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Who is that Actor: Stephen Tobolowsky

September 28, 2010

In a NYT Op-Ed piece extremely prolific character actor Stephen Tobolowsky wrote:

When you are Harrison Ford you play Richard Kimble or Han Solo. You have a first and last name, and the writer has thought enough about you to give you a life. Harrison Ford’s characters eat, sleep, drink coffee, shave, shower (from the back only, waist up), read the newspaper, get dressed, drive to work, run for their lives, shoot guns, deliver stirring oratory to alien warlords and possibly kiss Renée Zellweger — all because they have been named…I personally have felt the bite of having no name. In my time, I have played “Ranger Bob,” “Ringmaster Bob,” “Dr. Bob,” “Father Jon” and “Father Joe.” For the TV movie “Last Flight Out,” my name was “Tim” in the first half of the script and “Jim” in the last half. One of our stars was Richard Crenna, the funniest man who ever lived; he would always call me “Tim Jim” with a straight face during our scenes and in serious discussions with the director. No one noticed.

(source)

I will admit that I have not always known this brilliant actor’s name, but vividly remember him from Basic Instinct where he played the passionate and earnest Dr. Lamott who alerted Michael Douglas and various other character actors (I see you, Bruce A. Young) about the sinister soul at the heart of a novel, which detailed a murder the police were investigating. Why do I remember his character, besides the fact I’ve seen the film eleventy billion times? Mostly, because he gave a quick lecture on the ins and outs of publishing, specifically related to the time it takes primary suspect Catherine Tramell’s crappy novels to complete the publishing cycle.

Tobolowsky’s career fascinates me not for where he has appeared or how many times he’s played a doctor – I lost count after 11 times – but where he hasn’t appeared. No appearance on Murder, She Wrote. STUNNING. He did appear in a Perry Mason TV Movie, but not seeing that Tobolowsky ever stopped by the set of Diagnosis: Murder or Matlock – the first places I look when researching character actors. That said, Tobolowsky has done CSI: Miami, Law & Order: CI , so I suppose that cements his status as the reigning king of character actors. And his work in feature films is staggering. Groundhog’s Day is probably one of his most memorable roles, though he’s certainly has many hilarious roles to choose from.

But never mind that; Tobolowsky does a podcast, which is so freaking entertaining. Also besides, fellow character actor Danny Trejo, Tobolowsky is sharp, charming and witty in the documentary about character actors called The Face is Familiar. If you haven’t seen this documentary I urge you to do so. The actors interviewed are amazing, a veritable buffet of “it’s that actor from that movie!!!”

He’s also on twitter!

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. September 28, 2010 3:57 pm

    After many years of overlooking this fine actor, he came to my attention with the meaty role of the sinister Bob Bishop on season 2 of Heroes. After reading the quote from the OpEd, I have little doubt why they named his character “Bob.”

    I just found this amazing tidbit: while in high school, Stephen was a guitarist and backup singer in Stevie Ray Vaughan’s first band.

  2. evmaroon permalink
    September 28, 2010 7:12 pm

    Okay, that docu is at the top of my Netflix queue now. I had no idea, and have been waiting to see a film about character actors for years! Thank you, thank you.

    And I love Stephen…he’s one of the few actors out there whose voice I can hear clearly in my head just by seeing his face.

  3. September 28, 2010 9:04 pm

    He always stood out to me after seeing him as Sammy Jankis in Memento – it was a small role but totally grabbed me. I’ve also really wanted to see the documentary Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party – everything I read about it says that he’s a fabulous storyteller.

  4. September 28, 2010 10:53 pm

    Love him in so many things, but Groundhog Day is always the one that springs to mind first for me! He is a character actor with real comedic timing! So awesome!

  5. September 28, 2010 11:03 pm

    I remember in Single White Female how creepy he was, and I was thinking while watching it and feeling skeeved that I usually see him in these nonthreatening schmo kind of roles, so it was interesting. Range!

    Oh hey he was also in Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael! Which I was just looking up last week to find out who was that hottie playing Ted Danson’s ex-wife (and Oliver Platt’s current wife) on Bored to Death. Small world.

  6. evmaroon permalink
    September 28, 2010 11:30 pm

    He’s also hilarious in Glee, and I just about died laughing at his performance in Best in Show.

  7. September 29, 2010 7:22 am

    My favorite role of his is in Sneakers (I see you, Mary McDonnell). And I had no idea he was on twitter! I’m totally following him now.

  8. September 29, 2010 8:29 am

    @raymondj – haha. Sneakers! you know I freaking love that movie.

    @fatbodied – the documentary is really great. He’s a wonderful storyteller. Definitely check out his podcast too. (no he’s not paying me to say that.)

    Oh hey he was also in Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael! Which I was just looking up last week to find out who was that hottie playing Ted Danson’s ex-wife (and Oliver Platt’s current wife) on Bored to Death. Small world.

    I love that movie so much. I kind of forget he was in it!

    @Poplife – yeah, Ned is rather iconic. That’s the role I immediately think of in relation to Tobolowsky.

  9. September 29, 2010 6:19 pm

    Ray, I remember him from Sneakers too! And that sexy way he said “passport”. Ooh.

  10. September 30, 2010 9:32 am

    SNEAKERS!!!! Yes, so fab.

  11. September 30, 2010 9:57 am

    I just found this amazing tidbit: while in high school, Stephen was a guitarist and backup singer in Stevie Ray Vaughan’s first band.

    Oh snap! Like Chevy Chase and Steely Dan.

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