The Top 50 Great Character Actors

This is my top 50 list of the greatest character actors to ever grace the screen (big or small) in no particular order
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1.
David Paymer
One of modern TV and moviedom's most sturdy and reliable character actors, David Paymer dreamed of being an actor from early childhood. Although he came from a traditional middle-class Jewish family that urged him to become a doctor or lawyer, Paymer felt more at home in the world of the thespian. At 14...
 
2.
Steve Buscemi
Actor, Fargo
Steve Buscemi was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Dorothy (Wilson), a restaurant hostess, and John Buscemi, a sanitation worker. He is of Italian (father) and English, Dutch, and Irish (mother) descent. He became interested in acting during his last year of high school. After graduating, he moved to Manhattan to study acting with John Strasberg...
 
3.
Ernie Hudson
As a child growing up in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Ernie Hudson wrote short stories, poems and songs, always thinking that his words might one day come to life on stage. After a short stint in the Marine Corps, he moved to Detroit where he became the resident playwright at Concept East, the oldest black theatre in the country...
 
4.
J.K. Simmons
Actor, Whiplash
J.K. Simmons is an American actor. He was born Jonathan Kimble Simmons in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, to Patricia (Kimble), an administrator, and Donald William Simmons, a music teacher. He attended the Ohio State University, Columbus, OH; University of Montana, Missoula, MT (BA in Music). He had originally planned to be a singer and studied at the University of Montana to become a composer...
 
5.
Stephen Tobolowsky
Actor, Memento
Character actor Stephen Tobolowsky was born on May 30, 1951 in Dallas, Texas. Over the past three decades, Tobolowsky has racked up a lengthy list of roles in movies and television across many different genres. While Tobolowsky initially attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas with the intention of studying geology...
 
6.
Alfred Molina
Alfred Molina was born in 1953 in London, England. His mother, Giovanna (Bonelli), was an Italian-born cook and cleaner, and his father, Esteban Molina, was a Spanish-born waiter and chauffeur. He studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London. His stage work includes two major Royal National Theatre productions...
 
7.
Donal Logue
Actor, Gotham
Donal Logue's versatility and talent makes him one of the most well respected and beloved actors today. Born in Ottawa, Canada, Logue moved all over the United States, from the Boston area as an infant to various towns on the Mexican border. He returned to Boston to attend Harvard University, where he majored in Intellectual History and discovered his love for the performing arts...
 
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9.
Danny Trejo
Actor, Machete
Danny Trejo was born Dan Trejo in Echo Park, Los Angeles, to Alice (Rivera) and Dan Trejo, a construction worker. A child drug addict and criminal, Trejo was in and out of jail for 11 years. While serving time in San Quentin, he won the lightweight and welterweight boxing titles. Imprisoned for armed robbery and drug offenses...
 
10.
Stanley Tucci
Actor Stanley Tucci was born on November 11, 1960, in Peekskill, New York. He is the son of Joan (Tropiano), a writer, and Stanley Tucci, an art teacher. His family is Italian-American, with origins in Calabria. Tucci took an interest in acting while in high school, and went on to attend the State University of New York's Conservatory of Theater Arts in Purchase...
 
11.
Thomas F. Wilson
Tom Wilson is a creative artist whose professional career has explored almost every imaginable artistic discipline, blending them into a unique and very individual declaration of a life in the arts. A man of fervent but private faith his whole life, the last few years have been interesting, with hundreds of invitations to speak at conferences and retreats...
 
12.
Michael Badalucco
Michael Badalucco, a Brooklyn native, got his start in the entertainment industry at a very young age, going to work with his father Giuseppe, a Sicilian born immigrant, who worked as a carpenter on movie sets. In 1963, during the filming of Fail Safe starring Henry Fonda, a photo of a young boy was needed...
 
13.
Philip Baker Hall
Philip Baker Hall was born in Toledo, Ohio, to Berdene (McDonald) and William Alexander Hall, a factory worker who was originally from Montgomery, Alabama. He did not start acting until he was 30 years old, and shot to cult fame when he turned in an electrifying performance as Sydney, the veteran gambler...
 
14.
Daniel Roebuck
Having made his feature film debut starring in the teen comedy Cavegirl Daniel Roebuck quickly realized that there was only one direction to travel in his career. Up! Soon after Cavegirl, Roebuck established himself as one of the industry's youngest character actors with his haunting portrayal as the teenage killer, Samson in The River's Edge...
 
