/Answers: Our Favorite Character Actresses

kathryn hahn

Chris Evangelista: Kathryn Hahn

Give Kathryn Hahn all the roles in all the movies, please. Hahn’s profile has risen quite nicely recently, thanks to stand-out roles in the multiple (how are there more than one?) Bad Moms films, and also her lead in the Amazon series I Love Dick. Before that, however, Hahn appeared mostly in supporting roles, yet no matter how small the part, she always killed it. With a knack for dry, droll wit coupled with sudden brashness, Hahn is a character actress who is adroit at both laugh-out-loud comedy and introspective drama. It’s the comedy she’s most-known for, though, and with good reason. Hahn appeared late in Parks and Recreation’s run in a recurring role, as no-nonsense political operative Jen Barkley. With her limited screen time, Hahn delivers one hilarious line after another in her patented blunt way. Few comedic moments have ever made me laugh more than when Hahn, as Barkley, delivers the line, “I’m gonna go spend my time doing exactly what I want to do because I don’t have children.”

ann dowd

Hoai-Tran Bui: Ann Dowd

Ann Dowd had been plodding away in often thankless, but solid roles, on television for nearly 30 years before she earned her Emmy-winning breakthrough performance as the menacing Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale. And it’s about time. Dowd has long been an unseen talent on the periphery of middling-to-great TV series for years, but the one-two punch of her awards-nominated roles in The Leftovers and The Handmaid’s Tale have put her in the spotlight. Dowd is an indomitable force in The Handmaid’s Tale, alternately tender and terrifying as the woman in charge of subduing the young women into embracing their new fates as walking wombs. Every word that Dowd lacerates Elisabeth Moss’ June and her fellow handmaids with stings just as much as the cattle prods with which she abuses them. She’s brusque, severe, and virtually unrecognizable in the role, as Dowd is usually cast in matronly supporting roles.

But Dowd is not unfamiliar with unsettling characters. Though 2017 was Dowd’s year, one of her most powerful performances flew relatively under the radar in 2012, with Compliance. She accumulated some Oscar buzz for the role of a fast food restaurant manager who unwittingly puts an employee through disturbing and invasive search procedures, but not enough can be said about Dowd in this film. She delivered a complex, distressing performance in the film, which elevated the thriller from playing out as a glorified social experiment. It was perhaps the closest to a central role in a film that the actress has gotten in her decades of work — though that may soon change with the stellar year that she just experienced.

Judy Greer

Ben Pearson: Judy Greer

When it comes to character actresses I’m consistently happy to see whenever they pop up in a movie, Judy Greer tops the list. She slips effortlessly between genres, breezing her way through romantic comedies and doing her damnedest to leave a mark in some of the world’s biggest blockbusters (Jurassic World, Ant-Man). She’s also supremely talented at voice acting, proving to be an essential part of the audio landscape of TV shows like FX’s Archer. Her comedy work is outstanding (Arrested Development and a brief role on It’s Always Sunny are my personal favorites), but she’s equally capable of delivering solid dramatic performances as well. Not only that, but she’s disappeared entirely and brought humanity and warmth to the personality of an ape through her motion capture performance in the Planet of the Apes trilogy. Greer has it all – range, depth, humor, pathos – and if she never gets a starring role that takes her career to an entirely new level, the rest of the movie world will benefit from the fact that she’s always around, popping up in unexpected places and doing constantly solid work all the while.

margo martindale

Jacob Hall: Margo Martindale

Margo Martindale looks like a midwestern American aunt and that may be the key to her success as an performer. While she rarely headlines any movies or TV shows, she has found a way to weaponize her “ordinariness.” You look at Martindale and you see a person, not an actress. Of course, this means she has played a lot of loving familial figures over the years (and she’s quite good at that). But other projects have seen her gleefully play against type. As a crime boss in Justified and a Russian agent in The Americans, she proved that villains and spies don’t have to look like movie stars…and they’re more effective when they don’t. Of course, Martindale has been so good for so long that BoJack Horseman has transformed her into a recurring character who is a celebrated character actress and a deranged criminal mastermind. Quite frankly, Margo Martindale can do anything.

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