The Top 50 Great Character Actresses

This is my top 50 list of the greatest character actresses to ever grace the screen (big or small) in no particular order
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1.
Jane Lynch
Actress, Glee
 
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3.
Dianne Wiest
One of three children (she has two brothers, Greg and Don), Dianne Wiest was born in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. Her mother, Anne Stewart (Keddie), was a nurse from Auchtermuchty, Scotland, and her father, Bernard John Wiest, was a college dean and social worker who was born in Pennsylvania, of German and Croatian descent...
 
4.
Mare Winningham
Actress, Philomena
Mary 'Mare' Megan Winningham is an actress and songwriter who has appeared in nearly 100 TV shows and feature films. She began her career in 1976 as a singer, and starred in numerous and diverse film roles before hitting it big as one of the original Brat Pack in Joel Schumacher's St. Elmo's Fire with Emilio Estevez, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, and Ally Sheedy...
 
5.
CCH Pounder
Actress, Avatar
CCH Pounder (the CCH standing for Carol Christine Hilaria, her birth name). As can be said of other similarly styled actresses such as Alfre Woodard and Cicely Tyson, most of Pounder's characters are enriched with these same positive attributes and it is a testament to this actress' abilities that she continues on such a high plane in a nearly three-decade career...
 
6.
Jennifer Coolidge
Actress, 2 Broke Girls
Jennifer Coolidge is a versatile character actress and experimental comedienne, best known for playing Stifler's mom in American Pie. She was born on August 28, 1961, in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, to Gretchen (Knauff) and Paul Constant Coolidge, a plastics manufacturer. Young Coolidge was dreaming of becoming a singer...
 
7.
Martha Plimpton
Actress, Raising Hope
She has show biz in her blood. Martha Plimpton was born November 16, 1970, in New York City to two actors: Keith Carradine and Shelley Plimpton. Martha began her career at age 8, when her mom had a friend of hers, composer Elizabeth Swados, enroll her in an actors' workshop. At age 10, she got a small part in Rollover, and also made a series of Calvin Klein commercials...
 
8.
Theresa Russell
Actress, Spider-Man 3
Theresa Russell, named one of the "100 sexiest stars in film history" (Empire Magazine), was born in San Diego, California. She was discovered by a photographer at the age of 12, and made her film debut in Elia Kazan's The Last Tycoon, opposite Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson and Robert Mitchum...
 
9.
Tess Harper
Tess Harper attended Southwest Missouri State University, now known as Missouri State University, in Springfield, MO. During the late 1960s, she did "street" acting in the theme parks, Dogpatch, USA, in Jasper, AR, and Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO. She was discovered while doing theater work in Dallas...
 
10.
JoBeth Williams
Actress, Poltergeist
The product of a musical family, Margaret JoBeth Williams was born in Houston, Texas, to Frances Faye (Adams), a dietitian, and Fredric Roger Williams, a wire/cable company manager and opera singer. Her father encouraged her early interest in theater during high school. She made her professional debut at age 18 in a Houston-based musical production...
 
11.
Loretta Devine
Actress, Crash
Loretta Devine was born August 21, 1949 in Houston, Texas, to Eunice O'Neal (née Toliver), a beautician, and James Devine, who worked as a laborer. Loretta grew up in the Acres Home area of Houston and later enrolled at the University of Houston, where she earned a a Bachelor of Arts in Speech and Drama...
 
12.
Viola Davis
Actress, The Help
Actress Viola Davis was born on her grandmother's farm, at the then-Singleton Plantation in St. Matthews, South Carolina. When she was two months old her family moved to Central Falls, Rhode Island, where her father, Dan Davis, worked as a horse groomer and trainer. Her mother, Mary Alice (Logan), a maid and factory worker...
 
13.
Hope Davis
Actress, About Schmidt
Davis, second of three children, was born in Englewood, New Jersey, the daughter of Joan, a librarian (at one time, for the elementary section of Elisabeth Morrow School), and William Davis, an engineer. Davis has described her mother as a "great storyteller" who would take Davis and her siblings to museums or to "something cultural" every Sunday after church...
 
14.
Patricia Clarkson
This remarkable, one-of-a-kind actress has, since the early 1990s, intrigued film and TV audiences with her glowing, yet careworn eccentricity and old world-styled glamour. Very much in demand these days as a character player, Patricia Clarkson nevertheless continues to avoid the temptation of money-making mainstream filming while reaping kudos and acting awards in out-of-the-way projects...
 
15.
Veronica Cartwright
Actress, Alien
Born in Bristol, England, Veronica is the older sister of the popular child actress Angela Cartwright. In her early career, Veronica was cast in a number of popular movies such as The Children's Hour, Spencer's Mountain and Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. As such, she was cast as "Jemima Boone" in the popular television series Daniel Boone...
 