15.
Kevin Corrigan
A native of the Bronx, New York, Kevin Corrigan has been acting and writing since the age of 15. He made his film debut in Lost Angels and around that time, when he was just 17, his original play "The Boiler Room" was produced by the Young Playwrights Festival of New York. He has gone on to star in countless independent films and has made quite an impression...
 
16.
Luis Guzmán
Actor of Puerto Rican descent who made many memorable films in the 1980s due to his villainous persona. Presently resides with his wife and many kids in Vermont.
 
17.
Jamey Sheridan
Virile, fair-haired, set-jawed actor Jamey Sheridan was born in 1951 and raised in Pasadena, California. He turned to acting after a knee injury ended his pursuit of a dancing career. Beginning professionally on stage in 1978, he gained some momentum into the next decade and eventually reached Broadway...
 
19.
Timothy Olyphant
Actor, Justified
From Timothy Olyphant's first screen appearances, such as his two-minute bit in The First Wives Club, to "Nicko", whose presence at times dwarfed the island in A Perfect Getaway, he has been a force to be reckoned with. Born in Hawaii, Timothy David Olyphant was raised in Modesto, California. He is the son of Katherine Lyon (Gideon) and John Vernon Bevan Olyphant...
 
20.
Clifton Collins Jr.
An acting chameleon who can easily lose himself in the life of his film and television characters, Clifton Collins Jr. is a native Angeleno who grew up destined to become a part of the Latino entertainment industry. His great-grandparents on his mother's side were a Mexican trumpet player and Spanish dancer who formed a traveling family act...
 
21.
Stephen Root
One of the most prolific character actors working today, Stephen Root has worked alongside many of the biggest names in Hollywood. Born in Sarasota, Root majored in acting and broadcasting at the University of Florida and remains a die-hard Gator fan. After three years of touring the U.S. and Canada with the National Shakespeare Company...
 
22.
Richard Riehle
Richard Riehle was born in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, to Mary Margaret (Walsh), a nurse, and Herbert John Riehle, an assistant postmaster. He is of German and Irish descent. Richard attended the University of Notre Dame, where he became heavily involved with the University Theatre. Appearing in such productions as "Luther"...
 
24.
William Sanderson
Prolific and versatile character actor William Sanderson was born on January 10, 1944, in Memphis, Tennessee. His mother was an elementary school teacher and his father was a landscape designer. William served two years in the US Army. Following his military service he attended Southern Methodist University...
 
25.
Sean Patrick Flanery
Sean Patrick Flanery was born in Lake Charles, La. and raised in a small town outside of Houston, Texas. While attending the University of St. Thomas in Houston, he saw a beautiful girl leaving a building on campus every Monday and decided to drop an English class and sign up for "whatever the hell they were teaching in that building"...
 
26.
Raymond J. Barry
Before moving into film, Raymond J. Barry appeared in more than 75 stage productions, winning two Obie Awards for "Leaf People" and "Molly's Dream." Barry earned a degree in philosophy at Brown University before being accepted by the Yale School of Drama. After he moved to New York in the 1960s, his...
 
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29.
Muse Watson
Actor, NCIS
Rugged character actor Muse Watson is an established stage actor and veteran screen performer with a host of widely varying characters to his name, ranging from the hook-wielding killer in "I Know What You Did Last Summer" (1997), to the gentle, cat-loving con in the Fox television suspense drama "Prison Break" (2005)...
 
30.
Bill Smitrovich
Connecticut-born actor Bill Smitrovich (on May 16, 1947) started his acting career rather late. A Masters degree holder from Smith College and a former acting teacher at the University of Massachusetts, the hefty actor earned his big break in an understudy role in the world premiere of Arthur Miller's "The American Clock" at the Spoleto Festival...
 
31.
Austin Pendleton
Actor Austin Pendleton was born March 27, 1940 in Warren, Ohio to Frances and Thorn Pendleton. He graduated from Yale University. He later became an ensemble member of the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, and acted in several of the theater's productions. His first film appearance in Petulia, a minor and uncredited role. Since, he has made over 100 appearances in television and film.
 
32.
Mark Margolis
He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1939 and attended Temple University briefly before moving to New York where he studied drama with Stella Adler and at Actors Studio.
 
33.
Jonathan Banks
Actor, Wiseguy
Versatile veteran character actor Jonathan Banks was born in Washington D.C in 1947. While growing up he always had an interest in acting and stage work, so decided to pursue a career in entertainment. To this day he is a very accomplished stage actor. While acting in film, he usually plays sinister types or villains. He can be seen in Better Call Saul as Mike Ehrmantraut.
 
