I have a fondness for actors in supporting roles in movies that probably started with the first “real” movie that I recall seeing in a theatre, which was Taps, wherein Timothy Hutton played the main character. For whatever reason, when I saw that movie, the guy that caught my eye was a cute, psycho cadet named Sean. The actor that played Sean was... Tom Cruise, before he was "the" Tom Cruise. I guess I had quite an eye, even as a teenager. A few years after that, Mr. Cruise played the lead role in Top Gun, but this time it was an arrogant, condescending Val Kilmer who stole a little of the thunder as rival pilot, Iceman. Granted, that movie had an amazing cast of young actors, which included Anthony Edwards, Tim Robbins, Adrian Pasdar, Rick Rossovich... and not to be forgotten, a very fresh-faced Meg Ryan. Next up, there was Glory, which starred Matthew Broderick, but the character that grabbed my attention was a former slave named Trip, played by none other than Denzel Washington. As I am trying to remember more to add to this list, I think the common thread is that the characters that come to mind were all either arrogant or defiant, gutsy or self-sacrificing.
Daniel Day-Lewis played the lead role in Last of the Mohicans (1992), but the guy who won me over was Eric Schweig playing Uncas. I don't even remember if he actually said anything at all. The scene where he runs and fights his way up the mountainside to save the fragile sister is one of the most moving in the entire movie. Next, there was Clear and Present Danger, with Harrison Ford reprising his role as Jack Ryan. The one guy that stood out to me in this movie was a little sniper dude named Chavez, played by Raymond Cruz. The role was small with very few words, but it just struck me. I recall seeing him a few years later in an episode of the X-Files. Hmm... After that, there was a Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey film called Reign of Fire where Christian was rather understated as the leader of a band of humans battling dragons, and Matthew over the top as an American tanker. Who did I happen to notice? Gerard Butler. Yes, he of future super ab-dom and "300" fame. I had already seen him in Dracula 2000, but for some reason I seemed to like him better in supporting roles. In Reign of Fire, he played the best friend who ends up sacrificing himself for the greater good.
My memory gets dicey as we come to newer movies so for now I can think of only two. In Star Trek (2009), Chris Hemsworth plays George Kirk, who sacrifices himself to save the crew, his wife and baby boy. Now, is it the actor, the scene itself or the music that hit me? Hard to say. Following that, there was Transformers II which was such an over-the-top movie in all respects that you would wonder what, if anything in particular, could capture my eye? Two things. A British SAS soldier played by Matthew Marsden, and the medic (uncredited role?) that tries to save Sam’s life. If you have seen this movie, you will note that of the latter we see only his backside before we see his face, and then only for a brief moment, but that surely cannot be the reason. These two are such minimal roles, why did they catch my attention amidst all the brouhaha. I'm not quite sure.
Of course, any role in a movie is made more powerful by the strength of the actor’s performance or his mere presence, or even perhaps due to the way he is framed by the camera in a particular scene. I suppose then that in noticing the supporting actors, it could be said that I had been distracted from the flow of the movie itself, but I don't believe this to be so. The supporting roles clearly make the story more compelling.