Thursday, February 25, 2010

Culture Shock 02.25.10: 'That guy' is no longer a mystery man

It's that guy!
How many times has this happened to you?

You're watching television and see an actor you've seen a million times before. But you can't remember his name and aren't even sure where you saw him. You can't look it up online because you wouldn't know where to begin. Slowly, it starts to drive you insane, and you can't stand it anymore. You phone a friend.

"Hey, turn your TV to channel 38," you say. "No, I don't care that you're watching 'Lost.' You don't understand 'Lost,' anyway. Change the #%&@ channel! Got it? OK, help me out. See that guy, the one with the hat? No, the other one. It's that guy!"

Yes, that's the eternal refrain: "It's that guy!" But who is that guy?

For as long as there have been hard-working character actors taking jobs just to pay the bills, with no hope of ever planting their footprints in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater, people have said, "It's that guy!" He's somebody. You know his face for a reason. But his name escapes you. For all his years of acting, the guy might as well be a face on a milk cartoon.

Now, at long last, there's help. There's "That Guy!"

That Guy! is a Web site devoted to the nameless faces that keep you up at night.

Lucky for you, the friendly folks at found That Guy! And Neatorama is one of the nearly 200 Web sites I scan every day to bring you vital information like this, allowing you to get some sleep instead of obsessing over actors who may have been dead for 10 or 20 years for all you know.

Online at, That Guy! lets you scroll through photos of character actors — much like looking through a book of mug shots at the police station — in search of that guy. And like any good collection of mug shots, it contains many of the usual suspects.

Looking for that guy who always plays either the grubby campfire cook in old westerns or the redneck moonshiner? You're probably thinking of Dub Taylor. Or what about the guy who played something like a dozen different characters over the course of "M*A*S*H" and was the go-to guy for Asian roles throughout the 1970s? Yeah, that's James Hong.

If you're like me, and the parts of your brain that could otherwise be curing cancer or picking winning horses at the track are instead filled with a century's worth of useless cultural trivia, you may think you don't need That Guy!

You'd be wrong.

Even trained professionals get stumped sometimes. For example, I used to get Peter Mark Richman confused with Robert Lansing. In the 1960s, Richman guest starred in "The Outer Limits" and "The Twilight Zone," two shows known for "that guy" casting. Lansing, meanwhile, starred in the second-season "Star Trek" episode "Assignment: Earth" and went on to a recurring role in the 1980s CBS crime drama "The Equalizer."

Then I became addicted to buying packs of "Outer Limits" and "Twilight Zone" trading cards, hoping with each pack to obtain one of the rare cards autographed by William Shatner — or at least Jack Klugman. Instead, I got Richman's autograph. Twice. And I ended up paying $50 to get Shatner's card from eBay. Believe me, I never got Richman and Lansing confused again.

That Guy! is a work in progress. For example, while it does include Richman, Lansing is missing. And any listing of character actors that doesn't include Earl Holliman ("Police Woman") is by definition not comprehensive.

But the next time you blank out on Henry Silva or Michael Ansara — they both played Kane on "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," but only one of them was ever a Klingon — maybe That Guy! can help you out.

At the least, it could keep your next drunken argument about who played the lazy-eyed doctor in "The Cannonball Run" from turning violent. (Hint: It's Jack Elam. And I didn't have to look that up.)

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