Better than us actors

Better than us actors DEFAULT

Full Cast & Crew

Daniel Amerman english dubbing: Additional Voices / english dubbing: Andrey Kryzhniy (16 episodes, ) Tony Azzolino english dubbing: Additional Voices / english dubbing: Nikita Elenev (16 episodes, ) Thomas Bromhead english dubbing: Fyodor Lavrov (16 episodes, ) Bob Buchholz english dubbing: Additional Voices / english dubbing: Alexei Zakharov (16 episodes, ) Reba Buhr english dubbing: Paulina Andreeva (16 episodes, ) Griffin Burns english dubbing: Alexander Grashin (16 episodes, ) Austin Nash Chase english dubbing: Dimich Aka Dim Dim (16 episodes, ) Lucien Dodge english dubbing: Additional Voices / english dubbing: Maxim Stoyanov (16 episodes, ) Dorothy Elias-Fahn english dubbing: Additional Voices (16 episodes, ) Richard Epcar english dubbing: Sergey Kolesnikov (16 episodes, ) Jonathan Fahn english dubbing: Kirill Polukhin (16 episodes, ) Barbara Goodson english dubbing: Additional Voices / english dubbing: Natalya Potapova (16 episodes, ) Jake Green english dubbing: Georgy Nikolaevich Safronov (16 episodes, ) Erika Harlacher english dubbing: Additional Voices (16 episodes, ) Dimitriy Kasyan supervising sound editor (16 episodes, ) Erik Scott Kimerer english dubbing: Additional Voices / english dubbing: Ivan Fominov (16 episodes, ) R. Martin Klein english dubbing: Victor Solovyev (16 episodes, ) Lauren Landa english dubbing: Viktoriya Korlyakova / english dubbing: Additional Voices (16 episodes, ) Kyle McCarley english dubbing: Pavel Vorozthsov / english dubbing: Additional Voices (16 episodes, ) Joe Ochman english dubbing: Sergey Pioro / english dubbing: Dmitriy Kulichkov / english dubbing: Additional Voices (16 episodes, ) Michael Orenstein english dubbing: Additional Voices / english dubbing: Andrey Kharybin (16 episodes, ) Zachary T. Rice english dubbing: Aleksandr Kuznetsov (16 episodes, ) Keith Silverstein english dubbing: Aleksandr Ustyugov (16 episodes, ) Spike Spencer english dubbing: Oleg Morozov / english dubbing: Additional Voices (16 episodes, ) Tristan Wright english dubbing: Additional Voices / english dubbing: Vladimir Lyanchikov (16 episodes, ) Anne Yatco english dubbing: Irina Tarannik (16 episodes, ) Laura Post english dubbing: Aleksandra Ursulyak / english dubbing: Additional Voices (15 episodes, ) Griffin Puatu english dubbing: Ivan Kosichkin / english dubbing: Additional Voices (15 episodes, ) Cindy Robinson english dubbing: Olga Lomonosova (15 episodes, ) Michael Sorich english dubbing: Sergey Sosnovskiy (15 episodes, ) Dmitry Loychenko dialogue editor (8 episodes, ) Christopher Corey Smith english dubbing: Additional Voices (2 episodes, ) Vladimir Poterukha sound effects editor (1 episode, ) Kaiji Tang english dubbing: Additional Voices (1 episode, ) Olga M. Reed dialogue editor (uncredited) (8 episodes, )

Meet Better Than Us star Paulina Andreeva? Age, Instagram and previous roles!

Paulina Andreeva stars in the new Netflix series Better Than Us but just who is she?

To keep ahead of the competition, Netflix is expanding its horizons and is offering some truly intriguing foreign content on its streaming service lately. 

From the likes of Dollar to Cable Girls, there’s a growing list of foreign shows and films that are making their way onto the global streaming service in order to diversify and expand its audience.

The latest show, to originate outside the typically US content base is the Russian-made show Better Than Us, which basically acts as a prequel to the original Blade Runner, telling its story before the androids turned on their human creators.

One star in the show has been gaining some attention for their role in the series, Paulina Andreeva, but what else has the Russian actress appeared in?

What is Better Than Us about?

As mentioned, Better Than Us almost acts as a prequel to the classic 1983 film Blade Runner as it focuses on a model of android that, despite beliefs that they’re a soulless husk, has actually developed feelings, empathy and independent thought.

Luke Bryan: My Dirt Road Diary | Official Trailer | IMDb TV

The series explores just what it means to be human as it puts these android characters through different situations that test their humanity.

For fans of the original Blade Runner and its sequel 2049, this sounds like a fascinating watch.

Better Than Us Netflix

Who is Paulina Andreeva and who does she play?

Paulina Andreeva is a 30-year-old Russian actress who stars in Better Than Us as the aforementioned androids.

As all of the androids on show are the same model, Andreeva gets a lot of work in the show, performing as multiple robots as they discover more about themselves and the world they inhabit.

What else has Paulina Andreeva been in?

Being a Russian actress, there has been little to no opportunity for Paulina Andreeva to make a name for herself in Western film and TV culture but she will be no doubt hoping that the added eyes that Netflix brings to the Better Than Us series will potentially lead to more prominent roles in future.

She began her acting career in the 2009 series Shalnoy Angel. Nope, we haven’t heard of it either. 

Her career highlights to date also include roles in the shows Ottepel, Spyashchie and The Method according to IMDb, all of which are Russian-made.

But without doubt, thanks to the exposure given to it by Netflix, Paulina Andreeva’s biggest role to date has come in Better Than Us.

Could we be seeing the Russian actress in more shows on Netflix in future? 

Meanwhile, Better Than Us, which dropped on Netflix on August 16th, is available to stream now.

In other news, Will Endeavour return for season 9? Fate of ITV series explored

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The Decline of the American Actor


Why the under-40 generation of leading men in the U.S. is struggling—and what to do about it

By Terrence Rafferty

Is it time for American actors to take a hard look in the mirror? Earlier this year Michael Douglas mused darkly to a magazine interviewer, “I think we have a little crisis going on amongst our young actors at this point,” and Spike Lee, commenting on the “invasion” of black British actors, had some pithy observations on the subject, too: “You want talented people,” he said, and British actors’ “training is very proper, whereas some of these other brothers and sisters, you know, they come in here, and they don’t got that training.” Douglas and Lee, just like the rest of us who go to the movies, are a tad puzzled about why so many good American roles have been going to English, Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Australian, and Canadian actors. The phenomenon may have reached its unignorable peak in last year’s docudrama Selma: the parts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Governor George Wallace, and President Lyndon B. Johnson were all played by Brits.

Film audiences, of course, have long since accustomed themselves to seeing nonnative speakers of American—Daniel Day-Lewis, Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Naomi Watts, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Liam Neeson, Clive Owen, and their international ilk—confidently impersonating Yanks on the silver screen. Now the migrant thespians are starting to dominate stateside TV, too. On any given night of channel surfing or Netflix browsing in the past few seasons, you’re likely to have happened upon an English actor or two playing a 100 percent born-and-bred American: Andrew Lincoln, David Morrissey, and Lennie James on The Walking Dead, Hugh Dancy on Hannibal, Charlie Cox on Daredevil, Freddie Highmore and Olivia Cooke on Bates Motel, Damian Lewis and Rupert Friend on Homeland, Eddie Marsan on Ray Donovan, Janet McTeer on Battle Creek, Dominic West and Ruth Wilson on The Affair, or Hugh Laurie on House. You might also have come across the odd Welshman (Michael Sheen on Masters of Sex), Scot (Alan Cumming on The Good Wife), Irishman (Colin Farrell on True Detective), Canadian (Taylor Kitsch on Friday Night Lights), or Australian (Robert Taylor on Longmire), each of them with an eerily undetectable accent. Crisis or not, this is getting embarrassing.

It’s undeniable that non-American actors are a lot more comfortable with American accents than their predecessors were a generation or two ago. Listen, for example, to Laurence Olivier—who was a gifted mimic—struggling to sound like a Midwestern businessman in The Betsy (1978); he does not pronounce those flat vowels trippingly on the tongue. For Olivier’s generation, the function of an English actor in an American movie was generally to lend a touch of class to studio costume dramas. (In the early talkies, almost everyone onscreen affected a kind of theatrical diction that sounded vaguely British anyway.) Lord Larry and his contemporaries and their immediate successors were, for the most part, perfectly content to sound like the Englishmen they were, except when, as was frequently the case, they were playing Nazis. They just didn’t get much practice talking American.

That’s all changed. The Brits have now become so good at imitating Americans that there’s hardly an American role you can’t imagine them in. If The Godfather were to be made today, you might see Daniel Day-Lewis as Don Corleone, surrounded by, say, Tom Hiddleston as Michael, Rory Kinnear as Sonny, Ben Whishaw as Fredo, Benedict Cumberbatch as Tom Hagen, Keira Knightley as Connie, and Romola Garai as Kay. What’s worse, it isn’t nearly so easy to dream up a fantasy cast of American actors that would be as strong.

In the Godfather we actually have, Marlon Brando, the greatest Method actor of them all, presided over a kind of coming-out party for younger Americans whom he had inspired, and who had trained more or less as he had, with rigorous teachers such as Stella Adler, Sanford Meisner, and Lee Strasberg. The wedding that opens the movie seems in retrospect like a class picture, a snapshot of a moment when everyone could feel a native, purely American tradition of acting coming into being, passing from the first heroic generation to the next—and, presumably, on and on, for as long as there were characters to be played. The sense of the continuity of creative endeavor felt, for about a minute and a half in the 1970s, real and palpable. It was possible to imagine that, like their British counterparts, Americans were going to learn from their artistic forebears, build on what they’d done, and keep building and building. But things don’t always work like that in America. Especially in the arts.

The training that Spike Lee referred to no longer has the sort of allure for young American actors that it did in the days of Brando and Dean and Clift and, later, De Niro and Pacino. Sweating out improvisations and emotional-memory exercises at the Actors Studio or the Neighborhood Playhouse doesn’t seem the best way to get noticed anymore. The actors of the current generation mostly started going before the camera as kids, and got their training on the job: in commercials, then on TV shows, and then, for the lucky and/or unusually talented, in movies. Leonardo DiCaprio (who turned 40 last November) came up that way. So did Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jennifer Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon, Keri Russell, Michelle Williams, Emma Stone, Michael B. Jordan—practically every young American actor you want to see has the same story.

Learning on the job isn’t a bad way to become an actor: pretty much everybody in the early days of the movies took that route, and some of them turned out fine. (In fact, quite a few impeccably trained British actors could barely hold the screen next to their untutored but movie-savvier American co-stars: watch what Bette Davis does to Leslie Howard—who was no slouch—in Of Human Bondage.) There’s nothing magical about acting schools, which in any event didn’t really exist in this country until after World War II. The British send their actors to school for the sound reason that playing Shakespeare well takes a ton of technique, and Shakespearean actors are what English theatrical culture is designed to produce. American culture is in the business of making stars, which is more a matter of finding people who are able to be themselves—or some likable, reasonably plausible version of themselves—onscreen. Everything else, the Bard included, is gravy.

And that’s okay too, up to a point. There’s a lovely moment at the end of My Week With Marilyn (2011) when Kenneth Branagh, as Olivier, watches Michelle Williams, as Marilyn Monroe, in the 1957 comedy The Prince and the Showgirl, which Olivier directed. With a bemused look on his face, he mutters, “She’s quite wonderful. No training, no craft to speak of, no guile, just pure instinct. She’s astonishing.” Throughout the movie, poor Marilyn has been trying to satisfy both her director, with his brisk English-thespian professionalism—hit your mark, do something amusing, and get on with it—and her Actors Studio coach, Paula Strasberg (Lee’s wife), who’s always murmuring Methody instructions in her beleaguered ear. Olivier is right: Monroe knows nothing about acting, except what’s in her very impressive bones, and it’s enough.

Williams knows more than that, but she had to pick up her technique the hard way, toiling for six seasons as mixed-up Jen Lindley in the dreary high-school soap opera Dawson’s Creek. Keri Russell, currently giving a performance of extraordinary complexity on the weekly spy drama The Americans, learned her considerable craft in a similar setting, as the title character of the (less dreary) college soap Felicity. Joseph Gordon-Levitt made his first appearance onscreen at the age of 7, and spent most of his teenage years playing straight man to John Lithgow on the sitcom 3rd Rock From the Sun. The educations of American actors are a little chancy.

Skillful and ambitious young actors will always make their way somehow—they’ll use every job, no matter how dopey, to continue exploring the possibilities of their weird art, so they’ll be ready when the meatier roles start to come. Because television is, overall, much better than it was when Williams and Russell and Gordon-Levitt were starting out, the on-the-job training of the raw youths who want to be actors should be better, too. Having the opportunity to play a complex, well-written character week after week, season after season, is a gift-wrapped invitation to learn, and if this apparent golden age of TV lasts a few more years, young American actors, present and future, might have all the schooling they need.

The question, as American 20-somethings in every field understand, is: What happens after graduation? Not many members of the remarkable young cast of Friday Night Lights have had parts as good since, and with every passing year you get the melancholy feeling that most of them never will. (The exception, so far, is Michael B. Jordan, who landed a big, challenging role in the 2013 indie drama Fruitvale Station and aced it.)

For English actors, there’s always the stage: at any given time there’s going to be somebody, somewhere, putting on Shakespeare—or Chekhov or Ibsen or Strindberg or Osborne or Stoppard—and even if it means hauling your weary carcass out to some godforsaken provincial repertory theater, it’s a chance to act. It nourishes the soul. American actors have fewer opportunities (and incentives) to explore the classical repertory when they’re young, which is when the experience would do them the most good. Established stars like Denzel Washington will take a turn on the stage every now and then, when the spirit moves them, but they’ve already had their share of great roles—they know what they can do. You wonder, though, about someone like Caitlin FitzGerald, whose subtle, delicate acting as Bill Masters’s wife, Libby, in Masters of Sex was the only good reason to watch that series’ misbegotten second season. She seems ideal for Chekhov—she’d kill as Nina in The Seagull—but will she ever get the chance?

A handful of younger American actors, mostly women, have been able to stretch themselves in parts like that onscreen. Jessica Chastain took on the demanding title role in Liv Ullmann’s film of Strindberg’s Miss Julie last year, and although I don’t think her performance is a complete success, it’s a brave attempt: you feel she’s pushing past the technique that’s served her in the past, and going places, emotionally, she’s never been before. (Strindberg’s psychosexual grudge matches will do that to an actor.) Maybe the most spectacular recent example of a young American movie and television actor tackling a classical part is Amy Acker’s radiant Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Joss Whedon’s nimble, and very faithful, 2012 movie of one of Shakespeare’s sprightliest comedies. Acker was always a welcome presence on TV shows such as Angel and Alias; in her current series gig, as the blithely lethal hacker known as Root on Person of Interest, she displays the ability to alternate a near-sociopathic sangfroid with unexpected bursts of genuine passion—and she has the best walk on television, besides. But her facility with the tricky verse of Shakespearean comedy is a real surprise; she’s at least as formidable a Beatrice as Emma Thompson was in Branagh’s 1993 Much Ado, and Acker is, I think, more touching and finally more believable.

And it’s not as if a wealth of good, nonclassical parts are being written for younger Americans in the movies either. In the fertile moviemaking environment of the 1970s, De Niro and Pacino and Gene Hackman and Jeff Bridges didn’t need the theater and its deep repertory in order to satisfy their creative urges and grow as artists. Actors can’t do what they do in isolation, as writers and painters and composers can. The theatrical arts are collaborative, both in the microcosm of an individual production and in the macrocosm of the culture that does, or does not, sustain them. It’s fair to say that American culture isn’t providing a high level of sustenance right now, and actors—like so many others in the every-man-for-himself climate of 2015—have to figure out, on their own, ways to get what they need. The question is whether they can muster the imagination, and the stamina, to maintain their technique (and their spirits) while dealing with the sort of material available to them in this movie culture: cop dramas, superhero adventures, rom-coms and bro comedies, the occasional earnest, glacially paced indie. It’s not impossible, but it can be a heavy lift.

The Brits have now become so good at imitating Americans that there’s hardly an American role you can’t imagine them in.

In Olivier Assayas’s recent Clouds of Sils Maria, a European actress of a certain age, played by Juliette Binoche, and her American personal assistant, played by Kristen Stewart, have a sort of running debate on just that topic. After watching a superhero movie set on a spaceship, they argue over drinks. Stewart’s character defends the performance of the actress playing the lead mutant, and Binoche’s character laughs out loud at the very mention of superpowers, brusquely dismissing the idea that anything of value could be achieved in that kind of genre entertainment. Feeling exasperated, and a little humiliated by her boss’s contempt for something she enjoyed, the assistant finally asks, quietly, “Are you telling me there’s nothing there worth playing?” The actress is flummoxed for a moment, before regaining her bearing. (You can see her lose, and then recover, her sense of herself.)

