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Ben Affleck's new film Argo is earning some of the best reviews of any film this year, with promises that it's a thriller that will have you biting your nails and literally cheering in the theater (seriously, I saw it happen). All of that is true. But the thing nobody is emphasizing nearly as much as they should is that Argo is positively crammed full of actors you recognize, and not in the "galaxy of a thousand stars!" way of the Ocean's movies, but in the "Wait, where do I know him and him from?" way that will have you scratching your head throughout the movie. Argo is packed with familiar faces, but you might be too distracted by looking them up in your mental IMDB to properly enjoy the movie.
That's why we're here to help, with a Guide to the That Guys of Argo. We're skipping over director/star Ben Affleck and co-stars John Goodman and Alan Arkin, since all three are movie stars you're guaranteed to recognize anywhere (and in case you're still struggling with Goodman and Arkin, click here and here). But let's move on to the real "that guys" of the movie, faces you're bound to recognize but may not be able to place. No spoilers for Argo follow, just a full rundown of all the major characters and scratching that "where do I know him from?" itch that we know you'll have while watching the movie. Now you can enjoy the year's best thriller in peace.
Who He Plays: Jack O'Donnell, a CIA operative who works closely with Tony Mendez.
Where You Know Him From: Lately, it's almost definitely as Walter White, the sociopathic lead character of Breaking Bad. He also spent years as the goofy dad on Malcolm in the Middle and pops up in tons of movies these days, most recently Total Recall, Rock of Ages, John Carter and Red Tails. Yeah, he's had a pretty good year.
Who He Plays: Hamilton Jordan, Chief of Staff to President Jimmy Carter.
Where You Know Him From: Winning an Emmy for his final season on Friday Night Lights as Coach Taylor, probably. Since that show made him relatively famous, he's also appeared in Super 8, The Day the Earth Stood Still and on episodes of Grey's Anatomy. He'll also be in Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty later this year.
Who He Plays: Max Klein, screenwriter of the fake movie Argo.
Where You Know Him From: There are no images available of Kind in Argo since his role essentially amounts to a cameo, but it's also the film's comic highlight. He's got the comic background for it-- he played Paul Lassiter for many seasons on TV's Spin City, and has also had roles in more recent comedies like For Your Consideration, The Producers and Bewitched. You're also very likely to remember him as the cyst-suffering Uncle Arthur in the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man.
Who He Plays: Ken Taylor, the Canadian Ambassador to Iran who housed the six escaped Americans.
Where You Know Him From: He's shown up on every TV show from Frasier to Glee, but he's best known there for playing Sydney's dad Jack Bristow on Alias. He also memorably played Mr. Andrews in Titanic, Mayor Moscone in Milk, and the other guy weeping over The Dirty Dozen in Sleepless in Seattle.
Who He Plays: Bob Anders, the oldest of the "houseguests" hiding out at the Canadian Embassy.
Where You Know Him From: He used to date Jennifer Anderson back in the day, but you're more likely to recognize him from movies like Good Night, And Good Luck and Love Potion No. 9, as Tom Shayes on Damages or as the beleaguered Jimmy Cooper in The O.C. He also, naturally, appeared on Friends.
Who She Plays: Cora Lijek, one of the "houseguests" hiding out at the Canadian embassy.
Where You Know Her From: Depending on how many times you've re-watched teen movies of the 90s, you remember her from Can't Hardly Wait and The Faculty, or in more grown-up roles from Girl, Interrupted, 21 Grams, Zodiac and Conviction. At least one person has described her to me as "the girl from Carnivale," so there's that, and also a stint on Heroes.
Who He Plays: Mark Lijek, one of the "houseguests" hiding out at the Canadian embassy.
Where You Know Him From: He's got one of the shortest resumes in this cast, but he's moving up fast-- he appeared in a lead role this year's celebrated indie Sound of My Voice, and has popped up in smaller parts in Shutter Island, Duplicity and Charlie Wilson's War .
Who He Plays: Joe Stafford, one of the "houseguests" hiding out at the Canadian embassy.
Where You Know Him From: Another guy with a strong indie resume, including In Search of a Midnight Kiss and Monsters, directed by future Godzilla helmer Gareth Edwards. He'll be working with Ben Affleck's pal Matt Damon in The Promised Land later this year, and also appears in the Brad Pitt film Killing Them Softly, due in the fall
Who She Plays: Kathy Stafford, one of the "houseguests" hiding out at the Canadian embassy.
Where You Know Her From: Though she has a mysterious credit as "Twenty-Something Girl Dreaming" in the Sex and the City movie, she had a sizable part in Kevin Smith's Red State as the sympathetic young girl living with the strict Christian cult. She also played Lucy Bennett on the final season of Scrubs, and she's appeared in two recent Ed Burns movies, Newlyweds and Nice Guy Johnny.
Who He Plays: Lee Schatz, one of the "houseguests" hiding out at the Canadian embassy.
Where You Know Him From: You've got to go a little further back for his biggest movie roles, as Ron Slater in Dazed and Confused and Lucas in Empire Records. From there he played Greg Seaton for seven episodes of 24 in 2009, and popped up in movies like Public Enemies, A Scanner Darkly and Hart's War.
Who He Plays: Malinov, one of the CIA guys back in Washington helping pull the mission off.
Where You Know Him From: For a long time Messina was just constantly popping up in supporting roles in good small films, from Ruby Sparks and Celeste & Jesse Forever this year to Julie & Julia to Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Now he's got a regular gig as the likely love interest to Mindy Kaling's character on The Mindy Project, while also probably preparing to return for a second season on The Newsroom.
Who He Plays: Robert Pender, the CIA guy who initially suggests helping the houseguests escape Iran by using bicycles.
Where You Know Him From: He's having a really big year, showing up in Seven Psychopaths and, very memorably, as the lab worker who goes on a shooting spree in The Bourne Legacy. He's also had roles in Tower Heist and Live Free or Die Hard, and he had regular parts on The Mob Doctor and The Event until, well, both of those shows were canceled.
Who He Plays: Bates, the CIA guy who initially supports the crazy bicycle plan.
Where You Know Him From: I know I, at least, will never be able to think of him as anything other than the mysterious Man in Black, revealed in the final season of Lost as the guy who eventually turns in the Smoke Monster. But he also had a recurring role on Sons of Anarchy and The Good Wife, and worked with Affleck previously in The Town. He'll also appear in The Promised Land with Matt Damon later this year.
Philip Baker Hall
Who He Plays: The unnamed CIA boss.
Where You Know Him From: Several memorable performances for Paul Thomas ANderson in Boogie Nights, Hard Eight and Magnolia, plus appearances in countless classics-- Midnight Run, Say Anything, Air Force One, The Insider, The Contender, Dogville, Zodiac, and most recently 50/50. OK, and also Mr. Popper's Penguins.
Who He Plays:Cryus Vance, the other CIA boss.
Where You Know Him From: He was in Trouble with the Curve just last month, and has a recurring role on Royal Pains. Like Hall he's also been in a million movies, going all the way back to Glory and The Shawshank Redemption.