What qualifies an actor as underrated? I hope this explains it—Paul Giamatti. There was a time, at around Almost Famous, when he was underrated, but now he is considered one of the best character actors ever, right? So that’s not underrated! And he went from being a supporting actor to a leading actor in 2004 with American Splendor. So he ditched both qualifications of being an under appreciated supporting actor.1
Kelly Macdonald as Mary Maceachran, stuck in the rain outside of Lady Constance Trentham’s car in Gosford Park, © 2001 Universal Studios.
Sometimes an actor or actress comes along who the world knows will be great. In The Princess Bride they “introduc[ed]” Robin Wright, and they were right to have done so. The same came be said for Kelly Macdonald. She gets the “introducing” credit in Trainspotting. The way she played what in American slang is known as “jailbait” was riveting. You could not blame Ewan McGregor’s Renton for being overpowered by her young alpha female Diane. She immediately showed acting range by then portraying–four years later–Mary, the best maid Dame Maggie Smith ever had—no offense, Downton denizens. Macdonald’s great Scottish accent continued to come in handy, particularly when voicing Princess Merida in Brave. But she can do a fine American accent too, just watch her play Josh Brolin’s wife in the Academy Award winning No Country for Old Men. Her amazing credits continue from Anna Karenina, Harry Potter2, through Tristram Shandy, Finding Neverland, Elizabeth and the BBC’s State of Play. But this is not intended as an essay solely about how wonderful Macdonald is.
Captain Dudley’s men in L.A. Confidential (Michael McCleery & Arana), © 1997 Warner Bros.
Macdonald had a wonderfully expressive, yet subtle face. Our next actor, Tomas Arana, has mostly been called upon to express stoicism throughout his roles. Under that stoicism burns something. It can be indignation, fear, or hatred. He has probably been cast so many times, that when you spot him, you know his character is a man who will do whatever it takes to get the job done. He elicits fear that his slender 6′ frame should not generate. Yet he has stood up to a Roman Emperor (Quintus, Chief Praetorian – Gladiator), sabotaged a nuclear submarine in a suicide mission (cook’s assistant/KGB agent Loginov – The Hunt for Red October), tried to reason with the mad, violent Ronan the Accuser (Kree Ambassador – Guardians of the Galaxy), fought the Nazis (Ben Zion Gulkowitz – Defiance), tried to have Jason Bourne captured (Deputy Director Marshall – Bourne Supremacy), fought against good acting (the JVCD Derailed, not the Jennifer Aniston one), enforced corrupt LA police plans (Det. Bruening – LA Confidential), tried to kill Wyatt Earp (Frank Stillwell – Tombstone), valiantly tried to save a later season episode of Miami Vice as a hitman, and firstly rose from the dead as Lazarus in The Last Temptation of Christ.
Seaman Jones (Courtney B. Vance) and his captain, Bart Mancuso (Scott Glenn) on board the US Dallas, The Hunt For Red October, © 1990 Paramount.
Keeping in the realm of cool supporting performances in The Hunt for Red October, Scott Glenn’s Captain Bart Mancuso has to do everything, fortunately, he is Scott Glenn. He plays the serious submarine captain, he plays the annoyed you made us stop following the target you want us to find to come pick you up type, he gets in a few deadpan jokes, and he eventually learns to trust his lifelong foes. His most recent role was appearing as “Stick” on “Daredevil.” I recognized him by his hands and his voice…and he was speaking a Chinese language at the time! That said, his worst performance/roll was in the underseen and underappreciated Sucker Punch. He shows up to spout fortune cookie wisdom in the fantasy sequences, and again as the bus driver who takes Baby Doll to freedom. If he could not make those lines sound good, then no one could have, not even Irrfan Khan, not even Benedict Cumberbatch. For a good movie in which he is given a good role, check out Training Day. As Roger, he has an easy rapport with Denzel Washington, and manages to have dignity as he tries to weasel his way out of a death he is mostly incredulous of.
Crowe & Zurer as Superman’s birth parents in Warner Bros. Man of Steel, © 2013.
Glenn only has one appearance so far on “Daredevil”, whereas our next actress, Ayelet Zurer, has nine. Does that mean she is nine times the actor that Scott Glenn is? I do not think so, but she has certainly kept a lower profile than Glenn has—in my view at least. I was surprised to recognize her while rewatching Man of Steel as Jor-El’s (Russell Crowe’s) wife Lara Lor-Van. She has a nobility in that role, a nobility that also appears in Vanessa on “Daredevil”. As an Israeli she did an excellent job of seeming like an Israeli in Munich, as Eric Bana’s wife. Her realism lent credibility to his. Munich is a great movie, while Angels and Demons is not, however, she did every bit as good of a job as Audrey Tautou did in the female lead next to Robert Landgon–Tom Hanks–in this European mystery adventure role.
Lindsay Duncan as Servilia on Rome.
