In March, 2008, I posted a short piece about character actors. Then, as now, I was uneasy about terms like “character” or “supporting” that even unintentionally diminish the contribution that these performer can make to a film.
I was thinking about this recently as I listened to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s director’s commentary on the DVD of his masterpiece The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen). (Yes, I respect the term ” masterpiece.” No, I don’t use it promiscuously.) When I first watched the film, I didn’t know the work of many of the actors with small parts. But I could tell that something unusual was happening, that each of them was contributing something profound and well beyond what is usually expected from someone with three or four lines.
That is why it was so fascinating to hear von Donnersmarck talk about how he cast these roles. Apparently, the parade of actors with small parts in that film was a veritable treasure trove of great German actors. Von Donnersmarck told of apologetic call after call that he made to these highly respected actors, apologizing for offering them a small part and simultaneously trying to convince them that their role would be central. His argument was that these are among the most important casting decisions made by a director.
I couldn’t agree more.
So here is my second, admittedly selective, listing of actors with small roles who I think were arguably indispensable to the films in which they appeared. In some cases, they are actors who have played major roles in their home countries but generally smaller roles in films that are widely distributed in the United States.