BEST OF 2013: 10 Actors Playing Minor Characters We Could’ve Used More Of
Do you ever find yourself watching a movie, maybe it’s a good movie, maybe it’s not, and then a character comes on screen and you think, “damn, I could watch a whole movie about just that guy!” Well, that happened to us a few times this year (at least 10 times, you may have noticed). So I thought, in lieu of a “best performance” or “best newcomer” list, that we’d take some time out to recognize those actors playing memorable minor characters of 2013 who we could stand to see more of. SPOILER ALERT: One of them is Sam Rockwell, which is true pretty much any time Sam Rockwell plays a minor character.
As always, you can read in slideshow format or as a single page.
Rob Lowe, Behind the Candelabra
In Behind the Candelabra, Rob Lowe plays the quackish plastic surgeon, Dr. Jack Startz, a real character who, according to Scott Thorsen (Liberace’s alleged lover who wrote the book on which Behind the Candelabra was based), did Thorsen and Liberace’s plastic surgery work, and put Thorsen on a “Hollywood Diet” of cocaine, meth, and quaaludes. Lowe plays him as a pouting, squinting, scotch-clinking huckster who poo poos Liberace’s worries about trivialities such as, you know, not being able to shut his eyes because his skin is too tight. Eyes? Who cares about eyes? You’re going to look beautiful, darling! I don’t know if Lowe’s portrayal is anything at all like the real Jack Startz, but it’s over-the-top in the best way, and he cracked me up with every weird squint and jerky eyebrow twitch. He was the best part of an otherwise kind of dull movie.
Michael Shannon in Mud
Mud is a movie currently available on OnDemand that’s worth checking out, about an outlaw played by Matthew McConaughey hiding out on an island on the Arkansas river, who befriends a pair of local boys who agree to bring him food in exchange for his help fixing up a boat (the main kid was at least as good as Hushpuppy in the bathtub, as far as dumb wiener kids go). More importantly for this list’s purposes, one of the boys lives with his mussel-diving, pussy-chasing uncle played by Michael Shannon. We’ve seen Shannon play angry weirdos of all stripes before, but if you enjoyed that, holy shit, you should see him do comedy.
Let me set the scene for you: the boys are sitting on the porch outside Shannon’s house as “Help Me Rhonda” plays in the background, which, Shannon’s nephew says, is Shannon’s “doin’ it song.” Seconds later, a girl bursts through the screen, hurriedly putting her clothes back on. “Don’t grow up to be like your uncle, boys,” she says. “You should treat women with respect!”
She runs off to her car, and a few seconds later, Michael Shannon comes through the screen door, wearing nothing but the bottom half of a blue and yellow wetsuit. I love the idea that in his hurry to throw on some clothes, the first thing he had available was his wetsuit. He chases the girl out to her car, a Pontiac Fiero (of course). She curses him out one last time, and she skids down his gravel driveway, as Shannon, unperturbed, deadpans “Look out for that dog.”
One of my favorite scenes of the year. There’s also another where, while absent-mindedly noodling on his guitar, Shannon’s character explains that that “Help Me Rhonda” is actually just a song about a guy tryin to get his tip wet.
MORE, PLEASE. Comedic Michael Shannon forever.
Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Do I even need to explain this one? Sure, between this and my choice of Rob Lowe in Behind the Candelabra, you could make a reasonably persuasive case that I take irrational delight in peacocking weirdos with fake tans and giant teeth (sorry, Jonah Hill, I don’t see Wolf of Wall Street until next week). But surely, Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman in The Hunger Games is the seminal example. There are so many things to love about him – the dyed eyebrows, the capped teeth, the 12-year-old-girl-playing-softball hairdo, and especially, the maniacal fake TV laugh.
Could you argue that a lot of the character is make-up and styling? Sure. I mean, here’s the most boring interview in the entire world, that suddenly becomes hilarious thanks to his ridiculous costume.
Make-up or not, I can’t picture anyone but The Tooch in this role. He is incredible.
The Squirrel from White House Down
White House Down wasn’t quite dumb enough for me to wholeheartedly enjoy it, but I could definitely have watched Channing Tatum argue with a squirrel for two more hours. Don’t act like you wouldn’t. It’s just a shame that White House Down didn’t do well enough at the box office for us to get that spinoff. Maybe it could work as the next Step Up sequel?
Sam Rockwell, The Way Way Back
The Way Way Back was mostly pretty heartwarming, though not without its problems, but indisputably the best thing about it was Sam Rockwell playing the perfect Sam Rockwell character, an unshaven, slightly disheveled charming smartass with a heart of gold. It might be a stretch to call him a “minor character,” but he was so damn good that I have to include him. A coming-of-age story about a kid who becomes Sam Rockwell’s best friend? Come on, now you’re just cheating.
Still, could’ve used more dancing.
The Salty Sea Dog from Blackfish
As we’ve been over, 2013 has been an incredible year for documentaries. One of the characters who stuck with me the most, was this guy from Blackfish, who looks like he has a peg leg and lives inside a giant barnacle. Just when I thought I’d wrapped my mind around him being a real person and not a character from central casting, he told an intense story that nearly brought him to tears about how helping capture killer whales was “the worst thing I’ve ever done.” This despite, he says, having participating in coups in South America. Whoa, rewind the tape there, gramps. A tattooed agent of espionage with a heart full of regret and a soft spot for whales? F*ck me, how is there not a movie about this guy yet? Give him a faithful golden retriever sidekick and I might melt into a puddle on the floor.
