Powered by i.TV
August 27, 2015

TV's Best Utility Players: Five Versatile Actors Who Can Do It All

by Ryan McKee, posted Aug 18th 2010 5:00PM
In baseball, a utility player is someone who can play several different positions well. These athletes are not usually the stars of the team, but they do whatever grunt work is necessary for the team to shine. Since that level of versatility is rare, those who can move seamlessly between positions are highly admired by their teammates.

While this same characteristic is valued in film stars -- take chameleons Johnny Depp and Gary Oldman, for example -- TV actors, on the other hand, historically perform best when choosing roles of a similar nature. Not anymore.

A number of today's gifted actors are standing out by proving their versatility, nailing dramatic characters as well as sitcom roles. Of those multifaceted actors, here are the five we think are the best utility players on TV.

5. Alison Brie
Notable roles: Trudy Campbell on 'Mad Men,' Annie Edison on 'Community'
Versatility Fact: Before stardom, Brie worked as a clown at birthday parties.
Details: Few actors, especially at such a young age, can accomplish playing two unique characters on two completely different hit shows at the same time. Casual viewers don't even connect the two characters -- Brie said in an interview that almost no one recognizes her as Trudy in everyday life.

4. Kevin Alejandro
Notable roles: Detective Nate Moretta on 'Southland,' Jesus Velasquez on 'True Blood'
Versatility Fact: He played Dominic Hughes for 15 episodes on 'The Young and the Restless.'
Details: Over the last five years, Alejandro's credits range from a gay hustler on 'Big Love' to an Islamic Latin gang member in 'Sleeper Cell' to the father of a gay son on 'Ugly Betty' to a rival biker in 'Sons of Anarchy.' He plays gay and straight so naturally, it's hard to tell which he is in real life. Straight, it turns out.

3. Neil Patrick Harris
Notable roles: Doogie on 'Doogie Howser, M.D.,' Barney Stinson on 'How I Met Your Mother'
Versatility Fact: He once demonstrated his magician skills on a Jerry Lewis Telethon.
Details: Few child stars are able to become adult stars, and even fewer openly gay actors are able to land high-profile straight roles. After being typecast as Doogie for years, Harris now has four Emmy nominations for playing womanizer Barney. This year he's also nominated for his guest appearance on 'Glee' and his hosting duties on the Tony Awards.

2. John Lithgow
Notable roles: Dr. Dick Solomon on '3rd Rock from the Sun,' Arthur Mitchell on 'Dexter'
Versatility Fact: Graduated from Harvard University with a BA in history and literature.
Details: A respected film actor for decades, Lithgow led the over-the-top sitcom '3rd Rock' for six seasons. He was nominated for an Emmy each year and won three. After seeing how well he can play goofy, it's remarkable that he transitioned so seamlessly into playing a completely terrifying serial killer on last season's 'Dexter.'

1. Katey Sagal
Notable roles: Peg Bundy on 'Married ... with Children,' Cate Hennessey on '8 Simple Rules,' Turanga Leela on 'Futurama,' Gemma Teller Morrow on 'Sons of Anarchy' and Helen Norwood on 'Lost'
Versatility Fact: Before acting, she sang backup for Bob Dylan, Tanya Tucker and Gene Simmons, whom she also dated.
Details: Not to take anything away from this year's Emmy nominees for Best Actress in a Drama Series, but Sagal was robbed. Her character in 'SOA' is easily one of the most fascinating and devious female roles on television. Even worse, she has never been nominated. Who could have guessed Peg Bundy would end up being the brains behind a feared biker gang?

Honorable mentions: Bryan Cranston ('Malcolm in the Middle,' 'Breaking Bad'), Jon Hamm ('Mad Men,' '30 Rock'), Zosia Mamet ('United States of Tara,' 'Mad Men')

Who are some of your favorite utility players on TV?

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:
B.P. Dumas

Ian McShane is a very excellent actor, he did a excellent film,its very obscure now because its out of print and never was put on DVD,its called "The great riveria bank robbery" where he played the mastermind of a combined gang of ex french foreign legionaires and local gangsters who dug into a bank vault in southern france in 1976 (June/July I beleive) and broke into the safety deposit boxes, its a true story,the leader of the gang was simply referred as "the brain",played by McShane. excellent film, unfortunately, its never on cable and you have to have a VHS copy. I do luckily.

August 19 2010 at 10:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
B.P. Dumas

I love Sons of Anarchy, all the characters, best series since the sopranos.

August 19 2010 at 10:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Kevin Alejandro was also excellent in a recurring role on "UGLY BETTY" as Hilda's husband and Justin's father (Betty's sister and nephew).

August 19 2010 at 6:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No one on TV touches Jared Harris' versatility from cold serial killers to drunken gypsies to uptight accountants

August 19 2010 at 4:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Garret Dillahunt has been in tons of stuff lately, very diverse characters. Also Dean Winters - same thing. In fact they were both in Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles, along with like a dozen other shows.

August 19 2010 at 10:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bruce's comment

Completely agree...Garret Dillahunt continues to amaze me in everything he's in.

August 19 2010 at 6:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tony DIMeo

What About Edie Falco? she lead The SOPRANOS for six seasons and now she's on the very funny showtime comedy NURSE JACKIE

August 18 2010 at 11:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John Hewitt

3rd Rock WAS stupid. It was also brilliantly entertaining, thanks mainly to an incredible cast lead by John Lithgow.

August 18 2010 at 7:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John F.C. Taylor

John Lithgow is a great actor. Pity that he had to associate himself with a show like 3rd Rock. That show was terribly stupid.

August 18 2010 at 7:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to John F.C. Taylor's comment

Always thought Lithgow was amazing. Comedy, drama, transexual, over the top psycho killer, he can do it all.

August 19 2010 at 2:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What about David Duchovny? He went from the X-Files to Californication. And he did a great comedic sendup of himself on The Larry Sanders Show too.

August 18 2010 at 6:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Miriam's comment

Don't forget playing the transvestite 'Denise' in Twin Peaks!

August 18 2010 at 8:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Ian McShane
"Deadwood" .... Al Swearengen
"Kings" .... King Silas Benjamin
"The Pillars of the Earth" .... Waleran

August 18 2010 at 6:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Follow Us

From Our Partners