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5 Fun Facts About Character Actors

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Slade Sohmer

By Slade Sohmer on March 4, 2013

These facts are straight-up mindgrape-crushers …

1. Steven Hill, best known as the gruff Law & Order district attorney full a pithy rejoinders, starred in Season 1 of the original Mission:Impossible.


Look at that young, fresh face.

steven hill

Why did Hill leave M:I? Hill reportedly clashed with producers, because as a believer in Orthodox Judaism, he refused to film on the Sabbath. There were other problems, including his refusal to do certain stunts. He was later replaced by the man synonymous now with the show, Peter Graves.

2. John Cazale, a 1970s character best known for playing Fredo Corleone, only starred in five motion pictures. Every single one of them was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

NY Mag

The Godfather, The Godfather Part II and The Deer Hunter all won Best Picture. Dog Day Afternoon lost to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and The Conversation lost to The Godfather Part II. Cazale died of cancer in 1978 at age 42, shortly after filming his role in The Deer Hunter.

Cazale was also romantically involved with Meryl Streep for several years before his death. Al Pacino said of Streep during Cazale’s final years, “I’ve hardly ever seen a person so devoted to someone who is falling away like John was. To see her in that act of love for this man was overwhelming.”

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3. The Wire’s Ukrainian enforcer, Sergei Malatov (why always Boris?!), is convincing in every regard. Only the actor who portrays him, Chris Ashworth, isn’t Ukrainian, or Russian. Not even close. He’s from Virginia.

This demo reel shows off his southern accent after the Sergei cut:

Of his casting, Ashworth told Television Without Pity:

I was in Southwest Virginia and they cast out of Baltimore…I guess they were looking for an authentic Russian, even though [Sergei’s] Ukrainian. They couldn’t find one in L.A. or New York, and the local director in Baltimore, Pat Moran, called me. I had met her a couple of years beforehand. She told me that she’d told HBO that I was really Russian. [laughs] I was like, “What?” I really didn’t know how to proceed. I try to be the epitome of southern hospitality and not deceive people, and she said I would get over it, she would get over it, and that’s acting. And she was right. So I went and auditioned for that role as a Russian. And let me tell you, Chris Ashworth does not sound Russian whatsoever.

Ashworth is also not a fan of liberal actors: “They just want to bow to Obama, and they can’t have an intellectual conversation.”

4. Vincent Schiavelli, who taught the Ridgemont High kids and yelled at Swayze’s ghost to get off his train, won a James Beard Foundation journalism award in 2001 for an L. A. Times article on Sicilian cooking.


Schiavelli also played the first openly gay character on TV, a set designer in an ABC sitcom called The Corner Bar in 1972.

5. Stephen Tobolowski — “Needlenose Ned?” “Ned the Head?” — was supposed to play the role of plaid sidekick Al Borland on Home Improvement before scheduling conflicts forced him out.


Not only that, but it was Tobolowski who suggested to the show’s producers that they look at his friend Patricia Richardson for the role of Jill Taylor.

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