You may not know his name, but you know his face. And you know his voice. Whether he’s the quirky little genius from Blade Runner, or the flannel-wearing brother Larry from the classic television show Newhart, William Sanderson is one of the most famous people you didn’t think you knew.
Like his contemporary “that guy” brethren Stephen Tobolowsky and Danny Trejo (whom he collectively refers to as “a group of people who won’t win any beauty contests”), all of which are featured in the documentary The Face Is Familiar airing on Starz on June 9, Sanderson has been in dozens of films and television series. Usually playing weird and off-kilter characters, Sanderson takes a rare turn into normalcy as Sheriff Bud Dearborne in HBO’s monster hit True Blood.
“I just made the team,” Sanderson told me about his supporting role in the series, which has a cast of telepaths, vampires and shape-shifters. “But I’m keeping the money, Kevin.”
The role of Sheriff Dearborne is a diversion for Sanderson. “It’s a very scary thing because I’ve never done it. It’s easier to play quirky characters and hide behind wardrobe and make-up especially,” he said. “I’m grateful to survive this long, grateful for the time I get. Those guys and actresses that play roles which are normal, my hat’s off to them. It’s just easier to play the character roles.”
As long as people keep dying in the small town of Bon Temps, Sanderson should continue with job security. Of course, he realizes it might not be forever. “They replace sheriffs all the time in real life,” he said. But for now, he’s happy. “I love the character so far… A self-repeating old bore, like me, trying to make it to retirement.”
Sanderson is currently working on season two of True Blood, which he promises will have everything that made the first season titillating: “Romance, suspense, humor and mystery, and I think sex and violence,” he said. “The second season starts rather calmly, but before long, there’s incredible chaos. It’s crazier than last year. I don’t know how the writers can come up with it. I think that audiences will be very excited to see how it gets evolves. And Sookie gets herself in trouble. We’re not finished.”
Born and raised in Memphis, Sanderson tries to bring a bit of the Southern sweetness to his roles. “Often I’ll pick up pieces, and all the white people are stupid. But no problem for me. I’m really not very smart.” He jests, of course, being that he holds a law degree (but no license, which he blames on being too lazy to take the bar rather than any sort of intellectual deficiency).
“I love the Southerners,” Sanderson said, and he never made a point to lose his accent like some actors do. “I was lazy, and I sound just like I did growing up. It’s made me good money. It’s an asset and an Achilles’ Heel.”
Over his career, Sanderson has been drawn to quirky roles. As one of the more recognizable character actors working today, Sanderson is happy with his niche of fame. “I kinda like where I am. If I’m recognized all the time, I have to leave better tips in restaurants,” he said. “It’d be fun to have a private jet and go from one movie to another, but these days I just want to stay healthy.”
And Sanderson has made a healthy career out of playing the oddities. “I’ve been kinda fascinated by misfits, outcasts and downtrodden people. I’ve identified with them.” he said. “Blade Runner probably got me more work than any. It convinced some producers that I could play something other than a rural crazy, I guess.”
In fact, Sanderson enjoys the underdog so much that he even gave us kudos from the FSR name. “Oh, I love that title. All of show business people take rejection,” he said. “I’m an Andy Warhol reject. I used to hang out with people on the periphery many years ago, but I love that title. Rejects!”
To learn more about William Sanderson and his upcoming projects, visit his personal web site at WilliamSanderson.net.
For more information on True Blood, visit HBO’s True Blood web site.