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Ranking the Supporting Characters of ‘The Post’

In addition to Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, equally talented actors in surprisingly small roles fill Steven Spielberg’s latest movie

Amblin Entertainment/DreamWorks/Ringer illustration

The Post is one of those movies put on this earth to get nominated for and win Oscars. Does it have a timely message that reflects the pulse of the nation? Check. Is it directed by an acclaimed filmmaker? Check. Is it a period piece? Check. Does it have Meryl Streep or Tom Hanks in wigs? Actually, it has both.

However, the real key to Steven Spielberg’s latest is what he does to round out the rest of the film, which is stacked with side characters played by very talented actors. In some cases, the star of a hugely popular Netflix series is there to deliver only a few lines of exposition—it’s really an embarrassment of riches. It’s like if an NBA team’s bench was eight Andre Iguodalas deep.

Naturally, some of The Post’s many side characters—we’re counting 15 who have at least some meat to their roles—stood out more than others, whether through performance, amount of screentime, or the importance of the character's role in the real-life events that shape the movie. But who is the most important glue guy or gal? Let’s count it down.

15. Pat Healy

Where you’ve seen him: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Take Me, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Who he plays in The Post: Philip Geyelin, Washington Post editor

Why he’s ranked here: The only time I even remember Geyelin in the film is when he happens to be on the call during which Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) decides whether to publish the Pentagon Papers or not. Even then, he isn’t saying much and looks totally stoned.

14. Stark Sands

Where you’ve seen him: Inside Llewyn Davis, Minority Report TV series

Who he plays in The Post: Don Graham, Katharine’s son and future Washington Post publisher

Why he’s ranked here: His biggest contribution is snacking in an office and questioning his mother’s decision to take the company public. Not great.

13. David Cross

Where you’ve seen him: Arrested Development, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, Mr. Show With Bob and David

Who he plays in The Post: Howard Simons, Washington Post managing editor

Why he’s ranked here: When The New York Times beats the Post to publishing the Pentagon Papers, Howard says Ben Bradlee shouldn’t fret because it’s “just one story.” … No, it’s not.

12. Alison Brie

Where you’ve seen her: GLOW, Community, Mad Men, The Little Hours

Who she plays in The Post: Lally Graham, Katharine Graham’s daughter

Why she’s ranked here: Brie is given nothing to do aside from reminding her mother that she and her late father had a very cozy relationship with the Kennedys. Between this, Mad Men, and her too-small role in The Disaster Artist, I think we all need to march on Hollywood on Brie’s behalf.

11. Zach Woods

Where you’ve seen him: The Office, Silicon Valley, Ghostbusters

Who he plays in The Post: Anthony Essaye, lawyer representing the Washington Post

Why he’s ranked here: He has like three lines, which isn’t much even for a Post side character. However, he’s not at the bottom of this ranking because in one of his only scenes, he gets to argue with Hanks’s Ben Bradlee over a pasta dinner.

That’s some weird-looking pasta—like the kind you’d see in a dollhouse—but it’s a really good scene partner for Woods.

10. Jessie Mueller

Where you’ve seen her: In a theater (seriously, this is her first movie role) acting in Waitress, Carousel, Into the Woods, and one episode of Blue Bloods

Who she plays in The Post: Judith Martin, Washington Post reporter

Why she’s ranked here: Martin got booted from covering a Nixon wedding because she referred to Cynthia Nixon as a “vanilla ice cream cone.” That’s just iconic. Unfortunately, Mueller’s Martin doesn’t play any part in publishing the Pentagon Papers. That’s just a letdown.

9. Michael Stuhlbarg

Where you’ve seen him: Boardwalk Empire, Hugo, Doctor Strange, A Serious Man

Who he plays in The Post: Abe Rosenthal, New York Times executive editor

Why he’s ranked here: I didn’t recognize this was Michael Stuhlbarg, because this dude is a chameleon. Seriously, look at him in the stuff he’s been in just this year (Call Me by Your Name, The Shape of Water, The Post, Fargo Season 3) and tell me he doesn’t look like four different people.

8. Sarah Paulson

Where you’ve seen her: American Horror Story, American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, Feud: Bette and Joan, 12 Years a Slave

Who she plays in The Post: Tony Bradlee, Ben Bradlee’s wife

Why she’s ranked here: For most of The Post’s runtime, you’re wondering why Sarah Paulson is even here. Her big contribution to the Pentagon Papers being examined by members of the Post is providing sandwiches. Excuse me, Mr. Spielberg, this is an Emmy-winning actress trapped in the role of a thankless housewife. Nobody puts Paulson in a corner. Fortunately, she gets a small bit of redemption at the end of the movie, when her character reminds her husband that, as a woman and publisher of the paper, Graham has a lot more to lose than he does if the Supreme Court indicts them.

