There is a certain class of actor who you may rarely notice but often see. They appear in various works, filling their roles faithfully, but when you notice them individually, you remember seeing them before but never where it was, and you can never say their name but are forced to just exclaim "Hey, it's that guy!"
For instance, if a middle-aged character actor gets a good rep—there is nothing like personal connections in a crowded, cut-throat business like the Hollywood acting pool—he can appear in numerous movies and TV shows each year. Ronny Cox is a good example among actors always available as white male authority figures, Lou Gossett as black male establishment types of any social class, Mako in any middle-aged male role requiring an Asian (er... while he lived, anyway), and Tim Curry as any evil, bearded bloke who dies in the end.
They never get the lead but that's often best for them. That means that nobody ever blames them if a movie bombs and they never become unaffordable. It means that they'll never grab the headlines or grab your attention but they'll grab the paycheck at the end of the day.
Another excellent category for this trope is dwarfs: there are only so many good, trained adult actors just over three feet tall and even fewer with the connections to constantly get speaking parts. Most long time movie and television fans will recognize a half-dozen familiar faces on small bodies: Billy Barty, who played these roles from the 1930s to the 1990s (180 entries just in the IMDB, beginning at age five!), Billy Curtis (High Plains Drifter), Warwick Davis (Willow, the Leprechaun and Harry Potter films, and Prince Caspian), Peter Dinklage (also Prince Caspian, Elf, Game of Thrones) the great Michael Dunn (Ship Of Fools and The Wild Wild West), and Danny Woodburn (Mickey Abbott on Seinfeld, Big Figure in the Watchmen movie).
If you're watching Law & Order or other Clueless Mystery, it might result in Narrowed It Down To The Guy I Recognize.
Voice actors in Animated Shows, as well as live action voice dubs for foreign-language shows, have the similar syndrome Hey, It's That Voice!.
American stunt performers, particularly ones that belong to minority groups, tend to keep popping up in a variety of different TV shows and movies. James Lew, Al Leong and Jeff Imada are just three examples that spring quickly to mind. They often play Evil Minions but may sometimes be upgraded to The Dragon or even the Big Bad.
Young Canadian actors, particularly if they're Toronto-based, have this happen so much it gets its' own trope, because teens more than any other group show that there are Only So Many Canadian Actors.
If you can't quite remember which show the actor was in, it can result in much time spent on IMDB, trying to narrow down where else the viewer has seen that actor. If you get stuck, try You Know That Guy — someone might help you.
Compare Actor Allusion, You Look Familiar, You Might Remember Me From, Hey, It's That Voice! and Plays Great Ethnics. Inverse of Retroactive Recognition. Parent trope of What The Hell, Casting Agency?. When you just can't shake off the image of the older roles, it's Role Association.
Hey It's That Guy!, now in (slightly outdated) book and documentary form.
Not to be confused with the television program That Girl.
The article includes what may be the perfect description of what makes an actor That Guy: "[He] can play any role well enough to get the job done, but just poorly enough to avoid becoming famous."
There are only a handful of stage actors who do musical theater in Hungary. If they're doing a musical that features a brooding, dark character, a young male lead, a slightly wacky sidekick guy (or an Ax Crazy), a stern and mature woman, and an innocent heroine, it's safe to say that they'll be played by Szilveszter Szabo, Attila Dolhai, Zoltan Bereckzy, Kata Janza and Dora Szinetar, respectively. Szilveszter Szabo is an interesting case, as he also has a way of inheriting roles created in German by the very-different-in-both-acting-and-vocals Uwe Kroger (Colloredo in Mozart!, Der Tod in Elisabeth, and [it's been suggested many times] Maxim de Winter in Rebecca).
Tokusatsu casting is starting to become this way, with the increasing impression that the only other work that toku actors can get are in Live Action Adaptations of Anime, J-dramas or other tokusatsu shows. Kamen Rider Kabuto practically made "Spot the toku guest star" a part of the show.
Power Rangers has started becoming the same way since their own move to New Zealand. In a twist, they took what was a case of this in the original Super Sentai and turned it into a Mythology Gag. (Sentai's Bandora and Magiel were both played by the same actress, so Rangers had their counterparts Rita Repulsa and Mystic Mother be the same person).
