Underrated Actors

WHO: Frances Conroy

WHY: Frances Conroy is a veteran actress whose long and storied career has spanned movies, stage, and television. The resourceful actress has cemented her place in history as a terrific actress particularly with relation to her portrayal of strong female characters. Conroy is adept at drawing us into her characters and she always seems to excel at conveying deep emotions that are hidden beneath a seemingly adamantine exterior.

Six Feet Under
Her most high profile role to date was as the matriarch of the seriously messed up Fisher family on HBO's Sex Feet Under. (You know a family is seriously messed up when daughter Clare Fisher-who had .....() was the most normal by comparison.) Conroy played the stalwart Ruth Fisher for five glorious seasons() and never failed to impress. The role of Ruth was a complex one. I liked to refer to Ruth as the "quiet storm" of the Fisher family. In a family decimated by tragedy and surrounded by death (they owned a funeral home after all) Ruth had to remain strong and was forced into the role of being the rock of the family. It was rather ironic since Ruth was perhaps the most fragile of the bunch...if not the most fragile, definitely the most likely to blow up under all of the pressures. It was not an easy role to portray. Ruth needed to be someone that the audience connected with despite the fact that (initially) she was never able to fully express how she felt. Despite bottling up her emotions, I always had a warm feeling for Ruth. Conroy portrayed her as a woman with a stiff upper lip who was protecting her family. She wasn't allowed to fully express her complex emotions but there was just a way that Conroy portrayed her that you actively rooted for her. She was kind, simple, and truly cared for her children. Conroy really did a good job connecting with the other actors... Where Conroy truly excells is taking us along for a wonderful ride as events and circumstances slowly transform her character from someone who internalizes their feelings to someone that is able to just let it all out (not without a little help from her friends---Cathy Bates and Miranda() (NAME A SCENE- In season...Conroy has an encounte with...blows up...she seems like a genuinely nice lady  so it has even more of an effect, the shouting, the crying...your heart breaks for her.) Very trusting as well...

Conroy has had a number of other TV and movie appearances in high profile projects. She is one of those actresses that just seems to keep popping up every now and then. Conroy has appeared in numerous Woody Allen Movies including roles in Manhattan, Another Woman, and Crimes and Misdemeanors. She had a recurring role as Barney Stinson's mother (Neil Patrick Harris ()) on the long running CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother (). I just happened to have the TV running in the background a few weeks ago and Ms. Conroy popped up on an episode of Law and Order(). 
She played a woman who had been hearing voices of angels or something and performed a sort of exorcism on a young girl with deadly consequences. Conroy really did another good job here playing a particularly disturbing character and it is just a testament to her range as an actress, a far cry from her matronly six feet under character.

 the crucible TITUBA

Arthur Miller play The Crucible she was in with Daniel Day...Daniel Day is married to Arthur Miller's Daughter Rebecca Miller who directed Frances Conroy in the movie Angela...OK, she was in it for all of 6 seconds... 

Nip/Tuck season 6 episode 14... Sheila one of those Law and Order esque story ripped right from the headlines, the whole monkey face ripper episode. Here, Conroy plays the friend of Sheila Carlton ? () a woman who had her face ripped off by Conroy's pet chimpanzee. Conroy goes through a full range of emotions here, from anger to regret to depression and her face is the perfect canvas upon which these emotions are painted. In an episode where so many things are going on (well, was there ever an episode of Nip/Tuck where there wasn't a lot of things going on?) Conroy gives a stand out performance. What could have been a cliched role is instead a very real one as she brings real emotion to her character. You can just see her suffering (whether self-inflicted or not) and you can't help having your heart break for her. She realizes the gravity of her mistake and accepts responsibility. Conroy literally wears her suffering on her face. She appears devastated and exhausted all at once. She truly embraces the role and knows what is at stake, the mark of a well seasoned professional. And in typical Nip/Tuck fashion, her remorse is horribly misguided...and becomes all the more shocking due to Conroy's brilliant undersell of the performance. She catches us unaware, with her unassuming looks. With an assist by sean mcnamara() his disgust at her is great.

Broken Flowers is a 2003() film starring Bill Murray and Jeffrey Wright (the deliciously devilish Dr. Narcisse from Boardwalk Empire Season ()). Conroy's AHS co-star Jessica Lange is also in this. the aging Don Juan ()Murray receives an anonymous letter from a former paramour and sets out on a journey to find out who it might be. Conroy plays one of these lovers of Murray. Conroy ()use character now married and is surprised when Don visits her, some 20 years after () they last saw each other. Her husband comes home at just the same time which creates a wickedly awkward scenario. Don begrudgingly agrees to have dinner so as not to offend her overbearing husband. Conroy plays the scene perfectly. With great skill, she says everything without unpursing her lips. the look that she gives Don tells you everything you need to know about what she feels about the whole situation. Conroy and Murray play off each other so well here. A movie surrounded with understated moments, this was one of the most effective.

