There are movie stars, and there are character actors. The people whose faces pop up everywhere, even if they never get profiled in magazines or interviewed on talk shows. Who are these actors? And why are they all over the place? I don't know about you, but I've found the following nine thespians practically inescapable lately. Let's give credit where credit is due.
- Patrick Fischler. Anyone who's watched Mad Men will recognize Fischler as obnoxious early '60s comedian Jimmy Barrett. During the last two years he racked up an impressive twelve credits in shows such as Lost, Southland, Pushing Daisies, and Burn Notice. You may also remember him as the diner patron terrified of what's behind the dumpster in Mulholland Drive.
- Margo Martindale. Need an overweight, middle-aged redhead? Well, you could try Lorna Scott, who appeared in my first film Foreign Correspondents and films such as Ghost World (which also featured Patrick Fischler), but hipper casting directors seem to prefer Martindale, best known as the cancer-stricken, key lime pie-loving Camila in Dexter but also showing up in Orphan, Walk Hard, Million Dollar Baby, and the star of Alexander Payne's wonderful closing segment in Paris, je t'aime.
- Mary Kay Place. Not to be confused with Mary Beth Hurt or Mary Stuart Masterson, the fiftysomething Place plays a domineering polygamist mother in Big Love and also showed up in films such as It's Complicated, Being John Malkovich, and titles reaching as far back as The Big Chill and Private Benjamin.
- Martin Starr. A less-celebrated member of the Judd Apatow Players, gawky comedian Starr memorably played high school supernerd Bill Haverchuck in the short-lived series Freaks and Geeks and has since shown up, nearly always playing some sort of geek, in films including Knocked Up, Superbad, Adventureland, and The Incredible Hulk.
- J.K. Simmons. Compared to some on this list, Simmons is practically a movie star these days, nearly on the same level as William H. Macy. You've seen the bald, gruff-voiced actor as Ellen Page's father in Juno, as a CIA suit in Burn After Reading, and with hair as J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man movies. He also costars in the cable series The Closer. A busy man, that J.K. Simmons, with ten feature films and three TV series to his name in 2009 alone!
- Adam Scott. Boyish, slightly rodent-faced young actor still is best known in our house as the guy Michael C. Hall dated for two episodes of Six Feet Under, but Scott, who's been a supporting player in Knocked Up, Step Brothers, and The Great Buck Howard, among others, may finally be inching towards the big time with a starring role (along with Martin Starr!) in the cable series Party Down, about professional caterers.
- Kristen Wiig. It's almost not fair listing the well-known Saturday Night Live actress among these less familiar names, but Wiig has been all over the screen in 2009, including Whip It, Extract, Adventureland, and as a voice in the recent Ice Age sequel. According to the IMDb, Wiig, whose surname I still don't know how to pronounce, already has six 2010 feature film roles in the can.
- Clifton Collins, Jr. One of my favorite underrated actors at the moment, the half-Mexican Collins brilliantly played murderer Perry Smith in Capote, and in 2009 had small roles in Star Trek, Crank 2, Extract, Brothers, Sunshine Cleaning, and The Boondock Saints II. He's one of those chameleon-like character actors who can play almost any ethnicity, like the similarly-named Cliff Curtis, with whom he must fight for roles all the time.
- Melanie Lynskey. Let's end this list with a shout-out to the actress whose Hollywood career I pathetically remind people that I helped launch, after Peter Jackson of course. It's been a long time since she starred in my two features, but she really broke out in 2009, with strong supporting roles in Up in the Air, The Informant!, and Away We Go, directed by her former Heavenly Creatures costar Kate Winslet's husband Sam Mendes. A guest spot on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and continued appearances on Two and a Half Men made this an undeniably "up" year for the thirtysomething actress.