You know who they are. They’re the chameleon actors and actresses who make you snap your fingers, yell out, "Hey! It’s That Guy!" The ones who consistently turn in near-brilliant performances in leading or supporting roles. The ones who don’t always make it into the glossy pages of People magazine or onto entertainment shows such as “Access Hollywood.” They’re the ones who get snubbed come Emmy, Oscar and Golden Globe time.
While they may not be Hollywood’s latest “It Guys and Girls,” or rake in gold statuettes, these 10 actors and actresses are some of the best in the game right now. Hopefully, Hollywood will catch on soon and show more of these chronically underused actors.
This British born, classically trained dancer turned to acting after an injury sidelined his dancing career. Walker is probably best known for his explosive, intense turn as Kareem Said on the hit HBO series "Oz." Walker has also lent his quiet intensity to movies such as "Once in the Life" (which co-starred Laurence Fishburne), the children’s tale "Duma," and most recently to the Nicholas Cage vehicle "Lord of War," in which he plays a ruthless African dictator.
Although Wright, a Washington, D.C. native, garnered an Emmy and Golden Globe for his turn in the HBO miniseries "Angels in America," he’s easily one of the most underappreciated actors in Hollywood. Wright’s strength lies in his ability to completely embody whatever role is give to him. Whether playing a Dominican drug dealer in "Shaft," a tortured, genius artist in the critically acclaimed film "Basquiat," or an Ethiopian fascinated by detective work in his latest film "Broken Flowers," Wright commits 100 percent. It’s a wonder he doesn’t already have a few Oscars under his belt.
Idris Elba, hailing from London, is another HBO veteran. For two years he starred on "The Wire" as Russell "Stringer" Bell, a drug dealer who tried to stay two steps ahead of the Baltimore police department. Elba also gave a heartfelt, vulnerable performance in the HBO film "Sometimes in April," which recalls the 1994 Rwandan genocide as seen through the eyes of two brothers.
Mackie isn’t too well-known, although he should be. He starred in the critically acclaimed Showtime miniseries "Sucker Free City" (produced by Spike Lee) as a gangster with a heart of gold and a head on his shoulders. The charismatic Mackie took would could have been a stereotypical hustler role and turned it on its head. He made his character both sympathetic and provocative and makes you wish he starred in more high-profile projects.
Luke delivered a solid, Oscar-worthy performance in his first feature film "The Antwone Fisher Story," which was directed by Denzel Washington. His subtle, understated acting drove the film, belying his age and limited experience. He brings the same level of gravitas and subtlety to the 2002 thriller "Spartan," the offbeat comedy "Pieces of April," and even schlock like "Biker Boyz."
King, who started her career at the age of 14 on the sitcom "227" avoided the pitfalls so many child stars wouldn’t or couldn’t, turning in intense performances in movies as varied as "Boyz in the Hood," "Poetic Justice," "Enemy of the State," and most recently "Ray." While Jamie Foxx garnered much deserved praise for his role as Ray Charles, it would have been nice to see King earn recognition as a woman scorned. King’s latest venture will be voicing precocious youths Huey and Riley Freeman in the animated version of the comic strip "The Boondocks," which will debut on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block on Nov. 6.
This Bronx native, got her first major role as the prototypical Black Friend in "Save the Last Dance" with Julia Stiles. Thank goodness Washington was able to parlay that success into meatier roles. She gave a moving, emotional performance in "Ray," and also starred Don Cheadle’s girlfriend in the film "The United States of Leland" which explores the mind of a troubled teenager. She’ll also be starring in the upcoming movie "The Last King of Scotland."
Who could forget Elise’s turn in "Set It Off" as the shy, introverted single mother who joins her friends on a bank robbing spree? Elise continues to show how much range she has, and in some cases manages to elevate the material she’s given- have you seen "John Q"? Elise, who currently stars on CBS’s "Close To Home," has proven time and again she’s a quiet storm of passion. Here’s hoping the Academy recognizes that sooner than later.
Thandie Newton’s best asset is her versatility. So far, she has played a heroin addict in the Tupac Shakur movie "Gridlock’d, the title character in "Beloved," based on Toni Morrsion’s haunting account of the lingering effects of slavery, and a covert ops agent in the Tom Cruise action caper "Mission Impossible: 2." Newton most recently starred in the ensemble drama "Crash," as a middle-class wife whose comfortable world is shattered after a run-in with a racist police officer. Newton’s other strength is that she isn’t afraid to let herself be vulnerable. Here’s hoping she becomes a more high-profile Hollywood player and soon.
The most memorable moment in the 1995 caper "Dead Presidents," was Wright, her face painted an eerie black and white, bursting from a dumpster, guns blazing during a bank robbery gone awry. That role should have put her over the top and transformed her into an action heroine for the ages. A black Jennifer Garner, if you will. Alas, though Wright gave solid performances in "Blade" and the short-lived series "Platinum," she has been relegated to movies beneath her caliber, such as "Civil Brand." One hopes that she will find another breakout role that will make Hollywood producers realize just how talented she is.