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100 Greatest Characters: Nos. 51-75

Edward Cullen and Barney Stinson make appearances in this part of our countdown of the greatest characters in the last 20 years

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51. Omar Little
”Omar is coming!” is a line that can still give us chills. Michael K. Williams’ great thug from HBO’s Baltimore-set drama The Wire (2002-08) was an outsider in every way: a thief who stole from drug runners, a gay man in a homophobic inner-city crime culture, and a brilliant mind condemned to lead a sordid, desperate life. Omar is one of pop culture’s great existentialist loners.

52. Annie Wilkes
”I’m your number one fan” charged into the lexicon thanks to Kathy Bates’ eerie turn as psychopathic former nurse Annie Wilkes in 1990’s Misery (based on Stephen King’s 1987 novel). ”I love playing unlikable people,” the actress told EW at the time. There’s no question Wilkes, who hated profanities yet reveled in torturing a famous author (James Caan), will never be named Miss Congeniality.

53. Edward Cullen
The brooding, sparkle-skinned vampire of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, played by Robert Pattinson in the blockbuster film franchise, is the poster on teenage girls’ walls and quite possibly the picture on their mothers’ and grandmothers’ nightstands. ”Maybe Edward would not be the best boyfriend,” Meyer told EW in 2008, ”because he’s such a tortured soul. But you also couldn’t just be his friend because he’s terribly sexy and charismatic.” Added Pattinson: ”If you played it straight-out manic-depressive, every young girl watching it would have been like, ‘Um, I don’t know about that.’ So I tried to make it as much as possible like a 17-year-old guy who had this purgatory inflicted on him.”

54. Juno
”Teenage girls deserve a better shake in cinema,” screenwriter Diablo Cody told us in 2007, months before she won an Oscar for her screenplay about a sharp-edged pregnant teenager, played with terrific punch by Ellen Page. ”God knows people might say the dialogue in Juno is too stylized, but I’ve met so many hyperarticulate teenage girls who are not just shallow and image-obsessed.”

55. Tracy Morgan
r mixing up Tracy Morgan, the actor, with Tracy Jordan, the TV comedian he so naturally inhabits on 30 Rock. ”I thought the character was perfectly suited for me,” Morgan says, ”because [series creator and fellow Saturday Night Live alum Tina Fey] just wanted me to do me.” That said, the star would like to make it clear that there is a difference between the two Tracys. ”Tracy Morgan doesn’t run down the street in his underwear holding a lightsaber,” he says of the flashback to Jordan’s breakdown in the pilot episode. ”And Tracy Jordan has $300 million that I don’t.”

56. Barney Stinson
The overblown scoundrel on CBS’ How I Met Your Mother was originally written as a Jack Black type, but Neil Patrick Harris went to the audition anyway. ”I didn’t really feel like I was the type for Barney, so I figured as long as I was there, I might as well make an ass of myself. I think that’s what they were drawn to,” recalls Harris, whose full-out shoulder roll while reading a laser-tag scene helped win him the part. He says playing the womanizer is ”like putting on this fantastic coat of a character. Granted, a very expensive, PETA-picketed sharkskin jacket. But it gets him laid.” So what’s Barney’s enduring legacy? Harris pauses. ”Scabies.”

57. Clayton Bigsby
Clayton Bigsby, who appeared on the very first episode of Chappelle’s Show in 2003, is a blind man and leading light of the white supremacist movement. It’s probably also worth pointing out that this Dave Chappelle comic creation is black. ”That was a sketch Dave thought of because his grandfather was light-skinned and blind,” says Chappelle’s Show co-creator Neal Brennan, who also co-wrote the Bigsby sketch. ”When Martin Luther King Jr. got shot, Dave’s grandfather was on a bus and a bunch of black dudes surrounded him and were like, ‘What are you doing on this bus, cracker?’ And Dave’s grandfather was like, ‘Yeah, that cracker’s in trouble!”’ For Chappelle, stirring the pot seems to run in the family.

58. Thelma & Louise
I was working in video production and I was really unhappy. Then the idea for Thelma & Louise came to me all at once in a flash. I have a really great friend that I’ve known for 30 years who’s a singer in Nashville. We were wild in our youth. We drove around getting in and out of trouble. And that feeling of being in a car with your best friend, listening to music, wishing you hadn’t done what you just did or trying to figure out what kind of trouble you were going to get into next was so much a part of our experience.

