Cinema’s Greatest “That Guy!” Character Actors


Michael Clarke Duncan was a towering presence with a booming voice to match, and we were sad to hear of his recent passing. The sky-high actor was a fan favorite who could easily channel his menacing side, but always seemed right at home playing the gentle giant. As Michael Bay recently put it (Duncan worked with the explosion-obsessed filmmaker on Armageddon), “Everyone loved him, his infectious spirit and great belly laugh.” The Green Mile star was one of those “That guy!” character actors who you recognized the instant you saw him, but you didn’t always remember his name. Thinking about Duncan’s work got us talking about other stars we love to watch on the big screen who aren’t always instantly recognizable household names. Brace for a few “Aha!” moments, and check out some of the greatest “that guy” actors past the break. We’ve left plenty of room on the list so you can include your favorites, below.

That guy: Lance Henriksen

Where you know him from: Henriksen has nearly 200 acting credits on website IMDb, but chances are you know him as the android Bishop in James Cameron’s 1986 sci-fi sequel, Aliens. The Titanic director actually wanted Henriksen to play the menacing Terminator in his 1984 film, but the role ended up going to Arnold Schwarzenegger with Henriksen starring as a detective. He’s also lent his sonorous vocal talents to many projects.

Trademarks: The actor is known for his deep, gravelly voice and intense performances. Henriksen’s always played the best film baddies — like the memorable Emil Fouchon in John Woo’s Hard Target — but he’s equally riveting as a quiet hero.

That guy: Jeffrey Jones

Where you know him from: You hated him in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for giving Matthew Broderick’s smart-mouthed high schooler a hard time. Jones played principal Edward Rooney, whose wicked, bumbling demeanor made everyone laugh. The actor also starred as the Deetz family dad in Beetlejuice. Unfortunately the actor screwed his career by getting arrested in 2002, marking him as a registered sex offender for life.

Trademarks: The fair-haired Jones has one of those great villainous, but comedic mustaches.

That guy: Vincent Schiavelli

Where you know him from: It’d be easier to list the number of titles Schiavelli hasn’t appeared in. You’ll remember his role as a patient in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or as the biology teacher in Fast Times at Ridegemont High. He played another teacher in Better Off Dead, but was more frightening as the subway ghost in the 1990 movie Ghost starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. His penchant for villainous roles even landed him a spot as an iconic James Bond baddie in Tomorrow Never Dies.

Trademarks: Schiavelli had that great droopy-eyed face and a palpable gloominess. The eccentric actor was a massive six foot, six inches tall, which complemented his Lurch-like presence.

That guy: Stephen Tobolowsky

Where you know him from: Do the words Ned Ryerson ring a bell? Needlenose Ned? Ned the Head? Tobolowsky played Bill Murray’s super annoying high school classmate in Groundhog Day. The star also appeared in Christopher Nolan’s Memento (as Sammy Jankis) and in the whistleblower-inspired story, The Insider (as Eric Kluster).

Trademarks: Although he sounds like the most down-to-earth guy you’ll ever meet in his much-loved podcast The Tobolowsky Files, the actor is skilled at playing the shady, underhanded average — albeit nerdy — Joe and corporate monster type.

That guy: Chazz Palminteri

Where you know him from: The veteran character actor was the customs agent who conducted the interrogation with Kevin Spacey’s Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects. He created a one-man, off-Broadway show that was later turned into Robert De Niro’s directorial debut, A Bronx Tale. Palminteri played the movie’s mafia boss, Sonny. He also received an Academy Award nomination for his role in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway.

Trademarks: The deep-voiced, Bronx-born Palminteri is one of cinema’s greatest gritty, tough guys — a baddie with passion and determination about his “work.”

That guy: William Fichtner

Where you know him from: You’ve seen him in a million things. Maybe a million and one. Fichtner is often remembered as Colonel Willie Sharp in Michael Bay’s Armageddon. Batman fans love the scene in The Dark Knight starring Fichtner as the Gotham National Bank manager. He puts up a good fight against the Joker, but it doesn’t end well.

Trademarks: The versatile Fichtner shifts between brooding hero and intimidating antagonist. He’s intense and enigmatic. Maybe it’s that piercing stare.

That guy: James Hong

Where you know him from: You love him as the almighty, ancient sorcerer Lo Pan in John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (indeed!). He was also the dude who manufactured synthetic eyeballs in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. A bit of Hong trivia reveals that the actor almost won George Takei’s role of Sulu in the Star Trek TV series. Whoa.

Trademarks: Hong has endured numerous roles portraying hoary Asian stereotypes. He’s lent his instantly recognizable voice to video games and many TV/film parts.

That guy: Keith David

Where you know him from: The talented actor has over 200 titles to his credit, ranging from cult films like The Thing (Childs) and They Live (Armitage) to pop culture faves such as Reality Bites (Roger) and There’s Something About Mary (Mary′s stepfather, Charlie).

Trademarks: His hot-tempered style of comedy is always entertaining. We love his wide grin and the gap between his teeth. Like many of the actors on our list, David’s voice has been featured in games, TV, and film narration parts.

That guy: Pruitt Taylor Vince

Where you know him from: He’s made appearances in Wild at Heart (in a cowboy hat), Mississippi Burning (as a member of the Ku Klux Klan), and Natural Born Killers (a prison warden). Vince doesn’t discriminate against indie films, though. You can also see him as a cook with a crush on Liv Tyler in Heavy.

Trademarks: Vince has a condition called Nystagmus, which causes his eyes to involuntarily move back and forth. This has pegged him as shifty, anxious, disturbed characters, but he plays them like no other.

That guy: Pete Postlethwaite

Where you know him from: The English actor has appeared in some fantastic films, but you probably first saw him in The Usual Suspects where he played the mysterious lawyer, Mr. Kobayashi. He received an Academy Award nomination for his work on In the Name of the Father, and he was Cillian Murphy’s dying father in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Jurassic Park 2 fans recognize him as the leader of the team hunting T-Rex.

Trademarks: He’s probably made you cry a river of tears in any number of films. The craggy, rawboned character actor’s distinctive looks and emotional range aided him in playing a variety of parts. If a role called for a working class hero of English or Irish descent, Postlethwaite was your guy.

That guy: Elias Koteas

Where you know him from: Koteas took on the part of shaggy-haired vigilante Casey Jones in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies. We love him most for his Atom Egoyan period, sporting lead roles in The Adjuster, Exotica, and Ararat. The Canadian actor has worked with many other great directors, including: David Cronenberg (Crash), David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line), and Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island).

Trademarks: He’s the guy everyone’s always confusing with Christopher Meloni. Koteas’ gruff, creased face is one of the most memorable for cineastes.

That guy: Michael Wincott

Where you know him from: Remember the music producer that Juliette Lewis gets entangled with in Strange Days? He was also The Crow’s lead villain Top Dollar who had an unhealthy relationship with his strange sister. Wincott also played artist and writer Rene Ricard in Basquiat. He shone in Disney’s The Three Musketeers and had a devious role in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.

Trademarks: The oft-villainous Wincott often sports a long set of locks for period roles — or just to be creepy, really. His raspy voice is his greatest asset.