By: Dan Grant
Welcome to the hunt for the best supporting supporting actor!
First thing’s first: no, that’s not a typo.
Here at the Same Page, we like to have fun. We’ve decided to take a classic movie conundrum and turn it into a little game, enlisting several of our contributors to participate. We’ve all done it before. You turn on a recommended movie, or the hit TV show du jours and you see an actor. You’ve seen them before, but you can’t remember where. ‘Who IS that?’ you ask yourself. You find yourself furiously searching IMDB pages, trying to learn his or her identity.
Did you see them as part of the ensemble on Game of Thrones?
Were they the fourth lead in Bad Boys 2?
Were they the villain in a made-for-TV Family Channel movie you watched when you were faking sick in the seventh grade?
Well, probably you, eventually. You find out their name and say ‘Oh yeeeeeah, it’s THAT guy/girl’.
Now, the THAT guy concept isn’t a new one. It was championed by Bill Simmons back in the Grantland days, and with my apologies to Bill, I can’t find if he ever actually wrote a piece about it. I’m sure he wasn’t the first, anyway. As long as there have been lead actors, there have been other actors supporting them.
This exercise however, isn’t totally about that.
It’s about finding the best supporting supporting actor. As in, who supports the supporters and the lead actors?
We all know about the Best Supporting Actor/Actress awards given out at Academy Awards, the Golden Globes and myriad other awards shows every year. Amazing performances are often those that allow the lead to succeed in their own performance. Good examples are Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker from The Dark Knight or Kim Basinger as a classic noir damsel in distress in LA Confidential.
But what about the men and women behind the men and women? The ones who receive no glory? The third leads, the comic relief, the scene-stealers?
Often these people catch the eye of a studio-executive by chewing up scenery so furiously that they can’t be denied. Or, like James Gandolfini and Steve Buscemi, they might find the role of a lifetime.
Other times however, they’re seen as perfect in their role, destined to be a supporting player. They’re not going to feted and celebrated come awards time. They’re just going to put in work, and make everything around them better.
We’ve decided to honour those actors, since nobody else will.
- The candidates can’t have ever even been nominated for a major award. No Oscars or Golden Globes. Even the Emmy’s are frowned on, given the golden state of current television. We’ll call this ‘The Steve Buscemi Rule’.
- Here’s where it gets fun. In a play on the old desert island game, once you select your candidate, you are allowed to watch their movies, but also the entire movie library of every single one their co-stars… but nothing else, ever again.
That’s it. That’s the game.
Who’s worked with the best the most often, but never been individually recognized? Who’s the best supporting supporting actor?
Over the next several weeks, several Same Page contributors are going to look to figure this out. I’ll go first, because it’s my crazy idea.
Candidate: Kevin Pollak
Top 10 Movies (Rotten Tomatoes)
- LA Story (94%)
- That Thing You Do! (93%)
- The Usual Suspects (88%)
- Avalon (83%)
- A Few Good Men (81%)
- Casino (80%)
- Ruby Bridges (80%)
- The Aristocrats (79%)
- Buffalo 66 (76%)
- Richochet (73%)
Canadian Bacon, Grumpy Old Men, Reality Bites, She’s All That, The Whole Nine Yards, Willow, Wayne’s World 2
Oscar/Golden Globes Supported
Barry Levinson, Avalon (Best Original Screenplay) – Nominated
A Few Good Men (Best Picture) – Nominated
Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men (Best Supporting Actor) – Nominated
Sharon Stone, Casino (Best Actress) – Nominated
Christopher McQuarrie, The Usual Suspects (Best Original Screenplay) – Nominated
Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects (Best Supporting Actor) – Won
The Argument for Pollak
Now that you’ve seen a snapshot of his career, let me make the case for why I chose Kevin Pollak.
A classic ‘that guy’, Pollak is a stand-up comedian who happens to also act. He gained notoriety through his over-the-top impressions of William Shatner and Christopher Walken, which he was doing before they became a hack’s broadsword. He also does an incredible impression of Peter Falk, better known to your grandparents as Columbo, among many, many others.