34.
Garret Dillahunt
Garret grew up in the state of Washington and attended the University of Washington where he studied journalism. He received his MFA from New York University's Graduate Acting Program. He has appeared on and off Broadway and in theaters around the country before he began pursuing film and television roles. He has two brothers: Brett, a teacher; and Eric, deceased.
 
35.
Joe Pantoliano
Actor, Memento
With more than 100 film, television and stage credits to his name, Joseph Peter Pantoliano is a prolific American character actor who has played many diverse and memorable roles, from Guido in Risky Business to Eddie Moscone in Midnight Run, Cosmo Renfro in The Fugitive, Cypher in The Matrix and Teddy in Memento...
 
36.
Gregg Henry
Excellent, prolific and versatile character actor Gregg Lee Henry was born on May 6, 1952 in Lakewood, Colorado. Henry studied acting at the University of Washington in Seattle. Right after graduating from college, Gregg moved to Los Angeles, California to pursue an acting career. He played in a band...
 
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38.
Giancarlo Esposito
Music Department, The Electric Company
Giancarlo Giuseppe Alessandro Esposito was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, to an Italian carpenter/stagehand father from Naples and an opera-singing African-American mother from Alabama. His parents, working in Europe at the time of his birth, settled in Manhattan by the time he was six, and that's where he grew up...
 
40.
Kurt Fuller
Kurt Fuller is best known for his work in the films Wayne's World with Mike Myers, Anger Management, with Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler, and most recently as part of the all star cast of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. Kurt was born in San Francisco and raised in the agricultural heartland of California's San Joaquin Valley...
 
41.
Rainn Wilson
Actor, The Office
Rainn Wilson lives in Los Angeles with his wife, fiction writer Holiday Reinhorn (Big Cats), and his son, Walter McKenzie Wilson who was born in 2004. He grew up in Seattle, Washington but graduated from New Trier H.S. in Winnetka, Illinois. After attending both Tufts University and the University of Washington...
 
42.
David Morse
David Morse, a 6' 4" tall blue-eyed blond who performed on stage for 10 years before breaking into film, became established as a respected supporting, character actor and second lead. He was born the first of four children of Charles, a sales manager, and Jacquelyn Morse, a schoolteacher, on October 11...
 
43.
Bryan Cranston
Bryan Cranston is an American actor, voice actor, writer and director. He is perhaps best-known for his roles as "Walter White" on the AMC drama series, Breaking Bad, for which he has won four consecutive Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Emmy Awards, and as "Hal", the father on the Fox situation comedy...
 
44.
Keith David
Actor, Platoon
Keith David was born Keith David Williams in New York City's Harlem district, and was raised in East Elmhurst, in the Queens section of the city. He is the son of Dolores (Dickenson), a New York Telephone manager, and Lester Williams, a payroll operations director. As a child, he realized he wanted...
 
45.
Glynn Turman
Actor, Super 8
New York City-born African-American actor Glynn Turman enjoyed his first real taste of acting success at the age of 13 originating the role of Travis Younger on Broadway in Lorraine Hansberry's landmark play "A Raisin in the Sun" in 1959 opposite Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil and Diana Sands as his various family members...
 
46.
Bruce Campbell
In 1979 with his Detroit friends, Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, Bruce Campbell raised $350,000 for a low-budget film, The Evil Dead, in which he starred and co-executive produced. Completed piecemeal over four years, the film first gained notoriety in England where it became the best-selling video of 1983...
 
47.
Bruce McGill
Actor, Collateral
Bruce McGill grew up in San Antonio, Texas. His mother, Adriel Rose (née Jacobs) is an artist, and his father, Woodrow Wilson McGill, is a real estate and insurance agent. He graduated from Douglas MacArthur High School San Antonio and from The University of Texas at Austin with a degree in drama. His love for acting stems back to elementary school...
 
48.
Peter Dinklage
Peter Hayden Dinklage was born in Morristown, New Jersey, to Diane (Hayden), an elementary school teacher, and John Carl Dinklage, an insurance salesman. He is of German, Irish, and English descent. In 1991, he received a degree in drama from Bennington College and began his career. He continues to work in the theatre with roles in "The Killing Act", "Imperfect Love", and "Richard III"...
 
49.
Bobby Cannavale
Actor, Ant-Man
In both career and in real life, Bobby Cannavale tends to choose the unconventional way of doing things. In the beginning, his decisions may have cost the dark, swarthily good-looking actor some acting roles and/or good-paying money but, in the end, his strong work ethic and sense of self, despite a lack of formal training...
 
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