While I’m always happy to look at a pretty-faced TV show lead, I do love a good character actor. The often unsung heroes of film and TV, they are what Television Without Pity calls the ‘who’s that guy? (or girl)’ actors, instantly recognisable faces who pop up adding class and character to your favourite shows (or, in the case of Game of Thrones, they make up most of the cast). Some become cult stars in their own right (Mark Sheppard, I’m looking at you), some are acting legends (the late, great JT Walsh). You may not know their names, or even be able to place their faces (some will always be ‘thingy from thingy’, even if you know you love them) but they always make shows that little bit better, and you’re always pleased to see them show up.
One such actor is the wonderful Jim Beaver. A stalwart of film and TV with a career spanning decades, Beaver might not be a recognisable name outside of certain sets of fans (though Supernatural has done much to deservedly raise his profile) but he’s an actor of class and quality and he also seems to have a great knack for picking good shows: his prolific IMDB list shows guest slots in Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Middle, Lie to Me, The Mentalist, Criminal Minds, Big Love, CSI and Monk, to name but a few. So here are my favourite Jim Beaver performances: long may he continue to crop up where you least expect him: he’s never less than welcome.
Deadwood: Whitney Ellsworth
Beaver has a long history of playing rough-hewn but dignified and decent men, and this was a prime example of that skill. In a show jam-packed with top-notch acting Beaver more than held his own as doomed prospector Ellsworth, a man who didn’t let the Wild West erode his humanity and ultimately suffered for it. Despite a flawed third season, Deadwood remains one of the most interesting shows ever screened: do check it out if you haven’t already, as long as you don’t mind the swearing. Seriously, there’s a lot of swearing. A lot.
One of the joys of this show is seeing the Deadwood alumni reunited (show lead and a former ‘who’s that guy’ himself Timothy Olyphant had a key role in the Western), and season 4 sees him finally get the screen time he deserves. Again, he brings a sense of decency to the role (as well as a weakness for damsels in distress) but it’s mixed with an unpredictable slyness and wiliness that means you’re never quite sure where you stand with the character. This makes him fit right in in a show where everyone is precariously balanced on shifting moral sands and makes him even more interesting to watch.
Psych: Stinky Pete Dillingham
This may seem like a throwaway, a one-off guest slot, but I’m including it because it was a rare chance for Beaver to play full on comedy and to also pastiche the cowboy characters he’s played in the past, playing a dastardly villain in a Wild West theme park. Enormous fun in a show that somehow never seems to have got the recognition it should have in this country (and is full of geeky references… just saying).
Supernatural: Bobby Singer
Unarguably Beaver’s best-loved role and the one he is probably most famous for now (at least with the younger generation), Beaver’s performance as father-substitute to the Winchester boys Singer is an absolute delight, and one that grew and developed over the seasons, from being simply the guy who helps out SamnDean to being a fully fleshed out character with his own believable backstory and ultimately tragic end (I still haven’t forgiven the writers for killing him off).
Given an actor capable of such gravitas, the writers rose admirably to the challenge and gave him the stories he merited: who can forget Bobby’s reined in devastation at the resurrection of his wife (because he knew he might have to kill her again)? As well as often being the emotional core of the show, he was also a great comedic foil, whether puncturing the drama of the brothers with a well-placed ‘eijits!’, having his Grumpy Old Men chemistry with the (also much missed) Rufus or his sparring with – and, unforgettably, snogging – Mark Sheppard’s Crowley. The show is that much weaker now he’s not around. Find a way to bring him back, dammit!
So, what other shows would I like to see Beaver in? I think he’d be a perfect fit for Sons of Anarchy, and I’d like to see him turn up in something like American Horror Story, as he can certainly play sinister when it suits. I also think it’d be great to see him flex his comic muscles more – perhaps a guest slot in Modern Family? Come on, casting directors! Get on it!
(As an aside, Beaver is also a writer of some quality: if you can stand it, read his moving memoir of his wife’s cancer, Life’s That Way. It’s a beautiful, beautiful book, but you will cry your eyes out.)