All this is to say, Pollak is imbued with the comedic timing to make the most of his limited screen time in the movies in which he appears. His dry wit leads to memorable one-liners, and his ability to vacillate between put-upon/exasperated and stone-faced (all in the service of getting laughs) is a skill where a lesser actor would fail.
If you look at his resume, he’s appeared in a good number of critically acclaimed films, though none lately. The most recent film on his top 10 list is the Aristocrats from 2006, and that was a documentary about the dirtiest joke ever told.
So why Pollak then? For me, he brings everything I want in a supporting supporting actor. He’s instantly recognizable. He’s appeared in a good amount of excellent films himself, with a broad variety of genres within those films.
All of this is pretty paint-by-numbers. There are a lot of actors who could say the same thing.
The huge feather in the cap for Kevin Pollak is that he’s worked with such an incredible breadth of actors during his career, that he fills out the second part of the challenge better than anyone else I can imagine. Check the IMDB page to confirm, and then have a look at some of the highlights.
Desert Island Library
Rules: No TV Shows, Shorts, made-for-TV movies, or voice work. Live Action Feature Film only.
Alan Arkin (The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause)
Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects, End of Days)
James Caan (Middle Men)
John Candy (Canadian Bacon)
Kevin Costner (3000 Miles to Graceland)
Tom Cruise (A Few Good Men)
Robert De Niro (Casino)
Morgan Freeman (The Magic of Belle Isle)
Tom Hanks (That Thing You Do!)
Jack Lemmon (Grumpy Old Men, Grumpier Old Men)
Jerry Lewis (Max Rose)
Christopher Lloyd (The One I Wrote For You)
Steve Martin (LA Story)
Walter Matthau (Grumpy Old Men, Grumpier Old Men)
Matthew McConaughey (The Wedding Planner)
Mike Myers (Wayne’s World 2)
Jack Nicholson (A Few Good Men)
Anna Paquin (She’s All That)
Dolly Parton (Frank McKlusky, C.I.)
Amanda Peet (The Whole Nine Yards, The Whole Ten Yards)
Joe Pesci (Casino)
Kurt Russell (3000 Miles to Graceland)
Arnold Schwarzenegger (End of Days)
Martin Short (The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause)
Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects)
Sharon Stone (Casino)
Paul Walker (She’s All That)
Bruce Willis (The Whole Nine Yards, The Whole Ten Yards, Cop Out, Hostage)
The list goes on and on!
Pollak has 133 acting credits, and is still going. The unbelievable cast you see listed above you represents just some of the actors he’s worked with; there are tons that I left off the list.
If this challenge is to create a movie library that I would personally enjoy watching if stuck on a desert island, the above list is going to keep me pretty happy. I have access to dramatic heavy hitters like Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson and Kevin Spacey, I have comedy with John Candy, Mike Myers and Steve Martin, and I have tremendous action via Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Kurt Russell, plus everything else in between. I even have access to the Fast and Furious franchise via Paul Walker, and Back to the Future via Christopher Lloyd!
It’s a cinematic candy store. Pollak himself knows his role. From his IMDB page:
(On being a supporting actor) “As my wife puts it, as long as the leading man needs a best friend or an attorney, I’ll continue to work. You know you have to bring your own thing to it, and fortunately if you have a director offering me the part because he wants me to bring my own thing to it, I’m going to be able to do that. I like to think that I choose things that will have an impact on the story so I won’t be just a filler.”
That, for me, is a key to this contest. Pollak has no greater aspirations. He’s not Ryan Gosling in Remember the Titans or Matt Damon in School Ties. We’re not going to suddenly see him opposite Cate Blanchett in next year’s Oscar bait. That’s not a shot at Blanchett, it’s just Pollak staying in his lane, and it’s a very, very good lane.
So there you have it. Kevin Pollak: Your Best Supporting Supporting Actor.
Keep an eye out for these posts in the coming weeks, as others try (and ultimately fail, I say!) to make their case for a better choice.