Actors often talk about their craft. They create exercises and word games to find their character and motivations. But from time to time a director will pluck an unknown off the street and cast them in a part. Not just an unknown-but a non-actor. Hardly a rarity but not as common as you might think.
Acting isn’t as easy as it looks. So, to have just any old person come off the street and plop them in front of the camera and yell, “Action” is no guarantee of success. Thad and Jeremiah have made a list of a handful of people who, while not “actors” per se, turned in a moving or memorable performance.
And, no, Tommy Wiseau is not on this list.
1. Dwight Henry (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Dwight Henry is a bakery owner. Somehow he found himself playing Wink, the father to Quvenzhane Wallis’ Hushpuppy. Henry’s performance is a brash unflinching portrait of a man trying to raise his daughter. He struggles to keep her connected to the roots of her community. His Wink is a deeply flawed man, but somehow Henry conveys the bone-deep love he has for his daughter without asking us to forgive his flaws.
2. Shayla McHale (Support the Girls)
You might know her by her stage name as the rapper Junglepussy, but Miss McHale gave a sterling performance up against none other than Regina Hall. McHale’s Danyelle was a single mother and best friend to Hall’s Lisa, who played somewhat of a one-woman Greek chorus. Her Danyelle was a confident, clear-eyed, truth teller to her best friend and manager on the verge of collapse.
3. Ricky Jay (Heist and other movies)
A sleight of hand artist and curiosity collector, Ricky Jay was an unforgettable face and voice. From Paul Thomas Anderson to David Mamet movies, whenever Jay appeared onscreen you couldn’t help but smile. With his shambling gait and unassuming and laconic patter, Jay had a singular way of delivering dialogue, “My motherfucker is so cool when he goes to bed, sheep count him.” It’s hard to tell if it’s the line or Jay’s delivery that makes it so memorable, but it’s safe to say no other person would have delivered it quite so perfectly.
4. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor (Tangerine)
Trans people playing trans characters are a rare sight to see in the movies, much less characters that are not some kind of saint or savior. Which is why Sean Baker’s Tangerine is so refreshing. Baker not only hired two trans women to play two trans sex workers, he hired actual sex workers, as well. Sin-Dee (Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Taylor) were temperamental, selfish, abrasive, and defensive, and we loved them. Rodriguez and Taylor, thanks to Baker, were allowed to convey rich full characters as opposed to cheap, shallow stereotypes.
5. Enrique Irazoqui (The Gospel According to St. Matthew)
Pier Paolo Pasolini was part of the Italian New Wave movement. He decided to tell the story of Matthew using the text itself as the script. That being said, a Spanish-Econ major who drove trucks during the summer is still an odd choice to play Jesus Christ. Honest and forthright, Irazoqui’s Christ is a firebrand activist who strives to spread a message of peace and love. Ironically, being a non-actor, Irazoqui found the one key to playing Christ that no other actor seems to have understood: he played him without sentimentality.