Used as a Running Gag in Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger, where Sixth Ranger Shurikenger would assume human identities to help the Rangers before the fight of the week. It was always easy to spot him, since his human identities were all former Toku stars, and before changing into Shurikenger he would perform their original transformation pose.
A Progressive Insurance Commercial does a literal Shout Out to this trope in a "Flo The Progressive Girl" commercial. Flo and a customer break into an "80s Montage", and in the middle of it, Booger from 'Revenge of the Nerds'' appears, and the music actually sings, "Hey, it's that guy!"
Marc Alaimo: He is best known for portraying Dukat on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and he also embodies this trope. He has made a (mostly brief) appearance in several (TV-)Movies and in nearly every Action-Show there was on TV in the 80s, mostly as a villain (what else could a guy with a face like Alaimo's play on TV?), such as
Armand Assante: He is Hollywood's "foreign" guy with over 100 credits in film and TV, mostly playing villains or the Magnificent Bastard. Of these, he's played South American dictators at least a dozen times. Some of his most famous roles:
Stephen Bauer: Practically the go-to guy for playing either authority figures (on both sides of the law) or shady criminals. Has more than 140 film and television credits to his name. His roles include:
Andre Braugher: You want an Afro-American with a really clipped, cultured voice, to play a police officer, soldier, journalist or just an interesting black dude? He's your man. He has played;
Thomas Searles, the free black recruit from Boston, in Glory.
Dan Weston, Time Magazine journalist in Somebody has to Shoot the Picture.
Frank Pembleton, the cool detective and interview specialist in Homicide: Life On The Street.
Flip, the narcissistic actor in Get On The Bus.
Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr in The Tuskegee Airmen.
Tommy Goodman in Primal Fear
George Buza: He's a Canadian example, who since the 70's has been the northern industry's go-to actor when it needs a big scary bearded white guy.
Jim Carter: He is that guy with the nose and the gloomy expression. He's one of those British actors who's always in something — he once said in an interview that he's never had a job in his life except acting — but never in the big splashy roles. The roles he has had include:
Ronny Cox: He was actually first highly noticeable in Deliverance where he was the one character to hold to civilized morality and who represented the destruction of the concept of civilized moral man when exposed to true wilderness but in everything else he's just a dick. Often a dick in a suit. If not a dick, then definitely a suit, a Reasonable Authority Figure even.
Captain Jellico, the guy who took command of the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation and who managed to piss everyone off to the point Riker almost didn't do his job while still being right about nearly everything.
On the more reasonable authority figure side of things, he was the LA police captain in Beverly Hills Cop. This is a movie in which he gets us to buy into an LA cop telling a black man that he won't tolerate police brutality.
He was also the President Plot Device in Murder At 1600
He had a very brief non-speaking role as the CEO of the funding corporation in Deep Blue Sea.
Not a dick but the protagonist in The Beast Within.
A heartless hospital administrator in St. Elsewhere. The one who gets mooned by Donald Westphal.
Commander of the State National Guard in the movie Taps, where a bunch of students take over their military academy and hold it hostage. He might have to use force to get the students to give up their revolution, except for one problem: the ringleader (Timothy Hutton) is his son.
An irate older Jerk Ass alias the Tooth Fairy serial killer on Dexter.
Roger Cross: You might remember him in his role as Curtis Manning from 24, plus other film and TV roles where he plays either a cop or a soldier. Also the voice of Ulysses in Fallout New Vegas.
Robert Davi: He brings the atmosphere of a Latino James Bond villain, mostly because he's Italian and a Bond villain. The cold, dangerous type also plays into a certain kind of mentorish roles.
Garret Dillahunt: He is probably best known for playing Cromartie in The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Burt Chance in Raising Hope, but he's popped up in lots in other places too. He seems to play bad guys frequently.
John Doucette: One of Hollywood's busiest character actors. IMDB lists 273 films or tv shows he was in, and I think they missed some!
Kevin Durand: Normally villainous and always The Big Guy and yet his very distinct rounded cheekbones make him look rather like an oversized baby. His very square white teeth have aided in his mastery of the evil self-satisfied Psychotic Smirk that just makes you want to punch him but stop yourself because you think he will eat you.
R. Lee Ermey: He is the face of Drill Sergeant Nasty. He's probably most of the examples too, having been an actual USMC drill instructor, that include the Real Life section. If not a marine drill sergeant then he's a police officer, warden guard or just some major league asshole shouting in your face. If he isn't playing that role in the movie you're watching an actor who was was at least thinking of him.
