We’re big fans of the underrated here at Goliath (we hope you are too, readers), and we spend all sorts of time writing about what we feel is underappreciated in contemporary society, be it athletes, albums, musicians or movies. We’re going to extend that last one a little bit today and talk about some of the actors and actresses we feel are underutilized in Hollywood today, and as a bonus we’re going to suggest a film or TV series you can watch them in to grasp the full spectrum of their talents. Some of these are names you’ll recognize (and others we’re sure you’ll just recognize faces), and we’ve tried to avoid anyone really famous who we still feel is underrated (sorry, Mark Ruffalo). So without further ado, here are 10 underrated actors and actresses (and their best performances).
10. Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex)
We’re big, big fans of this blue eyed comedienne who hails from Los Angeles, California. Lizzy Caplan, who has made a big splash in both comedies and drama in recent years, has starred in everything from True Blood (2008-2014) to Hot Tub Time Machine (2010). Millennials out there might even recognize her as the surly goth from Mean Girls (2004), where she began her Hollywood career some years ago. Caplan, whose work in comedies is hilarious and whose work in dramas has become more and more impressive, can also be seen in the terrific (and also underrated) Party Down (2009-2010), where she starred alongside Ken Marino and Adam Scott. More recently, Caplan has taken a starring role in the Showtime series Masters of Sex (2013-Present) opposite Michael Sheen, where she’s doing terrific work as Virginia Johnson, a pioneering researcher in the field of human sexuality. It’s this last series our readers should check out immediately for a healthy dose of this underrated actress.
9. Cillian Murphy (Sunshine)
Cillian Murphy, born in Ireland, is a wickedly underrated actor. Originally destined for a career as a rock star, Murphy turned down a record deal to pursue acting, and he has appeared in a litany of excellent films that span multiple genres; he broke out in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002), and would late reunite with the director to deliver his best performance in Sunshine (2007), the highly underrated science fiction drama. He’s also worked extensively with Christopher Nolan, starring in his acclaimed Batman trilogy as Jonathon Crane, the Scarecrow, and again in Inception (2010) as Robert Fischer, the target of the titular mental process. Murphy, who is an active theater performer, will next be seen in In the Heart of the Sea alongside Chris Hemsworth.
8. Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma)
Ben Foster is the kind of actor whose face is instantly recognizable, but whose name might escape you if it came down to push or shove. Foster, who has carved out a strong career as a character actor in Hollywood, has never quite made the jump to headlining feature films or action blockbusters, and that’s just fine with us so long as he continues to contribute stellar acting work for us to absorb in our spare time. Foster, who has been involved with a number of projects including The Punisher (2004), Alpha Dog (2007) and 30 Days of Night (2007). Foster, who plays damaged well and crazy even better, was also the best element of 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma, the James Mangold remake of the classic Western which also starred Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. In that film, Foster played Charlie Prince, the right hand man of big baddie Ben Wade, a delightful mix of dedication and unbridled rage that Fosters conveys with affect and precision. With a upcoming role in Duncan Jones’ Warcraft, we’re excited to see what this talented guy does next.
7. Rose Byrne (Damages)
Ahhh, Rose Byrne. How we love thee. This underappreciated actress hails from Australia, but you’d never know it with the skillful way she’s concealed her accent in films like X-Men: First Class (2011) and Neighbors (2014). Just by listing those two titles, we’ve revealed to you the range that this talented Thespian has; she’s a believable badass as CIA Agent Moira McTaggert in X-Men and she’s also downright hilarious opposite Seth Rogen in Neighbors, and this versatility is one of the reasons why we’re such big fans of Rose Byrne. She’s also starred in underappreciated dramas like Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (2007) and comedies like Nicholas Stoller’s Get Him to the Greek (2010). However, it’s her work in the CBS legal thriller Damages (2007-2012) that has won Byrne the most acclaim; starring opposite Glenn Close, Byrne garnered two Golden Globe and two Emmy Award nominations for her work on the series. It’s a good place to start.
6. Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline)
Ben Mendelsohn is a name you might not recognize yet, but will become very recognizable in the next few years. Pegged to star as the villain in the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), this Australian actor is on the verge of a huge breakout (if it hasn’t begun already). While Mendelsohn is best known for his work in Australian cinema, including a devastating role in the spectacular Animal Kingdom (2010), for which he won several awards (we also cannot overstate how incredible that film was. Watch it immediately). While he’s dabbled in blockbusters like Killing Them Softly (2012) and Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), it’s Mendelsohn’s work in the Netflix original drama Bloodline opposite Kyle Chandler (of Friday Night Lights fame) that has catapulted Mendelsohn into the Hollywood spotlight. Electric as the oldest sibling of a family with innumerable dark secrets, Mendelsohn appears ready to take a step towards superstardom. Check him out before he gets there.
5. J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
We really struggled with whether to put J.K. Simmons on this list, as he’s by far the most recognizable name on here, but he’s simply been so good for so long that we felt the guy deserved a shout out (and we’re really, really big fans). A man whose list of great work is too long to list in its entirety, but includes films such as Spider-Man (2002), Thank You For Smoking (2005), Juno (2007) and Burn After Reading (2008), Simmons has been carving a memorable path through the silver screen (and the small screen, as he starred on Law & Order) for quite some time now. It wasn’t until recently, however, that he began to garner significant critical acclaim for his work; his 2014 film Whiplash, where he played an abusive music teacher attempting to motivate a talented prodigy, won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and it was very well deserved.
4. John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone)
John Hawkes is another actor who we’re pretty sure you could pick out of a lineup and say “Hey! I saw that guy in a movie once!,” but you wouldn’t have been able to tell us his name if you had. This incredible actor grew up in a small town outside of Minnesota, and since moving to Austin, Texas, as a youth has been delivering exceptional performances on both television and in the movies. Perhaps best known for his work on HBO’s Deadwood (2004-2007), where he played Sol Star, Hawkes has delivered incredible performances of varying genre in a number of places; he showed off his comedy chops on HBO’s Eastbound & Down (2009-2013) as Dustin Powers, the brother of Danny McBride’s Kenny Powers; he won acclaim for his dramatic roles in Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) and Lincoln (2012), and he delivered an absolutely flooring performance as “Teardrop” Dolly in Winter’s Bone (2010), a drama co-starring Jennifer Lawrence for which Hawkes received an Academy Award nomination (Best Supporting Actor).
3. Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive)
When people talk about leading ladies in Hollywood, very rarely do they talk about the great Naomi Watts. While we don’t hope to change that all by our lonesome, we are going to draw attention to the wonderful work this British beauty has done during her time as an actress and tell you why we feel like she’s underappreciated. Here’s the (awesome) list of films Naomi Watts has been involved in: Mulholland Drive (2001), 21 Grams (2003), I Heart Huckabees (2004), King Kong (2005), Birdman (2014) and St. Vincent (2014). And that’s just naming the big ones! Watts, whose best work can be found in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (her breakout role; rumor has it Lynch cast her simply after looking at her head shot and without having seen any of her acting roles), is one of the best working actresses nobody seems interested in talking about. We’re correcting that right now! That’s why she’s number three on this list, and why you should all head out and watch Mulholland Drive right now.
2. Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind)
Sam Rockwell has been a wildly underrated performer for years; he’s been delivering the goods since the late 1990s, with films like Lawn Dogs (1997) and The Green Mile (1999) showcasing the actor’s ability to do crazy well. It wasn’t until his performance in George Clooney’s directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2003), that people began to see that Rockwell could do many other things, as well…namely, all of them. A charismatic actor who plays strange better than anyone, Rockwell has delivered many a standout performance since Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (although that’s the film we’d recommend you watch); he starred in Moon (2009), in which he’s the sole character, and he did excellent work in films like The Way, Way Back (2013), The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford (2007) and Matchstick Men (2003).
1. Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton)
Tilda Swinton might be the best actress on the planet. Seriously. She’s a chameleon, capable of disappearing into whatever role she chooses to occupy at the moment. Did you recognize her in Snowpiercer (2013)? We sure didn’t. What about Constantine (2005), where she played an androgynous archangel named Gabriel? Nope, we didn’t recognize her there, either. She’s also been in films like Adaptation (2002), We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) and Michael Clayton (2007), for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Set to star opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange next, we’re willing to bet we won’t recognize her there, either.