I wrote the script in six months and then I gave it to a friend, who managed to get it to [director] Ridley Scott. Then we got lucky enough to cast Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis. The change that Geena goes through — the way you see her becoming so conscious — is so beautiful to me. And I love the vulnerability of Susan. I always considered myself a feminist, but I didn’t sit down to write a feminist treatise. I wasn’t sophisticated enough for that. To this day, so many women tell me it changed their lives, but I don’t know if it really changed anyone’s life but mine.

59. Master Chief
Forget Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog. Since 2001, gaming has been dominated by Halo‘s Master Chief, a cybernetically enhanced supersoldier whose face still hasn’t been revealed because he rarely removes his darn space helmet. ”That was a stroke of genius,” says Steve Downes, the Chicago-based radio DJ who voices MC. ”Since he has no face, the player can really feel himself as Master Chief. And I don’t have to worry about lip-synching!”

60. Mary Jones
The most shocking thing about the horrendously abusive NYC mother played by Mo’Nique in last year’s Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire? By the end of the film, you actually feel bad for her. ”[Director] Lee Daniels said, ‘I need Mary Jones to be a monster,”’ the Oscar winner told EW last year. ”My oldest brother was a monster to me. So when he said ‘Action,’ it was like, ‘You know what? I need to remember who that monster was.”’

61. Vic Mackey
Det. Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) was as corrupt as they come, stealing from drug dealers, beating suspects, and committing the occasional murder. He certainly didn’t deserve our loyalty — but he got it, season after heart-stopping season on FX’s The Shield (2002-08), because he loved his kids and still caught bad guys. As Chiklis told EW in 2008, ”I am amazed at how many people comment on how they want him to get away with it.”

62. Jimmy Corrigan
A man clad in a Superman costume leaps to his death early on in Chris Ware’s grim and beautiful 2000 graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. It’s an image that encapsulates the book’s approach to what comics can be. Jimmy is no superhero: He’s middle-aged, paralyzed by self-doubt, and socially helpless. But in forming his character’s pathos, Ware drew on comic tradition. ”I most wanted to create a person the reader could feel through, not laugh at,” says Ware, ”so very deliberate Charlie Brown homages appear throughout the book.” Jimmy’s pain is sometimes hard to bear, but it’s also cathartic and deeply moving. It is, strangely, good grief.

63. John Locke
Wheelchair-bound box-company employee. Man of faith who, miraculously, can walk. Murder victim. ”He had a huge impact on people’s lives and was totally blind to it,” says actor Terry O’Quinn of his role on Lost. ”There’s a Jackson Browne song that goes, ‘And somewhere between the time you arrive/And the time you go/May lie a reason you were alive/But you’ll never know.’ That sums up John Locke for me.”

64. Maximus
Why did audiences identify with an enslaved Roman general fighting for his freedom in the Colosseum in the 2000 hit Gladiator? Credit the decidedly modern attitude of Russell Crowe’s Maximus. ”Unlike John Wayne or Clint Eastwood in their cowboy roles, where they’re untouchable, godlike heroes, Maximus is down-to-earth,” says writer-producer David Franzoni. ”He’s us. He just won’t take s—.”

65. Lorelai & Rory Gilmore
Before Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, mothers were lesson givers and daughters were lesson learners, each fulfilling her age-appropriate role emotionally, romantically, and sartorially. All that went topsy-turvy in 2000 when Gilmore Girls introduced us to high school dropout/Hello Kitty-waffle-iron owner Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and her straitlaced, preppy, Harvard-obsessed daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel). While awkward Friday-night dinners came and went, one constant was some of the sharpest — and speediest — dialogue we’d ever heard on TV. ”Halfway through year 2 or 3 they brought in a dialogue coach to help us,” recalls Bledel. ”It was tricky. Your brain would get over-loaded.” Adds Graham, ”There wasn’t even punctuation in the scripts. When I would go on auditions later, people would say, ‘Tell her to talk slow!”’

66. Allie and Noah from The Notebook
The star-crossed couple in The Notebook — played by Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling in the 2004 adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ best-seller — fall in love on a Ferris wheel, get separated by class and World War II, then finally find themselves back in each other’s pretty arms. ”I’m a sucker for those sweeping love stories,” McAdams told EW in 2004. ”When I read the script, I couldn’t stop crying!” It should be a rule that Gosling must kiss someone, anyone, in the rain in each of his movies.


+ Rose & Jack, Titanic (1997)
The ill-fated lovers, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, found romance — and a box office bonanza — on the doomed ocean liner.
+ Latika & Jamal, Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Though Jamal (Dev Patel) scored big on a game show, he wouldn’t rest until he won the heart of Latika (Freida Pinto).
+ Eve & Wall-E, WALL-E (2008)
Their operating systems were worlds apart, but EVE and WALL?E still made a connection.
+ Annie & Sam, Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Meg Ryan’s and Tom Hanks’ characters don’t meet until the very end, but we know what his son (Ross Malinger) has long suspected: They’re perfect for each other.
+ Ennis & Jack, Brokeback Mountain (2005)
The lovestruck cowboys (played by Heath Ledger, above left, and Jake Gyllenhaal) never could quit each other.

