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10 Undervalued Actors Who Deserve To Get More Work

by Oliver Lyttelton
November 28, 2012 2:26 PM
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Kathryn Hahn
Kathryn Hahn
"Bridesmaids" aside, the post-Apatow comedic revolution has been kinder to the men than it has to the women. But one of the exceptions to the rule is Kathryn Hahn, who first came to fame on TV's "Crossing Jordan," but has been stealing comedy roles since "Anchorman" in 2004. Hahn was one of the more memorable news team members in the film (fingers crossed she gets an expanded role in the upcoming sequel), and was even better as Adam Scott's over-sexed wife in "Step Brothers." She's also paid her rom-com dues in films like "A Lot Like Love" and "The Holiday," and only earlier this year was stealing scenes in David Wain's 'Wanderlust" and on "Parks and Recreation." But there's a lot more to her than funny bones, and she was impressive in a small role in Sam Mendes "Revolutionary Road," and gave a great recurring performance in the first season of "Girls." It's not that she hasn't had proper showcases in the past. She starred in short-lived sitcom "Free Agents," and James L. Brooks gave her a good-sized role in the botched "How Do You Know?," but they've never quite landed. There's more on the way, most notably "We're The Millers" and "The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty" in 2013, but again, a canny indie filmmaker could end up storming the festival circuit by writing a role to her real strengths.

Michael Pitt
Michael Pitt
Michael Pitt is another slow-burner. He's been a familiar face on screen for over a decade, and seemingly every time he comes close to serious stardom, he ends up pulling back. For the most part, his bona-fides are from the indie world, beginning with an impressive performance in "Hedwig & the Angry Inch," followed soon enough by Larry Clark's "Bully." He tipped his toe into studio waters alongside Ryan Gosling in the "Rope"-indebted "Murder By Numbers," and M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village," but it was a pair of indies around the same time that really suggested he had the potential for DiCaprio-esque stardom: Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Dreamers" and Gus Van Sant's "Last Days," the latter seeing him giving an astonishing performance as a Kurt Cobain-ish rock star. His next few films -- "Delirious," "Silk," the remake of "Funny Games" -- never quite went anywhere, but he seemed to get a second lease of life as one of the leads in the stacked cast of "Boardwalk Empire." It served as a serious reminder of his talents, and *spoiler* with the show-runners choosing to kill his character, Jimmy Darmody, off at the end of the second season *end spoiler*, Pitt's been a free agent for the last year or so. But it doesn't quite seem to have converted into more roles. The actor had a tiny cameo in "Seven Psychopaths," and was nearly cast as Tetsuo in the aborted "Akira" remake, but he doesn't seem to have taken a serious role in the meantime. Fingers crossed, that's about to change. He co-wrote, produces and stars in the 1920s drama "You Can't Win," which is one to watch on the festival circuit in the next year, and with any luck that'll see him get more attention. And he's returning to gangland territory for "Rob the Mob" alongside Nina Arianda soon. Pitt's talent certainly isn't in question, but it'd be nice to see him cropping up more on screen in the next few years.

James Ransone
James Ransone
The Baltimore-born James Ransone's had a few false starts along his decade-long career so far, but hopefully a recent run of success will mean more people start taking notice again. The actor made his debut in Larry Clark's controversial, little-seen "Ken Park," giving a storming performance as the auto-aspyhixiating, murderous Tate. Even if people didn't see it, he didn't have to wait for too long for more exposure. He played Ziggy, one of the most memorable (and infuriating) characters on the divisive second season of HBO classic "The Wire," a few small movie roles followed, but Ransone was hooked on heroin in his mid-20s, weighing a mere 115 pounds, and ended up 30 grand in debt, which understandably curtailed his career somewhat. When 'Wire' creator David Simon cast him again in military miniseries "Generation Kill," Ransone sorted himself out, and has steadily been climbing up the ladder again. HBO has continued to be good to him, with recurring roles on "How To Make It In America" and "Treme," and after smaller parts in "Prom Night" and "The Next Three Days," he's had more impressive parts in indie favorite "Starlet," and stole the show as the deputy in horror sleeper "Sinister." Next year should be good to him, too. He's got roles in Albert Hughes' "Broken City," Dito Montiel's "Empire State," AMC pilot "Low Winter Sun" with Mark Strong, indie "The Timber" and Jim Sturgess vehicle "Electric Slide." Perhaps most importantly, he's become something of a protege of Spike Lee. After cropping up in "Inside Man" and "Red Hook Summer," the director cast him in a key role in his "Oldboy" remake when Nate Parker dropped out. This is all heading in the right direction, but Ransone strikes us as the kind of guy who deserves leads, the kind of parts a young Pacino would have played. And we hope that casting directors start to realize the same thing soon.