Angels and Demons took place in Vatican City, inside Rome. Another work set in Rome was HBO’s appropriately named show “Rome”. On “Rome” Lindsay Duncan’s Servilia manages to make you, at times, pity her, loathe her, be wary of her3, and fearful for her. She has several career highlights on TV, “Rome” being just one of them. She was on an episode of “Sherlock” where she solicits Sherlock’s aid in the return of compromising documents. She gets to be fun, and light, and potentially a murderer on “Poirot” with the “Murder on the Blue Train”. Her husband is 20 years her junior, but they seem evenly matched because of her vitality. In a much more dour role, she plays Lady Elizabeth Longford on the excellent made for TV movie Longford. If you long to see her in something on the big screen she certainly provides gold in Birdman as The Critic. She pours all of her bitterness and bile into one character—an imperfectly conceived straw man who gets Michael Keaton’s and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s fury unleashed upon her. If her performance had been only fractionally less excellent then the most important scene falls flat. González Iñárritu receives at least one fewer Oscar. Or maybe he receives none at all. All of that resting on the shoulders of the eighth billed actor!
Inara Serra (Baccarin) in Serenity, © 2005 Universal.
As infrequently as I have thought of the above two actresses, I have frequently thought of Morena Baccarin. She was enchanting as Inara on “Firefly”, and wonderful again reprising that role in the film adaptation, Serenity. I felt bad not watching shows like “V” when she played a short-haired alien leader. In the trifecta of Spy, Deadpool, and “Homeland”, she plays the wife of a traitorous soldier, the girlfriend of an assassin, and a traitorous CIA Agent. Someone get this woman a role playing a nice woman who spends time with nice people!
Bill Murray & Stephen Tobolowsky as Ned Ryerson, in Groundhog Day, © 1993 Sony Pics.
Stephen Tobolowsky has had a 40 year career without ever getting a leading role. He has 243 acting credits on IMDb! To pick and choose from that long of a career is challenging, so instead I will list his performances that instantly come to mind: Groundhog Day, “Deadwood”, and Sneakers. He uses his eyeglasses in a way that makes it seem impossible for anyone else to have tackled these parts. Every time he touches them out of frustration, fear, arousal, etc…he conveys so much about who his character is, even when given only a scene or two in a movie.
Olga (Maria Bonnevie) tends to Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (Antonio Banderas), in The 13th Warrior, © 1999 Touchstone.
Now I am going off the board with an actress whom I have never recognized, but who has impressed me in the three things I have seen her in. This past year I went to Seattle’s International Film Festival (SIFF) and the first movie I saw was A Second Chance. Therein Maria Bonnevie stole the show as a mother whose baby dies one night, and whose detective husband replaces said baby. There is something off about her and I could not take my eyes off her in any scene. Also, back in her twenties she had two good performances in 13th Warrior, and Insomnia.4
The Nihilists in The Big Lebowski (Torsten Voges, Stormare & Flea). © Universal Studios, 1998.
As I mention below, Bonnevie’s films have been unfairly criticized. On the other hand, Peter Stormare’s films have been criticized on an amazingly accurate level. Think about his crappy films: Bad Boys II, Armageddon, and Mercury Rising. All correctly mocked. Now think about his okay films: Minority Report, The Last Stand, The Brothers Grimm, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. They elicit mixed feelings, yet each has at least one undeniably positive attribute. And lastly think about his great films: The Big Lebowski and Fargo. Those two are justifiably ranked in the pantheon of great films. I have mentioned before how I doubted that I had ever heard Stormare’s actual accent since every five people who read this probably conjure him using a different accent. Today I hear his Russian accent from on the Mir5 space station in Armageddon.
Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite) threatened by McManus (Stephen Baldwin) & Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) in The Usual Suspects, 1995.
Another supporting actor with a variety of accents who was in The Lost World is Pete Postlethwaite. He is our last actor in this installment of Under Appreciated Supporting Actors. His passing shortly after the release of The Town made our loss the more poignant for having seen that he still had his acting chops. It is impressive how many films of his I had forgotten him from: Inception, The Constant Gardener, Amistad, Romeo + Juliet, and Dragonheart. As the only Englishman on this list he has done his nation justice by upholding the tradition of the versatile English character actor. Our collective corpus of communal culture would be less colorful if it lacked the corps of classically trained English actors, like Pete Postlethwaite.6
I hope you have enjoyed my most recent list and give one/some/all of these actors a chance. And try keep an eye on the supporting actors who may lack Daniel Craig’s stare and stature, but are crucial to their Bonds nonetheless.
1 According to me.↩
2 She plays the Grey Lady. Seriously, I had to look this up.↩
3 I tried to find an appropriate verb for parallel sentence structure, but failed. If you have one, let me know, so I can edit this post to make glorious benefit (to paraphrase Borat).↩
4 Since she is Swedish she was in the 1997 Swedish original version of Insomnia. It appears that A Second Chance and 13th Warrior are victims of unfairly harsh criticism. Regardless, she is great.↩
5 Mir, or Мир in cyrillic, means “world” and “peace”, which is a wonderful dual meaning, much better than Aloha/Shalom.↩
6 I’m sorry, but once it started I couldn’t stop myself.↩