I posted my top 10 up-and-coming actors list recently, and I wanted to compliment it with a list of underrated actors. These guys are all hugely talented and offer a more unique alternative to some of today’s Hollywood leading men, but don’t get the work that they deserve.
1. Adam Scott
To be fair, those who are looking in the right places probably see plenty of this guy. He was the star of the now-cancelled cable show Party Down, and he’s since parlayed that into network success, landing a recurring spot on NBC’s delightful Parks & Recreation. As for the big screen, he stole the show as the douchebag brother in Step Brothers but also showed a more dramatic side in The Vicious Kind and Lovely, Still, two smaller recent films. The guy is a huge talent, and I’d love to see some higher-profile work (well, there was Piranha 3D…) come along with it.
2. Sam Riley
Riley earned widespread acclaim for his performance as Ian Curtis in Control, so where are the prestigious roles that are supposed to follow? His follow-up Franklyn, barely made a blip on moivegoers’ radar, and he currently has two completed projects (13 and Brighton Rock) floating around in distribution hell. But the good news is that he’ll star in the anticipated On the Road, which is currently filming. It co-stars Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund (who is about to blow up with Tron: Legacy and Country Strong on the horizon), Kirsten Dunst, and Amy Adams, and will undoubtedly boost Riley’s notoriety.
3. Michael Pitt
This is a guy who isn’t afraid to make risky choices. He took the Kurt Cobain comparisons full-circle in Gus Van Sant’s Last Days, partook in onscreen incest in The Dreamers, and played a psychotic killer in Funny Games. I also thought that he was very charming alongside Steve Buscemi in the underrated Delirious. And while a starring role in the highly acclaimed HBO series Boardwalk Empire is nothing to scoff at, Pitt’s the kind of unconventional leading man who should be getting all sorts of major movie roles.
4. Patrick Wilson
Like Michael Pitt, Patrick Wilson makes for an interesting twist on the conventional leading man. He’s got the movie star looks, but a lot of his movie choices have been decidedly unglamorous. His breakthrough work in Angels in America earned him an Emmy and Golden Globe nomination, and he’s since played a child predator in Hard Candy and an adulterer in Little Children. But lately, he’s mostly done smaller, lighter roles in films like The A-Team and The Switch. If that’s what he prefers then all the power to him, but he could definitely handle riskier work. There is a glimmer of hope, though, since Wilson is slated to star in the next Jason Reitman/Diablo Cody (Juno) project, Young Adult.
5. Clifton Collins Jr.
Never mind lead roles. This guy can barely get a part bigger than a cameo, lately. He’s recently had blink-and-you’ll-miss-it performances in Star Trek, Brothers, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. But when Collins is given more than two lines of dialogue, he’s fantastic. He charmed in Sunshine Cleaning, and his performance as killer/muse Perry Smith in Capote was tragic, frightening, and beautiful.
6. Martin Starr
The tragically short-lived TV series Freaks and Geeks spawned a lot of big names. And while it’s lots of fun to see a young James Franco, Seth Rogan, Jason Segal, Linda Cardellini, and Busy Phillips on the show, the real heart of the show is Martin Starr’s nebbish Bill Haverchuck. Obviously, he’s not a typical leading man type, but I thoroughly enjoyed Starr’s supporting performance in last year’s Adventureland. Aside from that and Party Down, he’s mainly been relegated to cameos in Judd Apatow movies, but this guy is too funny to not get bigger roles.
7. Paul Schneider
Paul Schneider has been around for a while, but it seems like he never got the break that he deserved. He first impressed me as the charming, exasperated brother in Lars and the Real Girl, but I’ve since enjoyed his work in All the Real Girls (one of his few leading roles) and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford quite a bit, too. I didn’t think that he was as good of a fit in Bright Star (even though a lot of people loved him in it) or on Parks and Recreation, but in the right role, he can be great.
8. Billy Crudup
What happened to Billy Crudup’s career? It seemed as though he was poised for big things (and the studios seemed to agree, judging by his top billing in Almost Famous), yet things never really panned out. He’s mostly been relegated to supporting roles in big films (Public Enemies, Big Fish) and indie films that no one sees. At least his…revealing…performance in Watchmen got people talking about him again.
9. Joe Anderson
Remember the guy in Across the Universe who reminded everyone of Kurt Cobain? Well, that was Joe Anderson. The dude’s got the looks, voice, and acting skill. So why is his co-star Jim Sturgess, who has the personality of a door knob, getting all the work?
10. Nathan Fillion
Nerds like him because he was in Firefly and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. People with eyes like him because he’s attractive. Shouldn’t this equal more work? I suppose it’s to his credit that he hasn’t played the love interest in a Katherine Heigl movie yet, but surely he could step into the mainstream a little bit more? He was lovely and charming in Waitress and Trucker, and his TV show, Castle, seems to be doing well, which is more than enough proof that he could handle some bigger movie roles.