The assistant’s question is a fair one, even a crucial one. That the character who poses it is played by the same actress who portrays Bella in the Twilight movies adds a bit of extra zing: Stewart, while beset by vampires and werewolves and other fantastic creatures, must have asked it of herself a time or two. She did, against the odds, find something to play in those stupid pictures. And she’s managed, somehow, to develop a highly original, and thoroughly unactorly, style that enables her to hold her own, and more, with the likes of Juliette Binoche—who by Stewart’s age (25) had already had major roles in films by André Téchiné, Jean-Luc Godard, Leos Carax, and Philip Kaufman. Stewart’s path has been rockier.

The male actors of her generation may travel an even tougher road. I suspect that when Michael Douglas spoke of that “little crisis going on,” he was mostly thinking about the men. The fact is, the women are fine. (Their problems will begin when they hit 50.) If you’re a producer or director looking for an actress under 40 and can’t find one you like among Williams, Russell, Chastain, Acker, Stewart, FitzGerald, Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone, Reese Witherspoon, Elisabeth Moss, Dakota Fanning, Shailene Woodley, Rosario Dawson, Scarlett Johansson, Anne Hathaway, and Zoe Saldana, you’re being, I’d say, way too picky.

Some of these women, it’s true, haven’t yet had their defining roles, and many, like Stewart, have had to labor in pretty unpromising genre material. To make recognizable human beings out of the stock figures played by, say, Saldana in the revenge thriller Colombiana and Stone in the teen comedy Easy A is no small task. These actresses have the resources to pull it off. Perhaps, as the conventional wisdom goes, women mature earlier than men do: for whatever reason, American actresses seem to be growing up faster than their male counterparts. In just about every TV series in which there’s a young son and a young daughter—Mad Men, Homeland, The Americans, Ray Donovan—the girl’s story line is stronger and deeper than the boy’s, and it’s not hard to figure out why. The girl’s a better actor.

No crisis among the women, then. The men are another, sadder story. The ranks of interesting under-40 American actors have begun to look dangerously thin, now that DiCaprio and Joaquin Phoenix have crossed the boundary. (It’s important to keep in mind here that Ryan Gosling is Canadian.) Maybe because movies have gotten so expensive to make, and it’s men who bear the burden of carrying the many action franchises, the guys look a little tense, uncertain of what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s always a pleasure to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt, even in big dumb pictures like Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, and Looper, but as an actor he’s been spinning his wheels for a while; he seemed a lot happier when he was playing more-challenging roles in smaller-scale films like The Lookout and Uncertainty in the middle and late 2000s. Being movie-star charming is too easy for an actor as smart as Gordon-Levitt; boredom looms.

It’s not just him, of course. What’s becoming difficult to ignore in current American leading men is a general absence of joy in their vocation. When James Franco tries to get serious, as he does with some frequency, he’s kind of alarming to watch; his recent modus operandi has been to adapt a great American novel for the screen, miscast himself, and doggedly muddle through. Jesse Eisenberg seems to take only roles that require him to look bummed all the time. They appear to have forgotten that acting is play, a game of let’s-pretend. It starts with a child imagining himself as somebody else, trying on different roles, making faces in the mirror. When one or more other kids are present, impromptu scenarios are cooked up and parts are assigned, with the goal, always, of bringing into being something that would not otherwise have existed in the ordinary run of life—something more colorful, more vivid, something thrilling.

It’s a keen and peculiar pleasure, and one that, in the livelier young minds, can grow into a desire to keep organizing the world that way, understanding by pretending. If they’re driven enough to try to do this for a living—to become actors, and dedicate themselves to searching for truth in make-believe characters—they have to find a way to retain at least a portion of their original delight in the let’s-pretend game. In acting classes, play takes the disciplined form of directed improvisations. Those who haven’t been to acting school aren’t always comfortable making things up when the cameras are rolling, and it shows: there’s not much spontaneity in their readings or gestures, none of the pleasant illusion of life just happening that is, or should be, the aim of their art. (On the sets of big-budget movies, spontaneity isn’t highly prized, so nobody objects.)

Acting at its highest level is very, very difficult, but at the end of it there has to be, for the actor, an internal silly grin of satisfaction, whether the role is Captain Kirk or Captain Ahab. Most of the American actors fronting heavyweight Hollywood franchises these days, all those guys named Chris, do not have the air of men who are enjoying what they do. One of the Chrises—Evans, who plays Captain America—recently told Variety that he’s planning to quit acting when his Marvel contract is up. The thrill, it seems, is gone.

This is perhaps another area where non-American actors, Brits especially, have a significant advantage. Their relatively more detached, more technical approach to the imitation game of theater helps them maintain their sense of play. They know, too, that if all else fails, they can recapture that spirit by sinking their irregular teeth into a nice, juicy villainous part like, say, Richard III (or a Nazi). American actors on their way up have historically been reluctant to play bad guys, which can be a terrific palate cleanser for performers who have lost their taste for the craft. For a while, roughly between Brando’s brutish Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and De Niro’s bestial Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull (1980), younger Americans seemed to have gotten over their fear of damaging their images by playing unsympathetic roles, but that’s less common now. When an amiable-seeming chap like Bradley Cooper shows a “dark side” to add a bit of spice to a bland character, it rarely feels terribly consequential—no more than a token acknowledgment that everybody’s a little compromised these days. It’s unusual for a strong young actor to begin his career playing an out-and-out baddie, as Ben Foster did in 3:10 to Yuma (2007). Most American actors wait until they’re past their leading-man prime to go full dastard.

That’s a mistake. For an actor, the joy of slipping into a bad guy’s skin can be intense, a satisfaction like no other. When Richard III is doing his devious worst, or when the music-hall performer Archie Rice is displaying the gloomiest depths of his grubby soul in The Entertainer, the gleam in Olivier’s eye is blinding. Brando gets that rapt look, too, when he’s taunting defenseless Blanche DuBois in Streetcar, or whipping his horse in frustration in Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967). And God knows De Niro’s got it as the seething, paranoid Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976), posing in front of a mirror and rehearsing what he’ll say, and do, to his legions of enemies.

Maybe that’s what younger American actors need to do: go back to the source of their childlike pleasure in impersonation—back to making faces in the mirror. Mirrors have featured in some of the most indelible scenes in American film: not just De Niro’s classic, improvised “You talking to me?” sequence in Taxi Driver, but also his chillingly flat recitation in Raging Bull of Brando’s famous “I coulda been a contender” speech from On the Waterfront (which was partly improvised as well). Brando himself has a killer scene in Reflections in a Golden Eye, in which his character, a vain, sexually repressed Army officer, painstakingly applies cold cream to his aging face, looking melancholy and hopeful all at once. It’s his most purely inspired acting moment between On the Waterfront (1954) and Last Tango in Paris (1972), a film that is, in essence, two hours of America’s finest actor examining, and sometimes recoiling from, his own reflection.

In one of last year’s best performances by a young American, Chadwick Boseman, in Get On Up, played the soul singer James Brown as a man looking at himself constantly, calculating his every move, his self-awareness so all-encompassing that it blots out everything, and everyone, else. It’s terrifying, exhilarating acting: Boseman has that Olivier-like glint in his eye throughout. The mirror is good to Channing Tatum in Foxcatcher, too. At one point in that bewildering picture, Tatum’s character—an Olympic wrestler with, let’s say, limited powers of self-expression—reacts to a setback by smashing a mirror with his cannonball-like head, and Tatum, for perhaps the first time in his career, has the look of an actor who feels he’s done something, created a scene that people will remember. It’s the sort of moment that, nowadays, sometimes supplies the breakthrough for slow-developing young American actors such as Tatum: a sudden outburst of rage, a release of pent-up frustrations. It feels good. Whether he’ll be able to sustain that heady feeling—or find roles that will allow him to—is anybody’s guess.

Jake Gyllenhaal has an even better mirror-smashing scene in Dan Gilroy’s bracingly cynical Nightcrawler. He plays a ruthless young go-getter named Louis Bloom who, after an early life of petty thievery, drifts into the unsavory job of providing video footage of accidents and violent crimes to local TV stations. He has the drive and the depraved indifference needed for success in this high-energy, low-ethics profession, but the course isn’t as smooth as he’d like it to be. After another camera crew beats him to an especially grisly crash site, Bloom takes out his disappointment on his bathroom mirror, first screaming at his reflection, then shaking the mirror until it breaks. The scene is scarier than Tatum’s, in part because Gyllenhaal distorts his face so expressively. He dropped a lot of weight for this role, to make himself look gaunt, hungry. The effect is to exaggerate his already rather dramatic facial features: the hyperthyroid eyes bug out even more than usual, and the downturned mouth suggests, at times, a sinister sad-clown mask. When he screams, he looks like a monster.

Louis Bloom is a monster, of a particularly American, aspirational sort, and Gyllenhaal, whose work in the past few years has been varied and consistently exciting, seems very happy to be playing him. Gyllenhaal has been developing his technique and expanding his range with every role since Brian Taylor in the L.A.-cop movie End of Watch (2012), in which his squad-car improvisations with Michael Peña seemed to free up something in his acting. He has the tools and the confidence now for Bloom, this magnetic, Richard III–size villain. A year before Nightcrawler, he warmed up with Denis Villeneuve’s bizarre doppelgänger movie Enemy, in which one of the two characters he plays—the evil one—is a third-rate actor. Some of that character’s smiling cunning works its way into Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the glibly amoral Bloom, and there’s a mirror scene to boot. In Enemy, the mirror survives. It’s just a tool, used as an actor would use it, to try out readings and expressions—in this case, for the line “Did you fuck my wife?,” with which he hopes to unnerve his meek double. He flashes a huge grin when he’s got it right. In Nightcrawler, Bloom speaks almost all of his lines as if he’d rehearsed them with that kind of obsessive care, and the effect is deeply unsettling. I can’t think of another young American actor who would dare to play this monster this way. And for once, I can’t think of a British actor who would, either.


Full Cast & Crew

Daniel Amerman ... english dubbing: Additional Voices / english dubbing: Andrey Kryzhniy (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Tony Azzolino ... english dubbing: Additional Voices / english dubbing: Nikita Elenev (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Thomas Bromhead ... english dubbing: Fyodor Lavrov (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Bob Buchholz ... english dubbing: Additional Voices / english dubbing: Alexei Zakharov (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Reba Buhr ... english dubbing: Paulina Andreeva (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Griffin Burns ... english dubbing: Alexander Grashin (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Austin Nash Chase ... english dubbing: Dimich Aka Dim Dim (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Lucien Dodge ... english dubbing: Additional Voices / english dubbing: Maxim Stoyanov (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Dorothy Elias-Fahn ... english dubbing: Additional Voices (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Richard Epcar ... english dubbing: Sergey Kolesnikov (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Jonathan Fahn ... english dubbing: Kirill Polukhin (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Barbara Goodson ... english dubbing: Additional Voices / english dubbing: Natalya Potapova (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Jake Green ... english dubbing: Georgy Nikolaevich Safronov (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Erika Harlacher ... english dubbing: Additional Voices (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Dimitriy Kasyan ... supervising sound editor (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Erik Scott Kimerer ... english dubbing: Additional Voices / english dubbing: Ivan Fominov (16 episodes, 2018-2019) R. Martin Klein ... english dubbing: Victor Solovyev (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Lauren Landa ... english dubbing: Viktoriya Korlyakova / english dubbing: Additional Voices (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Kyle McCarley ... english dubbing: Pavel Vorozthsov / english dubbing: Additional Voices (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Joe Ochman ... english dubbing: Sergey Pioro / english dubbing: Dmitriy Kulichkov / english dubbing: Additional Voices (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Michael Orenstein ... english dubbing: Additional Voices / english dubbing: Andrey Kharybin (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Zachary T. Rice ... english dubbing: Aleksandr Kuznetsov (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Keith Silverstein ... english dubbing: Aleksandr Ustyugov (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Spike Spencer ... english dubbing: Oleg Morozov / english dubbing: Additional Voices (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Tristan Wright ... english dubbing: Additional Voices / english dubbing: Vladimir Lyanchikov (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Anne Yatco ... english dubbing: Irina Tarannik (16 episodes, 2018-2019) Laura Post ... english dubbing: Aleksandra Ursulyak / english dubbing: Additional Voices (15 episodes, 2018-2019) Griffin Puatu ... english dubbing: Ivan Kosichkin / english dubbing: Additional Voices (15 episodes, 2018-2019) Cindy Robinson ... english dubbing: Olga Lomonosova (15 episodes, 2018-2019) Michael Sorich ... english dubbing: Sergey Sosnovskiy (15 episodes, 2018-2019) Dmitry Loychenko ... dialogue editor (8 episodes, 2018) Christopher Corey Smith ... english dubbing: Additional Voices (2 episodes, 2018-2019) Vladimir Poterukha ... sound effects editor (1 episode, 2018) Kaiji Tang ... english dubbing: Additional Voices (1 episode, 2019) Olga M. Reed ... dialogue editor (uncredited) (8 episodes, 2019)

Actors better than us

The 32 Greatest Character Actors Working Today

Photo-Illustration: by Vulture; Photos by Shutterstock, HBO, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, Netflix, Newmarket Films, A24, New Line Cinema, FX, Sony Pictures Releasing, Paramount Pictures, Gramercy Pictures, Sony Pictures Television and Focus Features

As manyhavenoted, a small but significant loss we’ve all faced during quarantine has been the disappearance of the casual acquaintance. People like your roommate’s high-school friend, the neighbor who took the same subway line, the co-worker you always saw in the kitchen. These were not deep relationships, but even so, there was a comforting familiarity in encountering the same faces on a semi-regular basis.

Fortunately, while those people who played such treasured peripheral roles in our lives have for the moment (a year and counting) gone away, we’ve been able to turn to the people playing treasured peripheral roles in entertainment to pick up the slack. In the era of Peak TV and the subsequent streaming boom, character actors are working more than ever before — and since many of us have little else to do but stare at our screens, it’s precisely these performers who have filled the gap left by our secondary bonds. When your social circle has shrunk down to your immediate household, the glimmer of recognition that comes from spotting a familiar face in a movie provides more dopamine than it probably should.

That’s why this year more so than ever before, as awards season trains its spotlight once again on actors who are accustomed to such gold-tinted attention, we felt it was vital to properly recognize those ubiquitous yet under-acknowledged performers whose regular appearances on our devices were one of the few joys we were afforded during lockdown. We’ll be showing our appreciation with a week’s worth of articles devoted to hard-working bit players, beginning here with the results of an industrywide survey we conducted to answer one simple question: who are the most memorable character actors working today? To find out, we polled nearly 60 directors, showrunners, casting directors, and critics — and when we tallied the results, 32 names had emerged from a field of more than 300 suggestions.

Before we get into the list, some housekeeping: What makes an actor a character actor? Try to pin it down, and you’ll go mad wading through counterexamples. The most obvious definition is that a character actor is not a lead. (Frequently they’re not even the fourth-, fifth-, or sixth-billed in the credits, either.) Except that sometimes, aging stars will do their best work in character roles, while other character actors turn out to be stars-in-waiting. A character actor is someone who is known for small parts, but with the abundance of cable and streaming projects, many of them now occasionally work as co-leads, albeit in little-discussed series. Then there are the philosophical questions: Is a character actor someone who disappears into a role, like Bill Camp, or someone who has a distinctive presence, like Colman Domingo? Yes and yes.

There’s a long-held notion that a character actor is someone who’s simply not attractive enough to be a lead, an idea so ingrained that it even made its way into the Wikipedia definition. A superficial scan of this list will quickly disabuse readers of such a belief, though there admittedly often is an element of an actor’s face that marks the person as a character actor, a seasoning you won’t find on the CW. As Camp told me when I interviewed him and his wife, fellow character actor Elizabeth Marvel: “I played a lot more leads when I was younger. But I look like Chet Baker now.” (Camp later clarified that he loves Chet Baker and was not trying to insult him.) The best character actors take ordinariness and make it highly specific. Think of the way Beth Grant has honed the suburban busybody to its sharpest points, or how, with just one sigh, Michael Stuhlbarg serves up the foibles of the intelligentsia on a silver platter.

