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Great TV Dads and Movie Dads You Might Have Overlooked

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Something great resonates when you encounter a compelling¬† father character on TV or in movies. It firms up one’s faith in humanity. But with so many movie and TV dads floating in and out of view, it’s easy to overlook some good ones. In honor of Father’s Day weekend, we look back at a few.



Here’s a fine, fine actor playing a small role with tenderness and care. As the henpecked, mellow patriarch of the Bennet family in Jane Austen’s classic story, Sutherland lets his misty eyes, his sly smile and his lanky limbs work to their full advantage onscreen. Then, at the end of the film, he reveals his complete and utter love for his daughter through a quiet intensity that lingers nicely.



There was nothing quiet about the late, great Bernie Mac. Like few other actors, he projected a powerful, coiled up aggressiveness while also allowing his compassion to poke through. On his show, he played a man who takes in his sister’s children, raising them as his own. He often talked directly to “America,” looking straight at the camera, and it worked. You trusted him. You liked him.



Times and gender roles have changed so much that people forget what an eye-opener “Kramer vs. Kramer” was, with its depiction of a divorce and subsequent child custody fight. Hoffman is his usual, superb self as the father who learns how to be a parent.


“THE RIFLEMAN” (1958-63)

Although the show was far from realistic, the father-son relationship at the heart of “The Rifleman” seemed authentically affectionate. Connors played Lucas McCain as a figure of towering strength and real kindness. Plus, he had the coolest rifle ever.


“JUNO” (2007)

Simmons is a true craftsman. In “Juno,” he’s a father who helps his teen daughter through an unplanned pregnancy, and he does it with keen humor and gentle exasperation. Good in any type of role, here Simmons offers a physical weariness as counterpoint to the movie’s spry, stylized dialogue.


“APPLE’S WAY” (1974-75)

This is a prime example of the father as idealist, from a TV show that never quite caught on with viewers. Cox was George Apple, a lawyer who moved his clan from California back to his hometown of Appleton, Iowa. Once there, he inserted himself into just about every free speech and human rights issue his little town encountered. His kids loved this, as you can imagine.


“CROOKLYN” (1994)

Set in Brooklyn in the 1970s, “Crooklyn” featured Lindo as a musician who didn’t quite earn enough money to support his family, but whose sweet nature helped buoy the family during hard times. Lindo expertly shows us the full range of his guy’s flaws and qualities.


“A BRONX TALE” (1993)

DeNiro directed himself as a straight-arrow bus driver in the 1960s, trying mightily to keep his son from falling under the spell of a charismatic gangster. Playing against type, DeNiro gives a tightly controlled performance: tough, but not too tough; good, but not too good. It’s a gem.


“EDtv” (1999)

To be sure, Landau’s loopy stepfather is the comic relief in this film. His character is in poor health and often clueless about what’s happening around him. But he gets a dynamite scene near the end of the movie that is gratifying as a nod to the true meaning of fatherhood.



Any “Rockford Files” fan will have a soft spot for Rocky. Beery played him perfectly – no affectation, no ego. His scenes with James Garner had an easy charm and warmth.


“RADIO DAYS” (1987)

There’s a wonderful joke about dads in Woody Allen’s “Radio Days.” Seth Green, who plays Allen as a kid, has no idea what his father, Michael Tucker, actually does for a living. No matter how hard the kid tries to ferret out the information, dad finds a way to change the subject. It’s hilarious, partly because it plays on the mysterious, unknowable quality many fathers have.


“SPANGLISH” (2004)

I may not be the biggest Adam Sandler fan in the world, but I have to give him his due here. He’s excellent as a doting father in an unhappy marriage. His scenes with Sarah Steele as his teen daughter are beautiful and at times heartbreaking.



Elizondo is the emotional core of this Matt Dillon comedy about a young man faced with a choice between corrupt wealth and the middle class work ethic, as represented by his family. I love how Elizondo communicates his frustration and hurt feelings without upsetting the comedic balance.


“NUMB3RS” (2005-10)

No one matches Hirsch when it comes to the older, intellectually nurturing father character. Here, he invests Alan Eppes with a genuine pride and respect for his adult sons, along with his love and concern.


