By Ben Falk
You’ve seen Bob Balaban, most people have. He has one of those faces that makes an impression. You may not know why it’s so familiar or why it’s a pleasant surprise, but you know it.
Balaban is everywhere. He portrays the characters that hold films together. Not background players, but those supporting parts that bring audiences into a film. These actors become their characters and transport the audience into a story. They are not stars, as they do not draw attention away from everything else. They are craftsmen, creating characters that serve the story and in turn, become a part of it. This is why you know Bob Balaban but cannot really place him. It’s a compliment. His type of acting marks the difference between a high school production and a run at the Old Vic. In high school it’s, “There’s Johnny playing a pirate;” with Balaban it’s, “there’s a pirate.”
While “pirate” may not have been a part played in one of Balaban’s many film or TV appearances, it very well could have been. In a 40-plus year career Balaban has performed in Midnight Cowboy; Catch-22; the TV-series Love, American Style; The Mod Squad (the boss 70’s version); Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Prince of the City; Absence of Malice; Miami Vice; Bob Roberts; Seinfeld; City Slickers II; The Late Shift; Waiting for Guffman; Deconstructing Harry; The West Wing; Gosford Park; A Mighty Wind; Capote; For Your Consideration; Entourage; Recount; Howl; and many, many more. Oh, and he’s also found time to direct: the HBO movie Bernard and Doris; produce: the Oscar-nominated Gosford Park; and write six children’s books about a bionic dog – who may or may not be the seal-team six dog sent in to kill Osama Bin Laden – named McGrowl.
It’s a varied, accomplished career. Filled with nominations, awards won, and even a few failures. But in the end it is clear: Balaban creates the characters we remember, if not the name of the person who played them.