For years in Hollywood, being called a “character actor” was akin to having sand kicked in your face at the beach. No matter what you tried, you couldn’t wash it off and eventually it got under your skin. Finally, you simply accepted you weren’t going to get the glory or the girl. But, hey, you got the great roles.
Today’s Hollywood set is all about character. Downplay your “matinee idol looks” with a gritty role you can sink your remaining tooth into – that is after the make up department has transformed you into a 19th Century French streetwalker - and you're in the clover. Case in Point: The breathtaking Anne Hathaway just snagged an Oscar nomination for playing the more than miserable Fantine in Les Miserables and swoon-worthy Bradley Cooper covered his abs with oversized sweat pants, plastic garbage bags, and a personality disorder to earn an Oscar nomination for Silver Linings Playbook.
But let's raise a glass to generations of unheralded character actors and toast to their descendents – a fresh crop of surprising talent ready for their close-up.
Fred Cross is one of the most promising of the bunch. The likable actor has steadily built a resume of intriguing and memorable characters on shows like The Office, House, Criminal Minds, and Weeds. A graduate of the famed Second City Conservatory (where he met his wife actress Annie Savage), Cross also has extensive improvisation experience, a skill that is certainly helping with his latest role as “Stan” on Spike TV’s third season of The Joe Schmo Show: The Full Bounty.
After some direction for the character from the producers, Cross crafted “Stan” into a wholly believable pushover, a sensibility at odds with his own personality which tends to be gregarious, wildly funny, and more than a little mischievous. Cross says, “Stan's a bit more timid than I am. I'm pretty sure of myself. But I think a lot of us can see some of ourselves in Stan. He's just a boy, standing in a fountain in front of a girl, asking her to love him. In sign.”
Officially in its third season (although the second season aired in 2004), The Joe Schmo Show delivers the same big laughs and awkward moments that made it an instant cult favorite with the Spike TV crowd. Cross is grateful for the show's success. He says, “There's been a lot of amazing feedback for the show. I think we're all kind of blown away by it." It sure looks like Cross is on a role.
The Joe Schmo show airs on Spike TV, Tuesdays 10/9 Central.