What makes this last one funny is the fact that they eventually reveal that the janitor was in The Fugitive.
Matt Frewer: He is a great choice when you need someone whose face is suited for either a good guy or villain who happens to have sparkling intelligence yet still be quirky, slightly odd or Affably Evil. Notable roles include:
Björn Granath & Thomas Hedengran: These Swedish actors have both appeared in numerous notable productions and hardly anyone knows who they are.
Graham Greene: He's a Canadian who's the "go to" Native actor. His long list of appearances in film, television and stage include Kicking Bird in Dances With Wolves; Leonard in Northern Exposure; Joe Lambert in Die Hard with a Vengeance; Peter Yellowbear in Snow Dogs; Calvin Many Goats in Transamerica; Harry Clearwater in Twilight: New Moon, etc. He also played Lenny in the Stratford Festival's adaptation of Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men.
Peter Greene: You plan on casting a villain in a crime thriller? Never fear, he is here!
Luis Guzmán: This Puerto-Rican-born American actor is the guy to go to if you need a rotund, Hispanic-accented sidekick, thug or cop. His characters are usually dim-witted but lovable, or downright brutal and intimidating. His roles include:
Lance Henriksen: If you need someone to play a gruff, monotone authority figure or villain, he's your guy. Though he usually plays supporting roles, he had a lead role on the television series Millennium that lasted for three years. His other roles include:
Michael Ironside: He almost always plays a badass of some sort who is usually either a villain or a tough authority figure. He also has to hold the record for the number of characters he's played who lose limbs. You might mistake him for Jack Nicholson at first glance. His roles include:
Zeljko Ivanek: He is a Slovenian-American actor and graduate of Yale who’s usually the best thing in whatever he’s in. He initially started off typecast as a nice guy, and asked his agent to get him more villainous roles. The agent did so. Aside from being on Shark, Bones, The Mentalist and Law & Order, he can be seen as:
Lainie Kazan: Need a loud but good-hearted (Jewish, Greek or Italian) mother-type? She is the one to go to.
Udo Kier: Also known as "What would happen if Christopher Walken and Tim Curry moved to Germany and had a baby?" His iceberg blue eyes may make you suspect he is a vampire. His cult cred ensures that he will be cast often, if only in a cameo role.
He was in fact Dracula in cult film Andy Warhol's Dracula
Upper-class vampire Vincent in Casper van Dien vehicle Modern Vampires (released in some countries as Revenant).
Al Leong: The ultimate Asian "That Guy" surely has to be him. If you see an Asian-looking Mook with a bald head, long hair, and long moustaches anywhere in a Hollywood action film, it might have been Al. Not many guys in Hollywood can attest to a screen resume as diverse as stealing chocolates in Die Hard, playing Genghis freakin' Khan in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, and torturing Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon. He's that invisible they hired him again as a nameless mook in Lethal Weapon 4 and nobody noticed.
James Hong as well. If you've seen an American production with more than two Chinese characters, you've seen him (usually as some kind of authority figure, often, though not always, a villainous one).
Another honorable mention: Clyde Kusatsu. Frequently cast as a doctor or judge but can show up just about anywhere. Holds the distinction of having played bit parts on both versions of HawaiiFive-O.
Tzi Ma is also a good candidate for an Asian HITG. His most recognizable role is Consul/Ambassador Han from the Rush Hour series, but he's played all manner of one-shot characters on various American TV sitcoms and dramas, as well as a handful of independently produced Asian-American films.
Thomas Lennon: He is best known for his role in Reno 911! but is also a bit actor in several comedies such as:
While YMMV parents aren't always the same height and build as their kids. She does a great Job as Pam Pucket due her ability to play raunchy females in some of her past roles, such as Paula, who is a near-expy for Pam. However, other than her hair color and behavior, Pam and Sam do not bear any striking resemblances. Besides maybe how they both look in tight jeans.
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa: For years was the Asian Mook, dragon or Big Bad. Now that he's gotten older, and Mako has passed away, he seems to have taken his place as the go-to older Asian man. Though he's gotten more of the roles as mentors and sensei; he is still very likely to be playing a villain.
