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Guest Role: Christopher Guest’s Mockumentary Ensemble

Posted November 18, 2018 Categories 90S, 2000S, COMEDY, CANADIAN CONNECTIONS
Guest Role: Christopher Guest’s Mockumentary Ensemble

As a comedic director, Christopher Guest is known for surrounding himself with a group of offbeat improvisers that give his films a realistic but hilarious edge. This troupe of actors come back, movie after movie, to lend their special touch. That fact makes his films the best place to see some of Hollywood’s top comedic character actors in lead roles.

While everyone knows names like Canada’s Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, we thought we’d highlight ten other actors who shine in the films of Christopher Guest.

Jennifer Coolidge

Signature
Uninhibited characters who don’t quite understand what’s going on around them.

Where did they come from?
Boston-born Coolidge trained in theatre but got her comedic start with the L.A. sketch troupe The Groundlings. Coolidge started out with many famous faces, she even served at a restaurant where Sandra Bullock was the host, but she didn’t get her big break until she was in her late 30s. This leaves her filmography, especially in the 90s, full of small and unexpected guest roles. She has a Teen Choice Award for “Choice Movie Sleazebag” thanks to her villainous role in A Cinderella Story.

First big role
She first showed up as Jerry’s masseuse girlfriend in Seinfeld but her career didn’t take off until she was Stifler’s Mom in American Pie.

Jennifer Coolidge in For Your Consideration (2006) Jennifer Coolidge in For Your Consideration (2006)

Started working with Christopher Guest on
Best In Show (2000)

Comedy lesson
“All the time I don’t know what I’m going to say next. A lot of these improvisers just have a million smart lines and they’re waiting to spit them out. I think I get credit for my timing because I have no idea what I’m going to say next, and people think I’m holding back on purpose. Seriously!”

Where else have I seen them?
Legally Blonde (2001), Trial and Error (1997), 2 Broke Girls

Michael Hitchcock

Signature
Irascible, snooty dorks just waiting to lose it.

Where did they come from?
Michael Hitchcock credits many of his character choices with growing up in the idiosyncratic American Midwest. Another Groundlings alumni, Hitchcock began his Hollywood career primarily as a screenwriter on 90s films like Problem Child 3, House Arrest and Where The Day Takes You. His fellow Groundlings got him involved at MADtv as a writer and producer and he went on to do the same for Glee and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, as well as performing bit parts in both shows.

First big role/Started working with Christopher Guest on
Most people first saw Michael Hitchcock thanks to Guest in Waiting for Guffman (1996).

Parker Posey (right) and Michael Hitchcock (left) in Best in Show (2000). Parker Posey (left) and Michael Hitchcock (right) in Best in Show (2000).

Comedy lesson
“With improv, the biggest thing I love to get across is 90 percent of it is being totally committed to whatever you’re good at. You can forget the rules of improv; you can deny, deny, deny—but as long as you commit, you can get home safe.”

Where else have I seen them?
Serenity (2005), Bridesmaids (2011), United States of Tara

John Michael Higgins

Signature
Confident, loud doofuses with a song in their heart.

Where did they come from?
Higgins has been a lifelong theatre actor, starting as a kid in D.C. then moving to the New York. He taught theatre and appeared on stage for about 15 years before he booked his first on screen role. Higgins says he’s shocked his Hollywood career turned into mostly comedy because he never had that background. He has never had a job that didn’t involve acting or teaching acting and he often uses that theatre training to create vocal arrangements for his roles. He has a voice acting award for his work on The Legend of Korra.

First big role
Portraying David Letterman in the hot button HBO docudrama The Late Shift (1996).

Michael McKean (Left) and John Michael Higgins (Right) in Best in Show (2000). Michael McKean (left) and John Michael Higgins (right) in Best in Show (2000).

Started working with Christopher Guest on
Best In Show (2000)

Comedy lesson
“I think that’s where my skills lay, not so much in jokes and broad comedy, but in sort of some kind of astute observation of human behavior and hopefully it’s astute enough that it becomes funny when put into the right context.”

Where else have I seen them?
Pitch Perfect (2012), Blade: Trinity (2004), Arrested Development

Don Lake

Signature
Pleasant and mild “regular folk.”

Where did they come from?
Don Lake did the reverse of most Canadian actors’ journeys and trained in L.A., but moved back to Toronto to work with Second City during the 80s comedy boom. He struck while the iron was hot got a job as a regular on Bizarre, forever aligning him with the “Super Dave Osborne” brand and building his profile. His career got another boost when he began frequently collaborating with Bonnie Hunt (another Second City Alumni) as an actor and writer on tv shows like Life With Bonnie and movies like Return To Me.

First big role
You might not recognize him under a purposefully bad toupee but Don shows up for a quick role in Police Academy (1984)

Don Lake (right) and Michael Hitchens (left) in For Your Consideration (2006) Don Lake (left) and Michael Hitchens (right) in For Your Consideration (2006)

Started working with Christopher Guest on
Almost Heroes (1998)

Comedy lesson
“Probably the most important part of creating a comedic scene in Chris’s films, and the same thing held true at Second City: you must listen. Be willing to give and take, be a leader and a follower. Improvised dialogue may take you places you never dreamed. And that’s the thrill of it!”

Where else have I seen them?
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), Wagons East (1994) you may also have heard his voice in things like Pepper Ann and Zootopia.

Linda Kash

Signature
Chameleonic character actor, female-minded comedy performer and great supporting improviser

Where did they come from?
In many ways, as the daughter of famed opera singer Maureen Forrester, Kash is Canadian performing royalty. She also came up through Second City and turned her award-winning abilities on the main stage into opportunities on short-lived but influential sketch tv shows like The Comedy Mill and She TV. Since then she has become a supporting player in over 100 comedies ranging from Seinfeld to Ernest movies to Made In Canada.

