50 Greatest Character Actors

Frances McDormand

That Girl From: Blood Simple (1984), Raising Arizona (1987), Mississippi Burning (1988), Short Cuts (1993), Fargo (1996), Almost Famous (2000), The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), Burn After Reading (2008), Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2011)

Why They’re Great: Frances McDormand is one of the few actresses for whom the term “quirky” doesn’t translate to “irritating”. She’s played many an off-beam character over the years, but crucially, they’ve usually been grounded in a warm-hearted humanity. Marge Gunderson, Fargo ’s indefatigable but heavily pregnant police chief is a case in point: barmy, but loveably so. McDormand rightly bagged an Oscar for her trouble…

In Their Own Words: “I'm a character actress, plain and simple. Who can worry about a career? Have a life. Movie stars have careers - actors work, and then they don't work, and then they work again.”

Phillip Seymour Hoffman

That Guy From: Scent Of A Woman (1992), Boogie Nights (1997), Happiness (1998), Magnolia (1999), The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), Almost Famous (2000), Red Dragon (2002), Capote (2005), Before The Devil Knows Your Dead (2007), Synecdoche, New York (2008), The Ides Of March (2011)

Why They’re Great: Phillip Seymour Hoffman represents the point where leading man and character actor cross over. On the one hand, he’s headed up his fair share of movies, but on the other, even his leads are usually socially maladjusted oddballs. Now an Oscar winner, he’s still at his best when playing the kind of self-loathing crackpots through which he made his name.

In Their Own Words: “Not only couldn't I get a job as an actor, I couldn't hold down the temporary non- acting jobs I managed to get. I got fired as a waiter in restaurants and as a lifeguard at a spa.”

John Hawkes

That Guy From: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), American Gangster (2007), Winter's Bone (2010), Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011), The Surrogate (2012)

Why They're Great: Despite having recently sprung to prominence with his Oscar-nominated turn in Winter's Bone and an eerily charismatic performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene , Hawkes has been playing varied and interesting characters under the radar for years. If anything, his newfound fame has got the former Deadwood star worried about the dangers of typecasting. That's the problem when you're this good... you can't stay an unknown forever!

In Their Own Words: “It's important to try to maintain some kind of mystery about myself. I'm not interested in being a household name. One of my strengths is that people don't know who I am.”

Brian Cox

That Guy From: Manhunter (1986), Braveheart (1995), The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), Rushmore (1998), The Bourne Identity (2002), Adaptation (2002), X2 (2003), Troy (2004), Match Point (2005), Zodiac (2007), Coriolanus (2011), Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011)

Why They’re Great: A Shakesperean stage actor, Cox has remained impressively committed to the silver screen, appearing in plenty of projects he might have considered beneath him, turning in performances that seem to belong to better films. Perhaps best known for his double-crossing villains, it’s credit to Cox that these boo-hiss merchants never seem like identikit cut-outs.

In Their Own Words: “I'm an actor who does really interesting work in independent movies. I want to keep doing that because I don't want the burden of an opening weekend sitting on my shoulders.”

John Turturro

That Guy From: Do The Right Thing (1989), Miller's Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991), Quiz Show (1994), Grace Of My Heart (1996), Oh Brother Where Art Thou? (2000), Secret Window (2004), Transformers (2007)

Why They're Great:
Turturro's fidgety, ungainly manner made him the perfect foil for Ralph Fiennes' debonair fraud in Quiz Show , and it's that off-beam awkwardness that has been the hallmark of so many of his best-remembered characters. Its no wonder the Coens are such regular collaborators...

In Their Own Words:
“I didn't want to be an actor who played Italian thugs. Movies are predicated on how you look, but a few people gave me the opportunities to do other things, and I just took it and ran with it.”

Christopher Walken

That Guy From: Annie Hall (1977), The Deer Hunter (1978), A View To A Kill (1985), King Of New York (1990), Batman Returns (1992), True Romance (1993), Pulp Fiction (1994), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Catch Me If You Can (2002), Wedding Crashers (2005), Hairspray (2007)

Why They're Great: Whilst Walken has starred in his fair share of movies, he'll always be most closely associated with his scene-stealing supporting roles, be they his one-scene cameos for Tarantino or his deliriously OTT villains in blockbuster fare such as Batman Returns and A View To A Kill . He's mellowed a little with age, but in his day, he was probably the most terrifying screen presence around.

In Their Own Words
: “I've always been a character actor, although I'm not quite sure what that means. All my scripts are absolutely covered in notes, so any time I say anything - even 'pass the salt' - I have six subtexts.”

Brad Dourif

That Guy From: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975), Dune (1984), Mississippi Burning (1988), Child's Play (1988), Alien: Resurrection (1997), Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002), Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans (2009)

Why They're Great: Having shot to prominence with his heartbreaking turn as Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest , Dourif has mined the other end of the spectrum, playing all manner of ne'er-do-wells from the demonic Chucky to the conniving Grima Wormtongue. He was also a key member of the Deadwood cast, which contains more classic character actors than you could shake a stick at.

In Their Own Words: “I'm a whore. If they have a cheque and camera and a script and stuff for me to say, I am mostly there, unless I just can't take it.”

Christopher Lee

That Guy From: The Face Of Fu Manchu (1965), Count Dracula (1970), The Wicker Man (1973), The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), Lord Of The Rings (2001-2003), Star Wars Episode 2 (2002)

Why They're Great: From his booming voice, to his daunting physical presence, Lee has been a master of menace since he first shot to fame in several of Hammer Horror's best-loved titles. A workaholic throughout his long and storied career, it says something that he was still game for throwing himself into some pretty hefty fight scenes in two different fantasy sagas whilst approaching his eightieth birthday!

In Their Own Words: “One should try anything he can in his career, except folkdance and incest.”

Harry Dean Stanton

That Guy From: Kelly's Heroes (1970), Dillinger (1973), Alien (1979), Repo Man (1984), Paris, Texas (1984), Pretty In Pink (1986), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Wild at Heart (1990), The Green Mile (1999) and The Pledge (2001).

Why They're Great:
The eternal everyman, Stanton has a kind of quiet, geeky charm that he's taken great pleasure in subverting in some of his most famous roles. The Last Temptation Of Christ is a case in point, with Stanton revelling in the blind fervour of the newly converted Paul to deliver the film's breathtaking finale. As Roger Ebert once commented, “no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.”

In Their Own Words:
“I'm a late bloomer. It's just a matter of how you evolve; of what your pace is. Hopefully, the older you get the more you grow.”

Steve Buscemi

That Guy From: Reservoir Dogs (1992), Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead (1995), Con Air (1997), The Big Lebowski (1998), Armageddon (1998), Ghost World (2001), Youth In Revolt (2009)

Why They're Great: If you're looking for a loveable schlub, a contemptible crook, or any kind of geeky, downtrodden also-ran, Buscemi is your man. It would almost be easier to list the films he hasn't appeared in, such is the wiry star's ubiquity. However, having seen him content himself with quirky supporting roles for the better part of his career, it's nice to see him finally get top billing in period gangster saga Boardwalk Empire .

In Their Own Words: “I wasn't a really tough guy in high school, but I end up playing all of these psychopaths and criminals. I don't really care who they are, as long as they are complicated and going through something that I can understand and put across.”