Olivia Thirlby
Olivia Thirlby
She might not have got the Oscar nomination, but when "Juno" landed five years ago, Olivia Thirlby impressed almost as many people as co-star Ellen Page. Snappy, sexy, and able to get her head around the script's Diablo Cody-isms, it suggested that a star was born, and Thirlby swiftly followed it up with another strong performance in '90s coming-of-age tale "The Wackness." And later that year, she won rave reviews on stage for "Farragut North" opposite Chris Pine (the play was turned into George Clooney's "The Ides Of March," with Evan Rachel Wood taking Thirlby's role). But since then, the 26-year-old seemed to hit a bit of a speed bump. She was replaced (amicably) as Seth Rogen's high-school girlfriend in "Pineapple Express," and indies like "Arlen Faber" and "What Goes Up" never really went anywhere (though a recurring guest spot on "Bored To Death" proved more of a highlight). 2011 saw her venture into the studio world for the first time, but she was wasted in "No Strings Attached," and featured in the quickly forgotten "The Darkest Hour." This year has, admittedly, been better -- she showed a new side to her range with the kick-ass Judge Anderson in "Dredd," though the film's meager box office means it won't be a continuing interest. More crucially, and the thing that truly reminded us of her talent, was Ry Russo-Young's "Nobody Walks," in which Thirlby gives one of the more undervalued female performances of the year as an aspiring filmmaker staying with an L.A. family (John Krasinski and Rosemarie DeWitt) who up-ends their lives. Hopefully it'll remind more people of her talents.

Shea Whigham
Shea Whigham
Michael Pitt's far from the only actor to get a good showcase from "Boardwalk Empire" -- the increasingly strong series has given meaty material to everyone from veterans like Steve Buscemi and Michael Shannon to folks like Kelly Macdonald, Michael K. Williams, Michael Stuhlbarg and Gretchen Mol, and relative newcomers like Vincent Piazza, Jack Huston and Charlie Cox. But perhaps the actor we most hope gets a boost off the HBO show is perpetually underrated character actor Shea Whigham. The actor, a theater veteran who first broke out in "Tigerland" and "All The Real Girls" in the early '00s, seems to get better each time we see him, not least on 'Boardwalk,' as Nucky's semi-treacherous brother Eli, where he's been continually impressive. Whigham's one of those actors who has absolutely no problem getting work. In the last four years, he's managed to find room for 16 movies alongside three seasons of "Boardwalk Empire," but they're generally smallish roles in things like "Machete," "Fast & Furious," "Big Miracle" and "Savages." But every time he gets something with a little more substance, like his great work in "Take Shelter" or even his brief turn in this year's "Silver Linings Playbook," he shows why he deserves more work. And the few leads he has had -- he walked away with "Wristcutters: A Love Story" as the Russian-accented co-lead -- have only backed that up. It seems to us that Whigham is primed for a Michael Shannon/John Hawkes-esque break out to the big leagues. It just needs a sharp indie filmmaker to realize that and take that chance. In the meantime, he's reuniting with Scorsese on "The Wolf of Wall Street" and turning up in Terrence Malick's "Knight of Cups," which can only be welcome moves.

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  • Lalita Rau | December 9, 2012 11:02 AMReply

    About Olivia Thirlby, I think the stage version of "Farragut North" was better than Clooney's film. Chris Pine, Chris Noth and Olivia Thirlby were better, fresher than Gosling, Wood and Clooney.

