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Arts & Entertainment

Facial Recognition: A look at Hollywood's greatest character actors

Actor Harry Dean Stanton in
Actor Harry Dean Stanton in "Repo Man."
Repo Man
Actor Harry Dean Stanton in
Actress Edie McClurg in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Actor Harry Dean Stanton in
Character actor JT Walsh in the film "Breakdown." Walsh was also in "Outbreak."
Promotional image
Actor Harry Dean Stanton in
Charles Durning in "Tootsie."
Actor Harry Dean Stanton in
Actor Jack Klugman in "12 Angry Men."
12 Angry Men
Actor Harry Dean Stanton in
Actor Charles Lane in "It's A Wonderful Life."
It's A Wonderful Life

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Star wattage and marquee value are all well and good, but what truly brings reality to the screen? The loss this week of Jack Klugman and Charles Durning reminds us of how important great character actors are to the history of film.

"The character actors have been with us for so long and they're so valuable and sometimes they say they make the picture. " said film critic Henry Sheehan on AirTalk. "'12 Angry Men' was Henry Fonda and 11 character actors. they had to put the camera on him a lot just to keep him from being upstaged."

Character actors can be immensely talented, and their performances are frequently praised and awarded. You’ve seen their faces in dozens, maybe hundreds of films, but do you know their names? Despite their on-screen shine, the actors who play, “just one of the guys,” manage to stay out of the limelight.  

"There's a certain familiarity that they bring with them, so for instance the actor James Rebhorn, who was in 'Independence Day,'" said film critic Lael Loewenstein. "That's the tough thing with character actors, is rarely can we put a name to them, but you see them you know them they bring in that little touch of what it is they do...Every now and then you get a character actor who's elevated to a leading actor status, like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who used to be pretty much known as a character actor."

What are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below. 


Lael Loewenstein, film critic for KPCC and Variety

Henry Sheehan
, film critic for KPCC and