The Tao of Lenny Venito
So, I'm sorting through the nameless TV Critic hell that is watching each and every new show advanced by the networks this fall -- oh, look honey, this one is like Grumpy Old Men have a midlife crisis! -- and I see this guy.
And you know right away he's one of those dudes. Those actors you see in TV shows all the time, clocking in way-cool performances, but never famous enough to get a blurb in People magazine, let alone space in your memory banks for their name or their story.
This time, I was watching Lenny Venito in an amazingly funny ABC show pilot that once had a cool name -- Let's Rob Mick Jagger -- and now does not: The Knights of Prosperity. I know, it sounds lame -- but it's actually a side-splitting, absurdist blend of Dumb and Dumber and Reservoir Dogs, as a host of working-class misfits try pulling a heist they think will make their dreams come true, led by Donal Logue (The Tao of Steve) and written by the creators of Ed for David Letterman's production company.
But I digress. Because Venito caught my eye as Logue's buddy Squatch, a janitor stuck on the night shift who likes nothing more than shining laser pointer lights on people's naughty bits (see the pilot; that explains all). And I remembered where else I had seen him: as a greasy prison guard on FX's Rescue Me; as Christopher Moltisanti's right hand, "Murmur" Zancone on The Sopranos; as Manny the Mechanic in Spielberg's War of the Worlds.
You need greasy, working class, vaguely Italian guy, Lenny' s your man. And it got me thinking about all the other cool character actors who don't get their due in Hollywood. The folks who seem to be everywhere, yet nowhere at once. Folks like...(click photo to enlarge)
J.K. Simmons -- HBO is a great haven for underappreciated character guys (Clancy Brown's devilish preacher on Carnivale; Harry Dean Stanton's magnetic cult leader on Big Love, et. al), so it was fitting that one of the greatest contemporary character guys would get his start as a homocidal, homosexual white supremacist prison inmate on OZ. Since then, he's been the world weary psychologist Emil Skoda on Law & Order, over-the-top newsman J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man movies and, most interestingly, buttoned-down assistant police chief Will Pope on TNT's the Closer.
Gerald McRaney -- Typecast as the gruff half of Simon & Simon and later as a tightass military doofus on the formulaic comedy Major Dad, McRainey has finally gotten a chance to show his acting chops as ruthless gold baron George Hearst in Deadwood. going toe-to-toe with another character acting great, Ian McShane, McRaney's performance is almost enough to make you forget he was in Commando Nanny. Almost.
Wendell Pierce -- He's playing det. william "bunk" moreland on HBO's The Wire these days, but he's been Steven Weber's best friend on his ill-fated sictom, Gregory Hines' best friend on his long-gone comedy, and basically a smooth-as-silk spark plug wherever he pops up.
Bruno Kirby -- Recently popped up on HBO's hit Entourage, Kirby sealed his character chops with best friend roles in films like City Slickers, When Harry Met sally, and the ultimate pal -- Vito Corleone's early partner in crime in the Godfather II. Kirby makes the list, in part, because he just passed away from leukemia -- a too-soon end for a guy whose passion and charisma lit up many a supporting role.
Well, you've seen my Hall of Fame list -- what about yours?