Character actors often have a sense of timelessness to them as well. While an A-lister’s stock may rise and fall with the fashions of the day, a character actor can stay booked and busy for decades. For a performer, the title brings remarkable job security, especially for female character actors, who have a different relationship with the perils of Hollywood sexism than their more famous peers. “Often women my age are reaching a point where it’s time to find another direction to go in,” Marvel told me, “unless you’re a character actor. And then it’s awesome, because there’s so much fascinating work.”

While any sort of conclusive definition of a character actor is likely impossible to achieve, to produce this list we nevertheless needed to set some firm boundaries. We came up with three rules governing inclusion, which were shared with our survey respondents:

The Jenkins Rule: If a performer has been nominated for an Oscar, that performer is ineligible.

The Dowd-Martindale Rule: If a performer has won a lead or supporting-actor Emmy, that performer is ineligible. (Winners of an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor are permitted.)

The Hahn Rule: If a performer currently works primarily as a lead, that performer is ineligible.

Also, the performer had to be alive, but we didn’t know who to name that one after. Too many options!

Got all that? Let’s get to the names*.

Photo: HBO

First role: La Nuit Miraculeuse (1989)

You Know Her From:Succession, Ramy, The Visitor

Be Sure to Check Out: Lemon Tree, The Syrian Bride, Satin Rouge

The complexity of defining a “character actor” is on full display when considering the Palestinian actress and director Abbass, who is practically a household name in the Middle East and a revered figure on the international-film-festival circuit (she’s even served on a Cannes jury). And certainly, a performer who can simultaneously portray Succession’s enigmatic and fascinating Marcia Roy and Ramy’s filterless matriarch Maysa is nothing if not versatile.

Although Abbass frequently appears in smaller parts in high-profile films in the West — such as Munich, in which she played the headstrong wife of a Palestinian diplomat targeted for assassination (and on which she also served as a consultant), or Blade Runner 2049, as the leader of a replicant freedom movement — she has been a devastating presence in films by international auteurs such as Palestine’s Hany Abu Assad and Israel’s Eran Riklis. In the former’s Oscar-nominated Paradise Now (the first Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee from Palestine — controversial at the time, in 2006, for all the reasons that you’d expect), she lent a complicated sense of humanity to the mother of a suicide bomber.

Arguably her greatest roles have come from Riklis, however: In The Syrian Bride (2005), Abbass conveyed outrage both righteous and comic as the headstrong, feminist sister of a young woman whose imminent, cross-border wedding to a Syrian pop star is buried in red tape. In the same director’s Lemon Tree (2008), she blended defiance, grief, and bewilderment as a Palestinian widow trying to preserve her family’s lemon grove from destruction by the Israeli Defense minister, who has moved in next door. The latter is truly one of the great performances of its decade and rightfully won her a number of awards all around the world.

Photo: HBO

First Screen Role: The Protector (1985)

You Know Her From: Girls, Freaks and Geeks

Be Sure to Check Out: A Simple Plan, Social Distance

Becky Ann Baker has played cops and judges, attorneys and teachers, authors and nurses. But she’s probably best known for portraying moms.

For another actor, this might be a bad thing. The “mom part” is often an underwritten, bland, or naggy role that an older woman is pigeonholed into playing. But Baker, who has been amassing screen credits for more than 35 years, started to register higher on the public radar because of the dimension and emotional depth she brought to maternal characters.

As Jean Weir on the sadly short-lived Freaks and Geeks, she is the classic nice mom who is super-supportive of her kids and always striving to do the things that good mothers are supposed to do. But with Baker playing Jean, the faintest wisps of melancholy trail her through the rooms of her suburban Michigan home. Baker makes it clear in almost every episode of that wonderful series that Jean is a nester who dreads the idea of her own being empty.

As Loreen Horvath, mother of Lena Dunham’s Hannah on Girls, Baker is a much different kind of mom. She’s blunt and sometimes self-involved (like mother, like daughter). In one of the final episodes, “Gummies,” Baker is onscreen for just a handful of minutes. But as a woman now split from her husband, forced to live alone, and prone to scarfing down cannabis gummy worms to numb the pain, she is bitter and sad, funny and a big ol’ relatable mess. Her performance is one of the things you remember about that episode, years later.

The common denominator in all of Baker’s performances is the sturdiness with which her characters carry themselves, even the softer, sometimes insecure ones. From the grief-stricken, enraged wife in the 1998 movie A Simple Plan to the wife in quarantine who wants more out of life in the recent pandemic-set Social Distance — in which she stars opposite real-life husband Dylan Baker — Baker breathes life again and again into women determined to persist, something she has done for decades.

Photo: HBO

First role: Freddy’s Nightmares (1989)

You Know Him From: The Night Of, The Queen’s Gambit, The Outsider

Be Sure to Check Out: News of the World, Dark Waters, Wildlife

Bill Camp looks equally at home no matter where you put him. Whatever the genre, time period, or character type, he brings with him a believable, undeniable weight. When a Bill Camp character enters a scene, it feels like that person existed before the cameras caught him. His power is in how much he makes his characters, and the projects around them, more tactile and believable. He told Variety in 2018, “I have the greatest job in the world, because I show up to do my job, but I’m really just sort of living my life as I go. I think it’s crucial for actors to have full lives outside of acting.” (Camp, you may not be surprised to learn, has also worked as a mechanic and a cook.)

Camp’s full life anchors the drama of The Queen’s Gambit, in which he takes a character that could have felt merely functional and grounds him with a subtle kindness that comes with a lifetime of experience. He doesn’t get much dialogue, but it’s in the way his face perks up ever so slightly when he senses he’s sitting with a legitimate child prodigy or the worry that crosses it when he realizes her road ahead.

The Queen’s Gambit is only the latest. Wherever he goes, he imbues his roles with wants, needs, and addictions that are reflected not through dialogue but body language. Look at him in Molly’s Game, and you can sense this man’s coiled addiction in every muscle in his body. He brings a world-weariness to his tragic character in Dark Waters, finding a physical gravity that amplifies the human cost of corporate malfeasance. He turns what could have been merely a lothario “other guy” role in Wildlife into something heartfelt by being genuine in every moment. Just watch the way he listens — you can see him hear the people around him. It’s the kind of skill that elevates what could just be another member of the cast into the kind of character actor audiences can’t help but notice. (Little surprise, then, that he was our top vote-getter, appearing on 20 percent of surveys.)

Photo: Moviestore/Shutterstock

First role: Seinfeld (1993)

You Know Her From: American Pie, Best in Show, Legally Blonde, the “Hi” video

Be Sure to Check Out: Gentleman Broncos, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Promising Young Woman

Jennifer Coolidge might be the consummate character actor, even if in ways she’s transcended the title. In 1999, the term “MILF” was popularized by the teen sex comedy American Pie, a descriptor for the sexually vivacious character she played known as “Stifler’s Mom.” While that role ushered in an era of cougar fever onscreen, Coolidge is so, so much more than that. Yes, many of her most famous roles are bimbo-adjacent, from the soup-loving trophy wife Sherri Ann in Christopher Guest’s Best in Show to hapless manicurist Paulette in Legally Blonde. But the Groundlings-trained comedian infuses these oft-maligned side characters with a sense of humanity, sly intelligence, and absurdity, making each iconic in their own right. Her performances of these archetypical blondes, starting with a bit part as “Hottie Police Officer”  opposite ex-boyfriend Chris Kattan in A Night at the Roxbury to the Botox-obsessed Fiona in A Cinderella Story are at once a send-up and subversion of these stereotypes.

Coolidge’s work is deceptively layered and her improvisational skills unimpeachable (as one of Guest’s regular players), but it seemed to take a long time for her comedic genius to be fully recognized by mainstream audiences, who may have wondered if she was even acting at all. No other actor does what Coolidge can do so well, because she’s so committed to the bit; it often seems she slips into character during pressappearances. That persona allows Coolidge to surprise audiences when she tries something new, like the dramatic performance she gave in Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans in 2009.

Coolidge hasn’t stopped experimenting in her career, trying stand-up, doing voice-over work in animation, and, lately, bringing her skill to a supporting role as a sweetly mournful mother in current Best Picture nominee Promising Young Woman. Coolidge may have cornered the market on delightfully bonkers blondes, but make no mistake: She can do it all.

Photo: HBO

First role: The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love (1995)

You Know Her From: True Blood, Unbelievable, Palm Springs

Be Sure to Check Out: Winter’s Bone, Leave No Trace, Blues for Willadean

In 2010, Dale Dickey gave what was probably the best American performance of the year with her turn as the positively demonic Merab, chain-saw-wielding matriarch and enforcer-wife for backwoods crime boss Thump Milton in Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone. That she actually got awards attention for the role, which involved limited screen time, was a testament to her accomplishment. Even though she’d stolen her fair share of scenes on shows like My Name Is Earl (as “Patty the daytime hooker”) and Breaking Bad (as the prosthetic-lesion-covered, murderous meth-addict wife of Spooge), this was a true coming-out party for the actress; suddenly, and finally, critics knew who Dale Dickey was. Winter’s Bone was a case of a film director knowing exactly what to do with the East Tennessee–born performer, whose distinctive face has gotten her lots of working-class parts (cops, waitresses, gas-station attendants, werewolf grandmothers) over the years. “From the age of 20, I was playing people over 50,” she once told an interviewer. “My face reads mean and hard.”

It took years for Dickey to carve out a place for herself in the industry. As a struggling actor in New York, agents often didn’t know what to do with her. She got her first break in theater when she served brunch in New York to Steel Magnolias author Robert Harling, who decided her southern energy was just right for his work; she eventually got a role in the Chicago production of the play. (Dickey continues to work regularly in theater, often with southern playwright Del Shores.) Another break came when Sean Penn cast her as a cop in his psychological thriller The Pledge, a virtual cavalcade of notable character turns.

She’s a staggeringly good actress. Look at her turn as the sassy veteran cop RoseMarie in Netflix’s Unbelievable, where she makes a meal out of pretty much every single line of dialogue that she gets; she can turn the statement of a simple statistic into an existential fact. Or her appearance as the weary but compassionate owner of a trailer park who helps the protagonists get back on their feet in Leave No Trace, also directed by Granik. (The movies and shows don’t even need to be all that great: She was one of the few good things about Alejandro Amenabar’s thriller Regression.) It’s not just her tough demeanor that makes us take notice; it is her intense unpredictability. When Dale Dickey is onscreen, anything seems possible.

Photo: Eddy Chen/HBO

First role: Around the Fire (1998)

Where You Know Him From: Euphoria, Fear the Walking Dead, If Beale Street Could Talk, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Be Sure to Check Out: The Big Gay Sketch Show, Passing Strange

To follow Colman Domingo’s career over the past 15 years is to witness a vocal transformation that rivals the likes of Michael Caine. Domingo came to acting late, and his big breaks didn’t occur until his late 30s. In these early roles, he was a vocal chameleon, a high-energy ham. On Logo’s Big Gay Sketch Show, he imbued Craigslist Missed Connections with literary gravitas as Maya Angelou and turned in a pitch-perfect Morgan Freeman, spouting inspiring non sequiturs. (“Most of the shadows in this life are caused by standing in your own sunshine.”) His 2009 one-man show A Boy and His Soul saw him inhabit dozens of characters: a satin-voiced radio DJ, an uncle’s belly-slapping bonhomie, an exotic dancer doing unspeakable things to a dill pickle.

But as Domingo got into his 40s, his energy slowed down, smoothed out. And he found his calling card: a voice that was earthy and rich, the sound of cigars and good whiskey. It’s the first thing you hear in Lincoln, even before Daniel Day-Lewis, as Domingo’s Union soldier narrates the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. There’s often a comfort to his onscreen presence. In Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, he’s the avuncular trombone player who eases the band into each take: “A-one, a-two, a-you know what to do.” In If Beale Street Could Talk, he’s the peacemaker, a man who cuts through ambient anxiety with just a glass of liquor and a glint in his eye. He’s been making the most of quarantine, setting up a virtual “Bottomless Brunch” series on YouTube, where the principle pleasure is just relaxing into his company.

But there’s a directness to Domingo, too — his is not the voice of a bullshitter. In Euphoria, he plays Ali, the seen-it-all sponsor to Zendaya’s Rue. The show’sChristmas special was a bottle episode, the pair facing off in a conversational fencing match, full of feints and parries. Ultimately, Ali cuts through Rue’s defenses with a flurry of simple declarative statements, including the question that finally breaks her: “How do you want your mom and sister to remember you?” Compared to what Zendaya’s giving, Domingo’s part is far less showy, but he carries it off with quiet certainty. The hammer can’t shape steel without the anvil.

Photo: Prashant Gupta/FX

First Role: Murder in Mississippi(1990)

You Know Him From: Justified, The Unicorn

Be Sure to Check Out: The Shield, The Righteous Gemstones

Walton Goggins is not an actor who disappears into a character. He’s a flexible, thoughtful, meticulous performer, and his career has demonstrated how fun it is to watch him embrace characters who can be monstrous (as a bad cop in The Shield) or hilarious (as characters in Danny McBride shows) or sweet (as a single dad in The Unicorn, Goggins’s first major leading role). But any role Goggins plays carries with it some element of his distinctive physical presence. He is perpendicular slashes on the screen, a sharp, hips-forward vertical stride that’s set against his severe horizontal smile.

Goggins has said that his first role was for the 1992 Billy Crystal film Mr. Saturday Night, in which he played a Confederate soldier who was eventually edited out of the movie. His first IMDb credit, though, is for a TV movie in 1990 called Murder in Mississippi, in which he plays a racist mob member who shouts obscenities at civil-rights activists. Goggins’s career has been shaped by his performances as baddies and white Southerners, most of whom are hypocrites, racists, or con men. His role as Shane Vendrell on The Shield made it clear that he can carry an almost blinding charisma onscreen, but it’s as Boyd Crowder on Justified that Goggins has been his most indelible — he conveys viciousness and tenderness at once, and his smile is a scale that tips between messianic self-importance and rueful cynicism.

All Goggins roles are glorious, and Justified’s Boyd Crowder will follow him forever. For a glimpse of his range, though, and how potent he can be in an ensemble, there is no better Goggins platform than The Righteous Gemstones, in which he plays Baby Billy Freeman. The same things that work so well in other roles are at play again there: a character whose public persona is a shield for lurking subterranean motives, someone who draws in people almost incidentally, as a mere side effect of being alive. Gemstones adds something else, too. In that role, Goggins is intense and self-absorbed but also loose-limbed. His grip on the character is just a smidge lighter, and the result is a scene like “Misbehavin,’” in which all those stark perpendicular lines come together in a mulleted clogging performance. It’s everything he’s best at (weird, magnetic, vulpine) in one silly, perfect moment.

Photo: Newmarket Films

First role: BJ and the Bear (1979)

You Know Her From: Donnie Darko, Speed

Be Sure to Check Out: To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar

You know exactly who you’re dealing with as soon as a Beth Grant character walks into frame. The Alabama-born actress has been playing small-town busybodies, disapproving religious types, and nervous bystanders with a near-campy twist since she first broke out, decades ago, in 1979’s BJ and the Bear. It’s hard to say whether being as inextricably linked to a line of movie dialogue as Grant is to Donnie Darko’s “Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion” is a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, she’s achieved immortality; on the other, she’s probably accosted with the words of Kitty Farmer every time she hits the supermarket. Such is the price of being as good as Grant is at making the smallest roles utterly indelible.

It’s not exactly heartland decency Grant projects; she tends to embody the fearful, paranoid, and judgmental corners of our most basic human nature. She’s suspicious of sharp-dressed Tom Cruise when he shows up on her doorstep with Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, hoping to commandeer her TV to watch The People’s Court. She’s weak and panicked as Helen in Speed, stuck on a death-bus and not willing to wait for Keanu Reeves to figure it out — so she tries to make a break for it and pays the ultimate price.

Her characters aren’t all named “Mother at Farm House,” as was the case in Rain Man, but a lot of them could be for all the dust on their hems. When To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar needed a coterie of small-town women to get made over by drag queens, of course they called Beth Grant’s number. When the Coen brothers needed a pinched and judgy face to play Carla Jean’s mother in No Country for Old Men, Grant was the only choice.

She has so effectively carved out her niche in the character-actor universe that she’s achieved a kind of kitsch appeal. Bryan Fuller kept her as a recurring totem, bringing her Marianne Marie Beetle character from Wonderfalls to Pushing Daisies to Mockingbird Lane. Perhaps the perfect encapsulation of Grant’s ability to communicate a character instantaneously was in a 2004 episode of Six Feet Under, where she played a religious woman mistaking escaped blow-up sex dolls floating into the sky for the Rapture. Everything we know about a Beth Grant character made it perfectly logical for her to chase those blow-up angels into the path of oncoming traffic (Dorothy Sheedy, 1954–2003), a tragic yet perfect end for a woman played by the patron saint of Middle American hysteria.

