50 Greatest Character Actors

William H. Macy

That Guy From: The Client (1994), Murder In The First (1995), Above Suspicion (1995), Fargo (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), Pleasantville (1998), Magnolia (1999), Jurassic Park 3 (2001), Seabiscuit (2003), The Cooler (2003), Bobby (2006), The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

Why They’re Great: William H Macy seems to have an affinity with life’s losers, telling their stories with a hangdog charm that makes you want to give him a big hug. Not that all his characters would deserve one, mind. Indeed, his character in Fargo follows some pretty reprehensible courses of action… and yet you can’t help rooting for him!

In His Own Words: [ On convincing the Coens to cast him in Fargo ] “I essentially told them I'd shoot their pets if they didn't give me this role and I wasn't leaving the room until they cast me.”

Paul Giamatti

That Guy From: Saving Private Ryan (1998), The Negotiator (1998), Planet Of The Apes (2001), American Splendor (2003), Sideways (2004), Cinderella Man (2005), Lady In The Water (2006), Shoot 'Em Up (2007), Fred Claus (2007), The Last Station (2009), The Ides Of March (2011)

Why They're Great: Dubbed “The World's Greatest Character Actor” by Time magazine back in 2005, Giamatti has the happy knack of dodging Hollywood pidgeonholes. He's played the loveable loser, the unloveable loser, the violent gangster... pretty much everything through to Father Christmas himself. After Sideways , the world was pretty much his oyster, and yet it's telling that he's kept a toe in more interesting waters ( The Last Station being a case in point) to balance out the blockbusters.

In Their Own Words: “I don't consider myself a very interesting person. I have the mentality of a supporting actor.”

Kathy Bates

That Girl From: Taking Off (1971), Signs Of Life (1989), Dick Tracy (1990), Misery (1990), Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistlestop Café (1991), Dolores Claiborne (1995), Titanic (1997), Primary Colors (1998), About Schmidt (2002), Revolutionary Road (2008)

Why They’re Great: Unlike others on this list, widespread recognition came to Bates in decent time, with her spine-chilling turn in Misery scooping her a Best Actress Oscar. Not a conventional Hollywood beauty, her success has always been born exclusively of her talent, which is why it’s very hard to pinpoint a dud Kathy Bates film. Oh alright then, Rat Race . But there aren’t many!

In Their Own Words:
“I was never an ingénue. I've always just been a character actor. When I was younger, it was a real problem, because I was never pretty enough.”

Sam Elliott

That Guy From: Road House (1989), Tombstone (1993), The Big Lebowski (1998), The Contender (2000), Hulk (2003), Thank You For Smoking (2005), The Golden Compass (2007), Up In The Air (2009)

Why They're Great: Besides sporting one hell of a moustache, Sam Elliott does the strong silent stranger routine better than anyone else. Naturally, his looks have made him a regular visitor to the Old West, but he was equally effective in more contemporary fare such as of Hulk and Up in The Air . We'll gloss over Marmaduke ... they can't all be winners!

In Their Own Words: “I'm picky, very picky. I wanted to be an actor since I was nine years old and I figured that was only one way to ever have any longevity and that's to be careful about what kind of work you do.”

Frank Langella

That Guy From: Dracula (1979), Masters Of The Universe (1987), Junior (1994), Lolita (1997), The Ninth Gate (1999), Good Night And Good Luck (2005), Superman Returns (2006), Frost / Nixon (2008), The Box (2009), Unknown (2011)

Why They’re Great: It’s always gratifying when a long-standing “that guy” actor is given a role that really lives up to their ability, and such was the case with Frank Langella and Richard Nixon in 2008’s Frost / Nixon . Having played the role to perfection in the stage play, Langella was given the opportunity to bring it to the big screen, garnering an Oscar nomination in the process.

In Their Own Words:
“Almost every man I've ever met says to me, ‘Boy, did my wife make love to me that night, when she saw Dracula ’."

Chris Cooper

That Guy From: This Boy’s Life (1993), A Time To Kill (1996), American Beauty (1999), The Patriot (2000), The Bourne Identity (2002), Adaptation (2002) Capote (2005), Jarhead (2005), The Town (2010), The Muppets (2011)

Why They’re Great: As the bristling, self-loathing Col. Frank Fitts, the supremely intense Chris Cooper quietly stole American Beauty away from a stellar ensemble cast. Since then, his career has gone from strength to strength, including an Oscar win for his performance in Adaptation . A pleasingly generous and unshowy performer, he was one of the most popular winners in years.

In Their Own Words: “There’s certainly people in the business who that’s all they do, is carry a film. I don’t know how they approach that.”

Pete Postlethwaite

That Guy From: Alien 3 (1992), In The Name Of The Father (1993), The Usual Suspects (1995), Romeo + Juliet (1996), Brassed Off (1996), Amistad (1997), The Constant Gardener (2005), Inception (2010), The Town (2010)

Why They're Great: The late, great Postlethwaite was an excellent leading man when afforded the opportunity, but was more commonly spotted making off with every scene that came his way as a supporting player. Even as a very ill man, he still burnt up the screen as the villainous florist in Ben Affleck's The Town . He remains sadly missed.

In Their Own Words: “I refuse to be typecast, and I'll have a go at anything so long as it's different, challenging, hard work and demands great versatility.”

John Malkovich

That Guy From: Empire Of The Sun (1987), Dangerous Liaisons (1988), In The Line Of Fire (1993), Con Air (1997), Being John Malkovich (1999), Changeling (2008), Burn After Reading (2008)

Why They're Great: Malkovich was just the right blend of oddball outsider and established star to be the subject of Spike Jonze's 1999 oddity, Being John Malkovich , and it's that offbeat charisma that has led to him cropping up in projects as diverse as Dangerous Liaisons and Con Air . Put simply, the man is impossible to pigeonhole, save for the fact that his characters are never boring to watch...

In His Own Words: “I've always felt that if you can't make money as an actor, you`re either incredibly stupid or tragically unlucky.”

James Cromwell

That Guy From: Babe (1995), Eraser (1996), LA Confidential (1997), The Green Mile (1999), I, Robot (2004), The Queen (2006), Spider-Man 3 (2007), W (2008), The Artist (2011)

Why They're Great: Two films perfectly illustrate the versatility of James Cromwell. On the one hand you have Babe , in which Cromwell's kindly Farmer Hoggett is just about as cuddly and twinkly-eyed an owner as any pig could hope for. Then you have LA Confidential , in which Cromwell's villainy as Captain Smith is truly staggering. Hero or villain, the man's a class act.

In Their Own Words: (In reference to his Oscar nomination for Babe ) “Andy Warhol said everybody gets their 15 minutes of fame. And if this is mine, I couldn't imagine a better 15 minutes."

Stephen Root

That Guy From: Ghost (1990), Robocop (1993), Office Space (1999), Bicentennial Man (1999), Oh Brother Where Art Thou? (2001), Ice Age (2002), Finding Nemo (2003), Dodgeball (2004), No Country For Old Men (2007), Red State (1999)

Why They’re Great: A cult hero thanks to his recurring role on King Of The Hill and his downtrodden performance in Mike Judge’s Office Space , Root is a regular collaborator with the Coens and can generally be depended upon to supply a welcome dose of weird to anything he crops up in.

In Their Own Words: “My whole career, I've tried to bounce back and forth between everything, and not get typed out. I've done a pretty good job of not getting typed.”