`That Guy...Who Was in that Thing': Funny Character Actors Discussing that Serious Thing They Do

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You know them by face, but you just can't recall their names. Heck, they've appeared in ten or twenty or thirty times the number of movies that James Dean appeared in…but you just don't know their name. Their least impressive performances make the peak of Keanu Reeves' career look like Sofia Coppola portrayal of a Mafia princess getting shot. They are "That Guy…Who was in That Thing."

Which just so happens to be the title of a surprisingly funny documentary on today's inhabitants in the hall of great character actors that was once home to Thomas Mitchell, Frank Morgan, Edmond O'Brian and Laird Cregar.

Sixteen actors are profiled in "That Guy…Who was in That Thing" and despite the fact that I consider myself to be more literate than the average bear when it comes to film, I could only identify three of these actors by name. Indeed, so familiar am I with the work of Bruce Davison that I would even question his belonging to the same group of actors whose face you but not so much their names represented in this film. I would have liked to see someone like J.T. Walsh instead because to me, Bruce Davison is a star.

(Feel free to pass that sentiment along to Mr. Davison if you happen to know him.)

Character actors by nature are capable of slipping with the queasy ease of an eel back and forth between comedy and drama. Yes, typecasting is an ever-present danger of the job as character actors from Sydney Greenstreet to Bruce Dern can attest, but generally speaking you are just likely to find a character actor playing the amiable friend of the star in one movie and the fiend who kidnaps the leading lady in the next. The documentary to a point does reflect the unsettled versatility of that kind of talent, but the driving force behind the film seems to be a comedic sensibility.

You have to possess a heightened sense of humor to survive as a character actor. You watch as far less talented but perhaps better looking actors rise to stardom. You are forced to suffer in silence as a diva who has only made three or four movies acts like the world owes her fealty on the set of the 30th movie you have made. If you can't find the comedy in such situations, you go crazy or leave the business.

That ability to locate a comedic sensibility within a world of crushing unfairness is exhibited universally by the cast in revelation that it almost seems to be a contractual obligation for all character actors to appear on at least one entry in the "Star Trek" franchise. Specific funny bits will include learning just how much of a business the Hollywood show is when the great Zeljko Ivanek (another of the three whose name I know) lets us in on a peculiar stipulation in his contract set in stone by his agent that I must admit to not adhering in this sentence.

If you are one of those movie fans who know by name the guy who played the angel showing Jimmy Stewart's character what the world would be like had he never been born in "It's a Wonderful Life" then "That Guy…Who was in That Thing" is must-see viewing. If you are considering a career as an actor, this documentary cannot be recommended strongly enough. If you just want to spend a couple of hours with a dozen or so very funny guys, then get to know the names of these guys who were in that thing.

For more from Timothy Sexton, check out:

Remember These Great TV Character Actors?

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