Photo: Columbia Tri Star/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

First role: Early Edition (1997)

You Know Her From: 13 Going on 30, Arrested Development, Ant-Man

Be Sure to Check Out: Married, Halloween, Adaptation

In the Funny or Die sketch “Judy Greer Is the Best Friend,” the actress sits at a diner with her lovestruck bestie. Greer encourages her to go to the airport and catch the love of her life before he’s gone. The friend runs out of the door and the music swells, but once she’s gone, Greer sits awkwardly in silence. What is left for her to do if not coach her friends on their love lives? The bit is funny, though also painfully real as a reflection of a career full of thinly written roles that exist only to support the protagonist. It’s a fact that Greer knows all too well, having titled her 2014 memoir I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star.

What makes Greer one of our great character actors is that she’s taken this unfortunate reality in stride by consistently and exceptionally making the most of what she has. She’s staggeringly prolific, amassing close to 150 credits, and these countless opportunities have given her the chance to highlight real nuances and depth in stock characters. Films like The Wedding Planner and 13 Going on 30 solidified her as the early-aughts go-to, must-book bubbly sidekick. But she also possesses a once-in-a-lifetime comedic timing that is singularly and innately unhinged. (See every time she stole a scene in Arrested Development as a boob-flashing personal assistant.)

More recently, she has been repeatedly cast as a housewife, or a grumpy ex-wife, or a mother who doubles as an exposition dump. And yet for all the typecasting, these are not just a homogeneous string of roles but distinctive characters that are a testament to her versatility. 2018’s Halloween in particular brilliantly played with familiar archetypes by having her play an uptight mother, only to upend those expectations with a bombastic finale that gave Greer her own triumphant Laurie Strode moment. Greer’s omnipresence in pop culture gifts us the comfort of a familiar face, and even the most thankless roles are all the more vibrant in her hands.

Photo: Universal Pictures

First role:Short Eyes (1977)

You Know Him From: Carlito’s Way, Traffic, Code Black

Be Sure to Check Out: The Count of Monte Cristo, Anger Management, Ana Maria In Novela Land

Luis Guzmán is an Everyman with the charisma of a leading man, and he has used it to play literally every man. For Steven Soderberg, he’s played a criminal on the run (Out of Sight), a working-class ex-con (The Limey), and a DEA agent (Traffic). For Paul Thomas Anderson, he’s been a nightclub owner (Boogie Nights), a game-show contestant (Magnolia), and a random factory worker (Punch-Drunk Love). He’s played a smuggler (The Adventures of Pluto Nash), a bodyguard (Carlito’s Way), and another smuggler, in 19th-century France, who becomes a bodyguard (The Count of Monte Cristo). No matter his character’s profession or when a film is set, Guzmán not only makes each feel like a real person but makes you wish you knew him.

He has a precise comic timing and a unique intensity that he can amplify or attenuate given the needs of a scene. This makes him a perfect screen partner — he knows when to let stars shine and when to steal a scene out from under them, even if they’re megawatt personalities like Jennifer Lopez (Out of Sight), Jack Nicholson (Anger Management), and Denzel Washington (The Bone Collector). He’s a perfect partner for writers, too: his chameleonic skill for making written dialogue feel unscripted enables him to seem like someone you’d meet out in the real world. (With 150 film and TV credits under his belt, he’s probably played someone you actually have.)

Photo: Paramount Pictures

First Role: A Pleasure Doing Business (1979)

You Know Him From: Fences, Lincoln, Lady Bird

Be Sure to Check Out: Devs

Those who watch August Wilson plays have grown first accustomed to, then dependent on, Stephen McKinley Henderson. In his dramas, Wilson often wrote Virgil-in-Inferno figures, men who serve as quasi-mystical guides and foils for his troubled main characters, wise and clear-eyed, but not necessarily fated for grace themselves. Henderson’s unadorned style and dry gravitas make him perfect for these roles — onstage, he plants himself like the stationary leg on a compass — so it’s no shock how he became part of the unofficial Wilson company. He’s a big man, but he doesn’t take up space; he radiates calm and the kind of Zen amusement that laughs at whatever’s most serious. Over the decades, he has played in the marquee Wilson productions, almost always as the one still point in the protagonist’s chaotic universe. In Fences with Denzel Washington, he played the unflappable Jim Bono, first in 2010 on Broadway and then on film. It may have been there that national audiences first realized that they wanted him as their companion-in-trouble too.

McKinley Henderson is a presence deserving of center stage. He is Tony nominated for Fences, and Stephen Adly Guirgis wrote him the complex role of a lifetime in Between Riverside and Crazy, in which his retired-cop character loses his claim to moral certainty. But in film, he’s largely been used at the edges, twinkling. One of his first film credits is as Bobo in an American Playhouse production of A Raisin in the Sun, a sly little performance, one of his rare chances to be wicked. Usually television has taken his weightiness and turned it into authority, casting him as a judge or a psychiatrist. (He’s been two different recurring judges on two different Law & Order franchises.) You can sense all those guardian roles in his stature and cloud of now-white hair: We’ve been trained to find something rather paternal in the way he’s peripheral. In Lady Bird, he’s the patient but exasperated Father Leviatch, and you often find him playing roles called “Pops” or “Dad.”

Finally, film has started to capitalize on his other abilities, like the way his eyes can shift, suddenly, from kindness into untrustworthiness. Alex Garland knew just how to deploy him in the sci-fi TV show Devs, for instance, where he’s a quiet-voiced scientist. Garland uses Henderson’s steadiness as if he’s a grenade — for the whole season, he just rolls quietly across the floor, never hinting that he might be capable of blowing up the plot. That “Who me? A grenade?” quality will serve him well as Thufir Hawat in the upcoming Dune. You’ll have to look at him twice to really see him. The first time you’ll see the saint; the second time, you’ll see the bomb.

Photo: Annapurna Pictures

First role:Law & Order (2009)

You Know Him From:Atlanta, If Beale Street Could Talk, Widows

Be Sure to Check Out: Crown Heights, Family, Joker

When we talk about range, we’re talking about Brian Tyree Henry. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, in the last five years he’s become a comedic, romantic, and dramatic force by way of his beguiling laugh and his immense physical control. As the emerging rapper Paper Boi in Donald Glover’s surreal Atlanta, Henry conjures a big heart for an initially intimidating character by undermining his imposing (and depressed) presence with twisted, aggravated facial expressions that serve as unguarded sight gags. As Jamal Manning — a menacing former drug dealer running for Chicago alderman in Steve McQueen’s Widows, Henry leans into Jamal’s brooding frame: When Jamal strides into the luxe condo of Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis), he picks up her adorable white terrier and threatens the tiny animal with violence if his demands aren’t met. The moment brims with a frightening tension.

But his signature role might be a single, breathless scene in Barry Jenkins’s If Beale Street Could Talk. During a carefree conversation between his character Daniel, recently released from prison, and Daniel’s best friend Fonny (Stephan James), Henry dissolves a loud and jolly exterior into a quiet impenetrability when the pair discuss the horrors of jail. It’s the way Henry leverages his physique and cheerful disposition, which goes from loose to scared stiff, that asks: What does incarceration do that would render a colossal, big-hearted Black man like Daniel so small? And in so doing, it gives Beale Street its most haunting scene.

Photo: Netflix

First role: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (2006)

You Know Her From:Russian Doll, High Maintenance, Girls

Be Sure to Check Out: Inside Amy Schumer, What We Do in the Shadows

Since her start with an appearance on Law & Order: SVU, Greta Lee has moved up to become a quintessential character actor in the New York City scene. Building on appearances on critically acclaimed comedies like Inside Amy Schumer, Broad City, Girls, and High Maintenance, Lee scored an unforgettable part opposite Natasha Lyonne in Netflix’s Russian Doll in 2019. She plays Maxine, the chipper good friend throwing a big birthday party for Lyonne’s character, Nadia. Unfortunately, the party leads Nadia into a strange time loop, so while Maxine begins her introduction the same way almost every time, she must then change to react to Nadia’s increasingly paranoid and frustrated behavior.

In between numerous TV-show appearances, Lee has been in a handful of movies like Sisters, Gemini,and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Post–Russian Doll’s splashy first season, Lee has kept busy with a variety of guest appearances on shows like The Twilight Zone, What We Do in the Shadows, and The Morning Show. That these series are so wildly different in tone and scope underscores how Lee can thrive in just about any environment, from horror to comedy to drama, immersing herself into whatever the role calls for her to do. She can do what feels like dozens of takes on her famous Russian Doll line “Sweet birthday baby” and never run out of energy. Her charisma steals scenes both small and large, which is saying something when paired with an actor as captivating as Lyonne. But it’s a talent that comes from the rapport she creates with her partners in any given scene — building on each other’s presences to make every moment count.

Photo: Shutterstock

First role: Grumpy Old Men (1993)

You know him from: Fargo (the movie), The Americans, American Horror Story

Be sure to check out: Zodiac, The Founder, The Trial of the Chicago 7

The binary that distinguishes John Carroll Lynch is probably best expressed in two of his greatest performances.

In Fargo, he plays Norm Gunderson, the supportive and genial husband of Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), chief of police. He’s set up as a foil to the film’s more sordid men, a model of the very opposite of toxic masculinity, and Lynch embodies that ethos with aplomb. He wraps his arm lovingly around Marge as she takes dead-of-night calls, smiles with a pleasure in life that recalls a benevolent moon, and moves with the steady purpose of a man who is simply where he knows he ought to be.

But that same visage and pace, with a few small tweaks, becomes one of film’s most nightmare-haunting villains in Zodiac. Lynch plays Arthur Leigh Allen, a prime Zodiac Killer suspect. Lynch’s version of Allen appears both totally innocent, a man with explanations for everything, and intensely menacing. You get the sense that there’s something twitching under his skin, which is pulled tight to contain him. It’s unnerving for those who suspect him, but it’s equally unnerving for the audience, whose perception of Allen’s guilt or innocence changes by the millisecond. Lynch has said that Fincher asked him to play the character as if he were innocent, but it’s no wonder that he’d later play a bevy of killers and creeps on American Horror Story, including Twisty the Clown and serial murderer John Wayne Gacy.

That Lynch can morph from comforting to nerve-wracking by tweaking the energy emanating from his limbs proves how talented of an actor he is, and it’s why we love him: When he shows up onscreen, it’s never quite clear what we’ll get or what’s boiling beneath the surface. Lynch looks, at the end of the day, like any guy you might pass on the street, a big but ordinary fellow who perches on a barstool or is a partner at a law firm. But his long career in film, TV, and the theater is a testament to his ability to harness an ordinary physicality into something extraordinary, pulling together these poles — the menacing and the comforting, the goofy and the deadly serious. That’s why his appearance sparks a frisson of excitement. Something very interesting is about to happen when Lynch enters.

Photo: FX Networks/Everett Collections

First Screen Role: Upright Citizens Brigade(2000)

You Know Him From: The League, Parks and Recreation, How Did This Get Made? (podcast)

Be Sure to Check Out: Transparent, The Long, Dumb Road

Jason Mantzoukas cannot be escaped. Turn on an episode of The Good Place, and there he is as Derek, the robot boyfriend who does not understand how martini glasses work. Settle in to watch John Wick 3: Parabellum, and there he is again in the unsettling role of Tick Tock Man.

He does voices in the stuff your kids like to watch, like DuckTales and Doolittle. He does voices in the stuff you like to watch after your kids have gone to bed, like Big Mouth. He’s a blob of mucus in a Mucinex commercial, an extremely stressed detective on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a slightly skeezy weed doctor on Transparent, and a goddamned bumblebee in Dickinson.

Mantzoukas is that guy that you’re always delighted to see when he pops up somewhere, which works out well since he is always popping up somewhere. This is ironic considering that he first registered on many TV viewers’ radars as Rafi, the psychopathic inappropriate-comment generator on The League, who, in the real world, you would prefer never to see anywhere. Rafi established what has become the Mantzoukas Wheelhouse: portraying weirdos of security-alarm-tripping proportions, a propensity that suits his large wild eyes and that raspy voice, which can sound broish, stonerish, or genuinely philosophical depending on how it’s calibrated. But Mantzoukas has dramatic range, too. Watch him in The Long, Dumb Road, a 2018 indie movie in which he gets the rare chance to play a lead in the form of Richard, a strange, funny, possibly disturbed dude who hitches a ride out West with an art-school student (Tony Revolori). You’ll laugh, you’ll feel pity, you’ll feel uncomfortable, and you’ll realize that Jason Mantzoukas isn’t just everywhere — he’s also capable of anything.

Photo: New Line Cinema

First role: Cocaine Cowboys (1979)

You Know Him From: Rush Hour, The Farewell, Mulan

Be Sure to Check Out: Tigertail, Dante’s Peak, Rapid Fire 

In the last few years, Tzi Ma has started popping up in some of Hollywood’s most high-profile films: playing Awkwafina’s father in Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, Mulan’s father in Niki Caro’s live-action take on the beloved Disney film, and the older Pin-Jui in Alan Yang’s semi-autobiographical film Tigertail. But the ubiquitous actor has, as his fans know, delivered striking and indelible work for decades. Born in Hong Kong and raised on Staten Island, Ma is a quintessential New York actor with roots on the stage that inform his work in film and television. Ma signed up for drama in high school and, having been inspired by seeing Mako’s towering lead performance in Pacific Overtures,pursued the profession full time. Like Mako, Ma’s career would not be defined by one kind of role or one medium.

Through his early work in experimental theater coupled with his study of martial arts, Ma honed his physical abilities. His command over his body is always apparent, changing his gait and posture for each performance, whether he’s playing a diplomat (Rush Hour), a volcanologist (Dante’s Peak), a general (Arrival), or a fire chief (Skyscraper). This physicality, coupled with the sheer variety of roles he’s played, brings a Shakespearean quality to his screen presence. Ma understands that, as in Shakespeare, each role in a story is important and, no matter the size, deserves care and attention in creating an interior world for the character to inhabit. A master of dialects and languages, Ma has played ethnicities including Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Laotian, Taiwanese, and Japanese. Even after racking up more than 100 credits — including appearances in more than 75 different television shows — it’s as if you’re seeing him for the first time every time he’s onscreen. As if he is that person in real life, caught by a camera vérité, grounding and sharpening every project graced by his presence.

Photo: Netflix

First role:Homicide: Life on the Street (1998)

You know her from: House of Cards, Homeland, Law & Order: SVU

Be sure to check out: News of the World, True Grit, American Masters: Louisa May Alcott

Elizabeth Marvel projects the kind of competence and authority that makes audiences feel like no matter how bad things have gotten, at least someone is in charge. The appearance that she’s got everything under control is all the more remarkable given that the characters she’s played who are closest to power — like presidential candidate Heather Dunbar on House of Cards and President Elizabeth Keane on Homeland — often find themselves foiled in the end. Still, you wouldn’t want to get in her way.

No doubt some of that command comes from her extensive background on the stage, where she worked for years before picking up her first TV role and to which she occasionally still returns. (She played Goneril in the gender-bent King Lear starring Glenda Jackson in 2019.) The way she takes over a room can be intimidating, but she’s not coldly present; she’s a ball of flames and a little unpredictable. The set of her jaw is as expressive as her eyes, which can slice right through an errant interlocutor.

Those qualities aren’t lessened when her character isn’t in a power suit or holding a detective’s notepad. She’s played everything from the grown-up version of Mattie in the Coens’ True Grit to Louisa May Alcott in an American Masters documentary about the Little Women author’s life. In period performances, she always gives off the feeling of a woman who knows her worth, against whatever the world around her says a woman should be. And a recent performance ties together her strengths: In the WesternNews of the World, Marvel plays Ella Gannett, an innkeeper in Dallas who has a casual but long-standing relationship and genuine friendship with Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks). She also speaks some Kiowa, the native language spoken by the child that Kidd is protecting, and her tenderness with the child matches her affectionate but stern admonitions to Kidd, who is running away from his past. It’s a quintessential Marvel performance, memorable as a linchpin for the story, and embodying what makes her so immensely watchable.

