You can't be the murderer, you were the bereft mother once on CSI.
March 24, 2015 12:55 PM   Subscribe

Is there a list somewhere of actors who have been most used as a one-off person of interest on monster-of-the-week style procedurals?

You know what I mean. You're kicked back, watching some rerun of SVU, and suddenly they're badcopping some guy you know you've seen before but you can't place? He's not recognizable enough to be a That Guy but he's been in something else you've seen, you're sure of it. So you go wade through the episode's imdb page and find out he's got like 40 credits, all playing some random ancillary character in a Bones or a CSI or a Law and Order or a Criminal Minds or a Homicide or an NCIS or a Without a Trace or a Cold Case or a Lie to Me or a christing fuck how many of these shows do we need omg but hasn't really had recurring or starring roles in anything.

Anyway, I want to see a list of those people. I want to know who's getting work by being juuuust unrecognizable enough that they can have several minutes of camera attention on every goddamned show and you barely even notice.

Barring a list that already exists I'd be happy for names.

Several days ago I was mainlining some SVU and found one of these people, someone who has just one or two credits in dozens of different shows like this, but couldn't ask because I had already asked a question that week. I'm such a habitual user of imdb that he's been bumped off my recently visited list and I have NO IDEA who he was, otherwise I'd have a perfect example to give you all.
posted by phunniemee to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Jesse Heiman has a habit of turning up in the background of things.
posted by peteyjlawson at 1:07 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do a search for the phrase, "Hey, it's that guy!" There was a blog once that maintained such a list and used that as its title, and I think that phrase has passed into unofficial shorthand-description territory.

Another term to use is "character actor", but that has a lot of other meanings.

(And on a personal note - in my case, most of the people with these kinds of small parts on LAW AND ORDER are local New York actors, and many of them are also people I worked with on off-off-Broadway shows - to the point that every other rerun of L&O SVU I watch, I see someone I recognize. There was one episode where I saw two people from two completely different shows in the same episode.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:08 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Here is an article about it on TV Tropes. They call that genre of show a Clueless Mystery.
posted by soelo at 1:11 PM on March 24, 2015

TV Tropes page for Hey It's That Guy, complete with a list of That Guys. Also a Cracked list of That Guys.
posted by specialagentwebb at 1:13 PM on March 24, 2015

Hey, it's That Guy!
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:16 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hey, folks, thanks. Just to head this off at the pass, uncredited extras and That Guys are not what I mean.

-These people always have speaking roles
-Their roles are never recurring
-These people are not well known enough to be That Guys.

I mean, come on. The Cracked list has Peter Fricken Stormare on it. TV Tropes wants you to know about Jane Lynch and Vincent Sciavelli.

The folks I'm asking about might as well be sitting in the booth next to you at Chili's they are so nondescript.
posted by phunniemee at 1:19 PM on March 24, 2015

I think the way to find this information would be to cross-reference the largest numbers of TV appearances with lowest numbers of recurring roles. No idea if that's possible with IMDB though.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:24 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Some lunatic put together a list of everyone with a CSI "Grand Slam" -- that is, appeared on CSI, CSI: Miami, and CSI: NY as different characters. There are, unbelievably, 183 names on that list.

One of them is Zach Grenier, who has also played seven different characters in the L&O universe. He is a go-to guy for "weaselly middle-aged white man." I would recognize him in the booth next to me at Chili's, but I'm a big fan of The Good Wife, and before 2010, I totally would not have recognized him.
posted by Etrigan at 1:25 PM on March 24, 2015 [12 favorites]

I know my sister had been on the UK procedural "Casualty" at least twice, as a different featured character each time.
posted by w0mbat at 1:25 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Riffing on showbiz_liz's idea, there's this list of IMDb Alternate Interfaces. Presumably, you would download actors.list.gz and actresses.list.gz and then filter them for criteria like "only acts in tv shows" "only has at most two credited episodes per show" (two because I know some of these actors show up seasons later to play different unrelated characters). I have no idea what format you'll actually find once you unzip and open these files up though, so that might all be easier said than done.
posted by books for weapons at 1:36 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Etrigan, that is exactly what I'm talking about. If only someone could magic that CSI list into ALL OF THE SHOWS my life would be complete.

I did some digging and the guy I saw who inspired this question was Myk Watford, who until just last year had the kind of resume I'm looking for.
posted by phunniemee at 1:37 PM on March 24, 2015

Best answer: In the late 70s/early 80s, I used to see an actor in small theatres in LA like ALL the time and I was crazy about everything he did, especially the Sam Shepard one-acts he was in. Eventually he started getting small parts on TV and in movies, and I think the majority of his career fits your request. John Diehl.

