EW.com Presents: 12 Small Roles With a Big Impact

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    DREW BARRYMORE, Scream (1996)
    The role, a home-alone teen tortured by a prank caller/serial killer, was definitely small: Drew Barrymore's gut-wrenching transformation from perky horror aficionado to hanging corpse took all of 13 minutes in this Wes Craven slasherpiece. But it definitely had impact. For theater audiences, it signaled that the rules of the genre (and movie posters — remember Barrymore's prominent billing) could be broken. For me, a total wuss who insisted on watching the VHS tape in daylight hours (9 a.m. on a Saturday morning while visiting my parents), it meant repeated cries for my mother to come in from the next room (she didn't) and multiple suggestions from her that I ''calm down'' (I didn't).







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    CHRISTOPHER MELONI, Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
    From David Hyde Pierce's awkward advances on Janeane Garofalo to Paul Rudd's too-cool-for-camp 'tude, this quintessential '80s-revival camp movie has many bizarre and irreverent moments. But one performance that never ceases to amaze me is Christopher Meloni's turn as the deranged camp chef Gene. Best known as Det. Elliott Stabler on Law & Order, Meloni displays a natural comedic touch with his insane non-sequiturs (''Now finish up them taters, I'm gonna go fondle my sweaters'') and ability to carry himself in an unthinkably small sleeveless t-shirt. Whether he's talking to a can of vegetables, humping a fridge, or commandeering one of the greatest ''vision quest'' montages in cinematic history, Meloni truly makes his presence felt.
     
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    NED BEATTY, throughout the 1970s
    He divulged secret documents. He expounded on big business. He squealed like a pig. In the '70s, Ned Beatty was the go-to character actor for small parts that packed a narrative punch. From his very first movie appearance, in 1972's Deliverance (pictured), through bit parts in Nashville, All the President's Men, Network, Superman — you name it — the teddy-bear thespian regularly proved that something as vital as basic human dignity is of little importance when it comes to making a memorable appearance. Weeeeeee!






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    LESLIE MANN, The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
    The movie is hilarious. But ask yourself what scene stands out in your mind, and I'll bet most of you think of the drunk chick behind the wheel. Bingo! That'd be the scene-stealing Leslie Mann. She spoke those three little words we shall never forget, "f---in' fraaanch toast!"
     
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    ADAM BRODY, Thank You For Smoking (2005)
    In this unfiltered satirical comedy, what Adam Brody lacks in reel time he makes up for in laughs. Brody plays Jack Bein, the assistant to a Hollywood agent who specializes in making people (especially his boss) feel important. Jack also has a knack for making people feel at home — he gives a 12-year-old a choice between orange juice, coffee, or a Red Bull (complete with a high five) — and keeping co-workers on task. (''That sand's not gonna rake itself!'') Another reason we love him? His high energy level, which makes us think that he drinks his fair share of the Red Bull.





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    PATRICIA CLARKSON, High Art (1998)
    I saw High Art when it first came out because the John Hughes geek in me wanted to see Ally Sheedy in a good movie again. Years later, the movie came up in conversation, and my mouth almost hit the floor when I remembered that Patricia Clarkson played Greta, the heavy-lidded, beautiful, drug-addled girlfriend of Sheedy's character Lucy Berliner. Clarkson made the role seductive, humorous, and poignant as a woman who gave up her celebrity in Europe to follow her love to the U.S., only to watch Berliner fall in love with the straight young girl downstairs (or, as, she put it, "That psycho-phant"). My heart actually broke for her when the movie credits rolled.
     
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    NEIL PATRICK HARRIS, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)
    Midway through Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Neil Patrick Harris shows up as...himself. Doogie Howser is all grown up and damn if he doesn't shock the heck of out us with the foul stuff coming from his mouth. ''Ya, I've been craving burgers too — fur burgers.'' Between stealing a car and partying with his scantily clad stripper friends, the antics never let up. Harold and Kumar who?







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    WILFORD BRIMLEY, Absence of Malice (1981)
    Given its star power (Paul Newman and Sally Field), it's remarkable that Absence of Malice's most memorable performance is a brief turn by a then-unknown actor, Wilford Brimley. Brimley's character, the Assistant U.S. Attorney, strides into a tale of journalistic and prosecutorial gray areas and lays down the law in black and white. Berating his own subordinates, he declares, ''We can't have people go around leaking stuff for their own reasons. It ain't legal. And worse than that, by God it ain't right.'' Brimley has spent much of his subsequent career working variations on his Malice character, notably in a series of commercials in which he urged people to eat Quaker oatmeal, stating, in suspiciously familiar terms, ''It's the right thing to do.''
     
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    SAM KINISON, Back to School (1986)
    Sam Kinison stole Rodney Dangerfield's vehicle for a few minutes when he appeared as a manically committed history teacher in Back to School. The film is basically a series of setups for Dangerfield's one-liners, but he sat back and let his protégé and friend Kinison drive in their scene together, during which Kinison works himself into an obscenity-laced frenzy while sharing his personal experience of Vietnam: ''I was up to my knees in rice paddies, with guns that didn't work, going up against Charlie, slugging it out with him, while p---ies like you were back here partyin', puttin' headbands on, doin' drugs, listening to the goddamn Beatle albums!''






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    ALEC BALDWIN, Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
    ''PUT THAT COFFEE DOWN!'' As Blake, the drill-sergeant salesman whose watch costs more than your car, Alec Baldwin roars through a seven-minute David Mamet monologue so ferocious, well-written, and cool that you can easily imagine frat boys and film geeks alike boisterously quoting it to all their friends. (In fact, when GQ profiled Baldwin last year, they filled a whole sidebar just by merely reprinting the best, nastiest parts of Blake's brilliant harangue.) There's a reason Baldwin's one unforgettable scene is more YouTube-able than most of the other performances on this list: his work in Glengarry is the definition of a small role with big impact.
     
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    BRIAN COX, Adaptation (2002)
    Chris Cooper got the Best Supporting Actor Oscar as the orchid thief John Laroche in Adaptation, but there's a sneakier supporting performance that's just as much one for the ages. Not long before the ending, Brian Cox (best known as the original Hannibal Lector in Manhunter) lumbers onstage as the real-life screenwriting coach Robert McKee, and in the gripping and darkly funny process of biting Nicolas Cage's head off (''Why the F--- are you wasting my two precious hours with your MOVIE?'') Cox practically steals a movie already packed with great acting.






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    BROOKE SMITH, The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
    Unlike director Jonathan Demme and costars Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, Brooke Smith doesn't have an Oscar (or even a nomination) for her work in The Silence of the Lambs — despite the fact that her portrayal of Catherine Martin transported moviegoers to the hellish depths of serial killer Buffalo Bill's basement pit. Try not to get goosebumps as the actress's plucky abductee goes from bargaining (''I won't press charges — I promise!'') to begging (''I wanna go home, please! I wanna see my mommy!'') to hysterical shrieking (after spying a bloodied handprint and fingernail of a previous victim). Indeed, Smith does a whole lot more than put the lotion in the basket; she also brings urgency to the film's central race to catch a homicidal monster.