, you’re lucky Dean Wareham’s a wuss. If it had been any other band, you would’ve had the shit beaten out of you.

    Sweet, sweet Kibitz Room memories. How about this one: that sad and lonely transvestite that no one talked to. A really lousy transvestite, too (he had a wrinkled blue muumuu and a cheap wig and looked liked Joey Ramone’s twin sister). I believe we came up with a backstory for this pathetic creature, but I forget what it was.

    I also recall one night there was some sort of psychodrama unfolding between a guy and his girlfriend. She flirted with all of us and insisted on buying us drinks–right under his nose. The odd thing is that he just sat at the bar and seemed perfectly fine with it all. I was convinced we were being set up for something ugly, twisted, and violent.

  30. I only pick on the wuss bands–Luna, Dave Matthews (not that I have ever seen him..but I’d heckle him if I did) and the like. I think the blasters and the mekons enjoy a drunken vibe–a few of my best nights out in LA. in bethlehem I have the opportunity to see…well, to see…..that drunken guy on East Broad who plays his armpits. but he’s getting derivative.

  31. because if one regrets writing something stupid, as i did (it was almost 4 AM in miami), one cannot cancel the full comment, only its content… right?

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