Female Character Actors You've Seen All Over But Can't Name

Actors don’t start out thinking of themselves as character actors. They just think of themselves as actors. It’s the industry that makes the distinction between a lead and a second banana. Despite their smaller roles, these ladies are killing it when they do get screen time, and have made careers, filled with memorable roles and even Oscar wins, out of being the best female character actors in Hollywood. You recognize these women from your favorite TV shows and great films, even though you might not know their name. But good news! Today is a day for learning!

An actor may toil away as a character actor, blending into an ensemble and then emerge as a lead. It’s a long shot but it does happen. And if an actor works long enough, former stars may be today’s character actors. Women don’t seem to get a shot at longevity as much as some male actors do simply due to how many roles are available. Even as trends in entertainment are heading toward more female-driven shows, female actors tend to find the road a little more bumpy and truncated.

Still, there are a ton of amazing ladies out there, turning out great performances across many genres on both the small and big screens. These talented female character actors deserve recognition, by name! What's the name of that actress you've seen everywhere? Look through the list below and find out! From Margo Martindale, Kim Dickens, Niecy Nash, and Linda Hunt, get ready to learn all about the women behind the supporting female characters who make top TV series and good movies as great as they are.

Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY

  • Margo Martindale

    Margo Martindale
    Photo: Montclair Film Festival / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    “Some things just take time,” Martindale said when she accepted the 2011 Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her work on Justified.  

    This gem of an actor has always been a standout in both TV and film. It’s the subtle levels that Martindale finds in the characters she plays. She’s also an excellent ensemble player and gives other actors something to work with. Her Claudia on The Americans versus her performance in August: Osage County is an excellent idea of her wide range as a performer.

    • Age: 71
    • Birthplace: Texas, Jacksonville, USA
    • Credits: Million Dollar Baby, Justified, The Rocketeer, The Firm, The Hours
  • Beth Grant
    Photo: Greg Hernandez / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    With 182 credits to her name as an actor, Grant has created a huge catalog to pull from with each role. She always approaches the work from a very accessible place and audiences always remember her. 

    • Age: 73
    • Birthplace: Gadsden, Alabama, United States of America
    • Credits: No Country for Old Men, Donnie Darko, Little Miss Sunshine, Rain Man, Pearl Harbor
  • Kathryn Hahn
    Photo: Angela George / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    Hahn has emerged from her years as a rather formidable comic and dramatic actor. She can play the quirky mom for a sketch on Kroll Show, the cutthroat political strategist on Parks and Recreation, or the thoughtful rabbi on Transparent and feel like a completely different person each time.

    • Age: 49
    • Birthplace: Westchester, Illinois, USA
    • Credits: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Step Brothers, The Dictator, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, We're the Millers
  • Dianne Wiest
    Photo: Chad J. McNeeley / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The news that Oscar-winner Wiest had fallen on hard financial times due to lack of work was a serious remark on the choices out there for female actors. Even with a storied career, Wiest, like many actresses, has found the choices few and far between for women of a certain age. Considering that most writers' rooms are predominantly filled with dudes, the trend may continue unabated. In any case, it’s disturbing as Wiest is a mighty force and should be working more. 

    • Age: 75
    • Birthplace: Kansas City, Missouri, United States of America
    • Credits: Edward Scissorhands, I Am Sam, The Lost Boys, The Birdcage
  • Lili Taylor
    Photo: Keith McDuffee / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    By all rights, she should be a leading actress, but in this world of vapid, one-dimensional thinking, Taylor has made opportunities for herself by making each role extraordinary. That’s very good news for audiences and Taylor fans because she’s superb.

    • Age: 56
    • Birthplace: Glencoe, Illinois, United States of America
    • Credits: The X-Files, Rudy, Say Anything..., Six Feet Under, The Conjuring
  • Patano gets a lot of offers to play various roles and she has brought her own power to every character. She has the ability to make a mother real, a judge scary, and a badass, watchable

    • Age: 61
    • Birthplace: USA
    • Credits: Weeds, The Hurricane, The Company Men, Little Manhattan, The Savages