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The Breakthrough Movies of 10 Great Actors

John Hawkes is an actor you’re more likely to know by face than name (he was the terrifying Teardrop Dolly in Winter’s Bone, and the cult leader in Martha Marcy May Marlene), but that may well change after Friday, when his starring vehicle The Sessions begins rolling out to theaters. Since its premiere back in January at Sundance, Hawkes’ performance as a paralyzed poet has been generating Oscar murmurs; this may very well be the film that finally makes him the movie star he so richly deserves to be. Not every great character actor gets that one breakthrough role that finally makes them a name above the title, but it does happen occasionally — and after the jump, we’ve assembled ten films that did just that.

William H. Macy
EARLY APPEARANCES: House of Games, Benny & Joon, Searching for Bobby Fischer
BREAKTHROUGH ROLE: Fargo

Macy came into movies doing small roles (originally as W.H. Macy) for Woody Allen and David Mamet, his longtime stage collaborator. His film roles got bigger, with featured turns in movies like Mr. Holland’s Opus and Murder in the First, before the Coen Brothers cast him in one of the leading roles for their 1996 film Fargo. Macy probably didn’t expect the picture to change his profile much — it was a low-budget effort, and its directors were bouncing back from the box-office failure of The Hudsucker Proxy. But it was a surprise sleeper hit, and critics fell for it hard. So did Oscar voters — Macy nabbed a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, one of seven nominations for the film. Macy has continued to mix leading roles with smaller ones in both studio and indie films, but from Fargo on, he was enough of a name to get above-the-title billing on the likes of… well, Wild Hogs. We’re sure it was a nice check.

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