In the Downton Abbey thread the other day, people were mentioning that Maggie Smith, who plays the Dowager Countess, as a minor character who has a big impact on the show, due to a combination of great acting and good writing. I’ve been re-watching Six Feet Under as my exercise motivation and Joanna Cassidy, who plays the crazy/fun/narcissistic psychiatrist Margaret Chenowith (NSFW) gets my nod as another major minor character.
So here’s a thread for major minors – characters that don’t have a lot of scenes, but when they have one, you’re hanging on the edge of your seat to see what they will say next.
Andrew Robinson’s Garak in DS9 is definitely among the best in this category
Most any role by Christopher Walken recently.
Ms. Tudi (in Black Jesus). She’s played by Angela E. Gibbs. She’s funny as hell in her scenes. She treats her son like garbage, pulls guns on people, but she’s got real heart.
I loved this scene from Six Feet Under. “And sweetheart, they’re legion.” Brenda got hit with a truth bomb. Judi Dench in Shakespeare In Love was fantastic in the theater scene. She deserved that Oscar.
Oh and speaking of Oscars, boo on the academy for the Selma snubs. Another season of quirky whiteness and Meryl Streep, whom I love, but enough already.
Anything with Dwight Frye.
I found Streep cringeworthy in ITW. But, then, I usually do.
@schrodinger’s cat: Totally! Garak is AMAZING in DS9.
@Marcelo: agreed! My favorite character in DS-9 and my favorite “minor” character from Star Trek period…
Perhaps Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in the original Dr Whos.
Carrie Preston’s reoccurring guest stint on The Good Wife as Elsbeth Tascioni.
Kevin Ball as Kev in “Shameless” on Showtime. Dude chews up scenery in a big way, I feel like I’ve known him my whole life.
Tony Sirico as Paulie in “Sopranos”.
Not a major role — she was never listed in the opening credits — but NiCole Robinson as Margaret Hooper, the administrative assistant to the White House Chief of Staff, had some really good moments and in many ways was a chorus figure in the classical Greek theatre sense in “The West Wing.”
@schrodinger’s cat: If you hadn’t said that, I would have. Garak certainly belongs at the top of the list here! Good on you for the first comment!
Love her character. I’m also fond of Fish.
Alessandro Nivola as Anthony Amado, the FBI Agent behind the desk, in American Hustle. His idiosyncratic delivery (à la Christopher Walken) made me want to see more of him.
OT: I’m aware that a bunch of folks around here, including our master and commander, use CPAP devices. Any tips, advice, and/or recommendations on these devices would be appreciated. My mom’s doc advised her to get one. (She’s a petite woman, if that makes any difference.) Thanks.
Lilah Morgan in Angel
Grumpy Code Monkey
Another vote for Garak. He and Gul Dukat were among the best characters in any version of Trek.
@dedc79: I was going to suggest Groundskeeper Willie, but I think you’ve got a good eye for talent :-)
A television show character who has a big impact on the story is not minor, however little screen time they get, and was probably not meant to be minor. I remember from the greatest TV show of all time (well, I think so) Mulder and Scully’s boss, Asst Director Walter Sergei Skinner. Skinner started out late in the first season as yet another unfriendly FBI higher-up and soon morphed into a friend and ally. Well, most days.
Also from that show, Melvin Frohike of the Lone Gunmen. The Gunmen were intended as one-off comic relief. They didn’t even cast a real actor as Frohike: Tom Braidwood was one of The X-Files’ two first assistant directors, and he’s a short, pudgy old guy. His character was openly lusting after Scully, in the days when Mulder showed no romantic interest in her whatsoever. The Gunmen went on to have their own show, which is remembered only for the tremendously unfortunate choice of plot for its pilot episode.
Woody Harrelson in Cheers
Margo Martindale for her role as Mags Bennett on season 2 of Justified. She stole the whole season.
Along the same lines as Garak, Walter Koenig’s Bester in Babylon 5 was truly marvelous.
Also, the Fionnula Flanagan character in Lost, Eloise Hawking.
Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross.
Brenda: So how’s it going with Olivier?
Margaret: He’s a very passionate man. He’s lot of fun if you don’t take him too seriously. And he’s completely supportive of my decision to have vaginal rejuvenating surgery.
Brenda: [disgusted] Awww, mom!
Margaret: Darling, I’ve had a couple of children. You expecially took your toll. I mean, c’mon, no one wants to fuck a glass of water, if you know what I’m saying.
