That Guy File #11: Isiah Whitlock Jr.

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February 8, 2012 by abbyo

Why you know him: Cedar Rapids, Enchanted, Pieces of April, Rubicon, 1408, 25th Hour, Chappelle’s Show…Oh yeah, and “The Wire.”

Lots of “That Guys” have roles that follow them their whole career. Jeffrey Jones, for example, will always be Principal Rooney from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Stephen Tobolowsky will always be Ned Ryerson from “Groundhog Day.” And, thanks to his iconic stint on “The Wire,” Isiah Whitlock Jr. will always be Senator Clay Davis.

Warning: This video contains language

In most of his roles, Whitlock isn’t exactly noticeable. He’s kind of doughy and unremarkable. But as Clay Davis, the actor not only introduced a new term to our collective vocabulary, he created a character that’s gone down as one of the most memorable in modern TV history. The association has even carried over into his work post-“Wire.” Check out this in-joke from “Cedar Rapids:”

While sometimes a single memorable role can haunt an actor for years, Clay Davis seems to have been just the thing Whitlock’s career needed to get to the next level. He may not have stood out much before, but thanks to that one role, you notice when he appears elsewhere. And it seems like he’s been showing up more and more since the series, especially in the last couple of years, with higher-profile roles, and parts in buzzed-about movies like the public school drama “Detachment” and Spike Lee’s latest movie, “Red Hook Summer.” In fact, between that movie and the new dramedy “Predisposed,” Whitlock’s got a Sundance twofer this year. It’s all thanks in no small part to HBO, David Simon and one long, impossibly drawn-out expletive.

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