October 19, 2023
WRITTEN BY: THE BITESIZE CREW
As we begin to emerge from the film festival season, several of the Bitesize Crew noticed that we had seen quite a few movies from actors that made us wonder, “why didn’t this person become a bigger star?” This month alone features new offerings from the likes of seasoned veterans Ann Dowd, David Duchovny, Lance Reddick (R.I.P.), Jason Clarke, Bill Camp, and Stephen Dorff, all of whom seem deserving of more recognition and accolades.
With that in mind, we wanted to shine a light on some of the unsung heroes of Hollywood. Sure, you may know their names or recognize them from “that one thing,” but these performers never reached The A-List, either as a perennial awards-nominated actor like Leonardo DiCaprio or a recognizable box office draw like Reese Witherspoon, despite exhibiting tremendous talent over the course of decades-long careers. And sadly, given their age or seeming Hollywood perceptions, the fact of the matter is, through no fault of their own, these people likely will never take the next step for a late career breakout. They are who they are, as they say.
Lastly, we want to stress that this piece is about actors and actresses who have settled into their station, their star no longer rising. Like we said, they are who they are, probably forever bound to round out ensemble casts and bring a little extra oomph to a supporting role. This is different from the relatively fresher-faced actors that are still waiting for their breakout role or have yet to fully reap the benefits of a recent coming out party. This is why individuals like Antony Starr, Keke Palmer, and Mia Goth aren’t included below. They are still climbing the Hollywood ladder, and, hopefully, we won’t be writing this same article about them in 15 years.
Obviously, this article could have featured 50 names, so keeping in line with the Bitesize name, each writer chose two individuals. Keep reading to see who made the list…
Michael Peña, probably best known as Ant-Man’s fast-talking friend, Luis, has had a lengthy career that spans comedy, action, drama, and horror. He has worked with such acclaimed directors as Oliver Stone, Clint Eastwood, Alejandro González Iñárritu, David O. Russell, and Ridley Scott in both blockbusters and awards contenders, not to mention noteworthy roles on hit series like Felicity, The Shield, Eastbound and Down, and Jack Ryan. So, why is it you probably needed the Ant-Man reference to put a face to the name? Peña has proven successful at being both hilariously funny and intensely serious, but it seems like he’s rarely offered roles worthy of his talent. Granted, he’s currently receiving great reviews for his latest turn in Prime’s A Million Miles Away, but this likely is the first time you’re even hearing about that movie. Otherwise, he’s been stuck in garbage like Jexi, Moonfall, and Secret Headquarters despite having been nominated for five (and winning two) ALMAs (formerly known as The Latin Oscars). - Quentin
Charlize Theron. Michelle Rodriguez. Gal Gadot. Zoe Saldaña. All these women are mainstays when you mention “Badass Women in Hollywood.” Gina Torres did it before all of them, though, and still does it with just as much grace, strength, and talent. Early in her career, she had plenty of strong guest spots in popular TV shows, including roles as Cleopatra opposite Lucy Lawless in Xena: Warrior Princess, as well as a menacing villain against David Boreanaz in Angel. However, it wasn’t until her portrayal of Zoe Washburn, the only person able to put Nathan Fillion’s Captain Mal in his place on Firefly and Serenity, that people solidified her spot as a woman you don’t wanna fuck with. Plus, she also carries that un-fuck-with-ability into 94 episodes of the recently resurgent Suits. Now that you know who I’m talking about, you can’t tell me you didn’t just think “oh, my goodness, she is a hot damn boss in everything she is in.” She is the type of woman who walks in a room and all the light bends towards her. That is the force of gravity she carries in every role she’s had for the last 30 years, to the tune of two ALMA nominations (winning one) and four Imagen awards (also winning one). Torres should be mentioned amongst the Yeohs, the Dawsons, the Therons, and the Saldañas of the world when it comes to powerful women in this industry, and she more than deserves a launching pad movie to help her reach her deserved status. Yo, Feige!! Zaslav!! How have you not called her number for a role yet? - Amarú
Who decided that Clive Owen wasn't worthy of being an A-list talent? He's had critically acclaimed roles in both film and series, exudes both the charm and class necessary to play a nobleman while also being able to play an everyman, and he's a damn good-looking gentleman. However, aside from an Academy Award nomination for 2004's Closer, his work hasn't garnered the recognition it deserves. Furthermore, since 2006's stellar Children of Men, can you name an Owen-led film off the top of your head? What about series? I mean, yeah, he had The Knick in 2014, which is excellent, but it was highly underseen as it aired on Cinemax. He has long been deserving of bigger roles in bigger projects, yet his star has seemed to fade. Although he has a couple series roles coming this year, at nearly 60-years-old, his time seems to have come and gone. - Nick
An actor with the talent, look, charm, and resume to be an actual A-lister is Timothy Olyphant. However, for some bizarre reason, he just never fully reached that status despite his potential as a leading man. While Olyphant has been in the industry since the mid-90s, he has demonstrated a broad range, dipping his toes into nearly every genre, including horror (The Crazies), action (Hitman), comedy (The Girl Next Door), and drama (A Man Apart). As time went on, Olyphant eventually found what he may be best known for: donning a cowboy for cable (or streaming) television, with critical hits like Deadwood, Justified, and The Mandalorian. Olyphant has had a lengthy career, and has even been nominated for three Emmys, so it’s still baffling that this man has not been given the chance to fully flourish as a leading man on the big screen. Sadly, his career is at a point now where it likely won’t go much beyond where it’s already at. - Paige