Photo: HBO/Shutterstock

First role: Chloe + Zoë (2012)

You Know Her From: BoJack Horseman, Crashing, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet

Be Sure to Check Out: A Simple Favor, Ginger Snaps

As she ascended from comedy-circle staple to rising screen star, comedian Aparna Nancherla pulled off the remarkable feat of jumping to movies and TV shows without losing her voice, wry wit, and deadpan delivery. While cutting her teeth as a writer for shows like Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell and Late Night With Seth Meyers in early to mid-2010s, Nancherla’s profile grew as she landed front-of-camera appearances on Inside Amy Schumer, The Jim Gaffigan Show, and a few years later, Master of None. In her stand-up, she’s often vulnerable and confessional, taking on personal topics like mental health, and many of her best acting performances have built on those introspective stand-up sensibilities.

She’s branched out into voice acting: leading a show like Ginger Snaps, where she played a character desperate for a mean girl’s approval, and making guest appearances on Steven Universe,Mira, Royal Detective, and adult animation like Bob’s Burgers and You’re Not a Monster. Her most famous animated role has been on BoJack Horseman, where she voiced the character of Hollyhock, BoJack’s presumed daughter who turned out to be his half-sister. Nancherla’s performance on the show balances Hollyhock’s insecurities with her clear-eyed view of BoJack, and she’s able to convey vulnerability and condemnation in the same breath.

But it’s in the live action realm where her gifts are most resonant. Nancherla skewered soulless company culture in Comedy Central’s Corporate and joined Netflix’s comedy Space Force to dunk on, well, the United States Space Force. In Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, Nancherla plays a dissatisfied worker at a chaotic video game studio, making her hatred of her bosses a running punchline. She delivers cutting remarks with a no-nonsense weariness. Her characters in these shows are simply over it, and her disdain for her enemies or roadblocks is a way to laugh through circumstances beyond one’s control. Nancherla’s brand of humor is a type of millennial malaise that is often felt but rarely communicated, which makes her a perfect stand-in to dismiss the authority figures who have dismissed us.

Photo: Focus Features

First role: One Life to Live (1981)

You know him from: A Serious Man, WandaVision

Be sure to check out: In a World, Lady Dynamite

The quintessential Fred Melamed role comes in A Serious Man. Melamed plays Sy Ableman, the smarmy nemesis to Michael Stuhlbarg’s Larry Gopnik. Sy is not exactly everything Larry wants to be, but he has everything Larry wants, most importantly the love of Larry’s wife. “I am a serious man,” Sy tells Larry; later, he is eulogized with those same words. But he’s not a serious man; he’s a joke, at least to us, the kind of character who very seriously pontificates to his rival about letting his wine breathe. That doesn’t make him any less a villain, but there’s a whiff of buffoonery around him that Melamed nails with unctuous, hammy assurance.

Melamed has had a sprawling career, working extensively with directors like Woody Allen and the Coen brothers while popping up everywhere else, from TV soaps and procedurals to indie flicks, often playing Jewish characters. He has one of those faces you just remember, if not quite from where: bald and full-lipped, with eyes that always look just a little amused and a beard that’s gone handsomely gray over the years. He is your high-school science teacher, your father’s best friend, the owner of the bookstore downtown who always knows what you’re looking for. That makes it even funnier when he’s playing a hapless or pompous character; we all know it’s a little bit of a clown act, and the juxtaposition is what makes it work.

And he has that voice. You might know Melamed’s baritone better than his face; he’s worked as an announcer on shows like NFL Today and voiced characters in animated shows, like Wonder Pets! and Adventure Time, and video games, including several Grand Theft Auto installments and Fallout 76. He’s so identified with voice-overs that in Lake Bell’s brilliant comedy In a World he plays reigning Hollywood voice-over king Sam Soto, father to another (female) aspiring voice-over artist. In several episodes of the short-lived sitcom The Crazy Ones, he played a version of himself as a voice-over artist conflicted about his career.

But what might be best about Melamed is the sense that he’s always up for an adventure. In the past decade, he’s played everything from Uncle Vanya onstage — a challenge for any actor — to luckless but well-meaning talent manager Bruce Ben-Bacharach in Maria Bamford’s offbeat comedy Lady Dynamite. He’s never a caricature, but he’s one of those actors who brings the other roles you’ve seen him in to every fresh character; there’s decades of slightly smirking, good-natured amusement in every performance.

Photo: Netflix

First Role: Yes, Madame (2004)

You Know Him From: Stranger Things, This Is Us, Daredevil

Be Sure to Check Out: The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Bull, Just Mercy

Rob Morgan holds the distinction of being the only actor to appear in all six of Netflix’s Marvel TV shows, and in true character-actor fashion, Morgan’s Turk Barrett is not a superhero. Rather, he’s a small-time crook who makes scattered appearances — as comic relief.

Martin Freeman On The Difference Between British \u0026 American Actors - CONAN on TBS

We are in a golden age of acting — make that platinum — as we realized when we decided to select our favorite film performers of the past 20 years. There’s no formula for choosing the best (just squabbling), and this list is both necessarily subjective and possibly scandalous in its omissions. Some of these performers are new to the scene; others have been around for decades. In making our choices, we have focused on this century and looked beyond Hollywood. And while there are certainly stars in the mix and even a smattering of Oscar winners, there are also character actors and chameleons, action heroes and art-house darlings. They’re 25 reasons we still love movies, maybe more than ever.



Gael García Bernal

MANOHLA DARGIS When Alejandro González Iñárritu’s thriller “Amores Perros” and Alfonso Cuarón’s road movie “Y Tu Mamá También” were released in American art houses a year apart, the shocks were seismic. Their directors were soon racing toward international renown and so was Gael García Bernal, their shared star. He was gifted, held the screen and had a face you kept looking at, partly because — with his doe eyes and lantern jaw — it seamlessly fused ideals of feminine and masculine beauty.

This contrast wasn’t especially obvious in “Amores Perros” (2001), but it helps enrich the warmer “Y Tu Mamá También” (2002), a soulful coming-of-age story that opens with a whoop and ends on a sigh. García Bernal plays Julio, a working-class teenager on a journey of discovery (of the self, of others). Along with his best friend (played by Diego Luna), Julio tumbles through life heedlessly until he doesn’t. As the story’s raucousness quiets, Julio’s adolescent machismo fades, replaced by pensiveness that the actor makes so physical, you see the character retreating inside himself.

By 2004, García Bernal had appeared in Walter Salles’s “The Motorcycle Diaries” as the young Che Guevara and played a duplicitous chameleon in Pedro Almodóvar’s “Bad Education.” Almodóvar put the actor in heels to play a noirish femme fatale, a role that García Bernal apparently didn’t much like doing so but that deepened his persona with a smear of lipstick and a psychological coldness that created new shocks.

A. O. SCOTT In Pablo Larraín’s “No” (2013), García Bernal plays Rene Saavedra, a hotshot young advertising creative in 1980s Chile, with his usual charm. He’s cool but not intimidatingly so; good-looking in the same measure; funny but not to the point of obnoxiousness; self-confident but not a jerk. At first, it’s easy to underestimate both Rene and García Bernal, to mistake their casual, unassuming naturalness for a lack of gravitas or craft. Rene is enlisted by a group of opposition political parties to produce television spots supporting a “no” vote on a referendum extending the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Rene’s job is to sell rejection as an upbeat choice, to acknowledge the brutality of Pinochet’s regime while focusing on the happy future without him. Though Rene believes in the cause, he also views it as a marketing challenge, and there is a bit of a “Mad Men” vibe to his wrangling with clients, colleagues and rivals.

It’s up to García Bernal to provide the dramatic link between the banalities of the media business and the terror of political repression, and he does it almost entirely with his eyes. One night, the apartment he shares with his young son is vandalized while they sleep, and in that moment Rene’s chipper resolve liquefies into pure fear. The next day he is back at work, and both he and the audience have a new and profound understanding of what the work means.

Rent or buy “No” on major streaming platforms.



Sônia Braga

MANOHLA DARGIS I just recently rewatched “Aquarius” (2016) for our ode to Sônia Braga. For those who haven’t seen it: Braga stars as Clara, a writer whose apartment faces the Atlantic. Most of the story follows Clara just living her life while swatting away her landlord. Braga fits seamlessly into the director Kleber Mendonça Filho’s wonderful, unfussy realism. This time while viewing the movie, though — partly prompted by, ahem, a chapter title called “Clara’s Hair” — I noticed how Braga kept rearranging her opulent curtain of hair. And, as she swept it up and let it down, I realized that Mendonça wasn’t just presenting a character but also the legend playing her.

A. O. SCOTT It’s a reminder — subliminal and brazen at the same time — that Braga was a big deal in Brazil and beyond in the 1970s and ’80s, her nation’s answer to Sophia Loren. Her films with Mendonça (“Bacurau” this year as well “Aquarius”) draw on that history and exploit her old-school charisma. But they aren’t just late-career star turns. Clara isn’t Sonia Braga: She’s a highly specific woman with her own history of achievements, love affairs and regrets. But only a performer with Braga’s utter self-assurance, her heroic indifference to what anyone else thinks of her, could bring Clara to life.

DARGIS Yet what I found fascinating about “Aquarius” this time is that Clara is also Braga, in the sense that the character’s meaning is partly shaped by everything that Braga brings whenever she’s onscreen, including her history in Brazilian cinema as a woman of mixed ancestry as well as her adventures in Hollywood. There’s something fantastically liberating watching Braga play this majestic woman, who has visible wrinkles and never had breast reconstruction after her mastectomy. That’s especially true given how Braga was once slavered over as a sex star. “There is nothing else to call her,” a male critic once wrote — well, you could call her an actress.

SCOTT Her skill manifests itself in a totally different way in “Bacurau” this year, a crazily fantastical (and violent) science-fictionish allegory of Brazil in crisis that departs from the realism of Mendonça’s other films without abandoning their political passion or their humanism. Braga, part of a sprawling ensemble that includes nonprofessional actors, is essential to this. She plays Domingas, a small-town doctor with a drinking problem and a sometimes abrasive personality — a deglamorized, comical role that no one else could have managed with such depth and grace. Or as Mendonça put it, “In a symphony, she’d be the piano.”

Stream “Bacurau” on the Criterion Channel and “Aquarius” on Netflix.



Mahershala Ali

A. O. SCOTT Mahershala Ali has one of the great faces in modern movies — those sculpted cheekbones, that high, contemplative brow, those eyes tinged with melancholy. His presence on camera is magnetic, but also watchful and sly. His characters tend toward reticence, guardedness, but their reserve is its own form of eloquence, their whispers more resonant than any shout.

Ali has won two Oscars for best supporting actor. The first was for “Moonlight” (2016), in which he quietly demolished a durable Hollywood stereotype. Juan is a drug dealer, a figure of community destruction and implicit violence. What defines him, though, is his gentleness, the unconditional kindness he bestows on Chiron, the young protagonist. Juan listens to the boy; he answers his questions; in one of the film’s most moving scenes, he teaches him to swim.

And then, between the first and second acts, he vanishes. But Ali haunts the film even after his departure. He’s both its tragic, nurturing image of manhood and the first man worthy of Chiron’s love.

MANOHLA DARGIS Ali first got my attention in the Netflix series “House of Cards.” He played Remy Danton, a Washington lawyer whose knowing little smile could flicker like a warning, signaling the danger in his world. Remy entered in the second episode in a scene at a restaurant, where the lead character, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), is eating with two other power brokers. Remy doesn’t stand over the seated men, he looms. You know Underwood is bad news, but when the director David Fincher cuts to Remy’s face, Ali abruptly changes the temperature by dropping his affable facade for skin-prickling wariness, making it clear that he isn’t talking to a man but to a predator.

I was so accustomed to seeing Ali in a bespoke suit (and sometimes out) that I didn’t recognize him at first in “Moonlight.” It wasn’t simply the different wardrobes, but the precise bearing that Ali gave each man, variations in bodies, yes, but also in how those bodies move and signify. In “House of Cards,” Remy flows and there were moments when I thought I was looking at the next James Bond. In “Moonlight,” Ali creates a titanic character whose force, even after he disappears from the movie, continues to resonate. The actor creates a very dissimilar character in “Green Book” (2018, his second Oscar winner), this time with a performance — as the musician Don Shirley, whom Ali plays as a man and a defended fortress — that surpasses the movie.

SCOTT I would almost say that the performance is the opposite of the movie. Ali is graceful, witty and self-aware while “Green Book” is clumsy, jokey and blind to its own insensitivities. I’m not sure any other actor could have handled the notorious fried chicken scene with such sly dignity. That “Green Book” and “Moonlight” were both best picture winners speaks to the contradictions of our cultural moment, but it’s proof of Ali’s talent that his subtle craft and unshakable charisma can anchor two such divergent films.

Stream “Moonlight” on Netflix.



Melissa McCarthy

MANOHLA DARGIS When critics anatomize comic performers like Melissa McCarthy, we often touch on familiar qualities like timing, grace and elastic physiognomy. But we’re also talking about acting. Since making the transition from TV to movies, McCarthy has repeatedly demonstrated her range and exhilaratingly helped demolish regressive ideas about who gets to be a film star. No movie has served her better than “Spy” (2015) in which she plays Susan, a timid C.I.A. analyst who’s sent on an outlandish mission that allows McCarthy to mince and then delightfully swagger.

Essential to the subversive fun of “Spy” is how it deploys genre conventions to showcase McCarthy’s talents while also blowing up stereotypes. Susan contains multitudes, first as self-protection (she dampens her fire) and later as an expression of her humanity. In the field, she unhappily assumes several frumpy, tragically bewigged disguises — variations on how others see her — before transforming into a sexy, trash-talking fantasy of her own design. As Susan lets down her hair and inhibitions, McCarthy cuts loose. Her voice booms, her fluttery hands ball into fists, her Kewpie-doll face goes full-on Medusa. McCarthy isn’t playing one woman — she’s all of us, with a vengeance.

A. O. SCOTT Lee Israel is funny. She shares a fast and furiously aggressive verbal wit with some of McCarthy’s other creations, like Tammy in “Tammy” (2014) and Mullins in “The Heat” (2013). But Lee was a real person, and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (2018) isn’t exactly a comedy. It’s not quite a biopic either, but rather a highly specific slice of late-20th-century New York queer and literary life threaded through a misfit buddy picture and twisted into a caper film.

Lee is not easy to like or root for. She’s abrasive, self-absorbed and self-sabotaging. She alienates friends and maintains as tenuous a grip on ethics as on sobriety. McCarthy resists turning her story — which involves trading a faltering career as a writer for a lucrative stint as a forger of famous writers’ letters — into a parable of recovery or redemption.

It’s about how Lee and her sidekick (the wonderful Richard E. Grant) gamble on survival, rebelling against the fate that an indifferent world has prepared for them. The movie’s title poses an honest question. Maybe you can’t forgive Lee for her lapses and lies, her lack of consideration for other people’s words and feelings. But there’s no way you can forget her.

Rent or buy “Spy” and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” on most major platforms.


Catherine Deneuve

By Marjane Satrapi

In a lengthy career working with a who’s who of auteurs, Deneuve has stood for a certain kind of elegant Frenchwoman whether she’s playing an ordinary wife, a down-on-her-luck bistro owner or even an Iranian mother. For that last role, in the animated “Persepolis” (2007). Deneuve voiced a character based on Marjane Satrapi’s mom. We asked Satrapi, who directed the film with Vincent Paronnaud, to explain why she sought out Deneuve.

If you live in France, Catherine Deneuve is the symbol. When I was growing up, she was the dream. She always made choices that were too advanced for her time, more anarchist than bourgeois. She has always looked like a very bourgeois Parisian woman, which is absolutely not true. She is a rebel who looks like a grande dame.

The first time I met Catherine Deneuve was like meeting God in person. I was so impressed. And yet, I had to direct her, and I didn’t dare tell her a thing. The first two hours, I was completely paralyzed, and she calmed me down. She told me, because she’s a very generous woman: “You’re the director and I’m your actress. Tell me what to do and I will do it.” She didn’t do it in front of other people. She said, “Let’s go have a cigarette,” and she said it to me privately.

For the character of the mother, I needed to have someone who is not this eternal mother who is very lovely, because this is not my mom. My mom is a very lovely person but she is like: “You do this. You do that.” I needed somebody who had the power of a woman that wants her daughter to [make her life] better and be more emancipated. Catherine Deneuve has this way of talking that is not playful, because she doesn’t try to be likable. She’s very frank. When she talks to you, she looks straight into your eyes.

She doesn’t try to be likable. She’s very frank.