Chi McBride: A sharply dressed, sharp mouthed, businesslike man who acts as a realist/cynical counterpart to our hero. No Exceptions (except when he isn't). (He also had a leading role in Boston Public as the Principal).
John C. McGinley: Probably more nominatively recognizable now due to his long leading exposure in Scrubs, outside of his definitively angry Dr. Cox, the curly haired McGinley spent his time as a number of creepy and/or smarmy characters with little audience sympathy. If you've seen a famous Oliver Stone movie, you've probably seen him.
Sgt. "Nose Up Tom Berenger's Ass" O'Neill in Platoon
Edgler Vess in the TV adaptation of Dean Koontz's novel Intensity.
Temuera Morrison: He actually achieved a certain amount of recognition once he started being Jango Fett/Clone Troopers/adult Boba Fett's voice, but he's still largely unknown outside his native New Zealand. However, he's been in a whole bunch of other movies, being unplaceably foreign.
SixDaysSevenNights, where he played one of the pirates with Cliff Curtis, another casual "foreign".
Burt Mustin: He was in a ton of classic '50s,'60s and '70s shows (at least before his death in '77) as an apparent go-to for old man characters. Nick At Nite (the evening Nickelodeon block that's now its own TV Land channel)even did a commercial tribute to him with clips from some of his roles.
David Neher: Just this fall season of 2011 he has been on:
Angela Sarafyan: This sultry, Armenian-born actor is often (but not only) cast as Russian or Eastern European characters. Her biggest roles to date have been in the indie film Kabluey (as Ramona) and the short-lived TV series The Good Guys (as the endearingly goofy Samantha). She also made very memorable guest appearances in Criminal Minds and In Plain Sight.
Vincent Schiavelli: Also known as The Man with the Sad Eyes or The Guy With A Droopy Face (a result of Marfan Syndrome), Receding Hairline Yet Long Hair and Sometimes A Moustache. This sad face gave him a number of roles as distressed characters, the mentally not-all-there but his way of talking and mad scientist hair cut also got him the exact opposite roles of mentorly elder figure.
Tony Shalhoub: He is Lebanese but has probably been used for everything except Chinese. A good actor for The Everyman and the slightly quirky. Not actually knowing his name probably decreased a lot after his started on Monk.
Wallace Shawn: He has such a discernible high pitched nasal voice that even his tv appearances feel like Hey, It's That Voice!. The voice of Rex from Toy Story has the face of Vizzini from The Princess Bride where the only thing worse than the erroneousness of how he said "inconceivable" was how he squeaked it out. However this voice also lends him to the more lovable small man role.
Mark Sheppard: He is an Evil Brit character actor with that evil being served up in douchebag flavour, taking the roles of villains that tend to hit above a TV series' par for intellect and meanness (and possibly other qualities).
He was the recurring serial killer ghost in Medium
See also Hey, It's That Voice!. As a sidenote, Stein is one of the few people who can get away with appearing on a comedy sitcom in a chicken suit and still be able to publish serious articles on investment and politics.
Leonard Stone: He was all over the place through the 1950s into the 1970s
Pretty much every television series, at least once.
Jeffrey Tambor: He has been in so many movies, cartoons, and TV shows that it's hard to pin down his most well known role. You might mistake him for Dr. Phil though if he happens to be sporting a mustache that day.
the Ropers' landlord in the eponymous spin-off of Three's Company
And maybe as Jessica Angell from CSI NY, at least to the collective Flack/Angel fans whose hearts could be heard shattering when she was killed off.
J.T. Walsh: He may have been the ultimate "Hey It's That Guy" of the past 30 years. So much so that Fametracker called its weekly version of You Know That Guy the "J.T. Walsh Memorial Hey It's That Guy" after he died in 1998. His roles included:
Worked for the notorious-yet-honorable Al Swearengen in Deadwood
And, in a revelation that surprised no one based on his past history, turned out to be a Horseman of the Apocalypse in Supernatural, alongside his twin Lucifer (also played by Mark Pellegrino).
Also guest-starred on one of the more disturbing episodes of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit": he played a man who impregnated his own teenage daughter (with someone else's sperm, not his own) because "if there are no children, the family dies." He had previously taken in a boarder and tried to convince her to carry a baby for them, and when she refused, he murdered and dismembered her.
He appeared in an early episode of The X-Files as an eco-terrorist.