  • dan | December 2, 2012 11:17 AMReply

    James Ransone is great as Ziggy in The Wire, one of the most memorable performances in the entire show for sure. Although some of these people seem to be doing quite well for themselves really, Frank Grillo's got a lot going on in big films it seems so I think people will know his face pretty soon. Richard Jenkins is indeed great, I love how amusing his character is in The Cabin in The Woods. Olivia Thirlby is so pretty, she needs more roles for sure.
    I'd love to see Michael Stuhlberg in more things actually, I know he has recently but I think hes such a tremendous actor. Also on the subject of The Wire, I think most of the actors in that need more work and recognition like Chris Bauer (Frank Sobotka) hes hardly in any films! And Michael K Williams (Omar) hes a great actor, needs more films. In fact, everyone in The Wire is amazing they need more work! The only ones who have got pretty big off it are Idris Elba and Dominic West to an extent, both deservedly though.

  • jingmei | December 1, 2012 1:40 AMReply

    From this playlist, I just want to watch more films from Michael Pitt. The big example of Richard Jenkins, he is a veteran of supporting roles. (no matter The Cabin in the Woods or Libral Arts or whatever.) The rare piece of him as a main character The Visitor deserves him an Academy Awards and to draw more casting directors attention. Thus we would like to see many awesome actors to play more main roles in films rather than to see more of their films but always as supporting roles.

  • B | November 29, 2012 10:58 PMReply

    So stoked to see Shea Whigham on this list. That man is fantastic!

  • B | November 29, 2012 10:57 PMReply

    So stoked to see Shea Whigham on this list. That man is fantastic!

  • Bash | November 29, 2012 6:30 PMReply

    For your consideration:

    David Morse, John Hawkes, Walton Goggins

  • Bash | November 30, 2012 12:28 PM

    ...Who Deserve To Get More Work.

  • nightgoat72 | November 29, 2012 9:17 PM

    John Hawkes is undervalued? In what universe?

  • Alex S | November 29, 2012 6:11 PMReply

    This is a good list and agree with most of them; however, Anthony Mackie is definitely a tremendous oversight. Additionally, the very young actress India Ennenga (Treme/Nobody Walks/Multiple Sarcasms). She has shown that she can constantly hold her own opposite Oscar Winners: Melissa Leo/Mira Sorvino/Timothy Hutton and impressively steals the scene in many of her projects. Looking forward to seeing more of her work.

  • Steven | November 29, 2012 4:14 PMReply

    No Lee Pace saddens me.

  • DHE | November 29, 2012 10:49 AMReply

    Chiwetel Eijiofor, Sean Harris, Andrew Scott

  • Sean | November 28, 2012 11:19 PMReply

    I don't see how powerhouse JENNIFER CONNELLY needs more work??? She's established herself for decades now (like you all said). I mean come on, obvi she chooses work much pickier these days b/c like all of us she is getting older.... But rest of the list I def like completely agree esp with SALLY HAWKINS, SHEA WINGHAM, OLIVIA THIRLBY, & ROSEMARY DEWITT.... & even MICHAEL PITT (who is the "shakiest" one out of the group but def undervalued in Hollywood) P.S. I wish The Playlist would put all this on 1 freakin page instead of multiple pages IF THAT IS AT ALL POSSIBLE in the future....

  • TheoC | November 28, 2012 8:38 PMReply

    Actually this is a great list, you've basically tried to tie down who the next Galdofini/ Cranston break out star will be. I can't argue with that, despite my disliking of Michael Pitt, all round it's a solid list. Nice work.

    Also commenters complaining about typos??? seriously. This stuff goes up thick and fast some days and probably has an edit after it goes live, so cut ThePlaylist some fucking slack, it's a free, well informed, usually well written site that allows idiots like us to comment/bitch/moan. So hassling the occasional typo is a dick move.

  • AS | November 28, 2012 8:36 PMReply

    Shea Whigham for sure. Also: Sean Bean, Michael Madsen & Kurt Russell.

  • I seriously hope you guys ross douthat | November 28, 2012 6:47 PMReply

    Michael Pitt? The destitute man's Leo? Dreadful. I stopped watching BE for more reasons that I can count, but he was a big one.

