Underrated actors

After my post on overrated actors went down so well, I decided to try the opposite. Many actors consistently give good performances. They might feature in the cast list, but when awards come around, or critics delve into the film, they generally don’t get a mention. Some are leading actors, others character actors, many just reliable in bit parts. We all have our favourites, and here are some of mine. On this occasion, I have chosen male actors, and they are all American. Posts on British actors and female actors will follow in time.

If you look at the list of films he played in, you are sure to have seen many of them. You may not associate him with them though, as he was rarely the star. However, Danny Aiello always gave a creditable performance, sometimes making the difference to a film being good or bad overall. Often cast as a gangster, he had a much wider range that was sadly rarely exploited by the roles he was offered. The films he has been in are too many to list here, but just think about some of these. ‘Broadway Danny Rose’, ‘Once Upon A Time In America’, ‘Do The Right Thing’, ‘City Hall’, ‘Leon’, and ‘Jacob’s Ladder’. He also starred as Jack Ruby, in the biopic ‘Ruby’, a role he was ideally suited for both physically and professionally. His name won’t spring to mind when you recall most of those films, but it should.

Dale Dye is a genuine veteran, who served with the US Marines in Vietnam. He has been employed on many war and action films as a technical adviser, and also acted in lots of them too. You may never had heard his name, but you will certainly have seen his face. His personal experience gave great authority to his tough guy and army roles. Always believable, and guaranteed to add a touch of authenticity to any scene. Have you ever seen ‘Platoon’, ‘Saving Private Ryan’, ‘Under Siege’, ‘Rough Riders’ or ‘Starship Troopers’? Then you have seen Dale Dye. You might not have been aware of it though, as he rarely gets the credit he deserves. Look him up.

Perhaps best known for ‘Cocoon’, and its sequel, Wilford Brimley has had a long and varied career. You would be sure to recognise his distinctive moustache, and the piercing gaze coming from his round face. But you might not have his name on the tip of your tongue. Over the years he has played kindly old men, menacing villains, and had roles in many westerns too. Maybe you have never heard of him. Have you seen ‘The Thing’ (John Carpenter), ‘The China Syndrome’, ‘The Firm’, or ‘Absence Of Malice’? If you have, just think about the older man with the bushy moustache. That’s him.

Levon Helm was the drummer and singer in the famous group, ‘The Band’. He also crossed over into acting, giving some standout performances in minor roles. His southern accent and lean appearance often marked him out from others in the cast. You may only know him from his vocals on ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’, but think about these films, and you would have seen him as a fine actor too. ‘In The Electric Mist’, ‘Shooter’, ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’, ‘The Right Stuff’, and more. He sadly died in 2012, so we are denied what might have been more substantial roles had he lived to a ripe old age.

James Gandolfini has also sadly passed away. Following one of his last films, and perhaps his gentlest and one of his best-ever roles, he died in 2013, aged just 51. That film was ‘Enough Said’, and if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it unreservedly. Despite a career in films, he was perhaps best known for his role as Tony Soprano, in the epic TV series, ‘The Sopranos’. Arguably the best portrayal of the seedy underworld of the American Mafia ever made, it ran to many series, and Gandolfini was in virtually every episode. His Italian heritage, large build, and terrible stare did lend him to possibly being typecast in gangster roles. However, his acting ability went well beyond those, and gave us delights such as him singing and dancing, in the wonderful ‘Romance and Cigarettes’, from John Tuturro. Even comedy was on his list of talents, as evidenced by his part in the political satire ‘In The Loop’. But think back to when he was less well-known, and recall ‘The Juror’, ‘Fallen’, and the Coen Brothers’ classic modern noir, ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’. He had parts in all of those too. He may not be remembered as one of the great American actors, but for me he was up there with them.

You might never have hear the name Billy Green Bush. And you almost certainly wouldn’t have heard of that actor’s real name, William Warren Bush. But if you are old enough, you will have seen him in some very famous films, even though he was never the star. Reliable character actors are not always easy to find, yet he was one of them. Have a look at this list, and think if you have seen any of them. If you have, you watched him, even if only for a short time. ‘Five Easy Pieces’, ‘Electra Glide In Blue’, ‘The Culpepper Cattle Company’, ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’, ‘The Hitcher’, ‘Tom Horn’, ‘Monte Walsh’. I don’t doubt that his name, and even his face, may not ring any bells. But for me, he always stood out, and I was sad that he was never offered any bigger roles with which to show us his undoubted talent. He is still alive, now aged 80.

So there you have six American actors that I have always thought were underrated. All of them are either dead, or getting on a bit, I confess. Then again, I am not so young anymore myself. If you have really never heard of them, or just can’t place their faces, photos are readily available on Google.
I have not featured any younger actors, as they still have time to be overrated!
Let me know in the comments who your favourite underrated actors are.

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39 thoughts on “Underrated actors

  1. As the better half works in the industry people are surprised that I’m not a big TV & film person but I’m really pleased you had Jim Gandolfini in your post. The spouse had the pleasure of working with him on In The Loop and said he was an absolute gent.Thanks to him I also got to see Mr. Les Paul at The Iridium Club in 2008. It surprised me how much he’d been in & I guess that makes a good actor? I’m looking forward to seeing your female Brits. There is one from east enders that when I seen her in something else I was gobsmacked at just how good she was. But Gandolfini was a great choice Pete.

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  2. Great post, Pete! Danny Aiello is terrific in “Moonstruck” as well – playing Nic Cage’s brother and Cher’s Fiance – and Gandolfini has a small but terrific role in “Get Shorty” – you gave some terrific character Actors their due – bravo!

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  3. How about Rodrigo De La Serna? I thought he deserved a ‘best supporting…’ Oscar for The Motorcycle Diaries. I must confess that I had to Google his name. Danny Aiello gave a gentle performance as a Chiropractor in Jacobs Ladder which leads me onto Tim Robbins who I like, although he’s made a few too many movies these days. K

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    1. He was good in that film, but has he done much else? I would have to look him up. Tim Robbins is perhaps not underrated. It is less about the number of films, than the public (and critical) acclaim.
      Cheers mate. Too hot here for 11 PM!

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  4. I haven’t seen all these films, but I know most of the actors you’ve mentioned and you’ve given them fairly accurate assessments as far as I know, or my taste I should say. Now, I’m off to look up Dale Dye. You know my curiosity – gotta look things up!

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  5. In order of appearance: Danny Aiello (excellent actor; I know him well), Dale Dye (the face is familiar!), Wilford Brimley (perhaps better known for his many TV commercials), Levon Helm (never heard of him), James Gandolfini (never watched “The Sopranas;” I know the name and face, but that’s all), and Billy Green Bush (never heard of him). I think there are probably many underrated actors, and I could probably think of quite a few if I surveyed my memory of the many films I’ve seen. I hope you continue with this series!

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      1. “True Romance” is a fantastic film! It does have a Mexican standoff in the film near the end, but the confrontation between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken is classic stuff. I’m a big fan of both of these actors, and seeing them together acting out a great script was just plain magic.

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  6. I must admit I’ve a very long list of my favorite underrated actors. Just to name a few would be…

    William Fichtner ~ Invasion, Prision Break…
    Hugo weaving ~ Matrix, Lord of the Rings….
    Damian Lewis ~ Band of Brothers, Homeland…

    so many out there to list.. Great post my friend..

    Take care, Laura

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      1. Really? I had no idea .. I think he would have been perfect for that part in James Bond… the last few choices they made for Bond didn’t work for me.. Damian Rocks and Hollywood needs to get over Red hair.. wink…hair does not make or break the actor.. wink, wink.. fickle business eh….

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