BONUS: Sonny Valicenti—a.k.a. the creepy ADT guy from Mindhunter—as Tony Russo, a co-conspirator in publishing the Pentagon Papers

Why he’s ranked here: Seeing Valicenti in the movie, and recoiling a bit, proves he did a very good job in a limited amount of Mindhunter screen time. He still looks creepy!

7. Carrie Coon

Where you’ve seen her: The Leftovers, Fargo Season 3, Gone Girl

Who she plays in The Post: Meg Greenfield, Washington Post editorial writer

Why she’s ranked here: Wow. The fact the greatest American thespian, Carrie Coon, is sitting here at no. 7 proves how spoiled Spielberg was for this movie—he barely used her! Still, in very limited action, Coon gets one of the best little moments of The Post: When Bradlee’s daughter asks if anyone wants some lemonade while they peruse the Pentagon Papers, Greenfield asks for one with vodka. [Editor’s note: This writer is a big—one could argue too big—fan of Carrie Coon.]

6. Jesse Plemons

Where you’ve seen him: Breaking Bad, Black Mass, Fargo Season 2, Friday Night Lights

Who he plays in The Post: Roger Clark, lawyer representing the Washington Post

Why he’s ranked here: Plemons is a prestige-TV god when it comes to playing complicated characters (Breaking Bad, Fargo Season 2, and coming soon: Black Mirror Season 4) and as a lawyer who wants to encourage the Post to not publish the Pentagon Papers, he fits the bill. He definitely has some legal precedent on his side—Bradlee admits imprisonment is an option if everything goes south—but naturally, you’re watching The Post and thinking, “This lawyer guy sucks.” That’s because Plemons conveys inscrutability so well.

5. Bruce Greenwood

Where you’ve seen him: Gerald’s Game, Star Trek, Thirteen Days, Capote, Mad Men

Who he plays in The Post: Robert McNamara, former secretary of defense

Why he’s ranked here: Greenwood gets one of the juiciest side roles as one of the men implicated in the Pentagon Papers initially published by the Times, and his character harbors some guilt over the U.S. remaining in Vietnam several years after the war was considered a lost cause. McNamara has close ties to Graham, which makes their dynamic especially compelling in the film—so props to Greenwood for going toe-to-toe with Meryl Streep, and coming out looking good.

4. Tracy Letts

Where you’ve seen him: Divorce, Homeland, The Big Short, The Lovers

Who he plays in The Post: Fritz Beebe, Washington Post board member

Why he’s ranked here: Letts, who you might also recognize as the sad dad in Lady Bird, is the only member of the Post executive board that gives Graham any respect. He doesn’t agree with her decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, but he supports her anyway. So yeah, this is definitely a likable role, but beyond that, Letts gets two things right: He plays the part perfectly, and he’s actually married to Carrie Coon IRL.

3. Matthew Rhys

Where you’ve seen him: The Americans, Brothers & Sisters, Girls, The Edge of Love

Who he plays in The Post: Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers

Why he’s ranked here: Spielberg chose the perfect actor to play Daniel Ellsberg, the Edward Snowden of his time. Rhys features most prominently at the very beginning of the film when he actually steals the Pentagon Papers, and thanks to several years of practice on The Americans, he just looks good doing spy stuff. I’m pretty sure it’s in his contract to never smile.

2. Bradley Whitford

Where you’ve seen him: Get Out, Saving Mr. Banks, The West Wing, Transparent

Who he plays in The Post: Arthur Parsons, Washington Post board member

Why he’s ranked here: Not counting the nasty audio recordings of Richard Nixon, Parsons is arguably the main antagonist of the film, serving as a foil to Graham on the Post board through overt misogyny. Unsurprisingly, nearly all his dialogue can be categorized as mansplaining. But credit where it’s due: Whitford eats up this very distasteful role, and by the end of the movie, you’re cheering when Graham shuts him down.

1. Bob Odenkirk

Where you’ve seen him: Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Mr. Show With Bob and David

Who he plays in The Post: Ben Bagdikian, Washington Post reporter

Why he’s ranked here: Odenkirk gets the trifecta: Bagdikian is responsible for getting the Pentagon Papers in the Post’s hands; he gets ample screen time in doing so; and if he were given a Best Supporting Actor nod at the Oscars, it’d be well deserved. Odenkirk also has the single best gag in the film, when he fumbles every possession on his body as he gets Ellsberg’s contact info from a payphone.

As you can see, there are a lot of talented actors backing up the two powerhouse A-listers. Some of them had barely anything to do, but their mere presence elevated the movie. To the non-Spielberg filmmakers out there: Hire all of these people (or other very good prestige-TV actors); they will make your movie better.