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Why these DC movie actors look so familiar

The ever-expanding galaxy of DC Comics films has given us a number of A-list actors portraying some of the universe's mightiest beings. But it takes a village to raise a superhero, which means there have been a slew of actors providing support for those wearing tights and saving the day. It also means moviegoers have probably watched a DC movie and asked themselves "Where have I seen that actor before?"

Fear not, dear reader — we're here to help with a look at some DC Extended Universe stars that offers a rundown of some of the places you may have seen them before, whether it's been television or the movies. It takes a performer with a solid resume to make their way into a notable role in any of DC's films — and this deep dive into these actors' other notable roles offers plenty of proof. Here's why some of your favorite DC stars look so familiar.

Joel Kinnaman - Suicide Squad

Every squad needs a leader, and the frontman of DC's Suicide Squad was Colonel Rick Flag, portrayed Joel Kinnaman. Flag was the United States special forces office enlisted by Amanda Waller to lead a team of bad guys against supernatural forces.

Facing off against powers beyond his control onscreen is nothing new for Kinnaman. In the Netflix series Altered Carbon, he played Takeshi Kovacs — a mercenary whose consciousness is continually uploaded into different human "sleeves" that allow him to carry out covert and dangerous missions. Not exactly like chasing down an interdimensional spirit... but not really that different, either.

Kinnaman played a much more Earth-bound role — though no less in pursuit of perceived evil — when he signed on for a season of House of Cards playing Will Conway, the Republican New York governor who opposed Frank Underwood as the latter ran for re-election for president. He also played a pair of roles that were more of the truth and justice variety when he played homicide detective Stephen Holder in the AMC mystery series The Killing. Around the same time, Kinnaman played a more militant justice seeker when he became Alex Murphy, better known as the title character in RoboCop.

Adam Beach - Suicide Squad

Adam Beach made his entry into the DC universe as Christopher Weiss, a.k.a. Slipknot, the rope-tying and -climbing expert enlisted into Amanda Waller's Task Force X. Unfortunately, things didn't work out so well, with Slipknot being tricked into blowing himself up. You've gotta hate when that happens.

But long before he donned the hemp and latex of a supervillain-turned-superhero, Beach was a bona fide crime fighter when he spent 21 episodes as Detective Chester Lake on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, where he was paired alongside Ice-T's Fin Tutuola.

Beach's career has seen him play military figures one more than one occasion, including two of his most notable roles. His breakout role came in 2002 when he played Private Ben Yahzee in John Woo's Windtalkers. The movie told the story of the Navajo Indians who used their native language to create codes to help America win the battles in the Pacific during World War II. Two years later, Beach starred in another World War II epic with Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers. This time, Beach took on the role of Ira "Chief Falling Cloud" Hayes, the Native American marine who helped raise the United States flag on Iwo JIma during World War II.

Connie Nielsen - Wonder Woman

Connie Nielsen has graced the screen in a pair of DC films, playing Queen Hippolyta in Wonder Woman and reprising the role several months later in Justice League. It's no small feat to not only be the ruler of the Amazons of Themyscira but also the mother of Diana Prince, yet it's a role that Nielsen was obviously more than up for.

Maybe it's because Nielsen has experience playing royalty — her breakout role in American cinema came alongside Russell Crowe in Gladiator as Princess Lucilla, daughter of Marcus Aurelius and eventual wife of Commodus. Two years later, she portrayed another aggrieved wife in One Hour Photo, as Nina Yorkin, the object of Sy Parrish's (Robin Williams) dangerous obsession.

Nielsen's career has included a number of television roles, including the politically savvy Meredith Kane in Boss, the rich and ruthless Lily Gray in The Following, and a short stint as Detective Dani Beck on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit — a role she held for a short time while Mariska Hargitay was on maternity leave. More recently, Nielsen portrayed the mysterious Corinna Hodel in the limited series I Am the Night.

David Thewlis - Wonder Woman

Like Connie Nielsen, David Thewlis' role within the DC Universe was too large to be contained within one film. In Wonder Woman, Thewlis played Sir Patrick Morgan, the English aristocrat who secretly plots to obtain a chemical weapon to destroy the world. When his plan is foiled, Morgan reverts to his true form as Ares, the god of war — a role he revived in Justice League. But Thewlis was engaging in supernatural battles long before the tangled with Diana of Themyscira — he also appeared in multiple films in the Harry Potter franchise as the half-blood werewolf Professor Remus Lupin.