Or there's my old college classmate, who has worked steadily since we graduated but whose name you won't recognize, more's the pity. He's run the gamut: LA Law, NCIS, Criminal Minds, CSI, CSI:NY, Veronica Mars, you name it. He was even on an episode of The X Files. Back when I was doing hospice volunteer work, a lot of the time what we did was hang out with people and watch tv with them. One evening I walked into the room of a resident who was slurping up some hash oil and who offered me some, which I declined, and then he said, here, let's watch the X Files together, and I said sure, people are telling me all the time what a great show it is but I don't have a tv so I've never seen it, then he turns it on and I go WHOA I went to college with that guy! and the hospice resident was looking at me like, which one of us is high?
posted by janey47 at 1:41 PM on March 24, 2015

Oh, just to add -- he and Brad Pitt had their first movie parts as bit parts in the same movie - Thelma & Louise. HOW SAD IS IT that my friend didn't go on to be Brad Pitt, but instead became That Guy? Sads.
posted by janey47 at 1:43 PM on March 24, 2015

as Empress said, many are NYC theater actors who have time during the day to be an in episode of one of the shows. This was probably at its peak when the Mothership, SVU and Criminal Intent were all filming. There was a period in the mid/late 2000s where it was hard to read a Playbill without a Dick Wolf credit.
I know the Off Bway database is updating their site to make it easier to link actors across shows. I wonder if that will extend to other media.
posted by TravellingCari at 2:16 PM on March 24, 2015

There's quite a good documentary on those actors on Netflix at the moment, actually. It's called That Guy... Who Was In That Thing. You might enjoy it, but it might be a little too much TV-Tropes-That-Guy for you? Sorry, I'm kind of confused about exactly what you're looking for re: too well known That Guys vs. not well known enough That Guys.
posted by sciatrix at 5:24 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Love this question! I was watching a L&O marathon last weekend too, and Peter Hermann was on, playing a defense attorney several seasons before he ended up on SVU (and fell in love with Mariska).

These are some fun lists, although not comprehensive:

Actors who played more than one character on Law & Order:SVU
List of actors who have played multiple roles in the same television series
Law & Order Repeat Offenders File (only goes through '04)

And an interesting article that touches on a lot of the anecdotes others have shared about Broadway actors: 24 Years of Law & Order Employment
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:39 PM on March 24, 2015

Best answer: I am convinced that just about everybody has had at least one minor role on The X-Files, big name or small. Seriously, it's like the Kevin Bacon of serial TV shows. Anyhow, this is not monster-of-the-week/police-procedurals, but it's too cool not to share - last year I watched a documentary called The Green Girl about Susan Oliver, who did almost exactly the same thing in the mid-50s through the 70s. Sometimes she appeared two or three times on the same show, but as completely different characters. Anyway, if you ever get a chance to check out that doco, it's highly recommended. In an era when everyone was signing to a particular studio, she said no and went on to build a very successful career out of her one-off parts. And became a Star Trek icon.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:44 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think one of the "problems" with what you are looking for is if the actor is memorable enough, their talent and charisma nearly always translates into a more successful career. So what we are seeing are very early roles for an actor who later breaks out big time.
For example, years ago I had the opportunity to hang out on a movie set and while I was watching the filming in a soundstage, a man walked in and was kind of loitering around in the background looking all seedy and slightly dangerous. I didn't recognize him at first, not until after I saw the finished movie did I realize that I had seen the man in a role in The Practice. I did not realize he is an actor, I believed he was kind of a gangster/drug dealer. I remembered him subliminally as his role on The Practice. So, yeah, I had the chance to meet and spent hours chumming with Mark Freakin Sheppard. Waaaaaaay before he was known.
posted by Jazz Hands at 6:02 PM on March 24, 2015

There was a spate of "holy shit, everyone on OITNB was on Law & Order" a bit ago. I THINK this is the original, but here is a delightful supercut based on the list.
posted by atomicstone at 6:51 PM on March 24, 2015

You mean like David Proval?
(His super nice wife goes to my church.)
posted by SLC Mom at 6:58 PM on March 24, 2015

This doesn't answer your question, but there's a great comedy sketch about this subject: John Mulaney: Favorite Law and Order Characters
posted by PSB at 6:07 AM on March 25, 2015

Here's a list of a few more of those gals.
posted by dizziest at 8:07 AM on March 29, 2015

« Older How to kill termites without killing my family?   |   Wine 101 Me Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.