Herman Koto from Act of Killing
For the most part, Act of Killing is the story of Anwar Congo, a participant in the mass killings of the sixties who goes from unremorseful braggart to a guy beginning to realize the gravity of his crimes in the most visible, visceral way possible. For a piece of non-fiction to capture that kind of real-life character arc is a rare, almost once-in-a-lifetime thing, which is what makes the movie so good. But for all of Anwar Congo’s gravitas, the film wouldn’t be what it is without the comic relief, Herman Koto.
Koto is a friend of Congo, a fellow participant in the massacres who lacks Congo’s reflection. Instead, he spends much of the movie alternately in drag, planning elaborate musical numbers, and getting drunk. And yet, this guy has personally killed hundreds of people. Imagine a fat Goebbels in transvestite clown make-up, and you start to get the picture.
Here’s what Act of Killing co-director Josh Oppenheimer told me about Herman when I interviewed him:
He had been in the paramilitary group theater troupe that had disbanded by the time I met these guys, and like Shakespeare’s Globe, all the roles were played by men. And Herman played this kind of matronly storyteller, comic character. And I think he didn’t like doing that, actually. He was pushed into that role in the theater troupe, and Anwar thought it was hilarious. And so Anwar put him in that role again.
So, basically, a long-suffering, reluctant transvestite who’s like a sad clown underneath the whore make up and doesn’t feel like he gets any respect from the other mass murderers. I’m telling you, this guy has a better, more nuanced origin story than any super villain. That, and he sort of looks like a funhouse mirror version of Miss Piggy from that alternate future in Back to the Future 2 where Biff owned a casino.
The “F*ck this” Henchman from Iron Man 3
A lot of people hated Iron Man 3, and from a too-much-Paltrow and an incomprehensible set piece angle, I can understand. But it was the little Shane Black moments that made me love it. Like when a henchman sees Iron Man and just says “oh f*ck this” and gets the hell out of there instead of becoming so much rocket-hand mulch, like all of the past henchmen. What a perfect little moment. It takes a genre convention, namely, the convention that says the bad guy’s henchmen will fight to the death with absolute loyalty (present throughout the Dark Knight movies, for example), and flips it on its head, simply by asking the question, Hey, wouldn’t this other thing actually make way more sense?
It goes to show, you don’t always have to do an interpretive dance about your period in order to defy convention. Sometimes all it takes is basic logic.
Micheal Cera This is the End
Whenever people say they hate Michael Cera, their explanation is almost always some variation on “he always plays the same character!”
You could make that criticism of a million respected actors, but with Cera it’s damning, I guess because he’s a glib weirdo and not a charming leading man. This is the End basically called everyone’s bluff, having Michael Cera play “himself” (like everyone else in the movie – not a bad gimmick, but hard to maintain for a whole movie), but as an obnoxious cokehead dick in a windbreaker. He wasn’t in the movie long, but was the clear stand out. Him dying was the saddest moment of the film. And I would kill for that windbreaker. That windbreaker was this year’s Scorpion jacket from Drive. If I put it on, I imagine it would turn me into my own sex machine id, like Jim Carrey in The Mask.
David Pearce, The Crash Reel.
At least five documentaries kicked my ass this year, and The Crash Reel was one of them. (I use fight metaphors for my emotions to make them sound manlier). It tells the story of snowboarder Kevin Pearce and his recovery from a traumatic brain injury. It’s one of those stories I tend to avoid like the plague, because there’s not much more depressing than brain injuries, but I stuck this one out, and it ended up being one of the most touching, resonant stories I saw all year. Perhaps the biggest surprise was Kevin’s younger brother, David. He would frequently interject the kinds of succinct, perfectly insightful soundbites that reality show producers spend hours trying to lead subjects to, made all the more impressive by the fact that he has Down Syndrome. It sounds ignorant to say now, but quite honestly, I had no idea people with Down Syndrome were capable of that level of reflection. David Pearce talking about getting depressed about his disabilities stayed with me for weeks. And this was all just a side dish to the main story about Kevin Pearce, which certainly didn’t lack for intensity and emotional resonance.
It messed me up in the best way possible.
The Droid from Oblivion.
Not a great movie, but the visual and sound design were great, and perfectly illustrated in the Droid, a sleek, chirpy little flying pod that looks like if Apple designed murderous drones. I keep daydreaming about one of them rampaging through the Geico ad department.
Woody Harrelson, Out of the Furnace
Not a great movie, but it might’ve been if it had been more about Woody Harrelson as an insane redneck with “f*ck you” tattooed on his hands beating everyone up.
The Sex Gimp from This is the End
I mean obviously.
Pierce Brosnan, The World’s End
The World’s End was great, but like Michael Shannon, Pierce Brosnan is a guy I could stand to see do a lot more comedy. Lines just sound funnier coming out of a gravel-throated hardass.
Samuel L. Jackson, Robocop
I know this one hasn’t come out yet, but I have high hopes. Not for the movie, necessarily, just Sam Jackson’s character.
So, any I missed, guys? I’m sure you’ll tell me. Heather is working on the actress version of this, so look forward to that. It makes sense, because Heather is basically the self-referential FilmDrunk version of this list. We spotted her as a minor character in a short web video, demanded “more!”, and it worked out better than I even imagined. Life’s so rad.