Happy Town- Peggy Haplin the mayor of Happy Town. The entertaining yet short lived series...a Twin Peaks type small town big secrets vibe. Conroy's Peggy Haplin was an intimidating woman and practically had the whole town scared. Describe the plot...a town where a bunch of children have mysteriously vanished....a mysterious Magic Man who may be responsible. The short lived series had an excellent ensemble cast including Sam (), Stephen McHattie, Peter Outerbridge, and Conroy. Many of my favorites on one show but the plot had me hooked as it was a mystery. Unfortunately it did not have much ratings success and was cancelled...although it did allow Conroy to play a darker character who wasn't the typical old prude she had been playing and I bet AHS saw her and loved her performance b/c her stay on AHS was equally as creepy and memorable.

American Horror Story
Murder House

Murder House- Conroy plays the role of Moira O'Hara... the long tenured maid of the so called murder house() Conroy only actually plays half of the role. You see, Moira appears as an old housekeeper (or a moralistic prude as jessica Lange calls her() to certain people and then others see her as a sexy young woman complete with a french maid outfit with the shortest of skirts... (played by Alexandra Breckenridge). It really was a fascinating character during that season. It was hilarious to see how different characters reacted to her...the husband drooling...made for some awkward scenes...daughter walks in...old maid... Conroy has some particularly juicy scenes with Lange who treats her terribly...Conroy depicts the enmity behind her eyes with the utmost precision.... a delight. As part of the script her character has a discolored iris...Conroy was supposedly in a car accident so they wrote it into the script. Art imitating life.

Asylum- Conroy appeared as Shachath The Angel of Death on AHS Asylum. Shachath was a mysterious shade who ushered the dying into the afterlife. Conroy was wearing old clothes and a black veil and was known for her patented Kiss of Death. Another brilliant transformation for Conroy as she looks completely different here with jet black hair and a veil covering her forehead. Conroy doesn't appear much but when she does, she adds a certain gravitas () to the story due to her serious tone and the fact that after all she is a harbinger of doom. 

Coven- Conroy returned for a third go round in the horror anthology series American Horror Story in its third iteration entitled American Horror Story: Coven. Here, Conroy played a rival witch to Jessica Lange's headmistress (). Conroy gives another wacky performance as Myrtle Snow, complete with oversized cat eye glasses and a bright red/orange wig that would make Ronald McDonald blush. She loves the celestial tones of the theremin()...Even more bizarre as Conroy communicates through a strained whisper. She also has a peculiar habit of speaking in alliterative phrases such as "Cordelia's Conjured Coriander Condiment." or veracity in the vernacular.  Imminently quotable such as " At any rate, I'm not going to kill you, well maybe after desert. I put a lot of effort into the Key Lime Pie. I do love a Key Lime Pie. Even more than a ile me a Philistine." And Balenciaga!!!! It was a joy seeing her transform to some really out there characters, a stark contrast to some of her more reserved (buttoned down) roles. 

Conroy also has the unique distinction of probably being the only actress who has been in two different projects where the name TITUBA!!!! was uttered. The Crucible Tituba was () and on AHS ().

Frances Conroy's longevity is a testament to her skills as an actress. This wonderful actress has appeared in over seventy-five movie, TV, and stage productions, and never ceases to capture the attention of her audience. Conroy continues to turn in memorable performances and seems to be as busy as ever plying her craft.

CHECK THESE OUT: Six Feet Under, American Horror Story, Happy Town, Nip/Tuck, Broken Flowers, The Crucible

Article by Chris Ramirez


WHO: Liam Cunningham

WHY: Liam Cunningham, the "Pride of East Wall", has been acting since 1992. He has had a number of critically acclaimed roles in TV shows and independent movies, many emanating from his native Ireland. As The legend of the "Pride of East Wall" grew, and spread across the narrow sea, he began to be featured in many big budget Hollywood productions. Cunningham is an extremely versatile actor who has played a number of diametrically opposed roles. He is one of those rare actors that can make an enduring impression regardless of how brief his on-screen appearance may be.

One of his most critically acclaimed roles was in the 2006 film The Wind That Shakes the Barley which was filmed in Ireland. The movie also stars Cillian Murphy as Damien O' Donovan and tells the story of a group of Irish lads who join the IRA during the Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War. Damien is reluctant to join the IRA even after an extremely intense run in with the British Black and Tans (nickname for the British soldiers deriving from their uniform color). Cunningham plays Dan, a conductor who refuses to let his trains serve as a transport hub for the Black and Tans. Damien is inspired by Dan's actions which demonstrate that there are other people who are willing to stand up to the British. Dan acts as a sort of mentor for the lads throughout the film. Cunningham gives a powerhouse performance when he gives a speech explaining why they cannot accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty. "If we ratify this treaty, all we are changing is the accents of the powerful and the color of the flag." Your eyes are glued to him as he commands the screen while articulating the very principles of the movement and stressing why they cannot compromise.