  • Benjamin | November 28, 2012 5:09 PMReply

    I found the typo in this line about James Ransone hilarious: "... stole the *shoe* as the deputy in horror sleeper Sinister." I agree with the article, though, all ten are great actors.

  • Not Surprised | November 28, 2012 3:29 PMReply

    Oh shucks, gee wiz. Another completely, milktoast-homogenized myopic reflection of the "film world. (I happen to love a few of the actors on here absolutely nothing against them.) But damn, approaching December of the year 2012, and playlist is still white-film-centric to the f*cking core. What cities do you guys live in that ALL your best of, top 10, wish list repeatedly lack diversity? How do you consider this an INDIE film site when 98% of EVERY post reflects 'only' caucasian film, filmmakers, producers, directors, writers, dps, actors, shorts?? Wow! Wow! The worst part is, the thought never even occurred to you, 'there are phenomenal black, latin, asian actors for this list' until "we, the commentors" otherwise known as "we, the people" spoke up. Come out of your bubble and step into the actual world OR just start truthfully identifying this site as;

  • Mom | November 29, 2012 2:35 PM


  • Yod | November 28, 2012 10:25 PM

    Milktoast? That's hilarious. You are a dumb-dumb.

  • c | November 28, 2012 6:22 PM

    Shut up. Seriously.

  • MongooseCmr | November 28, 2012 5:18 PM

    Post invalidated

  • chels | November 28, 2012 3:28 PMReply

    John Simm deserves more work! Check out Exile he is brilliant in that

  • Sara | November 28, 2012 3:09 PMReply

    really... not an asian actor, latino or black?? you don't know any black actor who deserve to get more work....


  • Casey | November 28, 2012 3:01 PMReply

    A non-white addition to the list: Rosario Dawson.

  • Casey | November 28, 2012 3:03 PM

    Three more came to mind: Tracie Thoms, Stacey Dash, and Anthony Mackie.

  • Saul | November 28, 2012 2:57 PMReply

    What about Emma Roberts? Just like most of the actors on this list, she works consistently but hasn't quite yet risen to an A-List level like some of her peers (Stone, Lawrence, Stewart). I've been a fan of hers since Derick Martini's "Lymelife" and have often felt that she hasn't gotten the chance to live up to the promise she showed in that film. Here's hoping her big break comes soon...

  • lmao | November 28, 2012 6:04 PM

    LOL her "big break" already came and went in the form of her aunt. No one cares about her dead eyes and equally dead acting.

  • Rich | November 28, 2012 2:57 PMReply

    It was nice to see his name, but I would have actually like to have seen William Fitchner make the list. He's a really underrated actor who never really seems to get material to showcase his full abilities.
    James Ransone though, that guy really needs to be in more things, and not just be a regular occupant of David Simonland.

  • stp | November 28, 2012 2:54 PMReply

    Oliver, I enjoyed your article. And, I agree with most of your choices- especially Rosemarie Dewitt, the very underrated Gary Coleman ( he is always great) , and Shea Whigham. But, I am surprised that Michael Pitt is not in huge demand, because he was a breakout star on one of the most buzzed about tv shows, " Boardwalk Empire," and he has exotic looks.

  • Chris | November 28, 2012 2:49 PMReply

    Just an FYI, "Warrior" is NOT a boxing movie. It's mixed martial arts. Very different.

  • bwaters | November 28, 2012 2:42 PMReply

    Ten white people who deserve more work...

  • Very Disappointed | November 28, 2012 3:00 PM

    Here, here. Oliver -- I appreciate the gender mix here, but not ONE nonwhite performer who is undervalued? Who deserves to get more work? What a bleached, myopic worldview you have demonstrated here. I respected your opinion. But whereas I once thought it enlightened, I see now you've got a bit more work to do in expanding your perspective. Hopefully it's not just a white-boy world that you're living in. Expected more from you.

  • Alan | November 28, 2012 2:51 PM

    You beat me to it. I don't even mind the list, just get the title right. Sigh.

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