Back to IndieWire

10 Undervalued Actors Who Deserve To Get More Work

10 Undervalued Actors Who Deserve To Get More Work

This week sees the release of Andrew Dominik‘s “Killing Them Softly,” a gripping little crime movie than threatens to be one of The Playlist’s highlights of 2012. And among its many pleasures is the chance to see some character actor favorites like James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, and newer up-and-comers like Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn given substantial roles to chew on. Best of all is a major role for the incomparably great Richard Jenkins.

Jenkins is one of those actors who’s never anything less than wonderful, stealing the show in countless films, able to turn on a sixpence between comedy and drama, and elevating everything he’s in. And yet, even though Jenkins won a much-deserved Oscar nomination a few years back for “The Visitor” and averages four or five movies a year, it still feels like he’s chronically undervalued in Hollywood.

So to pay tribute to Jenkins and his performance in “Killing Them Softly,” we’ve rounded up ten other actors who don’t seem to quite get their due. Some are veterans, some are relative newcomers, and all have impressed in movies but maybe don’t get to work as consistently, or in as high-profile roles as we’d like. Casting directors should note: the presence of any of the below is basically enough for us to buy a movie ticket, and we’re pretty sure we’re not alone on that. You can read our picks below, and while we head off to write a screenplay with roles for all of the below, you can suggest your own favorites who you’d like to see more of in our comments section.

Gary Cole
One of the crown princes of being “that guy” — a familiar, but maybe not immediately recognizable character actor who regularly steals the show (see also Stephen Root, William Fichtner, and many, many others) — Gary Cole has been in the game for three decades, usually in supporting parts. The Illinois-born actor was one of the early leading lights of Chicago’s legendary Steppenwolf Company, which helped give the world Gary Sinise, John Malkovich and Joan Allen among others. And after a few decades of reliable TV and movie parts, Cole finally poked into the mainstream in 1995, with two wildly different roles: Mike Brady in “The Brady Bunch Movie” and the Satanic Sherriff Buck in the short-lived, but wildly acclaimed Sam Raimi-produced TV series “American Gothic.”  But either stardom didn’t come calling, or Cole shied away from it, with quieter TV and movie roles following again. Four years later, he again stole the show as Bill Lumbergh in “Office Space,” and although it helped to buy him comic cred and parts in films like ‘Dodgeball,” “Talladega Nights” and “Pineapple Express,” he still remains a well-kept secret from the general public. Over the last few years, Cole has stayed as busy as ever, appearing on pretty much every TV show going, from “The Good Wife” to “Bob’s Burgers,” but hasn’t appeared in a movie since 2011’s “Hop.” We know that he’s never going to be Tom Cruise, but there’s almost nothing that Cole can’t do, from broad comedy to sincere drama, and smart casting in the right major movie could see him soar.

Jennifer Connelly
It feels almost pointless to remind people that an actress who’s been working for nearly thirty years and who has an Oscar is worth hiring, but we’re not sure that Jennifer Connelly is really getting her due from the casting types these days. Connelly first appeared as a child actress in Sergio Leone‘s “Once Upon A Time In America,” and followed it soon up with Dario Argento‘s “Phenomena” and Jim Henson‘s beloved fantasy “Labyrinth.” She graduated to adulthood with “The Hot Spot” and “The Rocketeer,” and, while things were quieter in the 1990s, it picked up towards the end of the decade with Alex Proyas‘ cult film “Dark City.” And as the 21st century arrived, she suddenly exploded, with a bruising, gaunt, powerful performance in “Requiem For A Dream,” and another with the strong but underseen “Waking the Dead.” And her ascent to the A-list was completed the following year when she won Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars for playing Alicia Nash in Ron Howard‘s “A Beautiful Mind.” Connelly’s had successes since, most notably in “Little Children” and “Blood Diamond,” but more misses, including “Dark Water” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Her last few films have proven particularly dire with neither “Creation,” “Virginia,” “The Dilemma,” “Salvation Boulevard” or ‘Writers” proving especially popular with critics or audiences. Part of the issue may be that now she’s in her 40s, and Connelly’s hit that point where there are fewer and fewer plum roles for actresses of her age. But Connelly still has to be considered as one of the more pre-eminent actresses of her generation, and should really be getting better material, rather than just a string of wives and moms. Fortunately, some of her previous collaborators may be coming to the rescue. She’s got a key role in Darren Aronofsky‘s “Noah” as the missus of Russell Crowe‘s title character, and is following it up with “A Beautiful Mind” writer Akiva Goldsman‘s “Winter’s Tale,” also co-starring Crowe and alongside Will Smith and Colin Farrell. Hopefully it means the start of a third act to her career.