Hunger is a 2008 British/Irish co-production with similar themes to The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Hunger was directed by Steve McQueen. No, not the Steve McQueen that was in Bullitt and The Great Escape, and not Steven R. McQueen (grandson of Steve McQueen) who plays Jeremy Gilbert on The Vampire Diaries; Steve McQueen, the British director of Shame and 12 Years a Slave. Hunger was a film starring Michael Fassbender (one of several glorious pairings with Cunningham) as Bobby Sands who orchestrated a 1981 IRA hunger strike at Maze Prison in Northern Ireland. Cunningham plays Irish Catholic priest Father Dominic Moran, a friend of Bobby since his youth, who attempts to convince Bobby not to pursue this drastic avenue of protest. Cunningham's chain smoking and swearing Father Dominic Moran is anything but the prototypical Irish Catholic priest. Cunningham is only in one scene in the film but he and Fassbender show why they are two amazing talents. They have tremendous chemistry with one another and they convey a certain comfort level as if they were two lifelong friends. The scene starts lighthearted enough when Father Moran questions which parts of The Bible they are rolling up as cigarettes. "Has anyone worked out which book is the best to smoke?" Sands replies, "We only smoke the Lamentations. A right miserable cigarette." The scene is shot with the camera focusing on the same spot as Father Dominic and Bobby Sands debate for an uninterrupted seventeen minutes or so. The way the scene was shot only added to the intensity of their performances at such a critical juncture in the film. Cunningham clearly understands the poignancy of the moment and never overplays things. There is a subtlety to his acting that fits the importance of the moment perfectly. The end result was another riveting performance from Mr. Cunningham. Two excellent indie successes are only the tip of the iceberg as Mr. Cunningham has had quite an impressive run in small budget horror films as well.

In 2002's horror film Dog Soldiers, Cunningham plays the role of Captain Ryan. He is the head of an elite squad of military personnel and is one cruel master. He makes the soldiers commit unconscionable acts as some sort of hazing. Cunningham crafts a character that is both diabolical and rather amusing. It is a very different role than I have ever seen him play and he played it to perfection. There is a certain coolness with which he plays the character, a character that many would despise, which makes Captain Ryan delightfully intriguing. It is a charismatic performance that made me realize just how amazing Cunningham would be as a Bond villain. They seem to be hiring excellent actors with great range these days for Bond villains (Javier Bardem, Mads Mikkelsen) and his portrayal of the dark and mysterious (yet always ready with a clever retort) Captain Ryan certainly fits the bill.  

The Card Player is a 2004 film directed by the Italian Master of Horror Dario Argento. Liam Cunningham's involvement in the film was most satisfactory news as it would pair one of my favorite actors with one of my favorite directors. I never would have imagined these two would work together on a film. It is surprising how many great actors Argento is able to get (Donald Pleasence, Max von Sydow) being that he only speaks Italian, and makes extremely low budget films. The Card Player revolves around a series of murders in Rome. A sadistic killer is terrorizing the city with a twisted game of online poker where the stakes are human lives. Cunningham plays British forensics expert John Brennan who is assisting the police department in Rome. He is paired with the lovely Italian officer Anna Mari played by Stefania Rocca. The two of them work so well together and have believable chemistry. Cunningham plays a likable character with a go get 'em attitude. You can tell he is having fun with the character and at one point he even sings Danny Boy in a bit of a drunken stupor. Is there anything the man can't do? You can tell the gears are constantly turning in Brennan's head and he is always thinking three steps ahead. He also is extremely quick witted. Liam Cunningham exhibits both of these skills in interviews and you can tell he is just bringing aspects of his own personality to the character. It works quite perfectly since these are excellent traits for a forensics expert to possess. At one point in the film a character says "Who the hell is that?", when referring to Cunningham's John Brennan. I wanted to shout out at the screen "That's bloody Liam Cunningham, that's who!" In addition to a foray into the horror genre, Cunningham seems to be the go-to guy for fantasy and period piece projects.

The first time I saw Liam Cunningham was in First Knight from 1995. I actually didn't know who he was when I saw the film back then. I was amazed at how many people I didn't know at the time that were in that such as Ben Cross (Rabbit on Cinemax's Banshee) as Prince Malagant, Ralph Ineson (Dagmer Cleftjaw on Game of Thrones, Finchy on The Office UK) as Ralf, and Liam Cunningham as Agravaine. Agravaine is a captain of sorts in Arthur's army and is a strong leader and capable military tactician. Cunningham doesn't have many lines in this but the role did allow him to get his feet wet in a fantasy type role. In 2010's Centurion he would once again team up with Neil Marshall who had directed him in Dog Soldiers, and Michael Fassbender from the movie Hunger. Centurion is a thrilling tale of a group of Roman soldiers in the Ninth Legion (more disciplined than the Thirteenth Legion on HBO's Rome but equally as colorful) who find themselves on the wrong side of Hadrian's Wall and are being hunted down by Celtic tribes led by Gorlacon (Banshee's Kai Proctor) played by Ulrich Thomsen. The contrast between Fassbender's soldier and Cunningham's works quite well. Fassbender's Quintus Dias is trusting while Cunningham's Brick is entirely paranoid. There is an interesting interplay between the two. Brick thinks the soldiers food has been poisoned at one point while Dias wipes the bowl clean without thinking twice. Brick also walks through the forest constantly looking behind his back. The look on Cunningham's face conveys a real sense of dread. The cantankerous old soldier Brick is also one brutal fighter. At one point he gets shot in the back with an arrow, shrugs it off, and proceeds to run right after the attacker. He gives the meanest look imaginable, rips out the arrow, and stabs them right in the eye.

