9 Actors We All Recognize But Can't Name


"It's got what's his name — he always plays the bad guy, you know?" How many times when describing a movie you just saw have you realized that you have no recollection of an actor's name? My guess is quite often. Hollywood studios all promote the major stars because they sell tickets. Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, and George Clooney are just a few examples. But too often these stars are supported by a cast of fantastic actors that we recognize, but don't know by name. Well, here's a short list that should help you ace the Best Supporting Actor category in your 2014 Oscars pool.

1. Chris Cooper

He's worked consistently since the 1980s. Films like The Horse Whisperer, October Sky (in which he played a father who doesn't believe in his son), American Beauty, and Me, Myself & Irene are notable titles in Chris Cooper's film career. In 2003, he won an Oscar for his role in Adaptation. I love the guy. He's never simple, but always interesting, complicated, emotionally vulnerable, and even hurting.

2. Zeljko Ivanek

FX Network

Okay. You must recognize him. On TV, you might know him from Heroes, Damages (he was spectacular in this series), or True Blood. In the movies, Zeljko Ivanek has most recently appeared in Tower Heist, The Bourne Legacy, and Argo. A graduate of Yale, he usually plays someone with, let's just say, dubious intentions, leaning towards the extremely evil. And for the life of me, I can never remember his name, let alone pronounce it.

3. Stephen Tobolowsky

Now, I dare you not to recognize Stephen Tobolowsky. And I'm betting that you had no idea what his name was before now. His resume is so extensive that I would need two pages to list it all. Spaceballs, Mississippi Burning, Seinfeld, Thelma & Louise, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Groundhog Day (Ned Ryerson/Needlenose Ned/Ned the Head), Deadwood, Entourage, Glee; the list goes on and on. He's always hilarious, if a little goofy at times.

4. William Fichtner

William Fichtner, another oft-forgotten name, also boasts an impressive film career. He's appeared in The Perfect Storm, Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down, Crash, The Dark Knight, Prison Break, and, of course, as Johnny Drama's producer on EntourageThat last role is one of the only comedic roles I think Fichtner has ever played. This actor is usually intense and brooding — he plays characters with a fiery temper.

5. Chiwetel Ejiofor

So, I am loath to admit that a pattern is emerging on this list: each actor has a complicated foreign name. Are we really so weak of mind, or uninterested, that it takes a two syllable name for us to remember someone? After years in the shadows, Chiwetel Ejiofor is finally getting his time on the marquee in 12 Years a Slave. You might also recognize him from Salt, 2012, Children of Men, American Gangster, Kinky Boots, and Love Actually. Ejiofor is a phenomenal actor with depth at all times.

6. Cherry Jones

We watched Cherry Jones as the president for a full season on 24, but do you know her name? I never did until now. Signs, The Village, Oceans Twelve, Erin Brockovich, The Perfect Storm, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and the list goes on. Not to mention a thriving career on stage. She's a force to be reckoned with in every role she plays.

7. Melissa Leo

Well, there goes my complicated name hypothesis. We see Melissa Leo all the time. Oblivion, Olympus Has Fallen, Flight, The Fighter, and HBO's Treme. My personal favorite was her role in The Fighter, in which she plays a tough blue-collar woman.

8. John Carroll Lynch

Sara De Boer / Retna Ltd.

I'm a little embarrassed that my list is composed of predominantly aging white men. Maybe it's just because there are so many of them. But John Carroll Lynch is someone you must recognize from the tons of television he has done, as well as his roles in major films such as Gran Torino; Crazy, Stupid, Love; ZodiacShutter Island; Love Happens; and of course my favorite, Norm Gunderson in Fargo.

9. Mary Lynn Rajskub

I simply had to find more women for this list and Mary Lynn Rajskub fit the bill. You may know her best from 24, but she is predominantly known for her comedic roles. Originating in sketch comedy in Mr. Show, Rajskub moved on to many guest starring roles on television. She's also appeared in such films as Dude, Where's my Car?; Punch Drunk Love, Legally Blonde 2, Little Miss Sunshine, and Julie & Julia. She tends to play the quirky, brainy, eccentric type. And she does it well.