The 5 Most Under-Rated Actors

Acting up

OK, more like four under-rated and one just plain old unfortunate. You’ll see why. For every Steve Guttenberg, Scarlett Johansson and Jason Statham, who seem to get regular work despite having little to no discernible talent for the job they’re paid obscene amounts of cash to do, there is a veritable legion of actors who plough through auditions and bit parts until they reach the point where they star in films and people still say ‘who’? There will be an article along soon pillorying talentless and pointless Hollywood wasters but for now, here’s to the heroes. No particular order, except the last.

Harry Dean Stanton: An actor so good, I named a cat after him. No, really. Although the feline Harry Dean has sadly departed this world, the human one is still knocking around, I am very happy to be able to report. Although he himself admits he may have been a little slack – “I’ve been rather like a cat. I’m finicky and I’ve done a lot of things, and made career choices, missed meetings and so forth that would have made me a much bigger actor, I think.” – there are actors out there who could attend all the meetings in the world and still be crap. If it wasn’t for directors like Wim Wenders who cast Stanton in the utterly beautiful Paris, Texas (1984) and Alex Cox coaxing an enigmatic and comic turn from him in Repo Man (1984), he may have stayed in obscurity. Anyone remember Stanton in Cool Hand Luke (1967) or Kelly’s Heroes (1970)? Thought not.

Pete Postlethwaite: Sadly no longer with us, Postlethwaite was a consummate actor who specialized in playing gruff, abrupt characters, many of whom hid unexpected quirks or kindness. He worked on TV and stage for many years before he received his first Oscar nomination (Best Supporting Actor) for his role as Giuseppe Conlon in In the Name of the Father (1993) – before the Oscars became the pointless circle-jerk it is now. A star of the British acting scene, Hollywood recognised him quite late in the day but he did solid work throughout his career. My only disappointment is that he took a part in Baz Luhrmann’s god-awful Romeo + Juliet (1996).

Franke Potente: ‘That one with the red hair in Run Lola Run (1998)’ is probably not the best way to go through life, particularly if you are a convincing and accomplished actor. Potente always puts in a solid performance – anyone who has seen Run… will see what she was capable of even back then. Tom Tykwer’s follow-up was a haunting and beautiful love story Der Krieger und die Kaiserin (2000), and brought another fine showing by Potente. Apart from being cast in two of the Bourne movies – one of which she has more screen time in than the other – she seems to be ignored by the big studios. Even in films that could be so much better (Creep (2004)), she works hard to shine through the dross. I find her incredibly sexy too. Sue me.

Juliette Lewis: I can kind-of see why she gets passed over a lot. (1) The expression ‘mad as a box of frogs’ leaps to mind. Whenever she’s interviewed, you’re just waiting for her to do something odd. Not in the oh-so-lame ‘controversial’ style of many rock stars, she’s the real deal – but still a fine actor. (2) She wants to be a rock star (hmm, maybe there is something in the controversy thing after all).  Scorsese knew she was good, casting her alongside De Niro in his creepy and brutal remake of the Mitchum classic, Cape Fear (1991). She’s worked with and for some of the best in the business, and yet Keira Knightley still gets work. Doesn’t make any sense to me. Lewis is currently getting back into the movie business, and I for one would like to see her do more.

What’s-his-name: You know, the creepy one who put people in drains in that Clint Eastwood film. That one. Andrew Robinson – yes, evil has a name, and his name is Andy – is the one you’re thinking of. Famous or infamous for his portrayal of Scorpio, the killer in Dirty Harry (1971) he found himself typecast as a psycho, which I have to say, I found pretty convincing. Aside from getting the lead role in Hellraiser (1987), he seems to have been cursed by his greatness. No director alive would be casting him as a kindly uncle any time soon. Luckily for Robinson, he landed a regular role in the 1990s series Deep Space 9. This saved him from typecast obscurity and he now runs a theatre company in Los Angeles.  There have been no reports of him actually killing anyone.

Published by

Colin Moors

Colin reviews films. It's what he does.

23 thoughts on “The 5 Most Under-Rated Actors”

  1. I would pitch for the late, great Denholm Elliott whose body of work was truly vast both in quantity, quality and timespan (his first credit was in 1949) and yet, he was never a star, always a ‘supporting actor’. I think it fair to say that in some cases, he did more than just ‘support’ an otherwise mediocre cast or script, he actually, often single-handedly, made the film worth watching.

  2. Good call there, Paul. I remember seeing him in many, many things growing up – from TV series to one-off plays to feature films in which, as you so rightly point out, he was always the bridesmaid and never the bride. A good, solid actor about whom the use of the word ‘versatile’ is not inappropriate.

  3. In actual fact, since you mention the truly great HDS, you may as well tack on the entire cast of Alien(1979), including the cat but minus Ms. Weaver. Veronica Cartwright! John Hurt!! Ian Holm!!! There hasn’t been a cast like that in a B-movie since.

    Oh, and M. Emmet Walsh, who mastered the art of sleazy and corrupt detectives, see Blood Simple (1984).

