“Hi! I’m ‘that chap off the telly’. You might remember me in such critically acclaimed roles as ‘Postman’, ‘Man with Beard’ and ‘Generic Victorian Debt Collector’”.
There are hundreds-upon-hundreds of said actors out there, but given some of the shows I’ve been watching recently I’ve handpicked five of them specifically that really ought to be given some bigger roles in the not-too-distant future.
The following may allude to some slight spoilers for the first season of ‘Game of Thrones’.
For those Game of Thrones fans amongst you all, I know right now you’ll all be thinking “What? Robert Baratheon needs bigger roles?”, but I was all too aware of the reaction to this move before I made it.
Mark Addy may well have played the king of all Westeros in season 1 of HBO’s fantasy series, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t underused as an actor. In fact, the first thought that ran through my head when I saw him sitting on the Iron Throne was “Oh! That’s the guy from Bonkers!” – a disappointingly elaborate and lewd comedy from 2007. Prior to that, and his part in the cast of the supermarket sitcom Trollied (2011-), he has only had fleeting roles in things like Robin Hood, A Knight’s Tale, and The Full Monty. Some of you may also recall him being in 90’s police comedy The Thin Blue Line, with Rowan Atkinson. Despite how much he may have acted in the last decade or so, Addy has never really been seen to star in a truly major role until now, apart from the part of Fred Flintstone of course, but we'll gloss over that...
I hope now, after the above mentioned performance, he starts to get the roles he’s deserved of. At the age of 49, it certainly feels as if he’s able to take on some more prominent and challenging roles in drama especially, and as clichéd as it is to say it, I think even some Shakespeare would be well-suited to his style… a chance to portray John Falstaff perhaps?
The second of my choices is coincidentally the second of the Marks, albeit not quite as well known as the first one is now. He’s yet to star in a largely recognisable role, appearing instead in a variety of smaller scale productions, with smaller fan bases. Those of you who watched such Channel 4 comedies as Spaced and Green Wing will know him from his unforgettable roles as struggling artist Brian Topp and neurotic radiologist Dr. Alan Statham, respectively. He also featured amongst the members of the sketch group Big Train before anything else, alongside the now world famous Simon Pegg, amongst others.
Asides from the two roles mentioned above that only a handful of people will remember him for, Heap has unfortunately become one of those very actors that crops up in all manner of TV shows, yet never has the chance to act to his full potential. He was the voice of the titular character in Stressed Eric; he appeared once in Look Around You (a spoof of the original episodes of Tomorrow’s World); he was in Hotel Babylon; he played the head postman in Lark Rise to Candleford; he was Chris Miles’ father in Skins; he’s even played Charles Dickens a couple of times in Desperate Romantics; he was ‘Man with Dog’ in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and more recently he’s popped up again as Jim, the neighbour from Friday Night Dinner.
He may seem a very modest man on screen but Mark Heap is a great actor when he’s able to show, so somebody needs to give him the chance again to do just that. He is, by nature, at his best in a comedy, and when he was in those two shows I keep mentioning he was superb; one of the best characters in both of them.
Underused doesn’t necessarily mean “unknown”, and as with Mark Addy, Rhys Darby is quite recognisable in some circles; he’s most famous for his much-loved portrayal of The Flight of the Conchords’ hapless manager Murray Hewitt. Asides from that, he’s starred in The Boat That Rocked as one of the less-central DJs on the pirate radio’s ship. He’s even released a live stand-up DVD, being that he is a stand-up comedian before he’s anything else, but much like the first two in this compilation of unspent actors he’s built the rest of his screen career out of bit parts in a series of TV shows and films. His highest-profile appearance after The Flight Of The Conchords was in the sporadically entertaining How To Be A Gentleman from CBS, which I caught a couple of episodes of last year when I had the luxury of satellite TV. Besides that, he hasn’t done a great deal lately, which is a shame considering he’s such a comic gem. The thing I find most appealing about Rhys Darby is that he’s one of those comedians and comic actors that isn’t out to offend anyone; his only ambition is to put a smile on your face, and he did that numerous times in The Conchords. If someone were to find some bigger roles for him to play in upcoming comedies I’d be highly satisfied.
In-keeping with my theme of “underused but not unknown”, Stephen Graham is another one of those fine performers that, for the most-part, jumps from programme-to-programme and film-to-film in a number of roles that are often side-lined in comparison to the main characters. He may have played the infamous Combo in the world of This Is England, but apart from that, who here can honestly say they remember him being in any other comparatively stand-out roles? I for one only remember seeing him as George “Baby Face” Nelson in Public Enemies and as that little fellow with the beard and the flared trousers in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. That being said, he did have a part in last year’s period drama Parade’s End, where he played another man with a beard... But he was Scottish this time!
It’s just about time this man is handed a part that people will remember him for all over, not just those who watch films about men in hats and/or the 1970s.
Eddie served as the inspiration for the ‘Victorian debt collector chap’ off the telly mentioned at the start. Alongisde Mark Heap, he is the epitome of the actor that is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. If you’re watching any form of period drama, be it Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian or Wartime, chances are Eddie Marsan is going to pop up at some point. For a good year or so in our household, Eddie was only ever recognised as the man who played Pancks, the rent collector in the BBC’s adaptation of Dickens’ Little Dorrit. We never knew the actor’s name, so we just took to shouting the character’s catchphrase “Rent day!” in a typically East London accent whenever we saw him on the screen, in anything. This lasted right up until I saw V for Vendetta, where he played Brian Etheridge, head of “The Ear” (the totalitarian government’s audio-surveillance division in Alan Moore’s alternatively dystopian Britain). After seeing him in that I finally decided to Google the man behind all these characters I’d been seeing everywhere (God on Trial; The 39 Step; London Boulevard; War Horse and both Sherlock Holmes as Lestrade), so at least when he appears on screen now I’m one step ahead of everyone else and I can say “Oh look, it’s Eddie Marsan!”.
There seems to be a theme appearing as we wind down towards the end of this piece. A couple of the actors I’ve made a point of thus far have recently had the big roles they downright deserve. Mark Addy as Robert Baratheon (the first of his name), Stephen Graham to some extent as Combo and Eddie Marsan himself starred as Dr. Ludwig Guttmann in The Best of Men. For those of you that don’t know, Ludwig Guttmann was the exiled German neurologist that essentially created the Paralympic Games in the wake of the Second World War. Marsan portrayed him last year to much critical acclaim and a fair amount of the same from myself. Hopefully that performance will project him into a new realm of acting that will allow him to finally get the recognition he deserves.