“CONTACT” (1997)

In the sci-fi adventure “Contact,” Morse gets to play two versions of a father. One is the wise, gentle teacher. The other is the loving, lasting image a father leaves behind.



I think this is one of Hackman’s best roles. His character, Royal Tenenbaum, is sneaky, self-absorbed and unhelpful. Yet he’s also an undeniably cool old rascal. The question this film poses for him is whether it’s ever too late to stop being a jerk and start acting like a father.

Now let’s hear your suggestions. Add to The List!

10 Great Character Actors

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You may not know their names, but these masters of character acting make every TV show and movie they grace a whole lot better.


What a pleasure it is to watch Mr. Lindo at work. He has charisma to burn, whether he’s playing a manipulative drug dealer (“Clockers”) or a noble family man (“Crooklyn”). People may know him lately for his TV turn as a corrupt alderman in “The Chicago Code,” but my favorite Lindo roles are his low-level gangster in “Malcolm X” and his brilliantly suave crook in “Get Shorty.”


Pure, deadpan brilliance. He’s great in dramas, including “Traffic,” “Oz,” and “Boogie Nights,” but he’s sublime in comic roles, such as his inept criminal in “Out of Sight.” Actually, even most of his dramatic roles are marked by their comic edge.


I’m in awe of her incredible range. She was truly raw in “Gone Baby Gone,” wonderfully loopy as Steve Carell’s love interest in “The Office,” and intellectually agile as a therapist on “In Treatment.” In each case, she tempers or expands her characters with complex shades of thought and emotion.


This gentleman is a virtuoso of weirdness, and I mean that with respect. All his best performances have a tinge of insanity: Jimmy James, the station owner on “NewsRadio”; Milton, the cubicle mutant from “Office Space”; and certainly the henpecked dude from “Dodgeball.” Count me as a big fan.


She’s been in all sorts of good projects, from “Prizzi’s Honor,” and “L.A. Law,” to “ER” and “The West Wing.” She lends immediate intelligence to each part. Her best role has been as Capt. Claudette Wyms on “The Shield,” where she played with complex, shifting notions of morality amid violence and corruption.


As anyone who has seen “The Hangover” knows, Ken Jeong is fearless. Male frontal nudity, played for laughs? I’m just sayin’. He’s verbally dexterous, as well, specializing in teachers, doctors, Medieval role-playing gamers and other imperious types. He seems to be having a blast on TV’s “Community.”


He’s sort of a modern Ward Bond – great at playing strong, quiet, wise characters who are unthreatened by being the loyal second-in-command. It was just the right vibe for “The Green Mile” and “The Rock.” Yet there are other sides to Morse that are equally cool, like his bad cop in “16 Blocks” and his turn as Hugh Laurie’s nemesis on “House.”


No matter how outrageous she is in her film roles, she always finds a vulnerability that makes it believable. She’s just rock-solid as an actress, from “Working Girl,” to “Broadcast News,” to “Cradle Will Rock,” to “Friends With Money.” She even played a terrific, evil schemer in “Addams Family Values” opposite the great Christopher Lloyd.


Mr. Hall’s memorable appearance in the recent film “50/50” only hints at his greatness. With his raspy voice and those bags under his eyes, you never expect him to be so nimble. He was excellent in “The Loop,” a TV comedy no one saw a few years ago. And he was remarkable in the movie drama “Magnolia.” But my favorite of his roles is Lt. Bookman, who hounds Jerry about an overdue library book on “Seinfeld.”


Anytime I see Jenkins appear on a movie or TV screen, it’s like seeing an old friend. Such heart and soul, and sad eyes. He takes small parts, such as the private eye in “Shall We Dance,” or the fitness club owner in “Burn After Reading,” and gives them a quiet, desperate humanity. His role as the ghost of Nathaniel Fisher on “Six Feet Under” is nothing short of incredible. And then you have his repressed widower from “The Visitor.” It’s like watching a dormant volcano finally erupt.

So that’s 10 for me. Who are some of your favorites?