Cunningham also played a soldier in the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans. Solon is the hard to please veteran soldier who is constantly annoyed by his wet behind the ears companions. He has no patience for the younger soldiers antics whatsoever. In a very funny scene he snaps the flute of one of the soldiers in two because he is a fierce warrior and ain't nobody got time for that. Like The Card Player this was another dream pairing for me. Liam Cunningham and Mads Mikkelsen fighting side by side! All of these fantasy film roles certainly must have prepared him for his role in the short lived Camelot TV series which aired on Starz in 2011. Camelot certainly was not the best of shows although it did have its moments. It had a great cast but never seemed to fully capitalize on their talents. I took issue with a few things as well. I don't recall Merlin casting more than one spell on the show. What Merlin doesn't cast numerous spells? Nicol Williamson cast at least three in 1981's Excalibur film. I don't recall, but he may have cast the "Uther Pendragon Gets To Bed Lady Igraine Spell" in a flashback during one of the early Camelot episodes but other than that he seemed to be fairly ordinary and his only ability was that he got a lot of frequent headaches. Also, why was there an evil nun in King Arthur's court???? What lost scroll of Arthurian legend did they dig this up from???? The evil nun was an odd fit and only served to overshadow the much more interesting character of Morgan. Cunningham however is a pleasure as usual and is in one of the better episodes. Coincidence, I think not. Cunningham plays Colfur, a man on trial for murder in a sort of medieval Law & Order storyline where Arthur's knights play the cops and also serve as the jury (a poor segregation of duties to say the least), and King Arthur plays the judge. Cunningham gives an emotional performance where he breaks down and cries, while confessing how he killed the man. There is more going on here than it first seems and as more information is gathered the story takes an interesting turn. Cunningham would continue to get more prominent roles on TV while also continuing his film career.

In 2011 Cunningham would play a role on Cinemax's action packed extravaganza Strike Back. Some of his Camelot castmates were in this as well including Philip Winchester (Michael Stonebridge) and Vincent Regan (Karl Matlock). Cunningham plays IRA soldier Daniel Connolly who is now working as a mercenary for some really scary people. Cunningham steals every scene he is in from the moment he appears on-screen. We first see him coaxing a child to follow him as part of an elaborate plot to steal something very important. The scene is entirely believable because of Cunningham's soothing voice (the man needs to narrate something) and calm demeanor. Connolly travels around with a group of henchmen and commands respect from them because he has a certain presence and stature. He volunteers a story about himself to one of the British agents in another great scene. He describes how he used to work at a stable when he was younger and he took care of the horses. He proceeds to say that he was fired, and when asked why, he states, "I frighten the horses." Cunningham's delivery is so great. He tells the story so calmly, drawing you in with his every word, and his delivery only serves to accentuate the eerie conclusion. Daniel Connolly is not a man to be messed with. I also noticed that Daniel Connolly's male cohort Teague was played by Brian Milligan who was also in Hunger. He played the prisoner that was forced to share a cell with the artistically inclined man, who paints the walls using the most interesting medium. Cunningham was also fantastic in the film Harry Brown playing the barkeep Sid. He runs the favorite hangout of pensioner vigilante Harry Brown (Michael Caine). It was nice to see him act alongside Michael Caine in what turned out to be a very entertaining film. If you look closely during the scene at the hospital, one of the nurses was Orla O' Rourke who played the female cohort of Cunningham's Daniel Connolly on Strike Back.

2012 perhaps saw Cunningham's biggest role to date as he joined the cast of HBO's Game of Thrones. Cunningham plays Ser Davos Seaworth, the embodiment of the conscience of "King" Stannis Baratheon. He has many standout moments including his interactions with his son Matthos, his efforts to advise Stannis, and his clashes with his sworn enemy Carice van Houten's Red Priestess Melisandre (I  just refer to her as Stannis' Witch). Interestingly enough, Carice van Houten and Liam Cunningham played lovers in the movie Black Butterflies and now they play sworn enemies. Perhaps my favorite Davos scene is "Davos Learns To Read." It is heartwearming and funny at the same time. The pairing of Liam Cunningham and Game of Thrones could not have been more perfect.

Ser Davos plays a major part in the episode Blackwater which was directed by Neil Marshall, who had directed Cunningham in Dog Soldiers and Centurion. In fact, working with people he had done previous projects with has become a common theme for Cunningham's career. It has evolved into part of a little game I adapted from Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. This is called One Degree of Separation From Ser Davos Seaworth. The rules are simple. Try to find all actors on Game of Thrones that Liam Cunningham has acted with before in a movie or TV series. To narrow it down I used the years 1992-2012 and only considered movies and TV shows (TV movies were excluded). Here is what I have found, although I am sure I must have missed somebody.

