For example, why is it that Tilda Swinton is less well-known in this country than Rob and Amber? Why am I aware of Rob and Amber’s existence at all? And I bet you just went, “Who’s Tilda Swinton?”
So I’m going to tell you who she is, and nine other actors just like her, all doing very cool work that deserves to be seen and appreciated, some occasionally winding up in big movies or being paid very well on regular TV gigs, but still living under the radar of name-recognition…
Where you’ve seen this person: “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Constantine,” “Vanilla Sky,” “Adaptation” and lots of art-films only cinema snobbos have seen.
Cool points for: Satisfying her own art-jones. This striking Englishwoman wins tiny (usually), singe-your-memory roles in major productions so she can then go off and make oddball independent films or lie in a glass box in some installation at the Tate Modern. She’s played both genders simultaneously on more than one occasion (in “Orlando,” her biggest arthouse hit and as the Angel Gabriel who tells Keanu Reeves he’s going to Hell in “Constantine”), and her icy villianess was the sole reason to stay to the end of “Narnia.”
Where you’ve seen this person: “Scrubs,” “Clueless” and “Something New”
Cool points for: Knocking it out of the park every time. Faison was the whipped, not-quite-hip-hop boyfriend desperately trying to “keep it real” by shaving his head in “Clueless.” His comic timing is impeccable, his baby-face fixed in a state of devious, dare-me-to-do-it delight. And most recently his supporting turn as Sanaa Lathan’s snobbish brother in the smart “Something New” stole scenes by subverting the usual nose-in-the-air routine. If Woody Allen still made funny movies and ever decided to cast African-American actors in them, Faison would be his go-to guy.
Where you’ve seen this person: “Third Rock From The Sun”
Cool points for: Going there. The life of a former child star from a mediocre sitcom is one usually doomed to failure (see “Different Strokes”) or hermit status (“Family Matters’” Jaleel “Urkel” White seems to only now be resurfacing with a role in the upcoming “Dreamgirls”). But Gordon-Levitt’s grimy, heartbroken performance as an abused child-turned-prostitute in 2005’s acclaimed but not-widely-seen “Mysterious Skin” marked the beginning of a serious adult career, with the highly-anticipated “Brick” due in theaters any day now. He will make you feel dirty.
Where you’ve seen this person: Almost nowhere unless you were really paying attention. Currently battling evil pedophiles in the hinges-off thriller “Running Scared” and basking in the tiny glow of her best actress win from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for her work in the barely-released indie “Down To The Bone.”
Cool points for: Making them all finally pay attention. I had no idea who Farmiga was until “Down,” where she played a deadpan drug mom, struggling to keep both food on the table and sober, only to lose her job by admitting that her performance at her grocery clerk’s job was enhanced by cocaine. And she’s got a clear-eyed resolve that Anthony Minghella and Martin Scorsese both must have noticed because she’s about to work with both of them.
Where you’ve seen this person: “Elizabethtown,” “The Family Stone.” Arthouse audiences know him from “All The Real Girls”
Cool points for: Single-handedly saving every scene he graced in the noxious, self-important “Elizabethtown.” As Orlando Bloom’s laid-back Skynyrd-ish cousin, he accidentally reminded you that Cameron Crowe movies could be charming and funny under the right circumstances. And check out director David Gordon Green’s strange, and strangely affecting, un-romantic comedy “All The Real Girls” for a full dose.
Where you’ve seen this person: “Failure to Launch,” “Elf.” Lots of indie films.
Cool points for: Pulling focus away from Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker and creating that most disconcerting of moments in a big dull Hollywood picture — the one where you realize that the supporting character is way more interesting than the leads and where you begin fantasizing about where the movie would go if she suddenly took the reins and galloped away with it. Was the female lead alongside Schneider in “All the Real Girls.” Yeah, I’m just going to keep banging the drum for that one.
Where you’ve seen this person: “Hero,” opposite Jet Li, and as the main man of acclaimed Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai in “2046” and “In The Mood For Love.”
Cool points for: Not giving in to the temptation to make it big in America by straying from his first language. It’s a dangerous path, littered with bad “Memoirs of a Geisha” reviews and he’s a Chinese Philip Seymour Hoffman — if Hoffman looked like a young Richard Gere. Fortunately his work gets released here and is readily available on DVD, especially the wickedly thrilling “Infernal Affairs.” “The Departed,” an American version of the film, is the same Scorsese picture Vera Farmiga is working on.
Where you’ve seen this person: “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Set It Off”
Cool points for: Surviving “Beloved,” if only barely. Jonathan Demme and Oprah Winfrey’s heavy, difficult adaptation of the Toni Morrison novel was too punishing for almost everyone who tried to watch it. But if anything was going to save the movie from its date with failure, it would have been the performances by Elise and co-star Thandie Newton. Since then Newton’s gone on to bigger things while Elise has worked consistently but not often in material good enough for her, including her biggest film, the toxically sludgy “Diary.”
Where you’ve seen this person: “The Office,” “Six Feet Under”
Cool points for: Being a freak. It’s the path not-often-taken by people who aren’t Crispin Glover, but Wilson has already created two indelible characters as the spooky mortician-in-training on “Six Feet Under” and as “The Office’s” in-house creep. The mark of greatness? Both characters are still oddly likeable.
Where you’ve seen this person: “Gilmore Girls,” “Bad Santa,” “The Pacifier”
Cool points for: You know what I hate? When people go on and on about Debra Messing being the next Lucille Ball — seemingly just because she’s got red hair — when the fact is that it’s this woman and her 100-miles-per-hour delivery of the sharpest, wittiest writing on television who’s truly doing the heavy comedy lifting. Guess how many Emmy’s she’s been nominated for? That’s right. None. Hollywood sucks.
Dave White is the author of “Exile in Guyville” and film critic for Movies.com. He blogs at www.livejournal.com/users/djmrswhite
I loved this article. Many here may recognize and know these actors BY NAME, but there are many other mainstream audiences that may recognize their faces but not know their names. Hence the title "What's his name agian?". This was written for MSNBC, a much different audience than ONTD. But I still thought it was an interesting read.