The Top 10 Cult Actors and Actresses of All Time
By Carson Blackwelder
Everyone has his or her favorite actor on TV, but what about the more obscure entertainers out there?
Amid the slew of popular TV performers that dominate the headlines lies an undercurrent of cult favorites, made iconic by uber-fans and bloggers — we’re talking the people that inspire beautiful, beautiful fan fiction and subreddits.
These actors may not earn millions or attend award shows, but they garner a small fan base that makes up for its size in devotion. No matter where this entertainer goes, for better or for worse, fans are sure to follow.
Here are the top 10 cult actors and actresses of all time:
10. Donal Logue
Starting the list is Donal Logue, a Canadian actor best known for his role as Sean Finnerty on Fox/The WB’s Grounded For Life.
Logue, who made an appearance on a 1993 episode of Fox’s The X-Files and nailed recurring roles on NBC’s ER and ABC’s The Practice, eventually made his way up to leading man status, starring on the short-lived ABC sitcom The Knights of Prosperity and FX crime dramedy Terriers.
While Logue lasted for five hilarious seasons on Grounded For Life, sadly, none of his other roles have stuck longer than a season.
Luckily, he’s still getting supporting work, showing up in such programs as NBC’s Life, USA Network’s Royal Pains and FX’s Sons of Anarchy. Let’s hope he finds stable work soon — we are in the middle of pilot season, after all.
9. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson
Perhaps the best-known non-superhero pairing on TV, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) kicked alien butt for eight and nine epic seasons, respectively, on Fox’s The X-Files.
The X-Files is one of the best science fiction series in TV history, with a vast mythology and cult following, due in large part to its dynamic duo.
Mulder is the FBI agent who is a devout believer in the existence of extraterrestrials and thinks there’s a government conspiracy hiding them. He’s obsessed with this conspiracy and has devoted his life to unearthing aliens — even getting abducted while doing so.
Scully is a perfect, yet challenging, partner for Mulder, as she’s a skeptic FBI special agent who roots her knowledge of the world around her in scientific explanations.
Since The X-Files ended in 2002, Duchovny largely moved toward movies but made guest appearances on HBO’s Sex and the City as well as ABC’s Life with Bonnie. In 2007, he returned to TV full-time as sex addict Hank Moody on Showtime’s Californication, which is in the middle of its sixth season and has been renewed for a seventh.
As for Anderson, she’s starred in several BBC miniseries, including Bleak House, The Crimson Petal and the White and Great Expectations, and appeared in Starz’s Moby Dick miniseries. She’ll soon show up in the BBC2 drama The Fall as well as NBC’s upcoming drama Hannibal, which will mark her broadcast TV comeback.
8. Adam Scott
While Adam Scott currently stars on critically-acclaimed sitcom Parks and Recreation (NBC), it’s his stint on the short-lived Starz series Party Down that lands him on this list.
Sure, Scott is adorable as the beloved Ben Wyatt on Parks and Recration, but his downer personality on Party Down is one that inspired just as much praise. Let’s also not forget his guest spot as a bully on ABC’s Boy Meets World, all the way back in 1994 and 1995, as well as his supporting turns on Fox’s Party of Five, UPN/The CW’s Veronica Mars and HBO’s Eastbound & Down. He also starred as Palek on HBO’s one-season drama Tell Me You Love Me.
As Wyatt, Scott portrays an ex-government lackey who is head-over-heels for the protagonist, an idyllic lady by the name of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler). Their epic on-screen romance is sure to be one for the books.
On Party Down, Scott stars as Henry Pollard, a failed actor who turns to a catering service to make money. As an actor, Pollard is haunted by a famous ad slogan, “Are we having fun yet?” that earned him both praise and a DOA career. This underachiever is somehow always the most level-headed person of the group, and hopefully we’ll see more of him in the rumored upcoming Party Down movie.
7. Michael Kenneth Williams
On a more dramatic note, Michael K. Williams has made quite a splash.
Williams’ first big role was Omar Little, a renowned drug dealer who lives by a rather strict moral code, on the critically acclaimed HBO drama The Wire. Without ever deviating from this code, Omar’s first law is to never go up against anyone involved in “the game.” Omar is notably a homosexual man on the show, and he has an extreme distaste for profanity.
Williams now stars on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire as Albert “Chalky” White, a prominent gangster in Atlantic City. White rose through the ranks of Atlantic City’s gambling underground and has since become the unofficial leader of the black community there, selling the community’s vote to any politician willing to pay for it.
Aside from this, Williams has turned in performances on such series as NBC’s Law & Order, CBS’s CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and NBC’s The Philanthropist.
It is Williams’ versatility as an actor, even guest starring on NBC’s Community, that makes him an understated and beloved cult favorite.
6. Neil Patrick Harris
Although Neil Patrick Harris is best known for his starring role on CBS’s How I Met Your Mother, his other work also lands him on this list.
Harris is not just an actor, but he is also a movie star, Broadway star and even dabbles in a bit of magic.
Harris got his start as a child on ABC’s Doogie Howser, M.D., playing the titular Dr. Doogie Howser, a teenaged physician struggling with growing up. This adorable role kickstarted his career, and he proceeded to be a small blip on the fame radar until his cameo in the stoner comedy Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle in 2004.
A year later, Harris was cast as loveable playboy Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother (Barney and Robin forever, y’all), and it’s here that he blossomed into true fame, becoming a beacon of bro-hood for all of mankind.