One Degree of Separation (people who previously worked on a movie or TV show with Liam Cunningham, their Game of Thrones character name is in parentheses):

Iain Glen (Ser Jorah Mormont), James Cosmo (Jeor Mormont), Ian Whyte (Ser Gregor Clegane), Rory McCann ("The Hound" Sandor Clegane), Conleth Hill (Varys "The Spider"), Patrick Malahide (Balon Greyjoy), David Bradley (Walder Frey), Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton), Ciaran Hinds (Mance Rayder), Julian Glover (Maester Pycelle), Ian McElhinney (Barristan Selmy), Jamie Sives (Jory Cassel), Hannah Murray (Gilly), Clive Russell (Brynden "The Blackfish" Tully), Carice van Houten (The Red Priestess Melisandre), Richard Dormer (Beric Dondarrion), Francis Magee (Yoren), Ron Donachie (Ser Rodrik Cassel), Oliver Ford Davies (Maester Cressen), Nonso Anozie (Xaro Xhoan Daxos), Roger Allam (Illyrio Mopatis), Ralph Ineson (Dagmer Cleftjaw), Brendon McCormack (Vardis Egan), Forbes KB (Lorren), Anthony Morris (The Tickler), Gordon Mahon (Imry Florent), David Coakley (Drennan), Patrick O'Kane (The Faceless Man), Jonathan Ryan (Drowned Priest), James Tolcher (Lannister Guard), Frank O'Sullivan (Night's Watch Brother), Brian Nickels (stunt performer), Andy Pilgrim (stunt performer), Ian van Temperley (stunt performer), Roy Taylor (stunt performer), Ian Pead (stunt performer), Derek Lea (stunt performer)

One And A Half Degrees of Separation (people who worked on the same TV show as Liam Cunningham but appeared on a different season, their Game of Thrones character name is in parentheses and the show they were on is listed at the end):

Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark), Gerry O' Brien (Jonos Bracken)- The Clinic
(Fairley and Cunningham were on The Street as well albeit different seasons)

Tim Plester (Black Walder Frey), Bronson Webb (Will), Owen Teale (Alliser Thorne), Josef Altin (Pypar), Mark Lewis Jones (Shagga)- Murphy's Law

Nicholas Blane (The Spice King)- Crackers  

Paul Kaye (Thoros of Myr)- Hotel Babylon

John Bradley (Samwell Tarly), Joe Dempsie (Gendry), Joseph Mawle (Benjen Stark), Mackenzie Crook (Orell), Donald Sumpter (Maester Luwin)- Merlin

Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister)-Merlin and Strike Back 

The size of this list is a result of the cast of Game of Thrones being so huge and the impressive collection of talent is a result of casting director Nina Gold being so discerning. In a show filled with deliciously twisted villains, Cunningham's honorable man stands out.

Cunningham is such a skilled actor and it is always a joy to see him even for a few minutes. He has to have the highest
GAPPST (Greatest Acting Performances Per Screen Time- a stat I have entirely just made up) value among qualified actors. You see, you take how great his performance is which is  always 100 and then you divide by the amount of time he averages on screen, like 5.31415 minutes. Most importantly, when you make the calculation you must not forget to carry the one! His value comes out to something like an unprecedented one billion. Seriously though, Cunningham is a true multitalented actor and has even done more than just acting of late. He served as an executive producer and co-starred in the award winning short film Pitch Black Heist, yet another pairing with Michael Fassbender. Cunningham also directed several episodes of the TV medical drama The Clinic, further boosting an impressive resume that probably no longer includes the ability to use diagonal cutting pliers.

Liam Cunningham has carved out quite an impressive career. He never ceases to give an impactful performance no matter how little screen time he gets. There will be a whole new generation of Liam Cunningham fans due to his increased exposure on HBO's immensely successful Game of Thrones series. Many more people will come to know just what a fantastic actor he is.

CHECK THESE OUT: The Card Player and The Wind That Shakes the Barley on DVD
Centurion, Clash of the Titans, Dog Soldiers, Harry Brown, Hunger, Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season, Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season, Game of Thrones: The Complete Third Season, Strike Back: The Complete First Season, Strike Back: The Complete Second Season on DVD and Blu-Ray

Article by CJ Ramirez

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WHO: Ray Stevenson

WHY: Hopefully this article is somewhat coherent as I am still reeling from the last episode of Game of Thrones! Ray Stevenson has been delivering stellar performances for a number of years now and has become one of the most versatile actors in the business. Whether it is as a mob villain, dark anti-hero or heroic legionnaire, Ray can portray them all with deftness and remarkable depth.

I first became cognizant of Ray Stevenson when he portrayed legionnaire Titus Pullo on HBO's Rome. The first thing I noticed was just how physically imposing he looked. Stevenson is a very tall and stocky 6'4" and his imposing physique commands the screen. Titus Pullo serves in Caesar's 13th Legion under the command of the ever so serious Lucius Vorenus portrayed expertly by Kevin McKidd. Pullo at first is a constant screw-up who adheres to the mantra of wine, women, and song much like Gannicus on the Spartacus series. Stevenson portrays this big brute as such a likable character that we, and even Vorenus, constantly forgive him for his transgressions. 