  4. Hey Chris,

    Yes, you’re absolutely right – you don’t get casts like that these days. 🙂 However, I wonder if you are right to describe Alien as a ‘B-movie’? True, it was derivative of genre films of the 1950s and 60s but, given that it was (as I recall) sold very much as a ‘A’ film, and was transferring the mainstream mega-thriller blockbuster motifs that had only recently been introduced by Spielberg in Jaws (1975) to the horror/sci-fi genres, I am not so sure myself. Perhaps Mr Scott simply had a very good eye for the future of the medium – I for one await Prometheus (2012) with bated breath…

  5. I dunno. John Hurt had his moments of greatness – more so than HDS for sure. Ian Holm was always a good bet for a standby cock-er-ny.

    As for it being a ‘B’ movie, I think I quite like the idea. It was quite dark and grainy and the way everything looked sleazy was almost half contrived, half natural. No, the set, not Ms Weaver.

    Oh, and yeah – I await Prometheus with breath more bated yet than that of James. The teaser with Guy Pearce was very much colei canis.

  6. ‘However, I wonder if you are right to describe Alien as a ‘B-movie’’?

    I just meant in terms of its sensibilities. In terms of production design and so on, it’s an ‘A-movie’ all the way. The ‘Space Jockey’ set has to be my favourite set of all time.

    I await Prometheus very nervously. The potential for disappointment is vast but, if Scott is on form and obsesses about it the way he did Alien and Blade Runner (1982), then OMG!!! <– Sorry, James… 😉

  7. I’ll let it pass just this once, Chris, seeing as it’s you. 😉 Yes, I agree, we could be despairing come June but, even if Prometheus doesn’t work out, fret not, because the new Bond film Skyfall (2012) is en route, so you can whine on again about how Daniel Craig is too ‘glum’ and hanker after the return of Sir Roger Moore, whose Bond films were *so much* better, because they were *dead* funny, *just* like the books and, better yet, the full musical version of Les Miserables (2012) is also on its way. Ah, happy days, and I am definitely not gay, is that clearly understood? 😉

  8. The whole way through? I thought, at least, that you saw some interesting stuff in Casino Royale (2006) which, for me, is second only to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) in terms of the Bond I like the best, and is probably the closest the movies have got, or will ever get, to the Bond of Fleming’s books. I will check that link out now, and get back to you… 😉

  9. And yes, Colin has already tweeted about that – it looks spectacularly (and quite deliberately and ironically, natch) crap. Can’t wait. 😉

  10. ‘Colin has already tweeted about that…’

    Great minds and all that. I have always thought that he had great taste in movies. 😉

  11. Well, as they say my old friend and, as I know only *too* well…there really is no accounting for taste, is there? 😉 x

  12. ‘I have always thought that he had great taste in movies’. I knew it, deep down… 😉

    Anyway, I tweeted about Jurassic Shark which looks every bit as good as Sharktopus. It’s about this, er, shark from – y’know – the Jurassic period and stuff. It’s going to be legendary, for sure.

  13. ‘I tweeted about Jurassic Shark…’

    It’s like a lesson in the mathematics of cinema. Jurassic Park (1993) was a hit, Jaws (1975) was a hit …so, add them together.

    It’s genius really.

  14. While I can’t claim to have seen his full body of work, I tend to find Brad Dourif a good but underrated actor – even when his role is small he tends to be reliable. I’m thinking about his performances in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Dune (1984), The Two Towers (2002) and Murder in the First (1995) in particular.

  15. James,

    I must confess that I’ve not seen that one, I didn’t enjoy the second in the franchise so didn’t bother with the third. I’ll try and look it up sometime.

  16. Jona, no-one enjoyed the second in the franchise, Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), because John Boorman’s film was absolute pants. However the third is actually directed by The Exorcist author William Peter Blatty, is an adaptation of the only genuine sequel to the original, Legion, which was also written by Blatty himself, and really does manage to chill the blood without spilling a drop. Do check it out if you get the chance – I believe that you will be pleasantly surprised. 🙂

  17. To my shame, I don’t know much about her work at all. You could well be right for that reason alone! I shall make a ‘note to self’. 🙂

  18. Just to add my support for the third Exorcist movie which, as James says, is great. As I remember it suffered a little towards the finale from studio interference, because Blatty’s original cut was way too literary in their opinion. The first 90 minutes, though, is a knock-out meditation on faith and doubt and includes at least one nerve-shattering shock that left me a jibbering wreck.

    As for underrated actors, may I add Chris Cooper, a regular in John Sayle’s movies who adds class wherever he appears. Check out Breach (2007) or Silver City (2004) for some wonderful Cooper performances.

  19. Hey Chris,

    And thanks for your support for my support; interestingly enough, director Paul Schrader, whom I interviewed just before the world premiere of his Exorcist prequel (which, unfortunately, wasn’t actually much cop) at the Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Film in 2005, told me that he had spoken with Blatty concerning their similar experiences on the two Exorcist films – Schrader said that there was a tendency by studios to ‘throw heavy metal instruments at the audience from beginning to end of most horror’, an approach that did not sit well with either his or Blatty’s visions.

    On the other hand, as far as I know, WPB’s original cut did not even include an exorcism which, given the franchise’s raison d’etre, must have seemed a little strange to studio bosses. Oh well.

    And, yes, I know exactly which jump cut you are talking about – one of the very best I have ever seen and, like you, it left me very cold, in the very best way. Nice talking.

Leave a Reply