There is this scene when I come home and my mom starts yelling at me: “You know what they do with young girls in Iran? You have to get out of this country.” I remember when she played it, she was a little bit off. She tried to contain herself as she normally does. I was like, “No, Catherine, you’re really out of your mind.” She did it and she actually cried. That was extremely moving.

And still, after all these years, each time I see her, I have the heartbeat. She is like a lion. She is not loud, she does not make gestures. But even if she is behind you and you don’t see her, you feel that a feline is in the room. It feels at the same time very exciting and very dangerous. She is ferocious and she is fearless, and I love that about her. — Interview by Kathryn Shattuck

Rent or buy “Persepolis” on most major platforms.



Rob Morgan

A. O. SCOTT The great character actors are masters of paradox, at once indelible and invisible. You don’t necessarily recognize them from one role to the next, but they leave their stamp on every film, enhancing the whole even in small parts.

If you saw “Mudbound,”“Monsters and Men,”“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” and “Just Mercy” — four movies released between 2017 and 2019 — you are aware of Rob Morgan, whether or not you know his name.

As a death row prisoner in “Just Mercy,” he is a notably undramatic presence, a quiet man haunted by remorse, helplessness and fear whose plight encapsulates the film’s humanist argument.

In each of the other movies, he plays a father, in the Jim Crow South and the modern urban North — a man who knows more than he chooses to say. The sons in those movies do most of the talking, but Morgan gives eloquent expression to experiences that lie outside the main story even as they ground it in a larger history. In “Last Black Man” he appears in a handful of scenes and utters just a few lines, but everything that movie is about — the pleasures and disappointments of life at the margins of an idiosyncratic, rapidly changing city — is written in his face. He listens, he chews sunflower seeds, he plays a few chords on an old pipe organ, and after a few minutes in his presence you understand exactly what you need to know.

MANOHLA DARGIS Every so often, a small movie gives an actor a chance to go bigger and hold the center, which is what Morgan does in Annie Silverstein’s “Bull” (2020). He plays Abe, a former rodeo bull rider with stiff joints, blood in his urine and a fragilely held together life. His bull riding days over, he now works on the ground as a bullfighter, helping protect fallen riders. The role of Abe, mercifully, isn’t overwritten, which allows Morgan to define the character with a persuasively embodied performance, one whose head tilts, sideways looks and withdrawn presence expresses a bruising past and the self-protecting instincts of a man in emotional retreat.

“Bull” should be only about Abe, but it instead focuses on his relationship with a white, rootless 14-year-old neighbor, Kris (Amber Havard). Their fates sourly cross after she’s caught trashing his house, and is shaped by the unearned optimism that’s foundational to American cinema. In other words, Abe and Kris save each other. What saves the movie, though, is the window Morgan opens onto the Black cowboy and how the performance complicates America’s favorite myths, including the figure of the hard, stoic loner. Abe doesn’t ride in from John Wayne territory; Abe rides in from an entirely different land that Morgan makes visceral, haunted and wholly alive.

Stream “Bull” on Hulu.



Wes Studi

By Manohla Dargis

Wes Studi has one of the screen’s most arresting faces — jutting and creased and anchored with the kind of penetrating eyes that insist you match their gaze. Lesser directors like to use his face as a blunt symbol of the Native American experience, as a mask of nobility, of suffering, of pain that’s unknowable only because no one has asked the man wearing it. In the right movie, though, Studi doesn’t just play with a character’s facade; he peels its layers. A master of expressive opacity, he shows you the mask and what lies beneath, both the thinking and the feeling.

He shows you the mask and what lies beneath.

Studi vaulted into cinematic consciousness as the vengeful Huron warrior in Michael Mann’s epic “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992), a character the actor conveys with powerful physicality and intensities of contempt, impatience, resentment, fury. Doing a lot with a little has been a constant in Studi’s movie career, which includes signifying roles in “The New World” (2005) and “Avatar” (2009). Like many actors, he has done his share of forgettable work, made exploitation flicks and TV fodder. Often specifically cast as a Native American, he has played Geronimo and Cochise; he might right more film wrongs if westerns were still popular. And if the industry were adventurous, he might also play more types like the supervisor of a homeless shelter in “Being Flynn” (2012), a man who doesn’t wear what Studi calls “leathers and feathers.”

Instructively, he wears neither in Scott Cooper’s “Hostiles” (2017), about life and death in late-19th-century America. Studi plays Chief Yellow Hawk, a dying Cheyenne prisoner whom the federal government has agreed to return to his ancestral lands. The movie is largely interested in his escort, a war-ruined Indian hater played by Christian Bale, the star. Once again, Studi delivers a supporting turn that complements the leading performance — his character’s indifference to the escort’s rage is a wall that can’t be breached — and helps equalize the story’s balance. Yellow Hawk has survived long enough to die on his terms, survival that Studi makes a final act of self-possession.

Stream “Hostiles” on Netflix.



Willem Dafoe

By Julian Schnabel

The actor has been a vital presence in movies as different as “Shadow of the Vampire” (2000) and “The Florida Project” (2017), for which he received Oscar nominations. He was also nominated for playing van Gogh in Julian Schnabel’s biopic, “At Eternity’s Gate” (2018). We asked Schnabel why he turned to Dafoe.

Willem and I met more than 30 years ago. He has always lived in the neighborhood, and we had a lot of friends in common. Oliver Stone was shooting “The Doors” in New York, and we were standing around the set one night and that was the first time we really started to talk.

One thing that’s super-important is he’s a very generous actor. He cares about other people’s performances and about helping them by being available in whatever he is doing. He’s very, very loyal and very, very smart. If you’ve got somebody who’s smart, they can make it better.

He’s a very generous actor. He cares about other people’s performances.

[For “At Eternity’s Gate”] I needed somebody that would have the depth of character to play van Gogh. And it wasn’t about just looking like him. It was somebody that could have enough life experience to be that guy. People thought, well, Willem is 60 years old, van Gogh was 37 when he died. That was irrelevant to me. You just have to have a hunch about trusting somebody and thinking that they can do something. I trust Willem implicitly. And that level of trust goes both ways.

There’s stuff we shot in Arles after he arrived that we couldn’t use. He was wearing the same clothes, had the same hairdo, but he wasn’t the guy yet. Then there was a certain moment when all of a sudden he was. He was transformed, transfigured. He was somebody else.

One of my favorite scenes is where he’s talking to the young Dr. Rey, who is seeing him after he’s cut his ear off and he is guaranteeing him that he’s going to get to paint when he’s in the institution. That interaction is extraordinary, what Willem does there. He’s basically sitting at a table and there’s not a whole hell of a lot of room for movement. But what goes on in his face in his response to what the young doctor is saying to him — and also in response to whatever other thoughts seem to be traveling through his mind at that time — is a landscape of events and an interior life like foam coming to the top of a vanilla egg cream. — Interview by Kathryn Shattuck

Rent or buy “At Eternity’s Gate” on most major platforms.



Alfre Woodard

By A. O. Scott

In a just world, there would be a bursting roster of great performances to fill this entry, a collection of matriarchs, romantic heroines, divas and villains to reflect the full range of Alfre Woodard’s gifts. Such roles are always in short supply for Black women, but even in small parts in minor movies or television series, Woodard is an unforgettable presence, at once regal and utterly real.

The two films that have given her the most room — Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” (2013) and Chinonye Chukwu’s “Clemency” (2019) — both place the question of justice front and center. In each, Woodard must assert her character’s dignity and ethical integrity in the face of impossibly cruel circumstances. Bernadine Williams, the prison warden in “Clemency” whose job includes supervising executions, finds her professionalism increasingly at odds with her humanity. In “12 Years,” Mistress Shaw, an enslaved woman whose relationship with a plantation owner has brought her a measure of privilege, has bargained with a system built on her dehumanization.

Woodard’s art, her commitment to truth, is what you see.

The contradictions that Bernadine and Mistress Shaw contend with are larger than any individual. What Woodard does is make them personal. Self-control is a matter of survival, and Woodard sets her face into a picture of proper decorum, impersonating the genteel Southern lady or the efficient bureaucrat that the situation requires. She doesn’t so much let the masks slip — except perhaps in the devastating final scenes of “Clemency” — as show the cost and care that go into wearing them. The characters are also performing, playing their roles for mortal stakes, and Woodard’s art, her commitment to truth, is what you see in the space between how they seem and who they are.

Stream both “Clemency” and “12 Years a Slave” on Hulu.



Kim Min-hee

By Manohla Dargis

In Hong Sang-soo’s “Right Now, Wrong Then” (2016), a woman and man meet. They drink and drink some more and testily part ways only to meet in the movie’s second half as if for the very first time, a setup that evokes “Groundhog Day.” Once again, they go to a cafe, a studio, a restaurant. Yet while their actions generally remain the same, as does the overall arc of the evening, enough has changed — how they look at each other, the inflections in their voices — to turn this second encounter into something different.

Kim Min-hee’s exquisitely nuanced performance is at the center of the movie, and the actress herself has been at the heart of Hong’s work ever since, appearing in most of his ensuing movies. An established art-house auteur, Hong tells modestly scaled stories that are formally playful, sensitive to human imperfection and drenched in soju. Familiar things happen, sometimes unfamiliarly. Repetition is often a narrative focus, one that is grounded in life and beautifully served by Kim’s lucid expressivity.

In Hong’s minimalist canon, life is condensed in everyday moments, in conversations and the way bodies lean toward one another. The differences in the two halves of “Right Now, Wrong Then” reveal new facets of the characters and create new tensions between them. They also give free rein to Kim’s range, allowing her to play with intonation, gestures, flickering looks. Yet while the movie’s two sections feel like variations of the same story, her performance feels more like it’s coalescing as — smile by smile, with deflected and fixed gazes — Kim gathers the character into a whole.

She goes big and small, veers from monstrous to mousy.

She went for baroque in Park Chan-wook’s “The Handmaiden” (2016), her best-known movie. In this outlandish, often perversely funny drama set in Korea in the 1930s, she plays a Japanese noble who’s saved from her deviant uncle by her wiles and by another woman. The story’s flamboyant excesses and narrative twists allow Kim to use every tool in her workbox. She goes big and small, veers from monstrous to mousy, and alternately hides her character’s feelings and lets them run amok. Her body rocks and her face distorts as fear and pain give way to ecstasy and release. The character is a mystery that the movie teases but that Kim deliriously unlocks.

Stream “The Handmaiden” on Amazon Prime Video.



Michael B. Jordan

By Ryan Coogler

Michael B. Jordan has played lawyers, athletes and superheroes, but even before his range became clear, the director Ryan Coogler wanted to work with him. Coogler has made three features (“Fruitvale Station,” “Creed” and “Black Panther”) and Jordan stars or co-stars in all of them. We asked the director to explain just what it is about the actor that draws us in.

I met Mike in 2012 when I was doing research and working on the script for “Fruitvale.” He was who I decided would be best for the role before I met him, based on the other work that I’d seen him do — a couple of movies that year, “Red Tails” and “Chronicle,” and a bunch of stuff in the TV space. But I thought that he could play Oscar. He looked like him, but also what I saw was this ability to make you empathize with him. Not all actors have this thing, when you immediately care about somebody right offhand and that triggers an empathetic reaction. He had that. He also has a very advanced tool kit as an actor.

What I saw was this ability to make you empathize with him.

He’s been in all the feature films I’ve done. And I keep casting him because he’s the best person for the job. “Creed” [2015] had another character I thought he could play well. Before Mike was an actor, he was an athlete, back in elementary school and high school. He had played athletes on TV, the most famous being on “Friday Night Lights,” so some of the things we knew his character would have to do in “Creed,” Mike felt right for it. It was a part of him that wasn’t a big reach.

And [in] “Black Panther” [2018], with him and Chadwick facing off and going toe to toe, it felt like an event. Their stars were rising. They were both leading men by the time we shot that movie.

Now, what’s exciting about us getting older in the industry is getting to work together in different capacities. He’s doing a lot of stuff behind the camera now. And we have some opportunities to work together beyond actor and director.

He’s very ambitious in a way that’s endearing. He always wants to push and challenge himself further. And that comes across in his performances, but also in the business sense. That ambition keeps him open-minded. He watches everything and doesn’t want to cut himself off from certain genres or opportunities. So I think the sky’s the limit for him and his career. — Interview by Mekado Murphy

Stream “Black Panther” on Disney+.



Oscar Isaac

A. O. SCOTT While I can take or leave the recent “Star Wars” movies, I do have a fondness for some of the characters, in particular Poe Dameron, the resistance flyboy who is the third trilogy’s designated charmer. As Poe, Oscar Isaac is an appealing, easygoing presence in those movies, a guy who seems to know what he’s doing.

His characters aren’t always as lucky, or as sure of themselves, but the man himself operates with the precision of someone who is confident enough in his skills to push himself into risky new territory. The summer before “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013) was released, Joel and Ethan Coen told us that they had originally wanted to cast a well-known musician in the title role. Instead, they found Isaac, who told them (according to Joel) that “most actors, if you ask them if they play guitar, they’ll say they played guitar for 20 years, but what they really mean is they’ve owned a guitar for 20 years.” Isaac could actually play. When I think about what makes him so credible as an actor, that’s the first thing that comes to mind. Not because it’s such a big deal to play guitar, but because whatever Isaac is pretending to do onscreen — selling heating oil (in the underrated “A Most Violent Year,” (2014); inventing sexy robots (in “Ex Machina”); flying X-wing fighters — I always believe that he really knows how to do it, and that I’m watching some kind of authentic mastery in action.

MANOHLA DARGIS When actors make a profound first impression, they sometimes get bound up with your ideas about what they can do. After “Llewyn Davis,” I associated Isaac with soulful defeat, with an undercurrent of grudging resentment. A few other roles shored up this idea of his innate mournfulness, including his performance as a besieged mayor in the HBO series “Show Me a Hero” (2015). This partly has to do with his broody, romantic looks and how his brows frame his luxuriously lashed eyes. And then there’s his voice, its pretty sound but also how its resonance creates intimacy. Even when he puts nasal in it, his voice retains a quality of closeness, one reason it often feels, sounds, like Llewyn is singing more for himself than the audience. Isaac’s voice also softens his beauty, drawing you in. Sometimes, though, as in “Ex Machina,” he uses that intimacy for something insinuating, sinister.

Isaac has a supporting role in “Ex Machina” (2015), but he’s vital to its vibe and power. He plays Nathan, a Dr. Frankenstein-like tech billionaire involved in artificial intelligence who’s building (and destroying) beautiful female androids. A savagely critical stand-in for today’s masters of the digital universe, Nathan could easily have dominated the movie. Isaac instead keeps his own charm in check, letting the character’s creepiness poison the air. Nathan’s mercurial moods and surprising looks — his shaved head and full beard, eyeglasses and cut muscles — make it difficult to get a bead on him. But when he suddenly boogies down, executing an amazing dance, Isaac lays bare all you need to know about Nathan in the geometric precision of his choreographed moves and the madness in his eyes. It’s 30 seconds of pure genius.

Rent or buy “Ex Machina” on major streaming platforms.


Tilda Swinton

MANOHLA DARGIS The woman of a thousand otherworldly faces, Tilda Swinton has created enough personas — with untold wigs, costumes and accents — to have become a roster of one. She’s a star, a character actor, a performance artist, an extraterrestrial, a trickster. Her pale, sharply planed face is an ideal canvas for paint and prosthetics, and capable of unnerving stillness. You want to read her but can’t. That helps make her a terrific villain, whether she’s playing a demon, a queen or a corporate lawyer. In “Julia” (2009), she drops that wall to play an out-of-control alcoholic and child-snatcher, giving a full-throttled performance that is so visceral and transparent that you can see the character’s thoughts furiously at work, like little parasites moving under the skin.

A. O. SCOTT We like to praise actors for “range,” but that’s an almost laughably inadequate word for the radical shape-shifting that Swinton accomplishes. Just look at one strand of her career: her work with Luca Guadagnino, a filmmaker who shares her delight in self-reinvention. In “I Am Love” (2010) she played the Russian wife of an Italian aristocratic, giving a performance in two languages and in the key of pure melodramatic heartbreak. In “A Bigger Splash” (2016) she had barely any language at all: She decided that it would be interesting if her glam-rock diva character had been struck mute by throat surgery. In “Suspiria” (2018) she executed one of her many self-doublings, appearing as a member of a balletomaniac coven of witches and also as an elderly male Holocaust survivor.

