Actors making the most of the role, no matter its size

Actors making the most of the role, no matter its size
Actor Patrick "Patch" Darragh stars in "Sully" as the air traffic controller who fears he has lost a jetliner, not yet knowing Capt. Sullenberger has landed it safely on the Hudson River. (Jennifer S. Altman / For the Times)

Anyone else want to take a break from the campaign trail? In this season of big names and bigger awards ambitions, let's take a moment to celebrate a few actors who supported so much of the work currently being celebrated, with hardly a nod of recognition.

Margaret Bowman


"Hell or High Water," T-Bone waitress

She may be an unnamed waitress in "Hell or High Water's" diner scene but, boy, does she leave an impression. In her one scene in this contemporary western, Margaret Bowman puts two Texas Rangers (played by Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham) in their places right quick. Bowman was on set for only one day, but she loved every moment. "Of course I was working with wonderful people and really great lines. Taylor Sheridan is a fine, fine writer." Speaking with a Texan twang from her home in Houston, she uses the word "fine" as high praise.

Bowman, 88, always creates a backstory for her characters. "See, my mother waited tables to support herself, her mother and three daughters, then I came along and waited tables to support my family many years ago, so I know what it's like to stand all day and have your back hurt and your feet hurt." She named her character Maisie. "I had her thinking, 'Yeah, you come in with your badges and so forth and think you're going to order me around, well no you're not, I'm old enough to be your grandmother.'"

She gives credit to her director, David Mackenzie, for giving her the room to do her thing. "David just said run with it and so I did." As for Bridges and Birmingham, "they are very generous and where they could have taken the focus from me, they didn't. They just let me have the scene. I appreciate them so much. They're both very fine actors and fine men."

Patch Darragh

"Sully," Patrick Harten

As air traffic controller Patrick Harten, who handles Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger's mayday call, actor Patch Darragh keeps his head in the game, and his heart in his mouth. In a couple of scenes, Darragh conveys the man's skill — and dread — helping turn a story we all know into a nail-biter.

Darragh, who lives in New York, did his research and then some. He and the real Harten found each other on Facebook, and the air traffic controller invited the actor to work with him. Darragh couldn't believe his luck. "Obviously, the security at a place like that is incredibly high," he says. Watching Harten guide the planes "is like looking at this giant arcade screen; you see all these dots with all these codes on it. He didn't stop talking for a whole hour." When Harten's colleagues learned Darragh was going to be playing the now-legendary controller, they all warned him, "You better do right by Paddy."

He does. Arriving on set for his one day of work, he found director Clint Eastwood to be "incredibly kind and soft-spoken, not scary at all." He was also a good listener. When Darragh told him he'd been to the control tower, "he said, 'Well it sounds like you know more about this than I do, so why don't you talk me and the crew through how you think we should shoot this?'" So he did. "It was kind of surreal."

Heather Burns

"Manchester by the Sea," Jill

As a single mother to one of the girls that young Patrick (Lucas Hedges) is trying to bed, Jill tries her best to keep that from happening. Shutting down Patrick's every advance on her daughter.

In frustration, Patrick tries to set Jill up with his uncle, Casey Affleck's character, Lee, so that he can get some action. The plan fails, but not without Jill's best awkward efforts at warming Lee up. Burns loved her scenes for their naturalistic humor, "a bit of comic relief at a point of the film where you really needed that."

Burns, who lives in New York, had already worked with writer-director Kenneth Lonergan in several of his plays. "We're old pals," she says. "I would do anything he wrote. But I was really haunted by this script." She notes that he is "extremely meticulous, and a perfectionist in what he wants out of actors, which is a joy. I like that kind of direction; I like to know exactly what the writer envisioned."


Sharon Blackwood

"Loving," Lola Loving

As Richard Loving's mother, Lola Loving, Sharon Blackwood carries the weary aura of a Dorothea Lange photograph. When her son marries his beloved, Mildred, against Virginia law, the repercussions are vast. While Lola, a midwife, lends her services to deliver the couple's baby, she also voices her objection to the marriage. "I don't think it was a rebuke of the relationship, as much as it was a rebuke of actually getting married," and bringing the law to their door, says Blackwood.

An actress based in Atlanta, Blackwood was raised in the rural South in the 1950s and '60s, "and I remember farm women who were similar to her — very stoic, soft-spoken." She also remembers hearing the "Loving" decision, back when she was 15 years old. "I know exactly where I was, thinking, how in the world can law enforcement burst into somebody's home in the middle of the night and arrest them for being married?" Being a part of the film all these years later was "a gift."

As was writer-director Jeff Nichols. "As far as I'm concerned, he's the Mozart of film. He doesn't write a line that's not important. Lola was difficult for me because she's very different from me personally. He set such an atmosphere that you were willing to take every chance in the world."