One of my favorite skills Stevenson possesses is the ability to switch up his demeanor in a believable way. I noticed this first on Rome but saw it in a lot of his other roles as well. Pullo is quite the destructive force whether it be on the battlefield or in his own personal life. He is not afraid of any fight and never backs down from adversity. Stevenson portrays him as a reckless brute at times but he is also able to show a more tender side of this gentle giant. When he is injured in a barfight, he is taken in by Vorenus and his family. There is a very funny scene where this intmidating warrior is playing with a baby in Vorenus' house and making funny faces at it. Stevenson does a great job of showing this silly side and is a great contrast to the big bad warrior we are accustomed to. He also forms a heartwarming brotherly relationship with Lucius Vorenus which is possible because of the wonderful on-screen chemistry between McKidd and Stevenson. They are able to feed off of each other despite being very different characters. The character of Pullo is also quite funny especially when he beseeches the gods whenever he is in dire straits but ignores them all the other times. 

Stevenson has had many smaller roles as part of an ensemble cast. In King Arthur Stevenson plays one of Arthur's knights named Dagonet. Dagonet like the rest of the knights is a brutal killing machine. He is very destructive but remains calm and mostly silent. In a deadly game of "don't break the ice" he single-handedly wipes out about half of the enemy army. Stevenson's best scenes are once again where shows the ability to change his demeanor while maintaining the integrity of the character. He forms a very touching relationship with fellow knight Bors (Ray Winstone) where they form an almost brotherly relationship despite both of their gruff exteriors. He also takes care of a sickly child rescued from captivity. It is a very impactful scene because Stevenson is able to portray Dagonet as both a trained killer and a concerned protector for the child. It works so well because Stevenson has such an impressive physical presence, so his show of emotions is even more meaningful. After King Arthur, there were many other minor roles that he excelled in. In the Three Musketeers he portrayed the role of unorthodox Musketeer Porthos. In Thor he portrayed the god Volstagg who has one epic beard, and In GI Joe: Retaliation he plays Cobra villain Firefly with one heck of a southern accent. Stevenson is such a versatile actor that can play many diverse roles. As a result he has recently gotten a number of lead starring roles in films including Kill the Irishman and Punisher: War Zone.

Kill the Irishman, also known as "car bomb the movie" (was there ever a movie with more car bombs in it? At one point they were averaging like a car bomb every 2 minutes!), was a 2011 film about Irish-American crime boss Danny Greene. Stevenson gives a strong performance as the mustachioed Irishman. He is able to get us to care about a vicious mobster because he portrays him as a multidimensional character. He is brutal at times, which Stevenson captures brilliantly in a scene where he pummels a man to a bloody pulp while having the most maniacal look on his face. However, he
is also quite intelligent and clever which is shown when he defuses a deadly situation when he is to be executed. He taunts the gunman with essentially polish jokes in order to get him to drop the gun and fight him hand to hand. Stevenson has such a sly style here and delivers the taunts with such panache that it makes the scene believable. He portrays Danny Greene as a complex human being capable of a range of emotions. It is a fun role for him and you can tell he is having a blast doing it. It is a much more dramatic role than some of his past roles and he masterfully imbues it with real emotion while acting alongside veterans like Christopher Walken and Paul Sorvino. 

One of his first starring roles was as the title character in Punisher: War Zone. Punisher: War Zone was by no means a great film but the bar was set so low by the last Punisher film (Kevin Nash dressed as "popeye" growling as he chases Thomas Jane around-enough said). I had to see both films since I was a huge Punisher fan as a kid, which got me into quite an uncomfortable situation one Halloween. You see, the Punisher character has always been way ahead of it's time. Conventional wisdom stated that for fourth grade Halloween I should have been the more popular Spiderman or Captain America but they just never appealed to me in the way the Punisher did. So I took my toy guns and shirt with a skull on it and headed to class that Halloween. Unfortunately none of the other students knew who I was supposed to be and they kept asking me if I was "skull man". No, it's the PUNISHER! Needless to say, Ray Stevenson wore it better. Stevenson gives a solid performance in this one in a role that just seemed destined for him to play. He correctly portrays the Punisher as a stone cold killer with no remorse for the bad guys. Stevenson's physical look allows him to play the anti-hero roles really well. He shows us a Punisher that is unflinching when it comes to eliminating the bad guys but he does also have a sensitive side. Very early on in the film he accidentally kills the undercover husband of Angela Donatelli played by Julie Benz of Dexter fame. We see the anguish on his face when he goes to talk to her about her husband. Stevenson's face is a canvas of emotions as he talks to the wife. We get a real sense of the pain and anguish that he is feeling in that scene. There is also an extremely touching scene where Angela's curious little daughter breaks into a toy chest that belonged to the Punisher's deceased daughter. Stevenson once again gives life to the cold blooded killer in a very emotional scene where he holds back tears as he reminisces about his deceased daughter.

