We interview a slew of under-appreciated actors, including John Slattery from ''Mad Men'' and ''Desperate Housewives'' and Tina Majorino from ''Napoleon Dynamite'' and ''Big Love''

By EW Staff
Updated October 10, 2008 at 04:00 AM EDT

Hollywood’s underrated players talk about being recognized on the street (at least some of the time), which other actors they admire, and the roles that got away.

Bob Balaban, 63
Best Known for: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Seinfeld, the Christopher Guest mockumentaries
The Role That Got Away: American Graffiti. ”I remember saying to my agent, ‘Oh, I just played a bunch of teenagers, and I’m already 25 years old. I shouldn’t really try to be a teenager anymore.”’
First Movie Role: Midnight Cowboy, the lone X-rated Best Picture Oscar winner. ”I was the gay kid who picks up Jon Voight on 42nd Street and gets sick in the bathroom afterward. So I was the X rating!”

Bobby Cannavale, 37
Best Known for: Third Watch, Will & Grace, The Station Agent
An Actor He Admires: ”John Turturro. He’s very close to my heart because I saw him on stage when I was a teenager. I was blown away by his forwardness. There’s nothing that’s not engaging you all the time.”
The Role That Got Away: ”Family Guy may be my all-time favorite show. And I met Seth MacFarlane, and he said, ‘You gotta come on and do a voice!’ And then he never called me.”

Lynn Cohen
Best Known for: Sex and the City, Law & Order, Munich
Most Recognized for: Her role as Miranda’s no-nonsense cleaning lady, Magda, on SATC. ”People come up and hug me. It’s a wonderful thing! I met an 85-year-old woman on the street the other day who said, ‘Oh, I’m obsessed with Sex and the City. I watch it every single day.’ She relates to Magda — she has the answer to all the problems in the world if you just listen to her.”

Kim Dickens, 43
Best Known for: Hollow Man, Deadwood, Lost
Her Favorite Role: Sherry in Things Behind the Sun. ”She was struggling with addictions, she was a rape survivor, she was a rock star. And we shot it in, like, three weeks on a very indie budget in Cocoa Beach, Florida. It was an all-around great experience. My close second would have to be Joanie Stubbs on Deadwood, because that was like walking around in a novel. Fans feel sort of affectionate toward those Deadwood characters.”

Anne Dudek, 33
Best Known for: House, Big Love, Mad Men
Most Recognized for: ”If I’m in Starbucks, it’s White Chicks.” Outside the coffee mecca? ”House. People feel awkward because my character’s known as ‘Cutthroat Bitch.’ They don’t want to say that to me.”
What She Loves About Her Career: ”When I came home from this shoot, my husband said, ‘Annie, I’m so proud that people care about what you’re doing.’ It’s such a rewarding feeling to think, ‘Oh, wow, someone likes what I’ve done!”’

Frances Fisher, 56
Best Known for: Unforgiven, Titanic, Lucy & Desi: Before the Laughter
The Role That Got Away: ”I was cast in the Home Improvement pilot as Tim Allen’s wife. There’s a technique to doing sitcoms, and I didn’t know it at the time. I was a fish out of water, so they fired me. They chalked it up to ‘lack of chemistry.’ That was humiliating and disappointing. I remember running into Patty [Richardson] one time. I said, ‘Oh, you’re so rich!’ And she said, ‘Yes, but you got to do Unforgiven!”’

Beth Grant, 59
Best Known for: Donnie Darko, Little Miss Sunshine, No Country for Old Men, The Office
Best Advice Ever? ”I started out wanting to be a movie star, like Joan Crawford and Marilyn Monroe. I kept trying to do all these glamorous roles. But I had this great acting teacher who said, ‘Why do you keep trying to be a Rolex watch? You’re the salt of the earth!’ Once I embraced myself as a character actress, I never looked back.”

Philip Baker Hall, 77
Best Known for: Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Seinfeld, Magnolia
Most Recognized for: Hall began his career on the New York stage in the ’60s and later segued to TV, where he first appeared as a motel owner on Good Times. But it was his hilarious stint as Bookman the library detective on a 1991 episode of Seinfeld that opened the most doors. ”I’ve only had to audition twice since then.”
An Actor He Admires: Ryan Gosling. ”He really is a kid, but he’s a spectacular actor — unbelievable, really.”

Tina Majorino, 23
Best Known for: Waterworld, Napoleon Dynamite, Veronica Mars, Big Love
Most Recognized for ”Surprisingly, [the 1994 girl-meets-seal kiddie film] Andre. Even though I’m 23. Most of the time, people look at me kind of funny and then say, ‘You know, you really resemble that little girl who was in Andre. Has anyone ever told you that before?’ And I’ll be like, ‘Yeah.’ Unless they straight-out ask, I don’t say, ‘Well, I am that person.’ That’s a little awkward.”

Romany Malco, 39
Best known for: Weeds, The 40 Year-Old Virgin
Most Recognized for: Virgin — but the recognition came in waves, starting with some ”thuggish dudes” who complimented him three weeks before its release. ”I realized what it was: The gangsters saw the bootleg before it came out.”
His Previous Life: Malco worked as a rapper and music producer before John Leguizamo encouraged him to try acting.

