The first time I ever actively noticed David Costabile was in season one of Damages, where he played Rick Messer, a crooked, murdering police detective responsible for doing Ted Danson’s dirty work. The guy was pure scumbag. You couldn’t help but feel your stomach lurch whenever he was on screen. Costabile was so good in the role that I just assumed the guy was some kind of deviant in real life and was cast accordingly.
A few years later I became enamored with Breaking Bad‘s Gale Boetticher, the Walt Whitman-loving chemist who was tasked with helping Walter White run Gus Fring’s superlab. Gale was also played by Costabile, but at the time, I had NO IDEA that it was the same actor from Damages. Gale was everything that Messer was not — innocent, dorky and not the least bit threatening. Messer was evil incarnate. Gale did things like this:
When I finally did come to the realization that Gale and Messer were played by the same actor, it was as if some part of my brain instantly ruptured, never to be fully repaired. The fact that one man could embody both characters so perfectly (and with the benefit of doing so on two great shows) didn’t just put Costabile on the map for me, it made him his own fucking country.
Gale eventually departed Breaking Bad in, uh, memorable fashion, but I started noticing Costabile in all sorts of places. There he was in a random episode of House! And, wait, was that him in a Office rerun? Why, yes it was. And then a bombshell. Last year, I finally started watching The Wire. (I know, I know. Back off. I eventually got to it.) I made it through the first four seasons as fast as HBO On Demand would allow and then dug into season five when, lo and behold, THERE’S GODDAMN DAVID COSTABILE. No one warned me this was going to happen. No one told me that this lucky bastard, who already had a part in Breaking Bad, one of TV’s all-time greatest dramas, was also featured in ANOTHER of TV’s all-time greatest dramas! And this time he was playing somebody completely different yet again — a spineless newspaper managing editor more concerned about winning awards than publishing the truth. And, again, Costabile completely owned the role, portraying a sleazy corporate stooge so effectively that I’d grow angry just seeing him walk into the frame. (I used to be a working newspaperman, which helped fuel my hatred.) I love the actor, but this guy’s so good that when he wants you to loathe him, you just can’t help doing so.
By this point, Costabile wasn’t just a “that guy.” He was probably my favorite “that guy.” And you always root for your “that guys.” So what a delight to see him turn up in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln this winter, and not in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-capacity but in a fairly meaty part. The cast list for that movie was so large and epic that I didn’t even notice he was in it until my butt was in a theater seat a few weeks back. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who squealed with delight when that familiar doughy face showed up on the big screen. FUCK YEAH, THAT’S GALE. Good for him. If anyone deserves to work with Spielberg and share a screen with Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones, it’s David Costabile.
He hasn’t done much film work, having started his career on Broadway and labored mostly in TV since the late 90s, but hopefully, in the wake of Lincoln, the big-screen work will come flowing in. He’s a unique performer, with a thin voice and a stout frame that can make him look schlubby or intimidating, depending on how he carries himself. And, Jesus, did you click play up above and watch him sing “Major Tom”? What is that thing around his neck, a purple ascot?! Obviously, the dude is fearless. And talented. And awesome. He’s not just a “that guy.” He’s one of THE “that guys.”