You’ve seen their faces, but you may or may not know their names, much less how to spell them. They are generally known as character actors, some of the finest thespians around on television and in film.
Five of these actors were honored Sunday night for their outstanding achievements at the third annual Carney Awards.
Art Carney is generally recognized as one of entertainment’s greatest character actors on the big and small screens, and his legacy continues to inspire the likes of William H. Macy, Wendie Malick, William Fichtner, Richard Kind and Xander Berkeley.
All of them were honored during ceremonies hosted by Tom Bergeron at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
The awards show got under way with a clip reel featuring some of Carney’s Emmy- and Oscar-winning work, including “The Honeymooners,” “The Jackie Gleason Show” and “Harry and Tonto.”
“Character actors provide the fabric and texture of the piece, whether it’s in one line or in an entire film,” Bergeron said.
The hat that Carney wore during his role as Norton in “The Honeymooners” was brought out on stage by his son, Brian Carney. He discussed the impact of his father’s work and introduced a clip of a 1960 TV episode, a one-man show called “Call Me Back,” in which the black and white footage clearly demonstrated the late actor’s skills as he made one phone call after another, slowly revealing his character.
All of the honorees have displayed similar talents. Allison Janney presented to Fichtner, who plays her love interest on “Mom,” and is also known for his roles on hit shows including “Empire” and “Entourage” and on the big screen in “Black Hawk Down” and “Armageddon.”
Fichtner praised Janney’s talent and in talking about his nearly 30-year career, said one thing remains consistent — no one knows how to spell his name right. He said he collects signs with his surname spelled every which way, even with a “z.”
Jeff Garlin came out in golf clothes to present to Kind, who he said wears them for every occasion. “I’d pay to watch him eat soup. He brings joy to me to watch him work,” Garlin said.
“Thanks, Jeff, I’m astounded my name was mentioned,” Kind said in his acceptance speech following Garlin’s lengthy intro. The actor, known for his voice work in “Inside Out” and for roles on “Spin City” and “Red Oaks,” also displayed some fearsome stand-up comedy talents, acknowledging that he thought acting was about the volume of one’s voice for his first 20 years in the business. “If you look at my IMDb, I’m the Costco of acting,” Kind remarked. “I come in quantity — and I come cheap.”
It was actor Dan Lauria who gave the Carney to Malick, whom he called his “favorite actress to be with onstage.” Accepting the award, she touched on her role as a female character actor in the entertainment industry. “I remember doing ‘Hot in Cleveland’ when I was about to turn 60 and Betty White was about to turn 90, and I realized this was my third act,” said Malick. “I am so lucky to call myself a character actor. If I look pretty, it’s a bonus — but it doesn’t really matter.”
Berkeley was introduced by Titus Welliver, who called him the poster boy for memorable scenes, usually as a bad guy. Berkeley’s credits include roles in “Air Force One,” “Terminator 2,” “The Walking Dead” and “24.” “When he appears on the screen, the audience knows that something very cool is about to happen,” Welliver said of Berkeley’s roles.
“My dad was an artist, and growing up we would watch films by Truffaut and Fellini on PBS and he would always point out the character actors. It was magic, and I aspired to be like them,” Berkeley said.
Clark Gregg presented the final award of the evening to honoree William H. Macy, whose fame blew up with his role in 1996’s “Fargo,” for which he was nominated for an Oscar.
“Everything I know about being an actor, being an artist, and the best dirty jokes I know, I learned from William H. Macy,” said Gregg, noting that he has known his fellow thesp since 1984 when they did David Mamet plays together.
Macy received — as did the other honorees — a standing ovation as he walked onstage. He began by ribbing Gregg, saying, “I knew Clark when he was drinking, and that was fun. I knew him when he got serious about acting, and that was not as fun.”
Then Macy discussed his memories of Carney. “When I was a kid in western Maryland and I watched ‘The Honeymooners,’ it was Art Carney who I watched the most,” said Macy. “He was the guy I wanted to spend time with. He knew where the truth lay.”
He spoke of Carney’s incomparable timing, incredible talent, and innate ability to find truth in a scene.
Macy then addressed his fellow honorees and, in a nod to the advice that Kind shared with Garlin, toasted them all, saying simply, “I like your work. It makes my heart soar like an eagle.”
One of the evening’s highlights was a game show-like segment called “Name That Character Actor” hosted by Bergeron. The panel was composed of Malick along with actors John Rothman and Erin Murphy. They had to press their buzzers to identify, among others, photos of David Paymer, Maggie Wheeler, Lesley Ann Warren, Bob Balaban and Ron Rifkin, the latter two put up as lookalikes.
Paymer and Balaban have the added distinction of being previous Carney Award winners.
The Carney Awards also recognized many of the performers we’ve lost in the past year — including Bill Paxton, Don Rickles, Miguel Ferrer, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Alan Thicke, John Heard, Powers Booth, Jay Thomas, Shelley Berman, Martin Landau, Adam West, Joe Bologna, Harry Dean Stanton, Carrie Fisher, Florence Henderson and Debbie Reynolds. Their names and photos appeared as actress and vocalist Rebecca Holden performed “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” during the In Memoriam segment introduced by actor Dennis Haysbert.
Past honorees of the Carney Awards, created by Brian Carney, David Katz and Jim Katz, also include Gary Cole, Stephen Tobolowsky, Dan Hedaya, Conchata Ferrell, Steve Buscemi, Michael Ealy, Bruce McGill, CCH Pounder and Jonathan Banks.
(The Carney Awards will air on NBCUniversal’s COZI TV on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, at 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET.)