Speaking of Julie Benz, Stevenson's entire career reached its apex with his brilliant performance on season 7 of Showtime's Dexter. Stevenson portrays Ukrainian mobster Isaak Sirko and goes toe to toe with Dexter. His fantastic performance helped elevate the series back to greatness and made me forget the weak antagonists of the last few seasons. He is not only physically imposing but he is clever enough to match wits with Dexter, something few antagonists have been adept at with the exception of The Trinity Killer. Stevenson works so well because the role required a lot of brutality and he is one physically impressive specimen. He kills a group of men in a bar gunfight, stabs a guy in the eye with a screwdriver and fires numerous shots in a drive-by at a donut shop. It was a much more physical role than the show has had in the past and Ray was more than up to the challenge. Stevenson plays him as calm, intelligent, calculating, and also quite funny. At one point Dexter is surprised to see Isaak and he just casually says that Dexter has impeccable timing and he is just in time for tea. Ray has such a playful comedic delivery that works great for the character. His best scene is when he shares a secret with Dexter to whom he says "Under different circumstances I think we could have been great friends". It is one of the most powerful and emotional scenes in the history of the show and a highlight in a season full of great moments. Stevenson infuses the mobster Isaak Sirko with real emotion and depth and we can read all of these emotions on his visage. He expertly portrays a villain motivated by love and is able to show all of the emotions that come with that including pain, anguish, and disappointment.

Ray Stevenson is one of the most versatile actors on the planet. His resume is filled with brilliant performances that cover a wide range of roles. His work on Dexter this past season was particularly inspired and was his best performance to date. I am glad he has gone back to his TV roots because I have been begging for HBO to cast him on Game of Thones on a future season. It could happen, after all Nina Gold who is the casting director for Game of Thrones was the casting director for Rome and his fellow Rome castmates Ciaran Hinds (Julius Caesar) and Tobias Menzes (Brutus) are now on Game Of Thrones. Stevenson was also in King Arthur with numerous actors now on Game Of Thrones including Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon), Clive Russell (The Blackfish) who will also be in Thor: The Dark World with Stevenson, and Owen Teale (Alliser Thorne). He would only make one of the strongest casts in television history even better. For Ray Stevenson and his fans, the best is yet to come.

CHECK THESE OUT: Rome: The Complete Series, King Arthur: Director's Cut, Kill The Irishman, Dexter Season 7 

Article by CJ Ramirez

WHO: Mads Mikkelsen

WHY: Mads Mikkelsen is the greatest actor in the history of Denmark! (for reference, Nikolaj-Coster-Waldau is the second greatest). Mikkelsen has been acting since the mid 1990s with many of his films being made in his native Denmark. He has shown a knack for playing multifaceted characters including Tonny in the Danish film series called The Pusher.

The Pusher is a film about a drug dealer named Frank. He basically has the worst week of his life when he falls behind on payments to local gangsters. Mikkelsen plays Frank's friend and partner in crime named Tonny. The tracksuit he wears, the respect tattoo on the back of his head, and his sense of humor immediately made me think of Ali G. However, this is no cliched character. Mikkelsen is able to make Tonny into a multidimensional drug pusher. He is not your average low-life thug. Mikkelsen is able to infuse the character with a certain warmth and likeability. He is a friend to Frank and Mikkelsen really shines when he is exchanging banter with him. He is extremely funny and Mikkelsen's wry smile puts us at ease even though he is a dangerous man. We are not repulsed by him, in fact he seems like an old friend of ours as well. 

The Pusher II sees Mikkelsen reprise his role as Tonny. He has recently been released from prison and seeks out his father for employment. His father is a respected gangster known around town as the Duke and he begrudgingly lets his son work at his chop shop. In an effort to impress his father, Tonny steals a car and delivers it to the shop. In doing so however, he makes a classic mistake. As anyone who has played Grand Theft Auto or Sleeping Dogs knows, if you steal a car you need to have a buyer already lined up to purchase said vehicle. The Duke is furious and hurls insults and a wrench at his son. The insults hurt far worse however. The movie revolves around Tonny's relationship with his father and how Tonny is yearning for his respect. He must also deal with the fact that he lives in the shadow of his father and everyone basically sees him as a screw up. Mikkelsen does a fantastic job of conveying these emotions. He stares into the distance and we can see his mind literally racing a mile a minute. His brow furrows and we can feel his emotions as if they were our own. It is not all sadness however, in a very touching scene Tonny is changing the diaper of his son for the first time. Mikkelsen grins from ear to ear which means more coming from his usually stoic face. He is able to show just how happy he is that for once he hasn't screwed something up and he was able to do something for his son. Mikkelsen shows a range of emotions throughout the film but his most impressive reactions are when he is seeking his father's approval. Midway through the film he is celebrating his friend O's engagement. His father gives a speech where he claims O is like a son and is not a screwup like Tonny. Mikkelsen's reaction is priceless, his face simultaneously shows his sadness and happiness. He smiles at his father's comment because he is happy for his friend O, but his brow and cold eyes tell a different story. He is happy for his friend but crushed that once again his father disapproves of him. 