Brenda: [puts away the glass of water she’s drinking]
jake the antisoshul soshulist
Those minor major characters have a tendency to become major characters. For example, Quark in DS9 and Chief O’Brien in TNG.
I think Majel Barrett Roddenbury’s recurring role in TNG was intended to be much the same type of character as the Dowager Countess, but the writing was not nearly as good.
and for Zuleikha Robinson.
OT but can someone explain to me why Andrew Sullivan needs nearly one million dollars a year to run his blog? And then ask for more?
Jean-Ralphio from Parks and Rec for the fashion tips
Conleth Hill as Varys.
Sally Draper. She reminds me so much of me at that age.
Yes, that one, too. Love her.
Maybe his blog is powered by basset hounds.
Patrick Stewart’s appearances as Karla in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “Smily’s People”. His character didn’t say a word,but his acting spoke volumes.
@Xantar: his cameo in Mousehunt (1997) is classic.
“slight calcium deficiency”
@Jim parente: How about Fess Parker’s apperance in “Them”?
Anytime Mona Sterling shows up, it’s going to be an interesting scene. The daughter, not so much.
Also, Ken Cosgrove.
He must reckon he deserves that much for being Andrew Sullivan, conservative intellectual blogger.
The original Law and Order had several I liked. Dr. Emil Skoda played by J.K. Simmons, Danielle Melnick played by Tovah Feldshuh, Shambala Green by Lorraine Toussaint and a couple of the forensic guys like Beck and the very short, moderately disabled gentleman whose name escapes me.
I also very much enjoyed the arc of Officer Zitelli on Barney Miller, because he was a gay cop coming out over a season or two who was not stereotypical flamboyant character normally on television, including on Barney Miller. Their Internal Affairs officer Scanlon was gold, too.
Because he’s a fraud. I can’t take that preening asshole seriously anymore, even as an aggregator, which was the one thing that I thought he did well. Dude’s nothing but a weather vane pundit, going with the motion of the ocean.
Also, Prop Joe. Rarely seen, massive importance, and his absence becomes a game changer.
Duke of Clay
@Tinare: Elsbeth Tascioni was the first one to pop into my mind.
I ignore Sullivan’s writing, but his blog often has interesting content. But $1 million?
It is heartening to see so many Garak fans and DS9 fans among fellow jackals. May the prophets walk with you.
ETA: DS9 had many great recurring actors, Louise Fletcher as the uber bitch Kai Winn and Jeffrey Coombs as Weyoun.
I fell in love with Maggie Smith when The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie first came out, and take every opportunity to watch her act.
Brenda’s mom was the best. Every time I paint, I think about her comments in the “White Primer” episode. Also love:
Mac from Veronica Mars.
Gunther from Friends.
Stan from Golden Girls.
@Jeff: What is one million? The money he wants to raise? I don’t want to give that pompous twit page views, his stupid infinite scrolling makes my computer hang.
@FridayNext: Olivia D’abo in Criminal Intent. Nicole Wallace was the best sociopath ever featured on that show.
No, he shares his income from donations. No more ads on his site, just voluntary subscribers. You can still read it for free. So to his credit he’s freely sharing his income (unless he’s lying, who could know?).
Lisa Weil as Paris from The Gilmore Girls.
Louise Brealy as Molly Hooper in Sherlock.
I tried to watch “Six Feet Under” several months ago, but while I could tell it was the type of show I’d normally enjoy, the subject matter was a little too raw for me then given that my husband and I had just each lost a parent. But watching that clip has inspired me to give it another shot.
@the Conster: Second the nomination for Saul. I also like Skyler’s nutty sister.
@Mustang Bobby: Margaret is a great choice too.
Paul in KY
Ernest T in Andy Griffeth show.
The ventriloquist dummy in Soap.
Towely in Southpark
The Radio on Gilligan’s Island.
Paul in KY
@piratedan: He’s a good pick for that show.
I just relate to Sally Draper. I was once her, basically. A very pissed off, sarcastic and smart young woman who really had no illusions as to the “wisdom” of her elders.
FWIW (probably not much), I tried to like Six Feet Under. I watched for an entire season. It didn’t get better. Really didn’t like it. YMMV.
@Jeff: The family car in The Munsters.
Frasier on Cheers. Apparantly, I wasn’t the only one that wanted to see more of that character.
I always liked Andy on Hill Street Blues. I’m sure I’ll think of some more (rather than working).
Anonymous At Work
No one has cited Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now as the biggest major minor in cinema. He’s got like 15 minutes, top, of screen time, every line is a classic (“You wanna surf or fight?!”) and was the most memorable character in a movie that had some truly memorable characters, even if not in a good way.