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17.
Sharon Lawrence
Actress, NYPD Blue
You may know her from multiple nominated and SAG Award winning portrayal of ADA Sylvia Costas Sipowitz in NYPD Blue, as a stay-at-home prostitute in Desperate Housewives and a murderous realtor on Monk, as a serial killer on Law and Order:SVU, coming to terms with her long lost daughter on Rizzoli & Isles...
 
18.
Allison Janney
Actress, The West Wing
Allison Janney is an award-winning actress who has earned a solid reputation in stage productions and in many supporting roles on screen, and who more recently has become prominent by portraying one of the major characters in the popular TV series The West Wing. Entertainment Weekly magazine describes Janney's screen presence as "uncommonly beautiful and infinitely expressive"...
 
19.
Fionnula Flanagan
Actress, The Others
Fionnula Flanagan was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland. From an early age she grew up speaking both English and Irish on a daily basis. Her parents weren't native Irish speakers but wanted Fionnula and her four siblings to learn the language. Her mother used to say, "A nation without a language is a nation without a soul"...
 
20.
Margo Martindale
Margo Martindale was born July 18, 1951 in Jacksonville, Texas, to Margaret (Pruitt) and William Everett Martindale, a lumber company owner and dog handler. She is the youngest of three children, and the only daughter. Margo attended Lon Marris College, and later transferred to University of Michigan at Ann Arbor...
 
22.
Edie McClurg
Actress, Frozen
Edie McClurg began her performing career at age five with the oxymoronic Kansas City Rhythm Kids. She retired when the dance teacher was arrested on a morals charge for "dating" the tall and lissome, yet underage, star dancer in the troupe. That girl's big number culminated with a back-bend where Edie drank a soda upside down (of course)...
 
23.
Frances Conroy
Veteran stage actress Frances Conroy was introduced and encouraged by her parents to explore the elements of theater. Born in Georgia in 1953, she attended high school in Long Island and experienced classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse as a teenager. The pale, blue-eyed redhead also studied at Juilliard where she was taught by theater greats John Houseman and Marian Seldes...
 
25.
S. Epatha Merkerson
Actress, Law & Order
A native of Michigan, S. Epatha Merkerson earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Wayne State University. In 1978, she moved to New York City to apply her craft on stage. Although best known since 1993 as the smart and shrewd Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on the long-running TV crime drama Law & Order...
 
26.
Megan Mullally
Actress, Will & Grace
Megan is an only child born in Los Angeles, California. Her mother, Martha, was a model, and her father, Carter Mullally Jr., was a contract player for Paramount. Megan first entered Northwestern University intending to study acting, but switched to English literature. However, she still ended up starring in several campus musicals...
 
27.
Amy Irving
Actress, Carrie
Naturally brunette/blue-eyed beauty Amy Davis Irving was born in Palo Alto, California. She is the youngest of three children, and the daughter of influential theatrical/television director and producer Jules Irving, and actress Priscilla Pointer. Her father was of Russian Jewish descent, and her mother's ancestry includes English, Scots-Irish, Welsh, Jewish, and German...
 
28.
Kathy Baker
For someone who has made an award-winning impact in all three mediums (stage, film and TV), actress Kathy Baker has been strangely denied all-out stardom, yet continues to demonstrate her versatility in whatever material comes her way. The comely blonde was born Katherine Whitton Baker in Midland, Texas...
 
29.
Amy Ryan
Amy Ryan was born on May 3, 1969 in Queens, New York City, New York, USA as Amy Beth Dziewiontkowski. She is an actress, known for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Gone Baby Gone and Escape Plan. She has been married to Eric Slovin since August 23, 2011. They have one child.
 
30.
Betty Buckley
Actress, Split
Betty Buckley, who has been called "The Voice of Broadway," is one of theater's most respected and legendary leading ladies. She is an actress/singer whose career spans theater, film, television and concert halls around the world. She is a 2012 Theatre Hall of Fame inductee and the 2017 recipient of the Julie Harris Awards from The Actor's Fund for Artistic Achievement...
 
31.
Kristin Chenoweth
Actress, Rio 2
Kristin Chenoweth is an American stage, screen and television actress, though, depending on who you ask, Cheno fans may disagree on what her most famous roles are. Since Chenoweth began her career, she has been credited with roles in musicals and plays on and off-Broadway, on various television shows and can be seen in movies on television and the big screen...
 
32.
Annie Corley
Actress, Monster
Annie Corley graduated from McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, Indiana and later enrolled at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. Since 1990, Annie has appeared in several films, her most notable role to date is Meryl Streep's on-screen daughter in The Bridges of Madison County. She later made a chilling appearance as Donna, Christina Ricci's on-screen aunt in Monster.
 
33.
Mary McDonnell
Actress, Donnie Darko
Mary McDonnell is a two-time Oscar®-nominated actress, who is known for her character portrayals in both period and present-day screen roles. Mary Eileen McDonnell was born on April 28, 1952 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to Eileen (Mundy) and John McDonnell, a computer consultant, both of Irish descent...
 