Mikkelsen is already a big star in Europe not only due to the Pusher films but also the critically acclaimed movie The Hunt, however many in North America are not familiar with these films. They may be more familiar with his work in such films as King Arthur, Clash of the Titans, Valhalla Rising, the Three Musketeers, and Casino Royale.

In King Arthur, Mikkelsen plays one of Arthur's knights named Tristan. He is easily the coolest of the bunch (for reference, Lancelot is the second coolest because he uses two swords and few things are cooler than that) since he has a trained eagle, fights like a whirling dervish , and fears nothing. He is a man of few words much like his character Draco who is captain of the guard in Clash of the Titans. Mikkelsen is able to convey emotions with just a look, which was crucial for his role in Valhalla Rising.

In Valhalla Rising, Mikkelsen plays the role of a silent one-eyed viking warrior appropriately named One-Eye. The role of One-Eye could have been a very difficult one to portray if not given to the right actor. Mikkelsen is not able to use his voice to tell the audience what One-Eye is feeling so he is once again forced to use his facial expressions in particular his eyes (eye). His cold stare tells us a great deal, we see him show anger, sadness, and acceptance, all by the way he moves his one eye and nods his head. It is a truly masterful performance that not just any actor could accomplish.

Mikkelsen does a great job of playing both heroic characters and villainous characters. In the Three Musketeers he plays the eye-patch wearing Rochefort, captain of the guard for the scheming Cardinal Richelieu. Let's just say that his portrayal of Rochefort and Christoph Waltz's portrayal of Richelieu may be the only reasons to watch the movie. Perhaps the villain he is most known for playing is that of Le Chiffre in the twenty-first James Bond film Casino Royale.

Le Chiffre funds many terrorist organizations and suffers from haemolacria which causes him to cry tears of blood from one of his eyes. Mikkelsen portrays Le Chiffre with a certain cold calculation. He is always thinking and trying to stay one step ahead of Bond. Mikkelsen really accentuates the nuances of the character well. He flips his poker chips in his hand in such a way that one would think he was nervous but his face never flinches. He remains as cold as ice, and it is in fact his opponents at the poker table that should be nervous when he starts flipping those chips. There is a very tense scene where Le Chiffre and Bond match wits at the poker table and Bond tries to figure out what his tell is to see if he is bluffing. Mikkelsen shines in this tense scene, he is able to maintain Le Chiffre's solemn impenetrable stare and only briefly breaks it with a small twitch that Bond may or may not have correctly identified as his tell. Later in the movie he clearly enjoys torturing Bond which we can tell by Mikkelsen's signature smirk.     

Mikkelsen may go down in movie history as the actor who played the most optically challenged characters. As Rochefort in The Three Musketeers he wears an eye-patch, as Le Chiffre in Casino Royale he has a bleeding eye, and as One Eye in Valhalla Rising...well, the name says it all.

Mads Mikkelsen is already a star in Europe and may very well become one in North America. His next role is as the iconic Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal on NBC which premieres tonight. I wouldn't dare say anyone could equal  the portrayal of Hannibal Lecter by the legendary Anthony Hopkins but if anybody can do it justice it is Mads Mikkelsen. The greatest actor in the history of Denmark  may soon be known as one of the greatest actors in the history of the world!

CHECK THESE OUT: The Pusher, The Pusher II, The Hunt, Valhalla Rising, Casino Royale 

Article by CJ Ramirez

WHO: Michael Madsen

WHY: I was first introduced to Michael Madsen in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. His kinetic performance as Mr. Blonde was truly impressive. He was able to delineate a psychopathic gangster while instilling a certain charm and coolness to the character. For example, he finds time to stop for a soda and fries after narrowly surviving a shootout with the cops! The infamous "ear" scene provides a perfect fusion of his love for torture and seventies music. Not only that, he was able to hold his own alongside respected actors such as Steve Buscemi and Harvey Keitel.

I was so fascinated by him that I couldn't wait to see what major roles he scored after Reservoir Dogs. I imagined that there must be a plethora of movies with Michael Madsen as the star, and he surely must have been nominated for an Oscar for some role. I searched and searched for these movies but all I found were small roles and many limited release flicks. His performance alone in Reservoir Dogs should have elevated him to that next level of actor.

Madsen would have been perfect starring in the role of "bad cop" in a movie or TV series. I was a big fan of the Shield on FX and always thought that he would have been superb playing a similar role to Michael Chiklis' crooked cop Vic Mackey. His interrogation tactic of using a lit cigarette in John Dahl's Kill Me Again would have been appropriate for such a role. Despite many intriguing performances massive success never materialized. 

However, Michael Madsen remains a joy to watch no matter how small the role or movie.  He is one of those special actors who makes any project better just by virtue of him being in it. I am always excited to see him act because I know he will be giving a truly dynamic performance that few are capable of.

CHECK THESE OUT: Reservoir Dogs, Kill Me Again, Donnie Brasco, Kill Bill Volume 2

Article by CJ Ramirez

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