We love James Grout as Superintendent Strange on Inspector Morse, and now we love Sean Rigby, who plays him as a young man on Endeavour.
I’m also watching “Forever” and I like it. I’m a sucker for fantasy though and usually love shows that are niche-y too.
“How to Get Away with Murder” is a little on the noir side for me but I love Viola and the supporting cast is good too for the most part. There are a lot oc characters though and not much character development…I still don’t know who got murdered in the first show and/or if one of the interns did it.
“Scorpion” is also sort of cool especially if you know any autistic spectrum kids. I teach some of them to ride horses and they can be surprizing gifted just as the show allows them to be. But mainly it’s just a re-worked version of the dirty dozen, ocean’s 11 a show that recently ended but cant think of it’s name: they were crooks out to help the under dogs, etc.
@Anonymous At Work:
Robert Duvall probably takes this title for any number of movies.ETA: Starting with To Kill a Mockingbird
@Hal: Holy shit, yes. Nicole Wallace was the creepiest. Even when I’m watching one of her episodes for the umpteenth time, she makes my flesh crawl. Just the way she says, “Baubby” is disturbing.
Stick with Six Feet Under. My old high school friend Nancy Oliver signed up as a writer for the show in S3, which if you are a follower of the show is when it starts really getting good. She then went on to write True Blood, and stopped during S3, which if you are a follower of the show is when it started to jump the shark. Nancy also wrote Lars and the Real Girl, and got nominated for an Oscar. Girl can write characters.
Every character on Homicide: Life on the Street had this quality for me. None of them was dominant (except maybe Braugher), and I loved seeing what each one of them had to do in any given episode.
This is a great thread topic.
To be fair, he’s sharing the income from subscriptions for the site, not his income. There are other staff and, if I remember correctly, he did pledge to pay them benefits. And I’m assuming running the website independently of a magazine or other sponsor involves some equipment/office costs. I don’t why I’m defending him, because I have issues with him too, but the way he runs his business is actually not one of them. I think it’s an interesting media experiment, and I give him credit for it making it work.
@Mustang Bobby: “We’ve got checks and balances, separation of powers, and Margaret vetoing things and sending them back to the Hill!”
@gogol’s wife: On Endeavor — DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam).
@jake the antisoshul soshulist:
Quark was a regular on DS9 from the beginning. Rom was the one who went from unnamed Ferengi pit boss to being Nog’s father.
and the very short, moderately disabled gentleman whose name escapes me.
Are you thinking of the medical examiner from CSI: Las Vegas? He uses a cane and mildly disabled. Character’s name is Al Robbins, played by Robert David Hall.
I can’t think of the forensic people on L&O other than the lady medical examiner/doctor.
Edward James Olmos’ character in “Miami Vice”, lieutenant Castillo. Whenever he was in a scene it was like everyone else would stop and hang on his every, softly spoken, word.
Peppermint Butler is awesome! Death to Finn and Jake: “You know Peppermint Butler?!”
@geg6: If you hate it, I’ll probably love it! I’m pretty sure from reading past TV threads that you and I have opposite tastes in TV! :-)
@the Conster: I think that would be such a cool job!
Yes, swoon, but I think he’s a major character, isn’t he?
I don’t know whether Jonathan Banks on Wiseguy would be considered minor, but he was one of the greatest characters ever created on TV.
Zathras. No no no, not Zathras, Zathras.
@gogol’s wife: I guess so, sometimes it feels like he’s the focus of the show. I just wanted to get his name out there as a good character.
Tree With Water
Joanna Cassidy is one of those actors who are so talented to make you wonder why she wasn’t cast in more movies. I can recall darn near every role I’ve seen her in, and think she was terrific in all of them.
Yes, he’s great.
I don’t know if he counts as minor, but Jeffrey Wright in Angels in America was brilliant. The scene where he describes a mulatto heaven to Al Pacino’s Roy Cohn was spine tingling.
@gogol’s wife: Homicide: Life On The Street I always called “Free Acting School: Watch And Learn”.
@Tree With Water:
Her slowmo plate glass death in Blade Runner is one of the most fantastic scenes ever shot.
The Ancient Randonneur
It’s hard out there for a blog pimp.
John Goodman in Treme
Bronn in Game of Thrones
George Grizzard as Arthur Gold in the original “Law and Order”.
Varys on Game of Thrones.
I know I’m being frivolous but whenever Chelsea Peretti gets to speak on Brooklyn Nine Nine, the show’s stock sky rockets, in my opinion. I find her hilarious.
