While they may not get the name recognition they deserve, the character actors on this list work hard for their TV residuals. We'll see their faces over and over - often in many genres - before we start to recognize them from their past work. Take Jackie Hoffman - she's known for her no-nonsense characters and signature New York attitude, but it's not until you know she played Uma on Only Murders in the Building or Mamacita in Feud: Bette and Joan that you'd start to recognize her.
If actors can make a living from recurring and guest roles on TV, they're still considered working actors. The world might not know their names (yet), but as long as the casting director does, they can get work on a TV set near you.
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With his deadpan voice and ruggedly handsome features, Gary Cole is an actor most people have seen or heard over the decades. Some are familiar with him from his appearance as the infuriating boss Bill Lumbergh in 1999's Office Space, while others may know him from key supporting roles in such films as A Simple Plan (1998) and Talladega Nights (2006).
Additional viewers will no doubt recognize his voice from his portrayal of the title character in the Adult Swim series Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. In fact, Cole has been a particularly prolific voice actor in a number of animated series.
One of his more high-profile (and hilarious) roles was in the HBO series Veep, in which he played the dour pollster Kent Davison.
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Melanie Lynskey has been a mainstay of film and TV since her 1994 debut in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, in which she played one of a pair of teenage lovers who decide to murder one of their mothers. While Lynskey isn’t quite as recognizable as her co-star Kate Winslet, she nevertheless appeared in a number of high-profile projects throughout the 2000s, including Flags of Our Fathers, Win Win, Sweet Home Alabama, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
She also achieved more widespread recognition in the comedy Two and a Half Men and has recently earned plaudits for portraying Betty in Hulu's Candy, Kathleen in HBO’s The Last of Us, and Shauna in Showtime's Yellowjackets.
Those who are accustomed to seeing Lynskey playing soft-spoken American characters might be surprised to learn that she actually hails from New Zealand.
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While his most famous role might be Dr. Facilier in The Princess and the Frog, Keith David is one of the most established voice and character actors on television. Early in his career, he played Keith the Southwood Carpenter on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. He later lent his voice to cartoons such as Spawn, Archer, and Rick and Morty, and to a number of video games, including the Halo series.
David worked with director Ken Burns to narrate numerous documentaries, including The War, Jackie Robinson, Ali, Mark Twain, and Unforgivable Blackness - The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. He won Emmy awards for two of those voiceover performances: The War and Unforgivable Blackness. This persona was parodied in the comedy Community, a show he would later join.
Other TV credits include Greenleaf, From Scratch, and the second season of Love Life. David also appeared on the silver screen in The Thing, They Live, and Armageddon.
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Even if people aren’t necessarily familiar with Margo Martindale’s extensive body of work, they are no doubt familiar with the running joke involving her status as a “beloved character actress” on the hit comedy BoJack Horseman. She also played the handler to two Russian spies in The Americans, and earned an Emmy in 2011 for her work on Justified.
Martindale first appeared in the TV miniseries Lonesome Dove in the 1980s, and had supporting roles in a number of films throughout the next several decades, including The Hours and The Laramie Project.
The American actress has also appeared in several animated projects, including the rebooted DuckTales and, of course, in BoJack Horseman. In 2022, she played the creepy, quirky neighbor of the Brannock family on the Netflix series The Watcher. Recently she portrayed Mother Superior in the Peacock sci-fi dramedy series Mrs. Davis, which debuted in April 2023.
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Steven Weber has been a staple on TV sets all over the world since his seven-year run on Wings in the 1990s. Playing snarky men in charge, he has starred on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Desperate Housewives, Without a Trace, Chasing Life, NCIS: New Orleans, iZombie, Thirteen Reasons Why, and Chicago Med.
The native New Yorker is also well-known in the voiceover world, performing in All Dogs Go to Heaven: The Series, Ultimate Spider-Man, Avengers Assemble, and a few Batman movies. He has also consistently worked on the big screen in films like Hamburger Hill, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, and Single White Female.
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Few actors have had as varied a career as Stephen Root, who has been a stalwart presence in both movies and TV since the late 1980s.
The Florida native has appeared in everything from comedies to dramas, including Office Space, NewsRadio (in which he was a regular member of the cast), True Blood, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? He also made a memorable appearance in Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out as a blind photographer who's part of the scheme to take over the body of the main character, Chris Washington.
Root regularly appears on TV, most notably in the HBO series Barry, which concluded in May 2023.