DARGIS That doubling shapes her most androgynous performances, where she effortlessly blurs gender, confirming (yet again) the inadequacy of categories like “man” and “woman.” She’s both; she’s neither. A different doubling happens when she plays twins, in the 2016 “Hail, Caesar!” (as rival gossip columnists) and in “Okja” the next year (as visually distinct very cruel captains of industry). In each, Swinton shows us two sides of the same person, much as she does in “Michael Clayton” (2007) when her lawyer rehearses a duplicitous spiel in front of a mirror. As the lawyer talks, pauses and drops her smile, you see her desperately trying to control a reflection that is already cracking.

SCOTT Those roles can be theatrical, but they almost never feel gimmicky. Swinton has roots in an avant-garde tradition — earlier in her career, she worked with Derek Jarman and Sally Potter — that emphasizes the mutability of identity and the blurred boundaries between artifice and authenticity. Over the past 20 years she has brought some of the intellectual rigor and conceptual daring of that work to Hollywood and beyond. She’s not only a uniquely exciting performer, but also one of the great living theorists of performance.

All of these Tilda Swinton films are available on major streaming platforms.



Joaquin Phoenix

By James Gray

Joaquin Phoenix has appeared in four of the director James Gray’s movies, starting with “The Yards” in 2000 and including “We Own the Night” (2007), “Two Lovers” (2009) and “The Immigrant” (2014). We asked Gray to explain how the actor has expanded — and improved — on his own vision.

When I saw “To Die For,” I said, “That actor” — I didn’t even know his name yet — “is unbelievably good at conveying his internal life without dialogue.” That’s a really important thing in cinema, because the camera reveals everything. Here was an actor who had so much going on and you could tell. I thought, “That’s a very interesting actor. I’d love to meet him.” And I did.

We were on the same wavelength, instantly. We liked the same things. We thought about things the same way. And I just immediately liked him. He had that dimensionality to him. The first film we did together [“The Yards”], I’m sure that I pissed him off a lot. I have a very direct way. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s not so good. I’m better at it now. Let’s just say that I wasn’t always willing to say, “Yeah, that’s interesting, but let’s try this.” I was more into, “Joaq, what are you doing? That sucks, try another one.” And I know I would frustrate him because his talent was so vast.

He has a limitless ability to surprise you in the best ways and inspire you to move in a direction that you haven’t thought of originally, better than what you have in mind, and expands the idea. He’s extremely inventive. He’s always thinking and actually has gotten more so over the years. I’ve never said, “I want my vision on the screen.” I want something better than that. You want to lay down the parameters of what it is you have in mind, and then surround yourself with people who will make it all more beautiful. Not different, necessarily, but more intense, more vivid.

He has a limitless ability to surprise you in the best ways.

You want the actor to surprise you, and to do so in a way that seems consistent with the character but also very interesting. Joaquin was absolutely fantastic at that. That’s inspiring. You don’t know what to expect in the best sense. Joaquin Phoenix is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. If I have any regret at all, it would be that he’s not in every single movie I made. — Interview by Candice Frederick

Stream “The Yards” on CBS All Access.



Julianne Moore

A. O. SCOTT The unhappy American housewife — smiling to keep up appearances in the face of domestic tragedy and inner turmoil — is a durable movie archetype. It’s one that Julianne Moore has both explored and exploded, in “The Hours” (2002) and especially in her collaborations with Todd Haynes like “Far From Heaven” (2002).

That film is set in Connecticut in the 1950s, but it’s a pointedly stylized landscape, evocative of the Hollywood melodramas of that period. Cathy and Frank Whitaker (Moore and Dennis Quaid) are each pulled away from their stifling marriage by forbidden desires: Frank for other men, Cathy for Raymond Deagan, a Black landscaper (Dennis Haysbert). These transgressions aren’t symmetrical or intersectional. In their heartbreak, humiliation and longing, Frank and Cathy have no consolation to offer each other.

Moore could have placed Cathy’s anguish in quotation marks, evoking the suffering divas of ’50s cinema while winking at a modern audience contemplating the bad old days from a safe aesthetic distance. Instead, she goes all the way in, staring out from the soul of a woman who is rooted in her time and absolutely modern, trapped by rules and appearances and also — terrifyingly and thrillingly — free.

MANOHLA DARGIS Unhappy or not, wives can be dead ends for actresses and for too many there comes that time when they’ve been forever banished to the kitchen. Moore has played plenty of wives and mothers, but hers are sometimes more complex and surprising than her movies, an index of her sensitivities and talent. One reason she lifts her characters out of stereotype is that she plays with codes of realism, whether she’s delivering a naturalistic performance (“Still Alice,” the 2014 melodrama about a professor with Alzheimer’s) or a hyperbolic one (David Cronenberg’s 2015 satire “Maps to the Stars,” where she’s a Hollywood hyena). Moore can externalize a character’s interior state beautifully, so you see feelings surface on her skin. But she’s an artist of extremes, and she and Cronenberg have fun playing with her gargoyle faces.

For the most part, her work in “Gloria Bell” (2019) is in a realist key. She plays the title character, a generous-hearted divorced insurance worker with two adult children, an ex she doesn’t hate and an achingly lonely apartment. The movie itself is modest, intimate, thoughtful and rich in human detail. Gloria starts an affair with a man. It goes badly, they break up. Not much happens in ordinary movie terms, yet everything happens because Gloria loves and is loved in turn. It’s a story that could have led to buckets of snot and empty showboating. But Moore and the director Sebastián Lelio transcend obviousness. They don’t merely create a story about a woman’s feelings — and being — as she falls in love; they create a landscape of emotions, the texture and shape of a sensibility. Moore’s Gloria doesn’t cry and laugh; she shows you what love looks like from the inside. It’s a miracle of a performance.

Stream “Gloria Bell” on Amazon Prime Video.



Saoirse Ronan

By A. O. Scott

How many different ways can one person come of age? Growing up is a lot of what young people do in movies, but few actors have been doing it for so long, or with such nuance, intelligence and variety as Saoirse Ronan. She has been maturing in front of our eyes for more than half her life (she’s 26) becoming wiser, sadder, freer and more herself in each new role.

Of course, it’s mostly the characters who undergo those changes. Eilis Lacey (“Brooklyn,” 2015) finds love and independence in her new home; Christine McPherson (“Lady Bird,” 2017) learns to appreciate her mother; Jo March (“Little Women,” 2019) finds her voice as a writer. Ronan herself, inhabiting these women and girls in all their particularity, has been almost unnervingly consistent, in full, disciplined command of her gifts right from the start.

In full, disciplined command of her gifts right from the start.

In “Atonement,” her breakout performance from 2007, she played Briony Tallis, a perceptive 13-year-old who thinks she understands more about the adult world than she does. Ronan doesn’t only match Briony’s precociousness; she also communicates the volatile mixture of childish insecurity and romantic jealousy that makes this heedless, needy, half-innocent girl feel genuinely dangerous.

And that sense of danger persists, whether her character is vulnerable (as in “The Lovely Bones,” 2009) or violent (as in “Hanna,” 2011). Even when she’s in becalmed period dramas or gentle comedies of domestic life, Ronan brings a quicksilver precision that is thrilling and a little unsettling to watch. This is because as much as she captures the emotional weather and specific body language of, say, a 16th-century Scottish queen or a 21st-century California teenager, what she conveys even more vividly is the way those people think, the way it feels to be inside their heads.

That may sound like a cerebral, intellectualized approach to acting, but it’s really the opposite. The most radical and revelatory ambition an actor can conceive is to inhabit another consciousness, and to bring the audience along on that parapsychological journey. This is more than just disappearing into a role, or methodically activating parallel memories. It’s a kind of self-authorized rebirth, as if Athena could spring not from her father’s forehead, but her own. It can be terrifying to witness, but genius often is.

Stream “Atonement” on Peacock.



Viola Davis

By Denzel Washington

Viola Davis has worked with Denzel Washington several times in the last 20 years — whether he was the director (“Antwone Fisher,” 2002), star (playing Troy Maxson to her Rose Maxson in the August Wilson family drama “Fences” on Broadway and then on film in 2016) or producer (he cast her in the title role in the forthcoming Wilson jazz drama “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”). We asked him to explain what makes her so tremendous:

I knew that she was a great actress going back to when she auditioned for “Antwone Fisher” 20 years ago. I experienced her power, her strength and her talent [during the shoot]. She came in ready, in character, and I basically just left her alone. It was really nothing to say to her but “Thank you” and “Let’s do one more.”

She’s a once-in-a-generation talent. You don’t always know that right away, but we’ve all experienced it now over time. When I was with her in the play [“Fences”] even in rehearsal it was like, “Oh, OK, she’s a powerhouse.” She has a big scene when she finally unloads on Troy; about the third week of rehearsal she showed where she was going. And I was like, “I better catch up with her. I’ve got to concentrate.”

We had tremendous success, so there was never a question about who was going to play the role in the movie. And a powerful, strong woman, and humble. The director [George C. Wolfe] had to convince her [on Ma in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”]. I did, too. She was like, “I can’t sing. I don’t have any rhythm,” all that kind of stuff.

She can do whatever she wants. She’s got that much ability.

I trust her completely. Why does someone want to play in a band with Miles Davis? Because he’s a great collaborator, innovator, artist. She’s the same thing. She can do whatever she wants. She’s got that much ability. She’s one of the best interpreters of material that I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with. — Interview by Candice Frederick

Rent or buy “Fences” on major streaming platforms.



Zhao Tao

MANOHLA DARGIS Since 2000, the Chinese actress Zhao Tao and the director Jia Zhangke have made more than a dozen features and shorts, dramas and documentaries as well as work that resists such neat categorization. Their filmmaking alliance is so holistic and familiar that it is hard to imagine what these movies would look like without Zhao’s face and grounding presence. She’s often called his muse (they’re married), but that doesn’t come close to capturing the richness of her contribution — its poetry, symbolism and emotional granularity.

In Jia’s movies, people do a whole lot of walking and no one has clocked more miles than Zhao, often in real time. A former dance teacher, Zhao moves with poise and fluidity, whether her characters stroll down a hall (“The World” in 2005) or wander a derelict school (“24 City” in 2009). In “Still Life” (2008), Zhao plays Shen Hong, who’s looking for her husband in an ancient town that’s going to be flooded for a controversial dam. Shen Hong is often seen in medium and long shot, but when someone asks if she’s in a hurry, Jia cuts to her in close-up. “Not really,” she says, her face filling with regret or perhaps memories right before she walks out the door.

Jia’s many travelers are mapping China story by story, whatever their literal or metaphoric destination. Maybe that’s why Zhao’s posture seems so striking. Even when her characters drift, they do so with straight backs.

A. O. SCOTT The ongoing transformation of China — its fashion, its music, its economy, its architecture and topography — is Jia’s all-consuming subject, and Zhao is its avatar and test case. She is a kind of Everywoman, which is to say that she embodies many different women, sometimes within the space of a single movie.

In “Ash Is Purest White” (2019), she plays Qiao, who starts out as part of a gangster couple in the northern industrial city of Datong. She and her lover, Bin, are fearless and glamorous, even as Qiao is connected through her father to an older world of worker’s councils and proletarian toughness. It’s the early 2000s, and everything about Qiao — her hair, her clothes, the way she strides through gleaming nightclubs and battered factories — expresses confidence in modernity and her place in it.

Then everything falls apart. Her loyalty to Bin lands her in prison, and when she is released he is gone. Her travels, by boat, foot, motorbike and train, take her on a long grueling odyssey back to where she started. Her suffering is relentless, but her stoicism makes it almost comical at times, as if she were simultaneously the heroine of an old Hollywood melodrama and the protagonist of a Samuel Beckett play. The performance is a marvel of endurance, rooted in the earth but somehow also larger than life.

Stream “Ash Is Purest White” on Amazon Prime Video.



Toni Servillo

By A. O. Scott

Toni Servillo is probably best known to American audiences for “The Great Beauty” (2013), Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning tour of the decadent ways of the modern Roman cultural elite. That movie is what Pauline Kael called a “come-dressed-as-the-sick-soul-of-Europe” party, starring Servillo, playing a writer of slim accomplishment and large reputation, as the master of revels. With his handsome, creased face and impeccable haberdashery, Servillo recalls a more established version of the social butterfly Marcello Mastroianni played in “La Dolce Vita” — a detached, vaguely depressed participant-observer in a swirling spectacle of hedonism.

If you pull at the thread of Servillo’s collaboration with Sorrentino, you find something more intriguing and substantial than beauty. The two have worked together on five features, including Sorrentino’s directorial debut, “One Man Up,” and have developed a symbiosis that recalls some of the great actor-director partnerships of the past: Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro; Vittorio De Sica and Sophia Loren; John Ford and John Wayne.

Such analogies are insufficient. Servillo has been the central avatar in Sorrentino’s excavation of the corruption and hypocrisy — but also the improbable glory and absurd resilience — of modern Italy. In particular, he has incarnated two of the most powerful and polarizing real-life political leaders in the country’s recent history: Giulio Andreotti (in the scabrous and satirical “Il Divo,” 2009) and Silvio Berlusconi (in the epic and weirdly tender “Loro,” 2019).

Appreciating the scale of this accomplishment requires another round of analogies. Imagine if the same actor were cast as both Richard Nixon and Barack Obama, or Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Andreotti, a seven-time prime minister and a prime mover in the long-ruling Christian Democratic Party, was a notorious backroom operator, shrewd and almost defiantly uncharismatic. Berlusconi, also a serial prime minister, was all bluster and charm, repellently sleazy to some Italians and endlessly magnetic to others.

Neither “Il Divo” nor “Loro” is a conventional biopic, and Sorrentino is no realist. These movies revel in the theater of power, and Servillo, in grotesquely artificial makeup, sometimes resembles a puppet or a political cartoon. He emphasizes Andreotti’s reptilian guile and secret vanity, and Berlusconi’s glibness and self-pity. Even if you aren’t versed in the seamy lore of Italian politics, you can feel the wild comic energy of these performances, and the moral fire behind them. These are actual people! These things — murders, bribes, double-crosses, orgies — really happened!

He makes vivid the extravagant humanity — and the deep mystery — of men who live to bend the world to their will.

But what Servillo is doing is more than just superior sketch-comedy satire. Like a Shakespearean actor delving into the majesty and monstrosity of ancient or imaginary kings, he makes vivid the extravagant humanity — and the deep mystery — of men who live to bend the world to their will. He also captures their loneliness.

Stream “Loro” on Hulu; rent or buy “Il Divo” on major streaming platforms.



Kang Ho

By Bong Joon Ho

The Korean actor Song Kang Ho probably first came to the attention of most American audiences in the 2020 best-picture Oscar winner, “Parasite,” playing an impoverished, conniving patriarch. That was his fourth collaboration with the director Bong Joon Ho, and we asked the filmmaker to explain why he has cast the star again and again.

I first saw Song Kang Ho in “Green Fish,” the director Lee Chang-dong’s feature debut. He played a rural, small-time gangster, and his performance was so stunningly realistic that a rumor circulated among directors that he was an actual thug. I later learned that he was an actor who had been active in the Daehak-ro theater scene for a long time.

Although I was a first assistant director at the time and not yet a director, I wanted to meet him. So, I invited him to the office for coffee in 1997. It was more of a casual conversation than an audition, but I could tell that he had the makings of a juggernaut.

When I was writing my second film, “Memories of Murder” (2005) I had Song firmly in mind to play the country detective who is stuck in his old ways and has blind faith in his instincts. Because he was born for the role and it was made for him.

[Whether in “Memories of a Murder,” “The Host” (2007), “Snowpiercer” (2014) or “Parasite”] it always feels like there will be a new layer to uncover. He’s like a canvas that grows and grows. No matter how many brush strokes I apply, there’s always more space to paint. I’m still eager to see what he will bring to a role. To me, he’s like an inexhaustible diamond mine. Whether I’ve done four movies with him or 40, I know I will unearth a new character.

He has the ability to bring life and rawness to every moment. Even if a scene involves difficult dialogue or highly technical camerawork, he will find a way to make it seamless and spontaneous. Each take will be different, and the unwieldiest dialogue will seem like improvisation. It’s astounding and a pleasure to witness.

He has the ability to bring life and rawness to every moment.

His uniqueness as a protagonist comes from his ordinariness and mundaneness. Especially to the Korean audience, Song projects the quality of the typical Korean working man, a neighbor or friend you might encounter in your neighborhood. So, they are even more engrossed when they see this seemingly everyday character confronted by a monster or a monstrous situation in movies like “The Host” or “Parasite.”

He starts from the ordinary and elevates it into a singular and inimitable voice. I believe that’s what makes Song Kang Ho and the characters he inhabits genuinely special. — Interview by Candice Frederick

Rent or buy “Memories of Murder” on major streaming platforms.