34.
Jean Smart
Seattle native Jean Smart was born on September 13, 1951. Attending the University of Washington after high school, she received her BA degree in fine arts. Her first professional season was with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where she performed in "Much Ado About Nothing," among others. During this...
 
35.
Christine Ebersole
Christine Ebersole was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Marian Esther (Goodley) and Robert Amos Ebersole, a steel company president. She won the 2007 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her work in "Grey Gardens". Previously, she was awarded the Drama Desk Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award...
 
36.
Shirley Knight
Two time Academy Award® nominee, Golden Globe® Winner (3 time nominee), 3 time Emmy winner (7 time nominee); As Good as It Gets, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Grandma's Boy Miss Knight was born in Gossell, Kansas the 5th of July 1936. She spent her young life in Mitchell, Kansas and later lived in Lyons, Kansas where she graduated from high school...
 
37.
Camryn Manheim
Actress, The Practice
Camryn grew up in Peoria, Illinois. Her mother, Sylvia, was a schoolteacher and her father, Jerry, was a math professor. She developed an interest in acting after working at a Renaissance Fair at age 16. She earned a Master's Degree in Fine Arts from New York University in 1987. She studied acting at the Atlantic Theater Company Acting School in Chelsea...
 
38.
Wendie Malick
The actress Wendie Malick was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1950 and attended Ohio Wesleyan University, from which she graduated in 1972. The 5-foot, 10-inch beauty was a Wilhelmina model in the 1970s, giving it up to go to work for Buffalo-area Congressman Jack Kemp. She quickly left Washington, DC, behind to act in the theater...
 
39.
Cloris Leachman
Actress, The Croods
The record-breaking actress set a record when at age 82, she appeared on Dancing with the Stars. Cloris Leachman was born on April 30, 1926 in Des Moines, Iowa to Berkeley Claiborne "Buck" Leachman and the former Cloris Wallace. Her father's family owned a lumber company, Leachman Lumber Co. She is of Czech (from her maternal grandmother) and English descent...
 
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41.
Debra Winger
Mary Debra Winger was born May 16, 1955 in Cleveland, Ohio, to Ruth (Felder), an officer manager, and Robert Jack Winger, a meat packer. She is from a Jewish family (originally from Austria-Hungary and the Russian Empire). Her maternal grandparents called her Mary, while her parents called her Debra (her father named her Debra after his favorite actress...
 
42.
Juliette Lewis
Juliette Lewis has been recognized as one of Hollywood's most talented and versatile actors of her generation since she first stunned audiences and critics alike with her Oscar-nominated performance as "Danielle Bowden" in Cape Fear. To date, she has worked with some of the most revered directors in the industry...
 
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45.
Zooey Deschanel
Actress, Elf
Zooey Deschanel was born in 1980 into a showbiz family. Her father, Caleb Deschanel, is an Academy Award-nominated cinematographer (perhaps most notably for The Passion of the Christ) and her mother, Mary Jo Deschanel (née Weir), is an actress who appeared in Twin Peaks. Her paternal grandfather was French, and her other roots include English, German, Scottish, Irish, and Dutch...
 
46.
Mercedes Ruehl
Actress, Big
Mercedes Ruehl was born February 28, 1948 in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City to Mercedes Ruehl, a school teacher, and Vincent Ruehl, an FBI agent. She made several film and television appearance before coming to her most successfully received role in Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King. She played the part of Jeff Bridges's on-screen supportive yet neurotic girlfriend...
 
47.
Elizabeth Perkins
Actress, Weeds
Elizabeth Ann Perkins was born on November 18, 1960, in the borough of Queens, New York, and was raised in Vermont. Her mother, Jo Williams, was a concert pianist and drug treatment counselor, and her father, James Perkins, was a businessman, farmer, and writer. She is of Greek and English descent. Perkins studied acting at Chicago's Goodman School of Drama at DePaul University for three years...
 
48.
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Actress, Scarface
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio was born in Lombard, Illinois, to Mary D. (Pagone) and Frank A. Mastrantonio, who ran a bronze foundry. Her parents were of Italian descent. She was raised in Oak Park, IL, and began her career in school plays as a teenager. Mary attended the University of Illinois and got bitten by the acting bug, starring in "Guys and Dolls"...
 
49.
Lorraine Bracco
Actress, Goodfellas
Lorraine was voted the "ugliest girl in the 6th grade" at her Long Island grade school. She moved to France in 1974 where she became a fashion superstar for Jean-Paul Gaultier. Her sister is Elizabeth Bracco. Has two daughters, Stella Keitel by ex-boyfriend Harvey Keitel and Margaux Guerard by ex-husband Daniel Guerard.
 
50.
Frances Fisher
Actress, Titanic
Frances Fisher began by apprenticing at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia. She spent 14 years based in New York City, playing leads in over 30 productions of plays by such noted writers as John Arden, Noël Coward, Emily Mann, Joe Orton, Sam Shepard, William Shakespeare, Jean Claude Van Italie...