67. Borat
A Kazakh TV reporter with a bad mustache and worse body odor who travels across America spouting racist, antifeminist, and anti-Semitic nonsense in broken English — what’s not to love, right? Yet from the moment Borat Sagdiyev debuted in the U.S. on HBO’s Da Ali G Show in 2003, it was clear Sacha Baron Cohen’s high-wire brand of gotcha satire — in which his faux reporter lured real people into unwittingly revealing their deepest prejudices — was like nothing ever seen before. Whether leading a barroom full of country-music fans in a round of ”Throw the Jew Down the Well” or handing a genteel Southern woman a bag of his own excrement, Borat made sexytime with some of our most deeply held political and cultural values. In the process, Baron Cohen often risked life and limb — and incurred many a lawsuit. ”Sacha was relentless,” says Larry Charles, who directed the surprise 2006 big-screen hit Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. ”We’d sometimes be shooting a scene and hear police sirens coming toward us, and we’d keep going until we felt like we were about to get arrested. Sacha never once broke character.” High five!

68. Jennifer Hudson’s Effie White
”I love imitating people,” says Jennifer Hudson. So it’s no surprise that her Oscar-winning turn as a brash, insecure diva in Dreamgirls (2006) was as much inspired by members of her family as it was by Jennifer Holliday’s seminal 1980s stage version. ”Things that my grandfather would do reminded me very much of Effie, so I put that into the character,” she says. ”Then I would tell him, ‘I was imitating you right there!”’

69. Miranda Priestly
Lauren Weisberger may have invented Miranda Priestly in her 2003 novel The Devil Wears Prada, but it was Meryl Streep who breathed depth into the fashion-mag editrix in the 2006 film adaptation. Vulnerable underneath her armor of designer clothing and shock of white hair, Miranda encapsulates the complexities of a powerful woman in an industry rooted in artifice — a woman who, as Streep noted in her recent graduation speech at Barnard College, appeals to both sexes. Streep has maintained that she did not base the character on famed Vogue editor Anna Wintour, but on a number of high achievers she’s encountered in her life. ”I’ve known a lot of businessmen — my father was one. I didn’t just use women when I thought about her,” the actress says. And the choice to deliver Miranda’s signature send-off, ”That’s all,” barely above a whisper? ”People lean in and listen better when you don’t raise your voice,” Streep laughs. ”I wish I had learned that in child rearing!”

70. Mary Katherine Gallagher
Molly Shannon’s nerves nearly got the best of her every time Saturday Night Live was about to air. But sweaty palms and the shakes were a boon when she played Mary Katherine Gallagher — the overexcited, theater-obsessed, armpit-sniffing high schooler she created as a student at NYU. ”What’s great about Mary Katherine is that you can use that heart-pounding and anxiousness and just pour it into the performance,” says Shannon. ”She’s nervous and anxious and desperate and hungry and passionate. She gets into trouble and messes up, and they pull her out by her ear, but she’s like, ‘Superstar!’ In my head, it was a dance of hope, survival, of I-will-rise-up.” And despite the pratfalls, Mary Katherine still managed to do just that.

By SNL creator/exec producer Lorne Michaels

+ Matt Foley (Chris Farley)
”Everyone knows that guy — the guy with a little bit of information who’s going to take a long time to give it to you. It worked because of the sheer physicality of how he moved around and got in everyone’s face.”
+ Wayne and Garth (Mike Myers and Dana Carvey)
”Mike arrived at the show with Wayne. With Mike, Dana invented Garth. There was just a real chemistry. Who else would let Wayne be the leader? It had to be Garth. We made it a cable show, which at the time made it seem like an innovation.”
+ The Ladies Man (Tim Meadows)
”He has that confidence mixed with ignorance. There’s no standing outside the character and going, ‘This guy’s an idiot.’ Even when we had Monica Lewinsky do a sketch, it had a sweetness to it. It’s from a time of sexuality that is old-school dirty, so that’s what’s silly about it.”
+ Spartan Cheerleaders (Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri)
”The sincerity of those characters, their commitment to spirit, captures a certain part of what high school is about. It’s the sweetness of them that was their appeal. Will and Cheri really rehearsed; their routines are routines. They weren’t thrown together.”
+ Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer (Phil Hartman)
”Obviously, there’s been lots of caveman stuff since, but the fact that he manipulates the jury is the genius of it. He’s still a tacky lawyer, but he was a caveman and unfrozen and this is what he’s chosen to do with his life.”

