If you’re a real pop culture nerd, chances are you get as excited when you see a supporting character with a familiar face as you do when one of your faves is the star. Let’s celebrate these heroes!…
Back in the early World Wide Web days, defunct site Fametracker had an awesome column called “Hey, It’s That Guy!”, celebrating character actors and actresses from all your favorite things. So we’re showing our love for that idea every so often in our Friday Five by doing the same, and this week we’re taking a trip down the banana stand! It’s no exaggeration to say that Arrested Development featured a boatload of extremely talented character actors, comic stalwarts and favorites from your favorites. (And occasionally some bonafide movie stars, too… Charlize Theron!!) It would be a very long piece indeed if we highlighted all of them, so we’ve chosen a handful for this week’s column who are among our very favorites, for reasons…. and in some cases, highlighting the other places you can check out their work. Let’s get to it. NO TOUCHING!
(NOTE: We also decided to leave out those guest appearances where actors are playing themselves, for the sake of “character actor” criteria. Because let’s face it, if there’s one all-time greatest guest star in this show, it’s Carl Weathers playing himself. “Baby, you got a stew goin’!”**)
Martin Mull (Gene Parmesan)
There is only one man who can make Lucille Bluth react with such unparalleled glee as in that GIF at the top of this article. And no, it’s not her husband’s twin brother that she’s been having a secret affair with for years… it’s GENE PARMESAN! The Bluth family’s private detective who is just so darn good at disguises – or at least Lucille thinks he is, the rest of the fam aren’t so impressed – is played by Martin Mull, who has been a comedy presence in parts large and small for decades. Most fans probably recall him best as either Colonel Mustard from the Clue feature film, or as Leon Carp on Roseanne; Mull’s comedy chops go back decades earlier, though. The most cult-favorite comedy credit on Mull’s CV is probably co-lead (with Fred Willard) of Fernwood 2 Night, a late 1970s parody of small-town America in the form of a supremely lo-fi talk show. Look the episodes up on YouTube. It’s a riot.
Mae Whitman (Ann Veal)
Her?! Indeed; though generally a decent guy compared to his family, Michael was never terribly kind to his son George Michael’s girlfriend Ann Veal, projecting a sort of aspiration for the type of girlfriend his son should have rather than accept the boy’s affection for a girl who’s just a good hearted person. (And, you know, who isn’t his cousin who he has a secret crush on.) Through most of it, though, Ann appeared unfazed… and most likely, all too familiar if you watched a lot of films in the 90’s. As a child actress, Mae Whitman’s biggest role was as presidential daughter Patricia Whitmore in Independence Day, among other films. Since AD, her profile has raised as a regular cast member on TV’s Parenthood, and of course sparring with her ex-tv-boyfriend over his new girlfriend as Roxy Richter (Evil Ex #4 out of 7) in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. (“You punched me in the boob! Prepare to die, obviously!”)
John Michael Higgins (Wayne Jarvis)
So many great, versatile players circulated through the halls of the Bluth Company and its environs on Arrested, it’s hard to single out anyone as a consummate character performer here, especially when the characters themselves are so out-there. (Judy Greer as Kitty Sanchez, the angry flasher? Amazing.) Yet as a perfect example of the sort of everyfellow who blends right into a scene until you suddenly go “Hang on a minute, I know him!”… John Michael Higgins is a legend. He doesn’t ever go too hard on accents or radically changing his physical appearance, but he blends so seamlessly from characters like insufferably smug lawyer Wayne Jarvis in AD, to his show-stopper as the flamboyant Shih-Tzu handler Scott Donlan in Christopher Guest’s Best In Show. (“I was worried about that Pom!”… “Oh, PLEASE. The Pom broke his gait, he might as well have taken a dump!”) Higgins is also a prolific voice-over actor, providing voices for shows from The Legend of Korra to Bob’s Burgers.
Justine Bateman (Nellie)
A running-casting-gag throughout Arrested Development‘s run has been intra-personal guest spots, such as the Happy Days connection between Henry Winkler (as Barry Zuckercorn), Scott Baio (as Bob Loblaw) and narrator/producer Ron Howard; or the appearance of Gob’s “forgotten” wife played by Will Arnett’s then-real life-wife Amy Poehler. Probably the most amazing of all, of course, was the episode in Season 3 entitled, quite pointedly, “Family Ties”… in which Michael attempts to track down a woman named Nellie who he believes may be a long-lost Bluth sister. Who is also played by Jason Bateman’s real life sister, Justine Bateman. Who was also one of the stars of the mega-hit 80’s sitcom Family Ties….WHAAAAAT, there’s so many layers to this episode, yo! But mostly, it was just at treat to watch these two sibs have a ball, and particularly to have she who was Mallory Keaton back on our screens. (Justine doesn’t act frequently as much any more, but she’s made a foray into directing in recent years.)
John Beard (Uh… Himself, OKAY WE MAYBE LIED ABOUT THAT PART.)
Yeah, alright fiiiiiine… we said we were going to exclude actors playing themselves. That said, I think we can get away with this one because technically, John Beard is not an actor. He’s an actualfax news anchor, and one who if you grew up anywhere in Southern California you are extremely familiar with. Another terrific running joke throughout AD is Beard’s sudden appearances on the TV any time some crazy bullcrap involving the Bluths becomes news. (See above, banana stand go BOOM.) What makes this such a joy to those of us who grew up in SoCal is seeing John Beard’s face and hearing that voice; he would probably be the dude delivering that news in real life! Beard now works out of Buffalo, NY, but from the mid-80’s to the late-2000’s he was a staple in the Los Angeles news scene, including an incident at NBC affiliate KNBC where a crazed gunman tried to hold the live news crew at gunpoint and he wrestled the weapon away. (A legend and a hero. THIS DUDE.) He’s also upholding the fine tradition of ZZ Top’s Frank Beard, of being guys named Beard who don’t sport beards. (Though in John’s case, he did rock a pretty rad mustache in the 80’s.)
** Hang on, we just remembered Mock Trial with Judge Reinhold. Crap.