It’s not unusual for popular actors to be cast in multiple movies and TV shows in a relatively short time period—but 2018 had an unusual number of performers doing double duty in notable genre projects. Here are six of our favorite ubiquitous faces this year.
A well-known character actor whose career goes back decades, Dowd’s profile has risen in recent years thanks to roles like Patti Levin, the chain-smoking cult leader in HBO’s The Leftovers. But nothing has elevated Dowd in the public consciousness more than Aunt Lydia on The Handmaid’s Tale, a character who is somehow simultaneously both motherly and hideously cruel, a tricky balance that Dowd handles perfectly. Certain aspects of The Handmaid’s Tale may have left some viewers feeling unsatisfied this season, but Dowd’s performance—particularly as Aunt Lydia loomed over Offred’s pregnancy storyline, protecting her while also staunchly upholding the core evils of Gilead’s dystopia—was as commanding as ever.
Kudos, then, to the genius casting decision to bring Dowd into horror hit Hereditary. Her character, Joan, is initially presented as a kindly ally for Toni Collette’s grieving mother, but if you think of Hereditary as a contemporary, suburban riff on Rosemary’s Baby, Joan slots in perfectly as the modern update to malevolent busybody Minnie Castevet. There’s just something...off about Joan, an insidious quality bubbling just beneath the sweet surface. Nobody plays that contrast better than Dowd.
Brolin has been working steadily since his 1985 debut in The Goonies, and obviously his filmography goes way beyond genre films—he’s earned kudos for dramatic turns in movies like Milk and No Country for Old Men, to name a few. But he sure does seem to have a soft spot for horror, comic books, and sci-fi, with titles like Grindhouse, Jonah Hex, and Men in Black 3 dotting his extensive résumé. In 2018, he leveled up considerably by playing beefy badasses in two of the year’s most-anticipated blockbusters: first, as universe-decimating Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, and just a few weeks later, time-traveling Cable in Deadpool 2.
Both roles required a fairly specific blend of villainy, pathos, charisma, and special effects-enhanced prosthetics (a heavier coating of the latter for Thanos, of course), but you’d never confuse the two characters—even in the highly unlikely event that Thanos makes like Cable and ends up joining the good-guy team in Avengers: Endgame next year. A couple of Brolin’s Infinity War cohorts also did some big-time double-duty this year, though Chris Pratt kind of seems like he’s playing himself in every action film, whether he’s battling, well, Thanos or dinosaurs (in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom). That said, we’ll shout out another co-star’s name later on this list.
One of the most versatile actors working today can convincingly play both the title role in The Young Victoria and a futuristic, time-looping war hero in Edge of Tomorrow. So perhaps it’s not too surprising to see her taking on two very different genre characters in a single year, though the range Blunt showed on the big screen in 2018 is exceptionally impressive. In April, she starred in A Quiet Place as a pregnant mother trying to keep her family safe in a post-apocalyptic world where killer aliens lurk, waiting to pounce on any living creature that makes a sound. There’s physical pain (that birthing scene, holy crap), but also mental anguish and grief, as well as a killer mix of gritty resourcefulness and being a tenacious survivor. So there’s that. And then there’s her next film, in which Blunt whips out her delicious British accent, wears a variety of jaunty hats, and sings and dances, in this month’s magical-nanny reboot Mary Poppins Returns. Even Josh Brolin probably couldn’t pull that off...but Blunt certainly can.
The talented Thompson would’ve been a quadruple threat if her Valkyrie had actually been part of Avengers: Infinity War, but hopefully she’ll be back to steal some scenes in Endgame alongside Thor (a.k.a. her 2019 MIB co-star Chris Hemsworth). At any rate, there was no shortage of Thompson this year (yep, that was her in Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer, too), between her roles as a scientist investigating an alien occurrence in Annihilation; a free-spirited artist whose boyfriend goes corporate (and then enters a surreal new reality) in Sorry to Bother You; and a company big shot who gets rather brutally drawn into the host rebellion in Westworld.
No matter what part Thompson plays, it’s hard to take your eyes off her whenever she’s onscreen, and we can’t wait to see what this fearless performer does next. Did we mention she also somehow found time to co-star in this fall’s Creed II, too? (A note, before anyone asks: Thompson’s excellent Westworld co-star, Thandie Newton, would have also made this list, but her character gets such short shrift in Solo: A Star Wars Story that we didn’t want to point that out as something worth celebrating. Not Newton’s fault, of course—and Hollywood’s already on notice to do better next time.)
Bettany’s entrée into the Marvel Cinematic Universe was by virtue of his voice—prior to the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which he transformed into the Vision, his mellifluous pipes powered JARVIS, Tony Stark’s helpful AI. This year, the Vision had a crucial role in Infinity War, and not just because he has one of Thanos’ sought-after stones embedded in his noggin—his blossoming romance with Scarlet Witch served to raise the emotional stakes of the film exponentially, no small task in a movie that spent a lot of time just making sure every character got the right amount of screen time.
Elsewhere, in a galaxy far, far, away, the lanky Bettany stepped into the intergalactic crime-boss role in Solo that was originally designated for Michael K. Williams, who had to drop out due to a scheduling conflict. The Star Wars films are known for having memorable villains, to put it mildly, but Dryden Voss had a certain seedy slinkiness about him that made him feel equal parts dangerous and desperate. And, lest we forget, he also had the raddest collection of Star Wars stuff we’ve ever seen.
The chameleonic Oscar winner also happens to be part of the MCU; rumor has it we will see her Ancient One character from Doctor Strange return in Endgame. But this year, aside from a voice-over performance in Isle of Dogs, Swinton actually only appeared in one film, Luca Guadagnino’s audacious Suspira remake. That said, she played three different roles in that one film—four, if you count “Lutz Ebersdorf,” the mysterious actor credited with playing the role of key supporting character Dr. Joseph Klemperer. The secret wasn’t particularly well-kept that it was Swinton disguised under all that make-up, but Swinton’s turn as the wistful, elderly male doctor actually felt like a real performance rather than a gimmick. (Her grotesque scene as head-witch-in-charge Helena Markos, which featured some truly astonishing prosthetics, was maybe a little more of a stunt-casting scenario.) But Swinton’s most prominent role in Suspiria, playing otherworldly ballet-company head Madame Blanc, is the one where she looks most like herself—and proves she doesn’t need any special-effects assistance to make the entire audience feel completely unsettled.
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