71. Det. Alonzo Harris
After years of playing upstanding heroes, Denzel Washington proved he needed no special training to portray a villain, riding the role of a corrupt LAPD narcotics officer to a Best Actor Oscar with his unsettling performance in 2001’s Training Day. As the actor recalls, ”After that, I got, like, 50 offers in a row: How about this bad cop? How about this one?”

72. Kara ”Starbuck” Thrace
We saw a woman come of age. When Starbuck started she was 22, and when she died she was 28 — those are formative years for a woman. She was always trying to do the right thing and she just kept screwing up. She really did walk the line of masculine and feminine, and right and wrong. She kind of knew that ”in order for me to have a good day, and not kill anybody, I might need to punch you in the face to relieve some of my stress.”

It’s not that she wasn’t scared of death, because she was terrified of death. She went, like so many people do, towards what scared her the most. On the page, she was so tough, and I think part of what worked about her was this overall sense of insecurity and vulnerability. That was me, as a vulnerable, insecure actor who came in and didn’t quite think I was capable of doing this.

73. Catgerube Tramell from Basic Instinct (1992)

74. Don Draper
His name is Don Draper. Except it’s not. It’s actually Dick Whitman, a poor, damaged boy who grew up, took a dead man’s identity, and reinvented himself as a successful advertising exec in 1960s New York. Behold the American myth of the self-made man. Draper is brilliant at selling dreams because he himself is a dream come true. Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner credits actor Jon Hamm for imbuing Draper with ”intelligence, mystery, and empathy.” The inspiration for his antihero was leading men of the ’60s, especially James Garner — guys, Weiner says, who were ”old-fashioned, handsome, and charming, who had a cynical veneer but inside they were really a Boy Scout.”

75. David Brent
The hilariously insufferable boss from the original BBC version of The Office still gets under our skin — in a good way. Here star and co-creator Ricky Gervais offers 5 tips to make a classic character.

1. Give your character a blind spot
The most important thing about David Brent is his blind spot. There’s a big chasm between how he perceives himself and how everyone else perceives him. It’s almost like nature’s way of protecting him. There’s nothing funnier than someone trying to be funny who isn’t. There are people who bounce up to me in the street and go, ”People say I’m just like David Brent!” And I think, Wow, the irony!

2. Steal from real life
I’ve always observed people. One of the inspirations was this man I met when I was 18 and went along with a friend to an employment agency. This guy had a ponytail and red glasses and he said to me, ”I don’t give s—ty jobs. If two good guys like you come along, I go, ‘Yeah, I can place them.” And he called up his mate, winked at us, and said, ”Of course they’re over 20.” And he did a Pinocchio sort of nose. My first thought was: Hold on, we’re meant to trust him because he’s lying to a friend?

3. Never compromise
We didn’t send a script of The Office out. We made an episode ourselves with one camera at the University of London, where I used to work as a middle manager. When we first showed it to the BBC, I said, ”Right, I’m in it and I’m writing it and I’m directing it. Or we walk.” And they went, ”Um…” And Steve [Merchant, Office co-creator] afterwards said, ”In the future, Rick, can I do the talking?” He was terrified we’d lost it. But it worked. If you can walk away and it’s not a bluff, you’re bulletproof.

4. Be parochial?
When we did the [deal for the U.S. version of The Office], the first thing they said was maybe I could play the main character. And I thought, Well, that’s madness. Then they said, ”Do you want to write and direct?” And we said, ”No, no. This should be made for Americans by Americans.” The two sitcoms are microcosmic representations of the two countries. Americans are told they can be the next President of the United States. Brits are told, ”It won’t happen to you!” David Brent is more beaten down. Michael Scott is slightly more driven. And has better teeth. Now I think it would be safe to pop up [as David Brent on the U.S. Office]. In Staying Alive, Sylvester Stallone, who directed it, just bumps into John Travolta on the street. I’d like to do that to Steve Carell. Of course, Staying Alive is one of my biggest influences.

5. …yet also universal
Even though it’s quintessentially British, the themes of The Office are universal. It’s a comedy of recognition. Everyone is a little bit egotistical. Everyone embarrasses themselves sometimes. Everyone’s got a little bit of David Brent in them. I think that’s why The Office works across countries. They’re making the Russian and Israeli ones at the moment. And there’s interest in India. There’s a billion people. The ratings are going to be good.