There’s a show called BoJack Horseman. Do you know? John Carroll Lynch asks me.
I do. It’s the animated series about an equine actor who shamelessly sinks into an underemployed middle age.
They have this character called Character Actor Margo Martindale, he says. This is the name of the character of actor Margo Martindale. Yeah. Anyway, in one of the scenes she’s in a shootout. And she screams: It’s not fair to me. It’s for CCH Pounder and John Carroll Lynch and all these other actors. Ha ha! It’s pretty funny.
This conversation has been going on for as long as we have the cinema. Out there in the digital chat room, it’s often referred to as That Guy’s Syndrome (apologies for gender terminology). You know? This guy! He was in The Green Mile, The Rock and The Hurt Locker. David Morse! This is the guy. Margo Martindale? Shes the ruthless Soviet manager of Americans and mom of John C Reillys in Walk Hard.
The minute Fargo released the idea that the Coen brothers would trust me legitimized me as an actor.
Every once in a while, one of those ubiquitous character cast gets a helping hand from the Academy. When JK Simmons won his Oscar for Whiplash, he escaped That Guy status, but you’ll still only see him in a handful of lead roles.
As the folks behind BoJack Horseman would confirm, John Carroll Lynch is now at the forefront of the That Guy aristocracy. He was the most likely suspect in David Finchers’ magnificent Zodiac. He was the real founder of McDonalds in The Founder. He recently appeared on Netflix as activist David Dellinger in Aaron Sorkins The Trial of Chicago 7. As of this month you can see him as a Highway Patrol Officer in Disney + ‘s animated rural mystery series. Big Sky.
Raised in Boulder, Colorado, a Guthrie Theater alumnus, a Guthrie Theater alumnus, Lynch has been producing great movies and TV series for 30 years. When was her face first recorded? I bet his role as Frances McDormands’ supporting husband in The Coen Fargo Brothers made a difference. It was 1996 and he’s been that guy ever since.
The minute Fargo released the idea that the Coen brothers would trust me legitimized me as an actor, he recalls. It legitimized my participation in the industry. I returned to Minnesota to visit my future wife, who worked in the company at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. I was at a fundraiser and this guy said: You seem to be doing well there? What is your business model? What’s your business card? What is your point of sale? I said: Well, be in an Oscar nominated film first. And let’s see if that helps.
Sure enough, Fargo received seven nominations, including one for best photo. It changed everything, he says. And it’s a tribute to the longevity of the movies and also to the people I’ve worked with.
There is a lot of Ireland-America in Lynch’s resume. He attended Regis Jesuit High School in Denver before pursuing theater studies at the Catholic University of America. You could easily see this round, characterful head screaming his way through John B Keane to the Abbey. Sure enough, when he signed up with a well-known DNA testing service, the results were unambiguous.
I had done 23andMe. It was clear that face came from nowhere except Ireland, he said. Ha ha! There is no doubt. We’ve been to this museum in Dublin, the diaspora museum, and they have this board that you can put your name on and see where you’re from. I put Lynch on and there were only points all over the country.
Lynch was raised far from the world of cinema. He was raised even further from Broadway. I had read that he got the virus while watching his brother play one of the Knights of the Round Table in a production of Camelot. The possibilities for transformation hit him and stuck with him throughout his teenage years.
If there’s a story to tell, it’s the story, he says. The desire to become someone else is what appealed to me. As a teenager, I wanted to be someone else. Even if I could do it for a few hours. And I had fallen in love with the narrative aspects of dramatic literature. I fell in love with the themes that can be expressed and the humanity that can be experienced. And the stories we can tell each other. It’s the only thing we have.
We think of humans as users of tools. But there are a lot of animals in the world who use tools. But I don’t hear their stories. Maybe they have some stories. But were definitely storytellers.
The challenge was to create a network television show that embraces a level of darkness that is not normally embraced on network television.
A separate school of recognition attaches to prominent character actors. I remember over 20 years ago I ran into a veteran American artist at a ceremony in Dublin. Don’t you know where you’ve seen me before? he joked. Some may have remembered him from that John Carpenter movie or from the epic Milos Forman, but he got used to people saying Ooo, what were you in? Oh, don’t tell me. I wonder which projects fans mention first when they meet Lynch. Maybe his American horror story. Maybe his Shutter Island.
More and more these days they know where they know me from, he says. But for a long time what I loved were people who thought they knew me with their own lives. I got off a plane and this woman said: Do you work at the Ready Print in Flagstaff? Law? Either you’re the East High School tennis coach or I know you from the PTA. I really like this level of familiarity.
A few other viewers will take him for buddies after watching Big Sky on the new Star hub (I think that’s the word) on the Disney + channel. Based on a novel by CJ Box, the show follows Cassie Dewell and Cody Hoyt, a pair of private investigators, as they investigate the kidnapping of young women in remote Montana.
We don’t spoil anything by saying too much about Lynchs ‘character, but we can reveal that David E Kelleys’ show, originally produced for ABC, is not afraid to mix things up. There is something of Veronica Mars in the first few sections. Elsewhere, it is worryingly violent. He seems to have attracted the public during his American debut.
Yes, the challenge was to create a network TV show that embraces a level of darkness that isn’t normally embraced on network TV, Lynch says. It was a real risk for ABC. And I’m very happy that it paid off for them. I am very happy that his popular show. Yeah. I think it will be useful in other circumstances. They don’t sell the damage done. I hope we have done him justice.
Lynch continues. Three years ago he paid an accidental tribute to one of the greatest That Guys of all time when, for his directorial debut, he gave Harry Dean Stanton a starring role in the excellent Lucky. . He appeared in The Handmaids Tale, Veep and Tamara Jenkinss 2018 movie Private Life.
Lockdown slowed him down a bit. As we speak, Lynch, who lives with his wife in New York State, is in quarantine at a rented property in Glendale, Calif., But work is looming. The industry has become something of a multinational, he says. If you keep working, you get work in a lot of different places. You don’t have to live in LA. If you are lucky enough.
And you are quite talented. And you put in the hours.
We will leave her with the precise quote from the animated version of her distinguished colleague.
This is for John Carroll Lynch, CCH Pounder and all the other character actors who live in the lucrative darkness, she screams as she unloads a pistol. The blood I shed today is for all of us! Im the character actress Margo Martindale!
Big Sky airs on Disney + starting February 23.
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