In The Theory of Everything, Thewlis played a character that was not otherworldly but was no less cosmic. He brought physicist and cosmologist Dennis Sciama to the big screen, a role that earned him a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination. Thewlis earned another major award nomination — this time a Golden Globe — for playing the malevolent villain V.M. Varga on the third season of Fargo.

While it certainly wasn't his meatiest role, astute fans of The Big Lebowski might also recognize Thewlis from his brief yet memorable appearance as Knox Harrington, the video artist and friend of Maude Lebowski.

Patrick Wilson - Aquaman

You might remember Patrick Wilson from his work in Aquaman as King Orm, half-brother and sworn enemy of Arthur Curry. But that was just one of Wilson's multiple, yet unrelated, entries in the DC Universe. In Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wilson's voice made an appearance as the President of the United States. That was just a blip on the radar compared to the time he donned a cape, cowl, and ears to take on the role of Dan Dreiberg — a.k.a. Nite Owl — in the film adaptation of Watchmen.

Lest one think Wilson's only flown within the DC orbit, he's also dipped his toes into the waters of horror on multiple occasions. In 2010, he was cast in Insidious as Josh Lambert, the father of a family being visited by evil spirits haunting the family's sick child — a role that Wilson would reprise in the 2013 sequel. The same year, he stepped into the persona of Ed Warren, one half of a team of paranormal investigators looking into strange goings-on in a family farmhouse in The Conjuring — another horror movie that turned into a franchise for Wilson.

Wilson's also made a number of appearances on the small screen, notably as Minnesota State Police patrol officer Lou Solverson in the second season of Fargo.

Scoot McNairy - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

In the titular battle of Batman v. Superman, Scoot McNairy's character Wallace Keefe undoubtedly picked a side. He blamed the son of Krypton for the loss of his legs — and the eventual loss of his wife and daughter — before eventually defacing a Superman statue in his hometown of Metropolis. As for actor Scoot McNairy, the DC film was a departure from a career that has been heavy on indie features. In Our Brand Is Crisis, he played Richard Buckley, a low-budget commercial director hired to help a political consulting firm re-elect a controversial president in South America.

More recently, McNairy has found plenty of work on television. In the third season of True Detective, he played Tom Purcell, the grief-stricken father of a young murder victim. The Netflix limited series Godless saw McNairy playing an actual lawman as Bill McNue, the sheriff of an old West town almost completely inhabited by women. However, he might be best known for his work in the 1980s-based drama Halt and Catch Fire, on which he starred as Gordon Clark, a computer engineer trying to resurrect his career after a very public professional humiliation.

Cillian Murphy - The Dark Knight

Cillian Murphy didn't play a starring role in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy but it doesn't mean his part in the series was unimportant. He portrayed Dr. Jonathan Crane, who later becomes the Scarecrow, terrorizing Gotham City by using a psychedelic gas that causes mass hallucinations and — not surprisingly — lands on Batman's radar.

But Murphy's experience working with Nolan goes beyond the DC Universe. After putting down the Scarecrow mask, he picked up a battle helmet for Nolan's World War II epic Dunkirk to play a soldier rescued from a sinking ship who, in a fit of panic, inadvertently kills one of his rescuers. Murphy and Nolan also teamed up in the blockbuster movie Inception. As Robert Fischer, Murphy's character is on the verge of inheriting a multi-billion dollar company from his ailing father and unwittingly becomes the target of Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his band of dream seeders.

There are more than just Christopher Nolan movies on Murphy's resume. In one of the actor's breakout roles, he had the chance to work with horror legend Wes Craven on Red Eye as Jackson Rippner, a mercenary assassin who kidnaps a woman in a plot to kill the United States Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security.

Mark Strong - Green Lantern

Green Lantern didn't draw rave reviews when it was released in 2011, but it did give Mark Strong a chance to stake a claim to a piece of the DC Comics Universe as Sinestro, former member of the Green Lantern Corps who is ultimately dismissed from the squad and eventually becomes the nemesis of Hal Jordan.

If the idea of Strong playing a villain seems fitting, it's because he has a long history of playing bad guys in movies — like Frank D'Amico in Kick-Ass, a drug dealer and mob boss who runs afoul of the title character thanks to a mix-up over a missing shipment of cocaine. Things don't work out well for Frank. In RocknRolla, Strong remained on the wrong side of the law, this time as a strong-armed henchman named Archy. As a trusted assistant to mob boss Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson), Archy handles the dirtier side of Cole's real estate dealing business. In 2019, he returned to the DCEU as Doctor Sivana, nemesis to the title character in Shazam!

It hasn't been all scowls and antagonizing for Strong's screen roles. In Kingsman: The Secret Service and its sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Strong plays the part of Merlin, a Kingsman agent and technical specialist who works alongside multiple lead field agents.

Marion Cotillard - The Dark Knight Rises

Marion Cotillard has only made one appearance in a DCEU film, but she made it count. In The Dark Knight Rises, she appears as the beautiful and mysterious Miranda Tate, an executive on the board of Wayne Enterprises. After getting close to Bruce Wayne, she reveals herself to be Talia al Ghul, the daughter of international terrorist Ra's al Ghul and an ally of Batman's nemesis Bane.

Other parts of Cotillard's acting resume aren't quite so sinister, but she's not unfamiliar with starring in other Christopher Nolan epics. She also played a key role in Inception as Mal, the estranged wife of Leonardo DiCaprio's Dom Cobb. In 2009, Cotillard played another femme fatale when she portrayed Billie Frechette in Michael Mann's Public Enemies. The role cast her opposite Johnny Depp's John Dillinger as the famed bank robber's love interest and occasional accomplice.

Cotillard also boasts an Oscar among her many awards, netting the honor for Best Actress in 2008 for her portrayal of French singer Edith Piaf in the film La Vie en Rose. It was the first time a French actress had taken home the statue since Simone Signoret won it for Room at the Top.

Tom Wilkinson - Batman Begins

Dig deep enough into the Batman canon and you'll come across the name Carmine "The Roman" Falcone. As an enemy of the Caped Crusader but a friend to the Wayne Family, Falcone was the head of his own crime syndicate and kept drugs prevalent on the streets of Gotham City. In Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, that portrait of corruption was brought to life by Tom Wilkinson — a veteran character actor with more than 100 credits to his name. He took a turn in another comic book-based film with The Green Hornet as James Reid, newspaper magnate and father of the title character.

Batman Begins isn't Wilkinson's only gig as a mob boss — he also played the unscrupulous Lenny Cole in RocknRolla alongside Mark Strong, another inhabitant of the DC Universe — but not all of Wilkinson's roles have been of the menacing variety. In the television miniseries The Kennedys, he portrayed family patriarch Joseph Kennedy, Sr., and in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, he played Graham Dashwood, a man travelling to India near the end of his life to reconcile a secret that he'd kept hidden for years.

Harry Lennix - Man of Steel

Harry Lennix has made a couple of appearances in the DC Universe as General Calvin Swanwick, the man who was the head of the United States Northern Command when the Black Zero ship came to Earth in Man of Steel. By the time of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, General Swanwick had received a notable promotion to United States Secretary of Defense and tried to help Superman defeat Doomsday.

Lennix has a wide range of roles under his belt, including more in the science fiction realm. In The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, the veteran actor took on the character of Jason Lock, commander of Zion's forces whose rigid methods of keeping Zion protected from invading forces frequently put him at odds with Morpheus.

The Chicago native has also taken his sci-fi abilities to television. In Dollhouse, Lennix played Boyd Langton, the ex-cop who was Echo's (Eliza Dushku) handler and eventually graduated to head of security for the organization. Beyond that, Lennix has a long history of television work that includes a six-episode run on ER as Dr. Greg Fischer during the show's third season. Lennix appeared on another medical-themed series, Diagnosis Murder, as Agent Ron Wagner, and in the sixth season of 24, he played Walid Al-Rezani, the regional director of a Muslim advocacy group.

Jackie Earle Haley - Watchmen

Sure, Dr. Manhattan gets all the press, but without Rorschach, would Watchmen have been nearly the same? Probably not. The man who brought Alan Moore's classic character to life in Zack Snyder's big-screen adaptation was Jackie Earle Haley, who first made his name as a child actor.

Haley's earliest work was as a voice actor in the animated series Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, as the original voice of Jamie Boyle — a role that was eventually taken over by Willie Aames. But his true breakthrough role was as Little League baseball stud and neighborhood bad boy Kelly Leak in The Bad News Bears, a role he would reprise in a pair of sequels.

After his Bears days ended, Haley faded from the spotlight for a time, picking up roles here and there until he landed the role as Watchmen's resident psychopath. That opened more opportunities for the veteran actor, beginning with the role of Freddy Krueger in the 2010 reboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Haley starred in another remake in the 2014 edition of Robocop when he took on the role of Rick Mattox, a military specialist and main opponent of the title character. More recently, Haley portrayed the powerful but shady Odin Quincannon, whose (eventually unsuccessful) goal was to own everything he could in the small town of Annville, Texas, in the show Preacher.

Zazie Beetz - Joker

With so many retellings of the Batman legend, it only stands to reason that the Caped Crusader's main nemesis, the Joker, should get his own origin story. To that end, director Todd Phillips brings us Joker, in which the clown prince of crime is shown as a failed comedian who decides to take his wrath out on the world. But what would a psychopathic cynic be without a potential love interest? Enter Zazie Beetz, who plays Sophie Dumond, a single mother who catches the eye of Joaquin Phoenix's Arthur Fleck.

Consider the role to be a bit of a double-dip for Beetz. She has already appeared in a Marvel property by starring as Domino in Deadpool 2, a role that is slated to carry over in the upcoming X-Force feature. But to most viewers, Beetz is best known for her role in Atlanta. On the show, she plays Van, Earn's girlfriend and mother to his child.

Brett Cullen - Joker

It's nearly impossible to tell the story of Batman — or his nemesis, for that matter — without mentioning either Thomas or Martha Wayne. In Joker, the patriarch of the Wayne family is played by Brett Cullen, here a mayoral candidate who may or may not be the father of would-be Joker Arthur Fleck. It's not the first time Cullen has participated in some Gotham City goings-on: The actor played an unnamed congressman in The Dark Knight Rises.

While Cullen has a long list of credits, many of his appearances have come on the small screen, including small roles on The Incredible Hulk and M.A.S.H. Much more recently, audiences might have seen Cullen in season 3 of True Detective as Gerald Kindt, the district attorney who presided over the events of the disappearances of Will and Julie Purcell. It was just one of a number of law and order-themed shows he's appeared in, going along with stints on Narcos, Person of Interest and a guest appearance on CSI.

Frances Conroy - Joker

If comic book movies are to be believed, then behind nearly every criminally maniacal villain is a complicated familial relationship. In Todd Phillips' Joker, that relationship is between Arthur Fleck and his mother Penny, played by Frances Conroy. The younger Fleck lives with his ailing mother and cares for her while he's trying to get his comedy career off the ground.

While Conroy might not be well-known to fans of DC Comics, she has a career that is now in its fifth decade. In that time, however, she has appeared in a movie with DC roots, taking on the role of Ophelia in the 2004 film Catwoman, starring Halle Berry and Benjamin Bratt. Since then, Conroy has taken on recurring roles in a number of popular television series like Royal Pains (as Blythe Ballard), How I Met Your Mother (Loretta Stinson), and Arrested Development (Lottie Dottie Da).

Jurnee Smollett-Bell - Birds of Prey

So much of the DC Universe has focused on the Batman and Justice League series, but the franchise intends to spread its wings with Birds of Prey, nesting in theaters in 2020. Among the flock as Black Canaryis Jurnee Smollett-Bell, who might not have the same profile as some of her co-stars but has every bit the resume — and maybe even more.

Smollett-Bell began her career at the age of six with a recurring role on the ABC sitcom Hangin' with Mr. Cooper, which carried over into the same role on Full House. Yet her breakout role was as the title character in the 1997 film Eve's Bayou in which she played a young girl trying to come to terms with her father's infidelity in 1960s Louisiana. It wouldn't be the last period piece for Smollett-Bell as she portrayed Rosalee, a sheltered house slave on the WGN America series Underground, for two seasons before the show's cancellation. More recently, Smollett-Bell has been featured in multiple critically acclaimed series with notable roles in Friday Night Lights and True Blood.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead - Birds of Prey

Even before she took on the role of Helena Bertinelli, a.k.a. Huntress, in the forthcoming Suicide Squad spin-off Birds of Prey, Mary Elizabeth Winstead had landed pivotal roles in movies and TV shows that became cult favorites. With or without the vivid hair, she'll probably forever be recognized as Ramona Flowers, the dream woman with seven evil exes Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) had to defeat in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. 

In Quentin Tarantino's '70s cinema homage Death Proof, she played cheerleader Lee. On TV, Winstead broke out big with a role in the third season of Fargo as bridge-playing criminal Nikki Swango, and as Laurel Healy on the sci-fi satire BrainDead, fighting off the alien bugs that inhabit the bodies of politicians. Winstead joined the Die Hard franchise in its latter days, portraying John McClane's daughter, Lucy, in Live Free or Die Hard and A Good Day to Die Hard. Winstead is also highly familiar to fans of the Cloverfield franchise — she's Michelle, the woman John Goodman's character locks up in a bunker in 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Rosie Perez - Birds of Prey

Rosie Perez is a double threat, hearkening back to old-timey movie stars like Ginger Rogers or Gene Kelly — she's a really good dancer and a really good actress. She helped shape and popularize hip-hop dance in the late '80s and early '90s as the Emmy-nominated choreographer for the Fly Girls on In Living Color. She landed that job after her explosive, movie-opening dance performance in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, in which she also had a supporting role as Tina. 

Perez remained a fixture of early '90s cinema, which includes her role as Gloria, the Jeopardy!-bound girlfriend of Woody Harrelson's character in White Men Can't Jump, and she earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her work in the 1993 plane crash survival drama Fearless. After 2000, she popped up as corrupt cop Officer Brazier in Pineapple Express and recurred on shows like Search Party and Lipstick Jungle along with a stint as part of the hosting panel of The View. She may have a big comeback in store with Birds of Prey, where she'll play longtime comics character Renee Montoya, a Gotham City detective.

Chris Messina - Birds of Prey

As the DCU expands, it will introduce rarely seen and little-known villains to the screen. Among the bad guys being introduced in Birds of Prey is Victor Zsasz, serial killer and enemy of Batman — a role that will also welcome Chris Messina to the world of comic book films. While he's no stranger to appearing in feature films, he's probably more well-known to television audiences as Dr. Danny Castellano, colleague and occasional love interest of Dr. Mindy Lahiri in The Mindy Project.

Some of Messina's other notable roles have been of the more dramatic variety. He starred as Detective Richard Willis, a man tasked with investigating strange goings-on in the fictional town of Wind Gap, Missouri in the HBO mini-series Sharp Objects. It wasn't the first time Messina was featured in an HBO series: Several years prior, he played Reese Lansing, president of Atlantic Cable News, on Aaron Sorkin's drama The Newsroom. Before that, Messina had a recurring role on Six Feet Under as Ted Fairwell.

Kristen Wiig - Wonder Woman 1984

Kristen Wiig made a name for herself as the breakout star on a long-running TV institution. From 2005 to 2012, she became one of the most popular and accomplished Saturday Night Live cast members of all time. She brought numerous goofy characters to life, including mischievous schoolgirl Gilly, one-upper Penelope, tiny-handed The Lawrence Welk Show performer Dooneese, one of "The Californians," and surly movie reviewer Aunt Linda, among others. Her prominence on SNL led to big film roles, with her star-making turn coming in 2011's Bridesmaids. She co-wrote that film, and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. 

Like Adam Sandler or Eddie Murphy, SNL launched Wiig to an active movie career. She's co-starred in big studio comedies like Anchorman 2, Zoolander 2, Downsizing, and 2016's Ghostbusters reboot, as well as quirky, hard-to-define indie dramedies such as Girl Most Likely, Welcome to Me, and The Skeleton Twins. She also does a bit of work in animation, lending her voice to all three How to Train Your Dragon movies, all the Despicable Me films, and Fox's Bless the Harts. Wiig's role in the hotly anticipated Wonder Woman 1984 might just be her biggest to date — she'll square off against Diana Prince as Barbara Ann Minerva, an archaeologist who uncovers the lost city of Urzkataga and becomes inhabited by its nasty cat goddess, transforming her into the villainous Cheetah.

Pedro Pascal - Wonder Woman 1984

In the pages of DC Comics, Maxwell Lord is a sleazy, crafty businessman who acquires telepathic abilities, and he'll be a major figure in Wonder Woman 1984. Portraying the guy: actor Pedro Pascal, a familiar face to fans of action cinema and prestige television. His most famous role to date: Oberyn Martell on Game of Thrones, the charming and loyal fighter who met his grisly, stomach-turning doom representing Tyrion Lannister in his "trial by combat," his eyes gouged out by the Mountain. 

Elsewhere on television, Pascal was a standout in the cast of Netflix's based-on-real-events drug trafficking drama Narcos as Javier Peña, a DEA agent in pursuit of kingpin Pablo Escobar. On the big screen, Pascal showed up in Kingsman: The Golden Circle as Agent Whiskey and as bad guy Dave York in The Equalizer 2. Pascal's star reached a whole new height in 2019 when he accepted the mission to headline his own TV show, starring as a mysterious bounty hunter known only as the Mandalorian on The Mandalorian, a Star Wars universe show for Disney+.