In 2008, Harris starred in a web miniseries from creator Joss Whedon, called Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Starring alongside fellow cult actor Nathan Fillion, Harris sang his way into musical superhero history.
5. Katee Sackhoff
Katee Sackhoff is mostly known for portraying Captain Kara “Starbuck” Thrace on Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica, but she has traded in her spaceship for the wild, wild West.
Starbuck is considered one of the most complex and developed characters on TV. According to Sackhoff, Starbuck changed her ways throughout the series’ run. She began by being willing to lay down her life for her shipmates, but that readiness changes from her respect of her friends to respect of all life.
It’s this homage to the science fiction genre and Sackhoff’s evident devotion to her role that garnered her the respect of nerds around the world.
After Battlestar Galactica, she appeared in such series as Fox’s 24, FX’s Nip/Tuck and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Sackhoff now portrays Victoria “Vic” Moretti on A&E’s modern western drama Longmire. Moretti is a sheriff’s deputy who just transferred from Philadelphia, where she served as a homicide detective. She recently moved to Absaroka County, following her oil entrepreneur husband.
4. The Doctor Who cast
Bending the rules again, the cast of the BBC’s Doctor Who is sure to go down in cult fandom history.
After its reincarnation in 2005, Doctor Who has featured three different Doctors: Christopher Eccleston (2005), David Tennant (2005-2010) and Matt Smith (2010-present). Each has given his stint as the Doctor a valiant effort and has risen to the occasion of playing the time-traveling Time Lord.
The thing about the Doctor is that he never travels alone. Throughout the last few seasons, the Doctor has had a number of noteworthy companions: Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) and current companion Clara Oswin (Jenna-Louise Coleman). There have been other part-time companions, most notably the Doctor’s wife, River Song/Melody Pond (Alex Kingston).
With an ever-changing cast mixed with time and space travel, Doctor Who is a strong candidate for one of the best science fiction shows in TV history, though it’s already the longest-running science fiction show ever.
3. Portia de Rossi
Perhaps the lady with the biggest cult status is the comedic Portia de Rossi.
Her first big TV moment was playing Nelle Porter, a power-hungry lawyer who provides much-needed comedic relief on the Fox legal dramedy Ally McBeal.
de Rossi’s next big move was to Fox/Netflix’s cult comedy Arrested Development as Lindsay Bluth Fünke. This character has earned her many acting creds, and that is largely due to her awkward, cooky acting style. On the series, she is married to Tobias Fünke (David Cross) and is the mother of Maeby (Alia Shawkat), but let’s get real: Her relationship with her mother, played by Jessica Walter, is what constantly leaves audiences in stitches.
Most recently, de Rossi appeared as Veronica Palmer on ABC’s sitcom Better Off Ted. As Veronica, she plays Ted’s (Jay Harrington) crazy boss at Veridian Dynamics. She runs the place by striking fear into her employees, but her cold and calculating persona melts away when the time calls for a gentler approach.
2. Kyle MacLachlan
Kyle MacLachlan rose to TV cultdom on the ABC murder drama Twin Peaks as Special Agent Dale Cooper.
This show was equal parts quirky and awkward, and MacLachlan’s calm and capable demeanor on the show was admirable. Cooper arrives to Twin Peaks to investigate the brutal murder of Laura Palmer, a popular, local high school student. He falls in love with the quaint town and begins to gain the acceptance of the community. His list of quirky mannerisms is vast, including a thumbs up when he is satisfied, wise sayings and a deep affection for good cherry pie and a “damn fine cup of coffee.” Perhaps his biggest quirk is continually speaking to a tape recorder, listing his every move to a mysterious woman named Diane.
While MacLachlan has appeared in a variety of popular TV shows, including HBO’s Sex and the City and ABC’s Desperate Housewives, he’s also shown up in the indie comedy series Portlandia (IFC) as the mayor of a fictionalized Portland, Ore. Alongside co-creators and lead actors Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, MacLachlan’s over-the-top portrayal of the energetic political official is as strange as the man behind the character.
1. Nathan Fillion
We might as well call Nathan Fillion the king of cult.
Fillion’s first big TV break was on Two Guys and a Girl (originally titled Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place), where he played a jukebox repairman named Johnny Donnelly. He and Sharon (Traylor Howard) began dating off-and-on and married at the end of the third season.
Soon, Fillion began a great professional relationship with the man himself, Joss Whedon, appearing in both Firefly (Fox) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (The WB/UPN). On Firefly, Fillion played Malcolm ‘Mal’ Reynolds, captain of the starship Serenity.
While this was a protagonist role, Fillion played big baddie Caleb, the right-hand man of the First Evil, on the final season of Buffy. But before that, Caleb was a retired priest and serial killer, responsible for the deaths of at least two girls, whom he lured with a mix of sermons and charm.
Continuing the relationship with Whedon, Fillion portrayed Captain Hammer on the web miniseries Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog alongside Harris and Felicia Day.
Currently, Fillion plays the titular Richard Castle, a crime novelist who collaborates with the police to solve intense crimes, on the ABC crime series Castle.
With a wide array of series and some stellar roles under his belt, Fillion is the prime example of a cult actor. He maintains a wide fan base while not drawing too much attention to himself and his acting abilities.
Did I miss any of your favorite cult actors and actresses? Sound out in the comments below!
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