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Why Sarek From Star Trek Looks So Familiar

Star Trek fans know Vulcans are an impassive race, governed by logic and reason above all else. They're not given to fits of emotion, even when the answer they seek is not immediately evident. A wise Vulcan would never grow impatient, say, if they were unable to identify a given film or television show in which they had previously seen a particular actor. So, while Ben Cross — who played Spock's father, Sarek, in J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek reboot — may have a distinctive, recognizable face, he might not be someone whose name you know offhand. It would, of course, be understandable if the bowl cut and prosthetic ears throw viewers off a bit as well. In addition to helping relaunch the Star Trek film franchise, the English actor — who died in August 2020 at the age of 72 — had a prolific film, television, and stage career that ultimately spanned five decades. Here are the roles in which you've likely seen him before.

Ben Cross appeared in Chariots of Fire (1981)

Although Cross' first big-screen role came in the 1977 epic WWII film A Bridge Too Far, The Guardian described his role as a "glorified extra." Cross really broke out a few years later after a role on stage in Chicago helped him land a part in Chariots of Fire, which won multiple Academy Awards and is based on the true story of two athletes from the 1924 Olympic Games. Cross portrayed English track and field athlete Harold Abrahams, whose father was a Jewish immigrant. Abrahams ran to overcome antisemitism and ended up winning the 100 meters sprint at the Olympics to take home the gold medal. In addition to being Cross' best known work, the film features one of the most iconic and recognizable moments in movie history, when in the opening moments, Cross and a group of men run barefoot on a Scottish beach to a score by Vangelis. 

Cross followed up with a role in The Citadel (1983)

Following his remarkable turn in Chariots of Fire, Cross made his move into British television, appearing in a number of miniseries in the first half of the decade. In 1983, he portrayed Dr. Andrew Manson in The Citadel, a 10-part adaptation of A.J. Cronin's semi-autobiographical novel, which was originally published in the 1930s. The series, which was partially filmed on location in an area where Cronin practiced medicine, follows Cross' Scottish doctor in the 1920s. He leaves his crusading job in a small Welsh mining town for the easy money of tending to the pampered and wealthy of London before realizing he's sacrificed everything he once believed in. Cross' performance was praised in the New York Times, with John J. O'Connor saying that "Manson is played to grim but winning perfection by Ben Cross." The miniseries was also broadcast in the U.S. on PBS as part of its Masterpiece Theater programming.

Cross also appeared on the small screen in Dark Shadows (1991)

Throughout the rest of the '80s, Cross appeared in a number of small films and TV movies. In the early 1990s, the actor's angular features were put to good use in the NBC remake of the cult classic TV soap opera, Dark Shadows, which told the supernatural story of the Collins family. Cross portrayed vampire Barnabas Collins. In the premiere, Barnabas is released from his coffin by a curious groundskeeper, and he pretends to be a long lost relative from England. He begins to take a fancy to the new governess, while a doctor attempts to cure him of his vampirism until she learns his affections lie elsewhere. Although the series was initially a success, it was canceled after just 12 episodes. In 2012, the concept was adapted into a film of the same name starring Johnny Depp in the role of Barnabas Collins.

Ben Cross later appeared in Banshee (2013)

Fans of Cinemax's underrated action drama Banshee will recognize Cross as Mr. Rabbit, a violent and vindictive Ukrainian gangster and the father of one of the series' lead characters, Carrie Hopewell (Ivana Miličević). At the start of the series, Rabbit has spent the last 15 years searching for Carrie, whose real name is Anastasia, after she and her boyfriend Lucas (Antony Starr) attempted to rip him off during a heist in order to escape and start a new life together. While her boyfriend went to prison to protect her, Anastasia escaped to the small town of Banshee, Pennsylvania, where she started a new life using her new identity. But when her former boyfriend is released from prison in the series premiere, he tracks her down, takes on the identity of the new sheriff of Banshee, and inadvertently leads Rabbit right to them both. Cross appeared in the first two seasons of the show, which ultimately ran for four seasons.

One of Ben Cross' last projects was 12 Monkeys (2018)

In 2018, Cross made a brief guest appearance in Syfy's mind-bending, time-traveling series 12 Monkeys, a loose adaptation of the 1995 film of the same name, which starred Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt. Cross appears in two episodes of the fourth and final season as Nicodemus, a member of a family whose mission is to protect the Ouroboros, a special artifact passed down through time. Nicodemus lives in the distant past and is the father of Chorus, a young girl who, like Jennifer (Emily Hampshire), hears voices. She helps Jennifer escape after she was imprisoned for supposed witchcraft, at which time Jennifer is able to reunite with Cassie (Amanda Schull) and Cole (Aaron Stanford). Nicodemus tells the team that messages received over the years have told his family to find a weapon — a weapon the team had been searching for all season — and he reveals exactly where they can find it.