Rosemarie DeWitt
Somewhat of a slow-burner, Rosemarie DeWitt (who is the granddaughter of boxer James Braddock, the subject of the film “Cinderella Man,” in which she had a cameo) spent a good decade or so building up a formidable reputation in the theater, but really only started to make an impact on screens five or so years ago. After a brief year on the hostage negotiation series “Standoff” (which was cancelled quickly, but had the benefit of introducing DeWitt to co-star Ron Livingston, who she later married), DeWitt impressed with a recurring role as Don Draper’s mistress on the first season of “Mad Men.” Within a year, she was the title role in Jonathan Demme‘s “Rachel Getting Married,” and while co-star Anne Hathaway won most of the acclaim for the film, DeWitt was again terrific, and along with that year’s “Afterschool,” it put the actress properly on the map. She’s gone from strength to strength in the last few years, with 2012 marking three very good turns from the actress in the shape of “Nobody Walks,” “Promised Land” and in particular “Your Sister’s Sister,” which won her a Spirit Award nomination yesterday. Mainstream cinema hasn’t quite caught on yet, with her most prominent studio role to date a somewhat thankless part as Ben Stiller‘s wife in flop comedy “The Watch.” But with a reunion with Lynn Shelton in next year’s “Touchy Feely on the way, hopefully her profile will continue to grow. She’s someone we can absolutely see ending up with an Oscar nomination in the next few years.

Frank Grillo
His name and face might not be immediately recognizable to the general public, but in a remarkably short space of time — really the last year or so — Frank Grillo has become the kind of actor who makes everything he’s in about ten percent better. Grillo was a true working actor for the best part of twenty years, popping up most notably in “Minority Report” and “The Sweetest Thing,” but hardly landing atop casting wishlists. But then last year came “Warrior,Gavin O’Connor‘s tremendously effective mixed martial arts drama, in which Grillo stood out as the trainer of Joel Edgerton‘s character. And he’s quietly had a strong 2012, standing out in “The Grey” even among a cast with several contenders for this list (Dallas Roberts, James Badge Dale), stealing scenes in “Lay the Favorite,” impressing in the otherwise skippable “Disconnect” and, giving something of a masterclass in one scene of “End of Watch” (his drunken melancholy at the wedding is one of the best bits of acting we’ve seen all year). There’s loads more on the way — “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Gangster Squad,” the Richard Curtis-penned HBO movie “Mary & Martha,” a lead role in action-thriller “Intersection,” James Franco/Jason Statham team-up “Homefront” — but he deserves to be working with more Bigelow-style A-list directors. Hopefully a high-profile villain role in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” will put him on the path to land those.

Sally Hawkins
Given that she gave one of the most widely acclaimed female performances of the last few years — as the ever-sunny Poppy in Mike Leigh‘s “Happy-Go-Lucky,” which won her a Golden Globe — it’s a little puzzling that Sally Hawkins hasn’t exploded since. The actress, a RADA grad, has been winning acclaim on stage since the late 1990s, and became something of a Mike Leigh favorite in the movie world in the early ’00s, cropping up in “All Or Nothing” and “Vera Drake” before “Happy-Go-Lucky.” And even before the latter, she’d come to the attention of some big-name directors, with a smallish role in Matthew Vaughn‘s “Layer Cake” and a bigger one in Woody Allen‘s “Cassandra’s Dream.” But since, she’s been reliably superb in tiny roles — heartbreakingly compassionate as teacher Miss Lucy in “Never Let Me Go,” steely in a one-scene wonder in “An Education,” and terrifying in “Jane Eyre.” And that she didn’t get more attention for her phenomenal turn in Richard Ayoade‘s “Submarine” is kind of baffling to us. But things haven’t been so good with her lead roles — “Love Birds” was virtually unseen, and “Made In Dagenham” never quite managed to turn into the “Full Monty“-style mainstream hit it initially promised to be. Perhaps things would have been different if she hadn’t missed out, surprisingly, on an Oscar nod for “Happy-Go-Lucky.” But Hawkins isn’t threatening to be out of work any time soon. She’s in Mike Newell‘s “Great Expectations” at the moment and has “Junebug” director Phil Morrison‘s new film, alongside Paul Rudd, and a reunion with Woody Allen coming up in 2013. But we hope directors and casting directors take the time to see Hawkins opposite Rafe Spall in stage play “Constellations” in London at the moment where she’s giving a phenomenal performance.

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 MendesRevolutionary 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 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
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
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
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.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged , , , , , , , , ,


Lalita Rau

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.


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.


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.


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


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


For your consideration:

David Morse, John Hawkes, Walton Goggins

Alex S

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.


No Lee Pace saddens me.


Chiwetel Eijiofor, Sean Harris, Andrew Scott


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….


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.


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

I seriously hope you guys ross douthat

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.


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

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;


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


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



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


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…


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.


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.


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


Ten white people who deserve more work…

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *