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Why The Cast Of The Truman Show Looks So Familiar

Peter Weir's 1998 masterpiece "The Truman Show" asks a common and deceptively simple question: What if your life wasn't real?

The massive reality TV setup of "The Truman Show" is ultimately more unsettling and cynical than scenarios where "it's all a dream" or "it's all virtual reality." Distorted perceptions are scary — but the notion that our friends and family have been manipulating us all along is a perfect recipe for paranoia. It's a rich premise, and the film mines it not only for existential unease but also for satire, philosophy, drama, and comedy. Throughout it all, Jim Carrey's versatile and heartfelt lead performance makes sure this thoughtful science fiction stays grounded in human emotions.

Carrey isn't the only cast member who knocks it out of the park, either. "The Truman Show" boasts an impressive cast, and it even catches several rising stars on their way to major success. So if you're watching it now and saying, "I know I've seen them before," we've got the goods. Here's why you might recognize some of the biggest players in "The Truman Show."

Joel McKinnon Miller

When "The Truman Show" premiered, Joel McKinnon Miller — who plays a security guard who's an avid fan of the show — probably wouldn't have looked familiar at all. At that point, most of his on-screen appearances were minor guest-starring roles on shows like "The Commish," "Dharma & Greg," "Murphy Brown," and "Picket Fences." He was working with some higher-profile actors, but he rarely got the chance to steal the spotlight.

In the years following "The Truman Show," however, Miller steadily built himself up into a much more recognizable presence. He continued his guest-starring work, slowly accruing more prominent roles — and then came HBO's "Big Love," an acclaimed drama about life in a fundamentalist Mormon splinter sect. He appeared in 46 episodes out of 53, playing lead character Bill Henrickson's (Bill Paxton) best friend, Don Embry.

"Big Love" may have catapulted Miller's career and made him an instantly recognizable character actor, but these days, he's probably best known for being the entertainingly lazy (and endearingly loyal) Detective Scully on Fox's hit series "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." That's where he really worked his way into our hearts.

Harry Shearer

Harry Shearer plays Mike Michaelson, who hosts the in-universe talk show "Trutalk," which goes behind the scenes of the series based around Truman's life. His illuminating and often disconcerting interviews with Christof are a key part of establishing "The Truman Show" as a global phenomenon.

You almost certainly recognize Harry Shearer — or, at least, you almost certainly recognize his voice. Close your eyes and think of your favorite "Simpsons" quotes from characters like Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns, Mr. Smithers, Principal Skinner, Reverend Lovejoy, Kent Brockmann, and you're thinking of Shearer's awe-inspiring talent as a voice actor. His range is incredibly impressive, and it doesn't even stop there. "The Truman Show" isn't the only role to prove that Shearer is an on-screen force to be reckoned with. He also blows us away in two of the best music movie spoofs of all time, "A Mighty Wind" and "This Is Spinal Tap" (where he also co-wrote the script). All of this places him high up on the list of people who excel at making us laugh.

No matter what specific role you recognize him from, being familiar with Shearer means knowing that you're guaranteed smart, engaging, and beautifully performed comedy.

Peter Krause

Peter Krause has a small role in "The Truman Show" as Truman's boss at the insurance company, and it's the kind of minor early appearance by a now-beloved actor that we always get a kick out of.

Back in 1998, audiences probably knew Krause best from his recurring role on the sitcom "Cybill," but later that year, he would star in Aaron Sorkin's short-lived but very beloved "Sports Night," playing the witty, acerbic, and occasionally dorky sportscaster Casey McCall. The show only lasted two seasons, but it's such a revered and influential cult classic that The Comeback dubbed it "one of the most successful failures in TV history." It certainly seemed to open up doors for Krause, who went on to star in a wide range of shows that really show off his comedic and dramatic chops: the now-classic "Six Feet Under," the massively entertaining "Dirty Sexy Money," the warmhearted and emotionally complex "Parenthood" (where he appears alongside his wife, Lauren Graham), and the hit procedural "9-1-1."

"The Truman Show" probably remains Krause's most significant movie role, with a line-up of powerhouse television performances like that — and all the accompanying awards attention — it's hard to say that he's missing out on any opportunities.

Paul Giamatti

Paul Giamatti may be the "Truman Show" actor whose role in the movie is most out of proportion to his later reputation. He appears here as an unnamed show control room operator who has enough of a conscience to balk at risking Truman's life. It's the kind of small part that can become really rich when it's in the hands of a great actor, and Giamatti handles it with an aplomb that foreshadows his later, greater success as one of America's most recognizable and enjoyable character actors.

Giamatti has worked steadily since 1989, often releasing more than one movie a year, so there are a lot of places you may have seen him over the years. He's done a lot of work in supporting roles, and he even received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for "Cinderella Man." We're lucky enough to have gotten a few genuine Giamatti vehicles, though, and it's a treat to have him front-and-center for a change in top-notch indie films like "Sideways" and "American Splendor." (We'll even say that while we definitely don't count "Lady in the Water" as one of M. Night Shymalan's best movies, Giamatti's starring role is one of the best reasons to soldier through it.)

The highlight of Giamatti's career is arguably the HBO miniseries "John Adams," where he has the titular role. This complex period piece jumps beyond the usual limitations of a biopic to become a sprawling political drama, and Giamatti's realistic, deglamorized Adams gives it a very human center.

Brian Delate

Actor Walter Moore, Brian Delate's character in "The Truman Show," manages a little bit of a career coup: He returns to the role of a lifetime against all odds. While Moore's character — Truman's father — gets killed off to reinforce Truman's paralyzing fear of the ocean, Moore's persistence in sneaking back onto the set eventually forces the show to bring him back in a soap opera-style twist.

As far as we know, all the real-life Delate's multi-episode TV show appearances have happened for a more flattering and more mundane reason: He's a talented, reliable character actor who has worked steadily since the '80s. With his twinkling eyes and slightly weathered features, he has the kind of everyman vibe that instantly makes him believable. It's not surprising that multiple branches of "Law & Order" would bring him back repeatedly, even when it means casting him as several different characters. He also had an arc on HBO's "The Comeback," appearing alongside Lisa Kudrow.

You may also have seen him in supporting roles in the movies. Even though he's not usually top-billed, he's been a part of contemporary classics like "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Far From Heaven." His most personal movie, however, is the small film "Soldier's Heart," which he wrote, directed, and starred in and which draws on his own experiences as a Vietnam veteran.

Holland Taylor

Holland Taylor — cast in "The Truman Show" as the actress playing Truman's mother — lets us sense her character's underlying amorality. For all her pretend affection, she's still someone who would knowingly raise her so-called son with this many lies and manipulations. It's a subtle but striking performance within a performance.

By now, audiences may know Taylor best from her years spent playing another woman with an ambivalent connection to parenthood: Evelyn Harper on "Two and a Half Men." Taylor seems to have a ball playing a high-powered narcissist who flits in and out of her adult sons' lives, and we're not surprised she racked up a number of Emmy nominations for the role.

There's more to Taylor's screen career than these two bad candidates for Mother of the Year, however. She's had a long career on both the big and the small screen, with two of her most memorable performances having a legal bent — law professor Stromwell in "Legally Blonde" and the recurring role of Judge Roberta Kittleson on "The Practice." She also took on major roles in "Hollywood," "The Chair," and "Mr. Mercedes."

Natascha McElhone

When it came to her silver screen appearances, Natascha McElhone hit the ground running. She quickly snagged prominent roles in films like "Surviving Picasso," where she starred alongside Anthony Hopkins, and "The Devil's Own," with Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford. Her smoky, quietly confident screen presence works in her favor in "The Truman Show," where she — playing Sylvia, who's playing Lauren Garland — exerts enough charisma to temporarily derail the show's carefully planned storylines.

McElhone went on to major roles in ambitious science fiction film "Solaris" and the heist thriller "Ronin," which, like her earlier films, gave her the chance to play off some of the most celebrated actors of our time: George Clooney in "Solaris" and Robert De Niro in "Ronin."

Her movie career tapered off a little as she went along, but like a lot of actresses to age out of Hollywood's all-too-narrow range for female characters, she's built a thriving career in television. She had a series role on the Showtime dramedy "Californication" and has since turned up in major roles on gems like the political thriller series "Designated Survivor" and the historical drama "Hotel Portofino." Additionally, McElhone's key performance in "Halo" as Dr. Halsey reawakened fan interest in her career, and her older work is definitely worth checking out.

Noah Emmerich

Noah Emmerich is a terrific actor — and his character in "The Truman Show" may be the absolute best actor of the show-within-the-movie's sprawling cast. He radiates sincerity in Truman's artificial world, and when he makes a stirring speech about their friendship, we almost believe him ... even though we know Christof is dictating the whole thing in his earpiece. That takes skills. His performance becomes even richer when you know that deleted scenes establish that his character genuinely feels guilty about his part in manipulating his "best friend" (per FilmDaze).

Emmerich has thankfully had the busy career he deserves, so it's easy to recognize him from films like "Miracle" or "Little Children," and he's also had recurring roles on "Space Force," "White Collar," "Billions," and "The Walking Dead." One of his best and most notable parts is on the TV drama "The Americans," where he plays FBI Agent Stan Beeman — devoted to hunting down Soviet spies without knowing they're living right next door. In a roundabout way, this complex and eminently rewatchable series brings Emmerich back to some of the same themes as his role on "The Truman Show," playing with issues of trust, deception, and friendship.

Emmerich continues to do great work in both TV and film, and he's the kind of distinctive, charismatic actor who has a gift for popping out of the background in supporting roles and guest appearances. Once he's grabbed your attention via something like "The Truman Show," you never forget him.

Ed Harris

Ed Harris has a gift for portraying both cool arrogance and fatherly devotion, and that's come in handy many times throughout his long and storied career. In "The Truman Show," he plays both traits to the hilt — and combines them for unsettling effect. As showrunner Christof, he's incredibly convincing as both a cold-blooded genius and a man who has sincerely convinced himself that he only wants what's best for Truman.

Unsurprisingly, Harris' phenomenal talent has resulted in a long and storied career, with four Oscar nominations (including one for his work in "The Truman Show"). He's been an indispensable part of major movies like "The Right Stuff," "Glengarry Glen Ross," "Apollo 13," and "Gone Baby Gone," and his innate sense of authority means he often shows up in boss or command roles to great effect: "Top Gun: Maverick" is a great example of how to use a pinch of Ed Harris to make a great movie even better.

While Harris has spent much of his career on the big screen, his occasional ventures into TV have always left us wanting more. We're especially fond of his impressively chilling performance on "Westworld" as The Man in Black, but he also makes a big impression as John McCain in the HBO movie "Game Change" and the blue-collar Miles Roby in the miniseries "Empire Falls."

Laura Linney

Hannah Gill — who plays Truman's wife, Meryl, in the fictional "Truman Show" — may not be the best actress around, but Laura Linney — who plays Hannah in our "Truman Show" — has a real shot at the crown. Linney turns in a deliciously twisted comedic performance as an actress who is slowly caving under the pressure of endlessly living with a "husband" she really despises. Linney gives Meryl a shiny artificiality and then lets us watch the cracks appear in the facade.

Linney appeared in "The Truman Show" near the beginning of her career, when she only had a few films under her belt. Not long afterwards, Linney's career really took off, and she began getting a lot of critical attention for her emotionally powerful performances. One of her best showcases is the small-scale drama "You Can Count on Me," where she stars as the beleaguered and conflicted Sammy. She's also consistently effective in supporting roles, whether she's playing lovelorn ("Love Actually") or reinventing Lady Macbeth ("Mystic River"). Like a lot of actresses, Linney has increasingly turned to TV for complex dramatic roles, appearing alongside fellow "Truman Show" alum Paul Giamatti in the HBO miniseries "John Adams" and starring in acclaimed series like "The Big C" and "Ozark."

Almost all of Linney's film and TV projects are worth watching, so if you watch "The Truman Show" and she doesn't look familiar ... you have a lot of enjoyable viewing on your horizon.

Jim Carrey

We think we can safely assume you know why Jim Carrey looks so familiar: He's Jim Carrey, for crying out loud. That doesn't mean we're going to pass up a chance to talk about the highlights of his career, especially since "The Truman Show" was a major step forward in him transitioning from "rubber-faced comedian" to "respected comedic and dramatic actor who should've gotten an Oscar by now."

Carrey originally made his reputation on some of the biggest comedies of the '90s, including "The Mask" and "Dumb and Dumber." As his career matured, however, he diversified his approach — and as filmmakers started to understand his real range, he had more and more success working in and out of his original wheelhouse. After the success of "The Truman Show," Carrey could embrace the ridiculous — and a lot of green fur — in a live-action "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and then turn around and star in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," which numerous critical outlets ranked as one of the best films of its decade.

We're constantly charmed by Carrey's gift for the comically grotesque and the all-too-human, and we're happy his career evolved to the point where he's able to embrace both sides of his considerable talent. When we think about how "The Truman Show" helped make his wide-ranging career possible, we like it even more.