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United Federation of Character Actors


In case you’ve been distracted clockin’ those big bills, here are the archives for the United Federation of Character Actors, a bi-monthly feature at This Distracted Globe which profiles a character actor on the eve of his or her birthday. Click on their names to be sent the complete article.

Without further ado, here are the people who brought you weekends:

Harry Dean Stanton, Cool Hand Luke, 1967

Harry Dean Stanton, Cool Hand Luke (1967). “I was the head of a gang, I had a patch over one eye and a derby hat, and my name was Blind Dick Reilly … It dawned on me that the crew, the writers, the director, and the thousands and thousands of people who watch it all know that I’m the head of a gang. I can be indecisive, I can make mistakes, but I’m still the head of a gang. So that just freed me.”

Frances McDormand, Fargo, 1996

Frances McDormand, Fargo (1996). “By saying I’m a character actor and that I play supporting roles in films, I’m not being self-deprecating. That’s my agenda — because character actors work until they decide not to work.”

John Goodman, The Big Lebowski, 1998

John Goodman, The Big Lebowski (1998). “When I look at myself on film, I just see shit I should’ve done. I’m incapable of watching myself objectively. Unless it’s The Big Lebowski. The writing is so goddamned good, you can just enjoy it, go along for the ride like everybody else.”

Josh Brolin No Country For Old Men 2007

Josh Brolin, No Country For Old Men (2007). “If you’re stressing or thinking about other things, you won’t be fluid. You cannot be an emotional trader. If you are, you will lose. So I sit there and do the opposite of what I would do if I were acting, looking at it objectively and having total discipline.”

Jennifer Jason Leigh Fast Times at Ridgemont High 1982

Jennifer Jason Leigh, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). “I’ve overworked things or over-researched things. I think I’ve been too removed at times. If I had done some of the roles that I turned down stupidly, which ended up being awfully good movies – I just couldn’t see it at the time – I’d be in a position today where I had more opportunities. But, you know, the truth is there aren’t a lot of movies I want to go see.”

David Patrick Kelly The Warriors 1979

David Patrick Kelly, The Warriors (1979). “That was really a blast, y’ know. Nobody got paid much; we all got dressed in one big trailer. I’d walk home every day, from that big thing where Cyrus is speaking. We’d shoot that all night, then I’d walk from Riverside Park down to my little apartment in SoHo, at the time, in the ’70s. Yeah, it wasn’t fancy. But it came out good.”

Jason Bateman Hancock 2008

Jason Bateman, Hancock (2008). “It has less and less to do with your talent, I think. And I don’t mean to sound cynical. But a big part of being hired is what you add or detract from the project as far as pedigree goes. And that show was very well-received.”

Patricia Clarkson, The Station Agent (2003). “I was somewhat typecast as suburban ‘mom’ type roles early on. But I’ve always had this deep voice, so I think it was tough sometimes for directors to cast me as the ingénue. Because I’d walk in and look a certain way, then open my mouth and have this … voice! So I think I sort of grew into my voice, my face, my body as I got older.”

Daryl Hannah, Blade Runner (1982). “Whatever role the public becomes aware of you in, that’s you, period. I’ll always be seen as a non-verbal mermaid. My manager is constantly being told, ‘She’s good for those ethereal kinds of parts.’ As if that’s all I’m capable of.”

Famke Janssen, Turn the River (2007). “I’m in a business where 99 percent of casting is typecasting and people compartmentalize me into a specific area – maybe as a powerful alien, because they don’t know where to put me – but it’s up to me to fight against it. I don’t want to be typecast, that’s my big mission in life and it makes it a harder path in this business for me.”


Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises (2007). “I think it was Robert Louis Stevenson who said this, it was about meandering through a career, or the arts in general, without seeming to have a deliberate plan. He said, ‘To travel hopefully is better than to arrive, and the true success is in the labor.’ That’s a great line, ‘To travel hopefully.’ That’s what I’d like to do.”


Liev Schreiber, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2007). “I like it all. I’ve been incredibly lucky to diversify like that. When we used to sit around in graduate school and talk about the kind of career you want to have, I think everybody described my career.”


Clea DuVall, 13 Conversations About One Thing (2001). “Acting is something that is very individual and very personal and I don’t think it should be graded. You can’t give a test on it, because your tests happen in your work. Your call is 6:30 in the morning and you go and you work for fourteen hours. That’s your test.”


Gary Cole, Office Space (1999). “The more you do it, you realize that the philosophy is that you show up, you do it, you do the best you can and then you walk away. Everything else is up to somebody else in terms of how they digest it, what they think of it, whether it’s good or bad. You move on to the next experience.”


Carla Gugino, Sin City (2005). “For having a long career, hopefully – and this is sort of what I base my choices on – to do a variety of things. It confuses some people, and they’re not quite sure what to do with you. But other people, thankfully, appreciate the fact that you don’t just play yourself.”


Joan Allen, Manhunter (1986). “I think of myself more as a character actor than that ingénue leading lady, who started out something like Michelle Pfeiffer, or Jessica Lange. I’m a bit quirkier than that.”

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