Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Why Ned From Groundhog Day Looks So Familiar

Ned? Ned Ryerson?

You have to admit that Groundhog Day, the 1993 film starring Bill Murray (which he hated) and Andie MacDowell (who we haven't heard from in awhile), hits different this year. A story in which the events of an ordinary day — in this case, February 2 — repeat over and over again, to the great chagrin of weatherman Phil Connors (Murray), feels a little too familiar in 2021, when a global pandemic has people everywhere working from home and restricting their movements. This February, access the funnier side of time tunnels with Groundhog Day, and while you're at it, take a moment to appreciate Stephen Tobolowsky, the actor who plays Ned Ryerson.

You don't know Ned? Needle-nose Ned? Ned the Head? Well, you're in good company — Phil Connors didn't recognize Ned either when he bumped into him on his way to do the Groundhog Day report. But by the second February 2, he knew enough to try to avoid Ned Ryerson. Their exchange only gets funnier with each repeated day, as Phil workshops approaches that might save him from the wacky former schoolmate, who is now an insurance salesman (obviously). So, now that we know why Stephen Tobolowsky looks so familiar to Phil Connors, let's dive into why he looks familiar to us.

You know, the other people stuck in an unending loop.

Stephen Tobolowsky is a prolific character actor

Stephen Tobolowsky is "that guy" you know from everything. Well, maybe not everything, but it certainly feels that way. According to TV Tropes, Stephen Tobolowsky is a character actor for the ages, having appeared in over 200 films and episodes of television. Like any good character actor, he slips into the shoes of a character so quietly you might not have even noticed he was acting at all — and that's how he likes it. "The very best character actors are equal parts discipline and madness," Tobolowsky says. "And the fact that our faces are more familiar than our names is not our curse, but our blessing." What a team player, huh?

The list of Tobolowsky's roles is long but, like Groundhog Day, there are some repeats. Tobolowsky tends to play a lot of authority figures. He's played a doctor on The Mindy Project and a CEO on Silicon Valley. He voices a professor in the Justice League Action series and ... you know what? It might be easier to find a television show that Tobolowsky wasn't on wearing a white coat and giving an expert opinion. Most recently, Tobolowsky played Dr. Leslie Berkowitz on the sitcom One Day at a Time (which ended last year), and Principal Ball on The Goldbergs (which is still running on ABC). 

All those scattered appearances have certainly kept the guy saturated over the years, but here are a few projects in which he really shines.

Stephen Tobolowsky was Clayton Townley in Mississippi Burning

After a minor role as Captain of the Guard in Spaceballs, Tobolowsky landed what he called "the biggest career break" of his life: the part of Clayton Townley, a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi Burning. In an interview with Dave Davies on NPR's Fresh Air, Tobolowsky explained that with any character, big or small, an actor has to ask two questions: "What is my greatest hope? What is my greatest fear? ... If you can answer those two questions, they will form a tightrope upon which almost any other question in the script can be answered."

For Mississippi Burning, Tobolowsky thinks it might have been this approach that landed him the role. When the director of the film asked Tobolowsky how he saw Townley, his response made it clear that he had found the humanity in such a deplorable character: "I said I saw him as Abraham Lincoln ... A hero with his agenda, with his point of view. I did not intend to play Clayton Townley as one chromosome short of a human being, like a lot of people will play villains in various movies."

Stephen Tobolowsky was Sammy Jankis in Memento

In another time-bending turn, Tobolowsky played Sammy Jankis in 2000's Memento, written and directed by a young Christopher Nolan. Nolan is a fan of twisted storytelling, and Memento is no exception. The film features parallel narratives that move through time in conflicting ways, as a man named Leonard (Guy Pearce) — who suffers from short-term memory loss — tries to solve the mystery of his wife's murder, while the audience tries to figure out what on Earth is happening (it's one of those movies that only makes sense the second time around). In a series of flashbacks, we meet fellow amnesiac, Sammy, played by Tobolowsky.

In an interview with AV Club, Tobolowsky called his part in Memento, "the most difficult role I've ever had, but one of the most rewarding." Nolan asked actors to improvise many of their scenes, a task that proved particularly demanding for those who were playing a character with no short-term memory. "Part of my brain had to remember what it was doing," Tobolowsky said, "and another part had to not remember what I was doing. And that was certainly the most difficult thing that I'd ever done."

Stephen Tobolowsky was Bob Bishop in Heroes

There were certainly a lot of heroes in Heroes, and not all of them made it to the end of the series' four-season run. One such unlucky sort was Bob Bishop, father of baddie Elle Bishop (played by Kristen Bell), and played by our own hero, Stephen Tobolowsky. Bob was head of operations for The Company — the nefarious shadow organization that spooked the good guys and kept everyone on their toes. He also came with the added bonus of turning objects into gold with a single touch. 

Heroes was known for its large cast of characters and multiple plot lines, and Tobolowsky was the victim of some necessary, uh, pruning in season 2. "The only reason I was promoted into having a superpower was so they could murder me later and not kill any of the real regulars of the show," Tobolowsky shared with AV Club. "So I could turn things to gold, but it was just a ruse so they could kill me off." 

You'll always be a hero to us, Stephen Tobolowsky.