Also loved Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons.
What can I say? I love comedies.
@Marc: Prom-ah-thus Bound, by A-silly-us
In the Christoph… Wal… category, I’ll nominate Christoph Waltz.
Season 2 of Justified is one of the best seasons of any television show ever. One of the deepest and most complex stories I’ve seen a TV show tell.
I haven’t the slightest idea, though I’d imagine health insurance for someone living with AIDS has got to be a pretty big ticket item.
Oh yeah, if there was any justice Koenig would be best remembered as Bester, not as Chekov. He did amazing things with that character.
After reading through the whole thread, I’m pretty surprised no one mentioned Spike from Buffy – perhaps everyone forgot that he started out as a minor character originally intended to be a one episode villain.
Also Michael J. Fox as the disabled lawyer on “The Good Wife”, I love the way he plays against type with that character.
I know everyone hates the feminist Mansfield Park movie with Frances O’Connor, but Alessandro Nivola is brilliant as Henry Crawford. His scene where he quotes Laurence Sterne is brilliant. ETA: I know I’m overusing “brilliant.”
No. There was a lab tech who clearly has spinal problems (as does the actor, I’ve seen him in other things) and tends to shimmy up onto counters to talk to the detectives eye-to-eye. I can’t find him, which means he is likely NOT a major-minor character, but a minor-minor character. So I withdraw the nomination.
I liked him because I like when casting directors think outside the box and cast the (relatively) same diversity of people you see in life. And being a short man myself I like when truly short actors get work in which their shortness isn’t used just for comic effect or as a metaphor for pettiness or evil. He is just there doing his job competently.
@The Ancient Randonneur: It looks like he has a staff of about 5-6 full timer(?) plus whatever other costs. He reports 32,000 subscribers at $20/year. So his current run rate is more like $640,000/year. Assuming something like $60k/year for wages and benefits for each of them, that leaves about $280k for all other expenses including his own salary. That seems kind of meh to me – hardly Katie Couric territory and probably somewhat less than Ezra Klein gets for running Vox.
If $1mm is a target for expanding staff/meeting fixed costs/moving to an actual office etc…, that seems completely within reason, ya? I’m sure Ezra’s budget, for example, is substantially more than that.
Roger Sterling, hands down. I start laughing the second he gets on screen. Even when he’s on the verge of tears, he comes up with something like “Every time an old man starts talking about Napoleon, you know he’s gonna die soon.”
He’s of major importance to the show, but in terms of screen time he’s definitely minor.
This example won’t meet with universal approval, but in “Silence of the Lambs,” Anthony Hopkins is onscreen for only about 20 minutes.
Martin Sheen in the early episodes of “The West Wing” when it really was mostly about the West Wing rather than the Oval Office.
Two minor characters whom I always look out for:
Jane Lynch’s psychiatrist character on “Two and a Half Men.” She has some of the best lines in the show and I always love it when they have her on.
From some year ago, Harriet Sansom Harris as Frasier’s agent in “Frasier.” Some of her stories are absolutely classic, as were the descriptions of her by the other characters, (“Lady Macbeth without the sincerity”).
I always liked Alan Arbus as Dr. Sydney Freedman, the psychiatrist in M*A*S*H. He was in only 12 episodes, but was a key element of those.
Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Sen. Clay Davis in The Wire, because sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeit.
I would argue that Omar Little from “The Wire” gets as many minutes of stage time as the Dowager Countess, so he gets my vote.
Also, Mr Frond on Bob’s Burgers…
@Jeff: Because: Entitled spoiled brat grifters gotta grift.
@Taylor “Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross.”
To tie this to another recent thread, that was Peak Alec Baldwin, or Peak Baldwin, period, considering the lack of talent amongst his brothers. And don’t pester me with that 30 Rock BS.
My immediate thought was Omar but I think you’re right, Assemblyman Clay Davis wins.
@gogol’s wife: No, no, no! The title goes to Munch!
Sarah Proud and Tall
Bunk, The Wire.
Or Omar, The Wire.
Or many of the low level drug dealers, The Wire.
@gogol’s wife: Thanks. I’ll check it out. Looks like it’ll be right up my gf’s alley, too.
Tom the First
Larry Bud Melman.
Another vote for Allan Arbus as Dr. Sidney Freedman and for Andrew Robinson as Garak — and Wayne Knight in everything — not just Newman! but also as Kristen Johnston’s cop boyfriend in Third Rock from the Sun.
Paul in KY
The maintenance man in Scrubs.