Character Actor Spotlight: Stephen Dillane

This is a new, recurring segment on Big Hollywood where we focus on some of the best talent you (generally speaking) have never heard of. You’ll remember these people as “the bad guy fighting George Clooney” or “the main girl’s funny best friend.” These wonderful actors often make up most of what’s great about films but rarely get A-list consideration. No, you won’t see their name on the marquee; in fact, you’ll have to wait for the credits to roll.

Actor: Stephen Dillane

You know him as: Thomas Jefferson (“John Adams,” 2008), Harry Vardon (“The Greatest Game Ever Played,” 2005), and as a ‘semi’-antagonist Harker (“Spy Game,” 2001)

This guy is a personal favorite. I hate, hate, hate to put the “unknown” tag on him, because there is apparently no justice in this world; I do this with great reluctance. While Dillane doesn’t have the movie star glow to him, his characters usually have twice the amount of depth as their leading counterparts. He is a very natural actor to watch, and he complements the other aspects of his films by playing his part well. There is a bit of commonality to his roles. For the most part, he seems to know situations in and out. While some actors are typecast to a certain role (mafia, military, etc.), Dillane is always the smart one in the room.

In “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” Dillane takes on the role of one of the early great golfers. In this unappreciated gem, Dillane has a quiet stillness to his character and is easily the best figure to watch in the film. He plays opposite Shia LeBeouf’s lead character but is charming and a great mentor to witness in action.

In “Spy Game,” Dillane plays Harker, a higher-up official in the CIA interviewing Robert Redford’s character throughout the film. While he is certainly not the bad guy, his character’s objectives are constantly derailed by Redford’s actions. Yes, you are rooting for Redford as an audience. But while Dillane has a slight pompousness to this role, he is still likable as an authority figure with his sights on upholding the law. As one of his bigger roles, he also must play a character always a step behind, which I see as a streak of humility in Dillane’s repertoire.

As Thomas Jefferson in HBO Miniseries “John Adams,” Dillane played arguably his biggest role yet. This time heads were turned, and it earned him an Emmy Nomination. Opposite Paul Giamatti (who could’ve been on this list ten years ago), Dillane portrayed the founding father as a very direct intellectual. There are few smiles but many concise moments in Adam’s and Jefferson’s meandering friendship. Again, he’s created a character who always knows what’s going on.

I hope for Dillane’s star to rise further than it has; it would be criminal otherwise. But at the same time, his nuanced, quiet, mentoring/informative portrayals are perfect where they are. Be on the look out for Dillane’s future roles and the awards that are sure to follow.

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