Lizzy Caplan has created a storied career in the industry with her impressive range, yet her star power still hasn’t been fully utilized. She got her start on the short-lived television show Freaks and Geeks, and she's since been able to flex her comedic chops even more with supporting roles in films like The Interview, Hot Tub Time Machine, and The Night Before. And while comedy might be her mainstay, she's more than capable of dramatic performances too. Just look at her supporting performances in Cloverfield, 127 Hours, and Allied. The thing is… notice how I keep using the word “supporting?” For some reason, despite her talent, she's been relegated to the sidelines. The most notable instances of Caplan in a leading role are in the shows Masters of Sex and Fleishman Is in Trouble, and in both instances, she received an Emmy nomination. So, she can be a star, she just hasn't gotten the right opportunity to show it. Hopefully, filmmakers will notice one day that she's more than capable of being a leading lady. - Adriano
Despite a nearly 30-year career full of scene-stealing supporting roles, Ben Foster has never been able to cross the threshold into A-List status. He has barely maintained a reputation as a relative household name, with most of his lead roles coming in under-the-radar indies. I mean, have you seen (or even heard of) The Messenger, The Program, Leave No Trace, or Galveston? Probably not. To most people, he’s just a “That Guy” actor. With that, comes a remarkable lack of awards hardware given how great he has been across a wide range of genres, with his biggest win being an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor in Hell or High Water. For whatever reason, Hollywood doesn’t seem to be paying attention to what the man is capable of, relegating him to thankless roles in straight-to-streaming movies. In fact, in 2022 alone, he had four such roles (Hustle, The Contractor, Medieval, and Emancipation). Frankly, Foster deserves better. - Quentin
Wood Harris is the first guy I think of whenever I see the Leonardo-DiCaprio-pointing meme. Every time he appears on screen, I point and say, “HELL YEAH, I know this is about to be damn good.” Or, at least, I know he is going to be damn good in it, no matter the genre. Whether it’s having great comedic timing in Ant-Man, playing a ruthless drug dealer in The Wire, or responding “Strong Side” to Gerry Bertier in Remember the Titans, Harris always does his damn job, and does it extremely well. Yes, in case you missed it, Avon Barksdale was also a linebacker in a Disney film. He’s been bringing gravitas to his dramatic roles and weight to action films for almost 30 years, and yet he’s still “that guy” from Creed, or “that guy” from Winning Time, or “that guy” you didn’t remember was in Dredd, Blade Runner 2049, and Justified. The fact that he’s nothing more than the guy who played Avon in The Wire or a pointably familiar face to most people, even in Black culture, is a shame because, if you put him next to any actor, he will steal the scene. Hopefully, he can get some movie roles that allow his popularity to match his talent. - Amarú
It feels like Garrett Dillahunt’s career has flown completely under the radar. Best known for his supporting roles on series like Deadwood, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Raising Hope, and, most recently, Fear the Walking Dead, Dillahunt is the man you call in to spruce up the cast of your latest project. Showing a range of everything from sympathetic hero to cold blooded villain, this is an actor we take for granted. The wildest thing is, he just seems to be improving with age. I’d love to think that there’s a late career come-up in the plans for Dillahunt, but unfortunately, it feels like no one in Hollywood is willing to give him that chance. Instead, they’ll just continue to profit off the fruits of his labour. - Nick
SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR
Starting with the hit series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sarah Michelle Gellar was on the rise to be one of the hottest talents to come out of the 90s. Building on the charm and popularity of that fantasy show, Gellar had the upper hand to continue elevating her career, but once the mid-2000s hit (and before she even hit 30-years-old), her career flattened out. Sadly, it just hasn’t gone beyond what I would have hoped for her. With beloved movies like Cruel Intentions, The Grudge, and the Scooby-Doo films, I would’ve pinned her to become a blockbuster star like Drew Barrymore or Cameron Diaz. Unfortunately, after those hits came films like The Air I Breathe, The Return, and Suburban Girl, all of which were poorly marketed box office failures. As a result, her career never really took off, which is a shame, because it had nothing to do with her talent. - Paige
One of my biggest Mad Men hot takes is that Joan Harris is one of the best characters, if not the best, on the show, and part of the reason she stood out to me was just how great Christina Hendricks was in the role. Her on-screen presence was so magnetic every time she showed up that the part-time character was elevated to series regular just because she was so good (Google it, it's true). With six Emmy nominations for her excellent performance, why exactly didn't she become a star like her Mad Men co-stars Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss? I don't have an answer except to say that it's wrong. While she had some minor post-Mad Men roles in films such as The Neon Demon and American Woman, as well as a leading role in the show Good Girls, Hendricks not currently being one of the most sought-after actresses is a travesty, plain and simple. She’s due for better roles in the future, but if not, we'll always have Joan. - Adriano
Photo Credits: Photo 1 - Walt Disney Pictures; Photo 2 - USA Network; Photo 3 - Universal Pictures; Photo 4, 5 - FX; Photo 6 - Lionsgate; Photo 7 - HBO; Photo 8, 10 - AMC; Photo 9 - CW