First big role
Though not her first role, Canadians will likely remember Kash most from her role as the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Angel in the massively popular commercial series.

Linda Kash (left) and Eugene Levy (right) in Waiting for Guffman (1996). Linda Kash (left) and Eugene Levy (right) in Waiting for Guffman (1996).

Started working with Christopher Guest on
Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Comedy lesson
“Improv is a super important discipline whether your in the acting business or not”

Where else have I seen them?
Man of The Year, Fargo Season 3 and you’ve heard her voice in things like Dumb Bunnies and Scaredy Squirrel.
 

Fred Willard

Signature
Goofy scoundrels who almost manage to sneak their weirdness by you.

Where did they come from?
Willard is one of the senior voices in Guest’s troupe, getting his start on film in the 1960s with a role in the infamous exploitation film Teenage Mother. He came up through The Second City in Chicago and shared the stage with the likes of David Steinberg and Robert Klein. His early sketch troop Ace Trucking Company appeared regularly on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and talk/variety shows throughout the 60s and 70s. Interestingly he won a Daytime Emmy for a guest role on The Bold and The Beautiful in 2015.

First big role
Though he was a known commodity before, the groundbreaking cult comedic talk show Fernwood 2 Night established Willard’s unique gifts as a performer.

Jane Lynch (left) and Fred Willard (right) in For Your Consideration (2006). Jane Lynch (left) and Fred Willard (right) in For Your Consideration (2006).

Started working with Christopher Guest on
This is Spinal Tap (1984)

Comedy lesson
“If I have to play an obnoxious character, I try to find a redeeming feature of him. The most obnoxious people in the world were people, and they had a reason for doing what they did. So you try to find that and let the obnoxiousness come out.”

Where else have I seen them?
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), Silver Streak (1976), Roxanne (1987) and on TV shows like Everybody Loves Raymond and Modern Family.

Jim Piddock

Signature
The lone, straight-laced Brit in otherwise American productions.

Where did they come from?
Piddock comes from theatre, starting on stage in England before making his way to America and making a splash in the one man show The Boy’s Own Story. He transitioned into TV with regular sitcom appearances that continue to this day. Piddock also works as a screenwriter on comedies like Tooth Fairy (2010) and The Man (2005) as well as co-writing Christopher Guest’s last two productions.

First big role
Most people first noticed him as the Consulate Envoy in Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)

Jim Piddock (left) and Catherine O'Hara (right) in For Your Consideration (2006). Jim Piddock (left) and Catherine O'Hara (right) in For Your Consideration (2006).

Started working with Christopher Guest on
Best In Show (2000)

Comedy lesson
“I don't care if I'm funny. I just want people to believe I'm that guy.”

Where else have I seen them?
The Tracey Ullman Show, Mad About You, Independence Day (1996), The Five Year Engagement (2012).

Harry Shearer

Signature
Velvet-voiced, deadpan straight man.

Where did they come from?
Born in L.A., Shearer was a star from a young age appearing in everything from Abbott and Costello movies to The Jack Benny Program. He moved on to radio comedy for almost a decade with fellow Guest actor Michael McKean and learned a lot from famed Looney Toons voice actor Mel Blanc. He has an Emmy for his voice work on The Simpsons.

First big role
Shearer probably first became a household face as an adult on the 1979 season of Saturday Night Live.

Harry Shearer in For Your Consideration (2006) Harry Shearer in For Your Consideration (2006)

Started working with Christopher Guest on
This is Spinal Tap (1984)

Comedy lesson
“I think in most cases, if you’re with good people, comedy creation happens faster in collaboration. That’s how I can tell if it’s a good collaboration: If it’s faster than me by myself, then it works. If it’s slower than me by myself, then I get out of the room.”

Where else have I seen them?
Most of the English-speaking world knows Shearer’s voice best as Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns, Principal Skinner and many more characters on The Simpsons but his face appears in Wayne’s World 2 (1993), My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) and The Truman Show (1998).
 

Bob Balaban

Signature
Nebbish, downplayed straight men.

Where did they come from?
Balaban is more entertainment royalty with an acting mother, an uncle who was the president of Paramount Pictures for almost 30 years and a father who both managed the mega-theatre chain of theatres in the midwest and also had a hand in pioneering pay cable tv. He got his big break off broadway originating the role of Linus in You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown. Throughout the 70s he established himself as a ‘That Guy’ character actor but by the 80s he was also a writer/producer of comedic horror classics Parents (1989) and My Boyfriend’s Back (1993). He was nominated for an Oscar for producing Gosford Park (2001) which he also starred in and contributed the original story for.

First big role
You might be surprised to see a young Bob Balaban show up in Midnight Cowboy (1969).

Christopher Guest (left) Bob Balaban (centre) and Michael McKean (right) on the set of For Your Consideration. Christopher Guest (left), Bob Balaban (centre), and Michael McKean (right) on the set of For Your Consideration (2006).

Started working with Christopher Guest on
Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Comedy lesson
“It's awfully important, if you're improvising with a group of people, that you're always aware of taking the focus. Share the focus, share the stage. But that doesn't mean that you're a shrinking violet! It just means that yeah, you are part of an ensemble, but when it's your moment, it's fully your moment”

Where else have I seen them?
Close Encounters of The Third Kind (1977), Capote (2005), Altered States (1980) and Lady in The Water (2006).

Catch Best in Show and For Your Consideration this November on Hollywood Suite On Demand and HSGO!

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