Jayma Mays, 29
Best Known for: Heroes, Ugly Betty
Her Favorite Role: Cynthia, the stressed-out hotel clerk in her first movie, Red Eye. ”Everything was new and fresh and I was nervous. And [Cynthia] was nervous. So it worked.”
The Name Game: Mays played a character named Charlie on both Heroes and Ugly Betty. ”It’s just so weird. I told my manager, ‘Look, if there’s a role that opens up called Charlie, just send it to me. I’m gold. I don’t care if it’s a man.”’

Larry Miller, 54
Best Known for: Pretty Woman, The Nutty Professor, Best in Show
An Actor He Admires: ”Gene Hackman. He brings a little heroism and innocence to the worst people, and a tired darkness to the best.”
On Playing the Jerk: ”[People say], ‘Gee, you so often play —,’ and I say, ‘Annoying, horrifying people? Someone who, if you ran into the guy, would be just awful?’ To me, that’s hysterical. It’s been years [since] it dawned on me that I was playing a lot of parts like that.”

Sarah Paulson, 33
Best Known for: Jack & Jill, Deadwood, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
The Role That Got Away: ”I really wanted [Claire Danes’ part in] Shopgirl. It spoke to me a lot more than playing so-and-so’s wife in a disaster movie. [Pause] Although… don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t sneeze at that, either!”
What She Loves About Her Career: ”That I’ve got all my fingers in all of the different pots — theater, movies, and television. I feel very lucky that I can do all three.”

Martha Plimpton, 37
Best Known for: The Goonies, Parenthood, Beautiful Girls
Most Recognized for: ”I went to jury duty the other day, and somebody said, ‘You always play drug addicts!’ I’ve played a few on TV, and I imagine because the shows get replayed, it seems like more. But yeah, people tend to see me as this pregnant teenage heroin addict.”
An Actor She Admires: ”Gena Rowlands in Gloria. She’s a massive hero to me.”

James Rebhorn, 60
Best Known for: Scent of a Woman, Independence Day, Meet the Parents
Playing the Part: ”Generally, the character in Scent of a Woman is the character I play — a buttoned-down, stern taskmaster.” So is he like that off screen? ”You’d have to ask my wife and kids!”
Up Next: A play called Saturn Returns. ”For a creative industry, [Hollywood] is not that creative. They tend to hire me based upon what I last did. I enjoy theater because it’s not quite that rigid in its interpretation of your skill.”

Lance Reddick, 46
Best Known for: Oz, The Wire, Lost
An Actor He Admires: ”Maybe three weeks ago, I’m walking by this café [in New York] and I hear, ‘Good actor!’ I turn around thinking it’s some fan — and it’s Philip Seymour Hoffman. I freaked out. I was thinking, ‘I can’t walk up to him, but I have to walk up to him!’ So I walked up and said, ‘I’m so honored.’ And that was it. I left and got on the subway. I’ve never made such a fool of myself in my life.”

Krysten Ritter, 26
Best Known for: Gilmore Girls, Veronica Mars
An Actor She Admires: ”Isla Fisher’s career is pretty remarkable. She’s been doing it since she was 13 years old, and she’s really come into her own comedically. I’d love to be where she is in five years.”
Bizarre Side Effect of Fame: ”A die-hard fan of Veronica Mars made a lunch box covered with pictures of [my character] Gia Goodman. So I have a lunch box with me on it, which is pretty hysterical.”

Matt Servitto, 43
Best Known for: The Sopranos, Brotherhood, Sex and the City
The Role That Got Away: ”Last week I auditioned for 30 Rock, and I so wanted it. It’s my favorite show in the world. One of my best friends got the job instead.”
His Lucky Break: Servitto played Agent Harris, Tony’s FBI contact, for The Sopranos‘ entire run. ”I auditioned for the pilot as Father Phil, the priest that Carmela has a little flirtation with in season 1. Thank God I didn’t get it!”

John Slattery, 46
Best Known for: Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, Mad Men
The Role That Got Away: ”I would’ve loved to do the Denis Leary part in Recount. I read it, but I don’t think I was ever considered for it. And Leary was great in it.”
Favorite Costar: Slattery is married to Talia Balsam, who plays his wife on Mad Men. ”It’s great. You don’t have to pretend. It cuts down on the homework.”

Stephen Tobolowsky, 57
Best Known for: Mississippi Burning, Groundhog Day, Memento, Deadwood, Heroes
Favorite Role: ”Probably Ned in Groundhog Day. But the most fun I ever had doing a movie was working on Great Balls of Fire! Two and a half months in Memphis on Beale Street — like, wow.”
The Role That Got Away: Tobolowsky was offered the role of Al in Home Improvement, but had to drop out to film Single White Female. ”I would have been a multi-multimillionaire!”

Celia Weston
Best Known for: Alice, Dead Man Walking, Junebug
An Actor She Admires: ”Max von Sydow. We were on Snow Falling on Cedars for months. He was so committed. I guess I have a little crush, all due respect to his lovely wife.”
The Role That Got Away: Dolly Pelliker in Silkwood. ”For weeks I thought I had a very strong shot. And, of course, it went to Cher. We found out when it was announced on Entertainment Tonight.”

Aaron Yoo, 29
Best Known for: Disturbia, 21, The Wackness
The Role That Got Away: ”I think the very first movie I ever auditioned for on tape was Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. I didn’t know John [Cho] at the time, and they wound up offering it to him. I remember liking that script so much. I was so distraught over that whole thing.”
What He Loves About His Career: ”Every year I can legitimately say that I’ve learned something.”