Nicole Kidman

By Manohla Dargis

Artist, princess, writer, muse — Nicole Kidman has played them all, with short hair and long, a prodigious artificial schnoz and a fantastically jutting chin. She can smile like the sun and weep with enough tears that you want to hand her a box of tissues. In mainstream cinema, realism is an actor’s coin in trade, an aesthetic choice that helps turn artifice into something like life. For Kidman, a miniaturist with a lapidary touch, creating that realism sometimes involves obscuring the beauty (for the role, not awards) that has long defined her. It also means consistently playing with femininity.

Kidman entered the 21st century at the height of her stardom with “Moulin Rouge!” (2001). This was followed by a handful of other high-profile vehicles, most notably “The Hours” (2002), in which she played Virginia Woolf (cue the schnoz) and snared her an Oscar. It was a polite yawn of a movie that Kidman followed by starring in Lars von Trier’s “Dogville” (2004), a calculatingly abrasive Brechtian exercise in which her character, after being abused, picks up a gun and helps destroy a town. Kidman seemed to really enjoy that bit.

She’s made more than 40 movies since, some memorable and a number that are best forgotten. Like that of other actresses, Kidman’s celebrity has at times outstripped her bankability, creating a fame that has less to do with the box office and more to do with a starry persona sustained by red-carpet mileage and a glut of fashion-magazine covers. Some years, the movies came and went almost without notice. Still, Kidman kept steadily working and continued elevating negligible material, pushing herself even when the movies didn’t. She has also played a whole lot of mothers, a necessary survival strategy in a world as creatively unimaginative as the movie industry.

One pleasure of a virtuosic performer is watching them rise above their material. Kidman has done so repeatedly, including in “Birth” (2004), in which she plays a widow who comes to believe that a 10-year-old boy is the reincarnation of her dead husband. It’s pretentious twaddle that Kidman graces with delicacy and pinpricks of emotion. She’s flat-out glorious in “The Paperboy” (2012), a delectably vulgar whatsit in which she outshines a showboating male cohort, alternately urinating on Zac Efron and tearing her pantyhose in an orgiastic frenzy over John Cusack.

You can’t take your eyes off her. You never can.

More recently, Kidman starred in “Destroyer” (2018), a harsh thriller from Karyn Kusama about a detective’s long downward spiral. Kidman goes big and brutal — punching and running and gunning and drinking to wild excess — to play a middle-aged ruin whose terrible choices are etched in every crease and blotch in her hard face. The movie flopped, perhaps because it was too ugly for today’s audiences or maybe it all seemed too down-market for one of Vogue magazine’s favorite cover girls. But Kidman is brilliant, cold, raw and true. Even with her face obscured almost beyond recognition, she remains undeniable. You can’t take your eyes off her. You never can.

Stream “Destroyer” on Hulu.


Keanu Reeves

By A. O. Scott

Maybe you’re surprised to find Keanu Reeves so high on this list. But ask yourself: have you ever been disappointed when he showed up in a movie? Can you name one film that has not been improved by his presence? We’re talking about Ted Logan here. About Neo. John Wick. Diane Keaton’s also-ran love interest in “Something’s Gotta Give” (2003). Ali Wong’s also-ran love interest — a guy named Keanu Reeves! — in “Always Be My Maybe” (2019). Surely there is not another movie star who exhibits so much range while remaining so irreducibly and inscrutably himself.

Can you name one film that has not been improved by his presence?

But he has been curiously easy to underestimate. Like so much else in the ’90s, the appreciation of Keanu Reeves in the first phases of his career was hedged with irony. It was too easy to make fun of the blank, earnest confusion that defined his characters in “Point Break,” “The Devil’s Advocate” and the “Matrix” movies, to project their blankness onto him, to suppose that his still waters ran shallow.

He was always in on the joke, though. And never entirely joking. In middle age, he has risen to a new level of achievement, a zone where artlessness and self-consciousness converge. He’s one of our most credible action heroes, and also one of our most resourceful and inventive character actors. He has weathered beautifully, becoming at once sadder and more playful without losing the otherworldly innocence that was there from the start.

Is the melancholy, uxorious, dog-loving assassin in the “John Wick” movies a genre put-on, a paycheck gig, a midlife action workout? Probably. Of course. With (let’s say) Gerard Butler in the title role they would be slick, nasty throwaways. What Reeves does is give the franchise more gravity than it deserves, more humor than it needs, and the soul that it otherwise comprehensively lacks.

One of the delights of movie-watching in the past decade has been encountering him in unexpected guises. As some kind of post-apocalyptic cult leader known as the Dream in “The Bad Batch,” Ana Lily Amirpour’s 2017 crusty dystopian fantasia. As the chalk to Winona Ryder’s cheese in Victor Levin’s abrasive anti-rom-com “Destination Wedding” (2018). As the voice of a cat named Keanu in “Keanu” (2016).

There is more to the man than the sum of these parts, which are puzzles and koans, chapters in a perpetually updated manual in meta-modern movie stardom as a way of being. He’s not a perfectionist. He’s perfection itself. We were told a long time ago, and now maybe we can finally believe it: he’s the One.

Stream or rent the “John Wick” movies and other Reeves titles on major platforms.




By Manohla Dargis

At the start of “There Will Be Blood” (2007), a man in a deep, dark hole rhythmically strikes the wall with a pickax, sending up sparks and dust. It’s so dim that you can’t make out his face, but his pale shirt draws your eyes and throws the contours of his powerful arms and their machinelike movements into relief. You only fully see him when he lifts his head to look up at the sky, causing light to flood his face. Behold, the man — behold, Daniel Day-Lewis!

It’s an introduction as iconic, as character-defining and star-shaping as Rita Hayworth’s in “Gilda.” It also works as a nice metaphor for the painstaking act of Day-Lewis’s creative process, the building of his characters. As Daniel Plainview, Day-Lewis isn’t merely playing the protagonist; he is giving human shape to the filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson’s ideas and art. Plainview is many things: man, machine, a terrible father, a rapacious oilman. He is also the manifestation of the ruinous substance — the “ocean of oil” — that he violently wrests from the earth.

Day-Lewis is one of the most revered actors of the past half-century, a reputation based on his dazzling filmography and burnished by an aura of greatness that has grown to near-mystical proportions. His well-publicized preparations for his roles and his insistence on staying in character during production have become legendary, the stuff of excited headlines and fan fetishism. His repeated retirement announcements have only expanded his aura and so has his selectivity: He has made just six movies this century, some masterworks. Like the exotic century plant, an agave that blooms spectacularly only once, Day-Lewis knows both how to tease us and put on a show.

Day-Lewis knows both how to tease us and put on a show.

The lore that has built around him is, to an extent, just a Method-era version of the mythification that has always been part of the creation of stardom. What sometimes goes missing is that reading more than 100 books to prepare for the title role of “Lincoln” (2012) is work, part of how an actor prepares. All that labor and those books are a reminder that acting is also a job, not magic, even when an actor’s performance seems or, rather, feels alchemical. Part of Day-Lewis’s talent is his tremendous ability to turn hard work into a character that fluently serves a director’s vision.

Much depends on that vision. And it’s at this point that I must regretfully mention “Nine” (2009), a catastrophic folly that Day-Lewis serves diligently but cannot rescue. In “Gangs of New York” (2002), by contrast, his performance as Bill the Butcher is the apotheosis of that film’s ambitions, so when he’s not onscreen, the picture sputters. Day-Lewis’s art is one of osmosis between him and his directors. And to date, his most fully rendered performances have been in the two films he has made with Anderson, most recently “Phantom Thread” (2017), whose beauties, depths and idiosyncrasies Day-Lewis’s absorbs, transforms and brilliantly refracts.

Buy or rent “Phantom Thread” on most major platforms.



Isabelle Huppert

MANOHLA DARGIS Fearless and mesmerizing, sometimes scary, sometimes freakish, Isabelle Huppert has taken on an astonishment of roles over her career, moving effortlessly from tears to shrieks, from the straightest stories to the most gloriously unhinged. She’s acted in more than 50 movies this century alone, industriousness that speaks to her ambition and popularity, but also suggests a ravenous hunger that you can see in her acting. I love many of her performances, but I am especially captivated by her monsters, by her horrifying, unspeakable women.

A. O. SCOTT Did somebody say “The Piano Teacher”? That 2002 movie is a terrifying tour-de force of lust, cruelty, masochism and musicianship. The title character, Erika Kohut, becomes obsessed with a student, and Huppert performs her descent into madness with icy precision and operatic intensity. Are we scared for her, or scared of her?

Huppert is a virtuoso at that kind of ambiguity, at scrambling the usual codes about feminine vulnerability and feminist self-assertion, at defying assumptions about the sources of a woman’s toughness and fragility. One of my favorite examples is in Claude Chabrol’s “Comedy of Power” (2007), in which she plays a magistrate rooting out corruption in France’s political and business elite and taking on a powerfully entrenched old-boy network. The character’s name is Jeanne Charmant Killman, which may seem a little on the nose but which also captures some of Huppert’s graceful, lethal appeal.

DARGIS The roles Huppert has been offered and those she’s sought out have been instrumental in her creation. And early in her career, she worked with filmmakers — Jean-Luc Godard, Maurice Pialat and, of course, Chabrol — who gave her creative space in which to develop. She could never have had a comparable career in American movies (I shudder at the idea of her debuting at Sundance), where characters are rarely ambiguous and often shaped by bland imperatives like relatability and redemption.

Huppert is known for embracing extremes, though I see this as an interest in the fullness of existence, including the disgusting and the taboo. Her characters boil over with life, some of it ugly, as in “Elle” (2016), Paul Verhoeven’s provocation about trauma and psychosis. The actress always surprises (I suspect that she would get bored otherwise), but here, as a woman who confronts male violence, Huppert does something that rarely happens in movies: she shocks. With lacerating wit — her weird smiles mock the audience’s pieties — she turns the mystery of another person into a thriller. I love that she forces me to look even when I don’t want to.

SCOTT Did somebody say “Greta”? That was a wan little 2019 thriller in which Huppert played a psycho-mommy stalker preying on a dewy-eyed college student played by Chloë Grace Moretz. I bring it up only because the kind of mystery you refer to — the volatile compound of wit, charm and will — dominates that movie, which Huppert makes more intriguing than it has any right to be. Funnier and scarier.

There’s no one else with her combination of intensity and restraint. This comes through especially in films where her character is involved in an all-out struggle for survival, like Claire Denis’s “White Material” (2010). Huppert plays a French plantation owner clinging to the last bit of colonial privilege in an African country convulsed by violence. She knows that her life is in danger, that her way of life is slipping away, and also that in the larger historical scheme of things, she may well deserve her fate. There’s no self-pity here and barely any drama in the conventional sense. Just pure nerve.

Stream or rent “Elle,” “The Piano Teacher” and more on most major platforms.


Denzel Washington

A. O. SCOTT We wrangled and argued about every other slot on the list, but there was no hesitation or debate about this one.

Denzel Washington is beyond category: a screen titan who is also a subtle and sensitive craftsman, with serious old-school stage training and blazing movie-star presence. He can do Shakespeare and August Wilson, villainy or action heroism. He’s also one of the supreme regular-guy actors. Who can forget his embattled working stiffs in “Unstoppable” (2010) and “The Taking of Pelham 123” (2009), a pair of big, noisy train-themed movies directed by Tony Scott? Neither one is a masterpiece, but I never get tired of watching Washington on the job.

MANOHLA DARGIS He makes the job — by which I mean acting — look like breathing. There’s a reason he was perfect as Easy Rawlins in “Devil in a Blue Dress,” an early defining role. Since then, he has played a lot of characters who embody law or criminality, and some who exist in the space dividing the two. Along the way, he has become the dominant totem of a certain kind of male authority, like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood before him. Washington can express anguished vulnerability, but he can tower like a colossus, looming over worlds like an Old Testament patriarch — it’s extraordinary given the representations of Black masculinity onscreen not long ago.

SCOTT That authority is credible even when the movies are … less so. “The Book of Eli” (2010)? “The Equalizer” (2014)? “Man on Fire” (2004)? One of the things I love most about him is how magnificently he plays men who don’t seem to require or even deserve love. Think of Whip Whitaker in “Flight” (2012), a prodigiously skilled airline pilot who is also an epic train wreck. Not a nice guy, but as full and complex and vividly realized a human being as you will ever see on a movie screen.

DARGIS Like all stars, Washington’s acting feels inextricable with his charisma, a combination that’s seductive but can overwhelm movies, like Antoine Fuqua’s violent potboiler “Training Day” (2001). Washington is sensational as a bad detective: He’s loose, sexy, frightening but so much bigger than life that he shrinks the movie. In “Flight,” his magnetism deepens his character’s tragedy; it gives his walk swagger yet it’s also part of his crumbling facade. Few roles give Washington as much to work with, certainly not the movies with two of his favorite directors, Fuqua and Scott, who create a lot of commotion that Washington settles into — and centers — very comfortably.

SCOTT Maybe one measure of his mightiness is how consistently he’s better than the movies he’s in. Amid the extensive run of excellent work — the coaches and cops, the gangsters and lawyers — there are a few monuments that show this towering talent in full. Malcolm X is one, and Troy Maxson in “Fences” (2016) is another. There is so much pain and pride in that performance, which somehow measures the weight of American racism on a single person’s body and soul, without turning that person into a symbol of anything. The way Washington walks into that movie, his shoulders swinging with an athlete’s power, his frame dented by a lifetime of toil, is a moment of pure carnal eloquence, matched by the stream of vernacular poetry that comes out of his mouth.

DARGIS Well, transcending your movie has long been a hallmark of real stardom! Actors choose roles for all sorts of reasons — age, schedule, taste, comfort, pay — and race matters, always. Washington likes playing goal-oriented characters and men who make a serious impression, with a gun, physical extremes or words. He likes to go big. He could make art films and provocative little indies but doesn’t. Maybe he isn’t interested; certainly he doesn’t need to. He is Denzel Washington, after all, a star whose career — in its longevity and dominance — is a corrective and rebuke to the racist industry in which he works. I imagine that he’s doing exactly what he wants.

Stream or rent “Flight,” “Training Day” and more on most major platforms.


Now discussing:

Meet Better Than Us star Paulina Andreeva? Age, Instagram and previous roles!

Paulina Andreeva stars in the new Netflix series Better Than Us but just who is she?

To keep ahead of the competition, Netflix is expanding its horizons and is offering some truly intriguing foreign content on its streaming service lately. 

From the likes of Dollar to Cable Girls, there’s a growing list of foreign shows and films that are making their way onto the global streaming service in order to diversify and expand its audience.

The latest show, to originate outside the typically US content base is the Russian-made show Better Than Us, which basically acts as a prequel to the original Blade Runner, telling its story before the androids turned on their human creators.

One star in the show has been gaining some attention for their role in the series, Paulina Andreeva, but what else has the Russian actress appeared in?

What is Better Than Us about?

As mentioned, Better Than Us almost acts as a prequel to the classic film Blade Runner as it focuses on a model of android that, despite beliefs that they’re a soulless husk, has actually developed feelings, empathy and independent thought.

Luke Bryan: My Dirt Road Diary | Official Trailer | IMDb TV

The series explores just what it means to be human as it puts these android characters through different situations that test their humanity.

For fans of the original Blade Runner and its sequel , this sounds like a fascinating watch.

Better Than Us Netflix

Who is Paulina Andreeva and who does she play?

Paulina Andreeva is a year-old Russian actress who stars in Better Than Us as the aforementioned androids.

As all of the androids on show are the same model, Andreeva gets a lot of work in the show, performing as multiple robots as they discover more about themselves and the world they inhabit.

What else has Paulina Andreeva been in?

Being a Russian actress, there has been little to no opportunity for Paulina Andreeva to make a name for herself in Western film and TV culture but she will be no doubt hoping that the added eyes that Netflix brings to the Better Than Us series will potentially lead to more prominent roles in future.

She began her acting career in the series Shalnoy Angel. Nope, we haven’t heard of it either. 

Her career highlights to date also include roles in the shows Ottepel, Spyashchie and The Method according to IMDb, all of which are Russian-made.

But without doubt, thanks to the exposure given to it by Netflix, Paulina Andreeva’s biggest role to date has come in Better Than Us.

Could we be seeing the Russian actress in more shows on Netflix in future? 

Meanwhile, Better Than Us, which dropped on Netflix on August 16th, is available to stream now.

In other news, Will Endeavour return for season 9? Fate of ITV series explored

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