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I found the term “that guy”, used as “He embarked on a career as a 'that guy',” in the following sentence of the article of the New Yorker (Feb. 7, 2011) titled “the Most Interesting Man in the World”:

In a recalls of a contentious exchange with Hoffman: “I jumped up and said, ‘Dustin, the reason you don’t like me is because I’m gonna make it and you’re not.’ ” Jonathan Goldsmith eventually made it - out to Los Angeles, anyway—and embarked on a career as a “that guy,” very often the that guy who gets killed, on television shows such as “Bonanza,” “Mannix,” “Gunsmoke,” “Hawaii Five-O,” ... to name a few.

As I don’t understand what that guy used in quotes means, I checked online dictionaries. Neither Cambridge online, nor Free Merriam-Webster has an entry for “that guy.”

Only Onlineslangdictionary.com carries the definition as “any person who does something considered inappropriate,” with an example, “I was going to crack a joke then, but I didn't want to be that guy.” But I don’t think this definition applies to “that guy” appearing in the above sentence.

What does “that guy” as a career Goldsmith built up mean? Does it mean a villain (in the film)? Is "that guy" a well-received of its own word?

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I think RobertS and user11761 together have it correct. Probably the most famous "That Guy" is "That Guy in the Red Shirt" on the original Star Trek series. 4 people beam down to the planet: 3 main characters and That Guy. One dies. –  horatio Sep 2 '11 at 15:19
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The idea behind "that guy" is that he's not big enough for name recognition yet, so you blurt out, "Hey, it's that guy!" –  rtperson Sep 2 '11 at 19:40
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Only because this is English.SE, I'll point out that "that guy" is in "quotes" not (parentheses). –  Travis Christian Sep 2 '11 at 20:16
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6 Answers 6

'That guy' is Hollywood speak for a character actor.

A 'That Guy' actor is self-explanatory - he's familiar because you've seen him in several movies, but you may not know his name because he's not famous like say, Al Pacino or Johnny Depp, so you usually refer to him as 'that guy who...'

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These days "that guy" is often familiar from TV large-cast dramas (24, Prison Break, etc). They can be on screen for several hours and still not get their names on front of the box. They frequently cross over to movies and become "that guy from The Sopranos" –  Colin Pickard Sep 2 '11 at 11:54
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Your second paragraph is correct, but your first sentence is not, strictly speaking. –  Robert S. Sep 2 '11 at 20:51
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This is really interesting and my original interpretation was completely wrong. According to this site:

That Guy is easy to recognize and difficult to place. You can describe him but not name him.

These kinds of actors play particular types of characters and are highly recognizable, but because they don't usually have lead or starring roles, often people don't know their names. They can be good guys or bad guys, eccentric scientists or good old dads.

Jonathan Goldsmith is one of these actors, but in my mind R. Lee Ermey (the drill sargeant in the movie Full Metal Jacket) is a good, typical example of this kind of actor.

Here is another site with some more examples.

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R. Lee Ermey has broken out of his "that guy" status, imo. He has had his own television shows, he's in commercials, he's been on late night shows, and people know his name. –  Robert S. Sep 2 '11 at 14:02
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I'm thinking more along the lines of Wallace Shawn ( "Inconceivable! from The Princess Bride) although that role broke his that guy status. Think about the Insurance Salesman from Groundhog Day. He's the biggest "That Guy" going. –  Chris Cudmore Sep 2 '11 at 17:24
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@Chris For me Stephen Tobolowsky is the archetypical 'that guy' even more than Wallace Shawn as for most people Stephen is a bit more non-descript. After working with his wife on a software project, I couldn’t go a week without seeing ‘that guy’ on TV, but until I looked up who he was I had no idea who the actor was. Script notations that a part calls for a Stephen Tobolowsky type”, might be yet another definition for ‘that guy’. For those who don’t want to look up Stephen, he is Needle-nose Ned the insurance salesman from Groundhog’s Day. –  user179700 Sep 2 '11 at 17:55
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"That guy" has two different connotations.

In the movie sense, "that guy" refers to an actor which you have seen in lots of movies and/or tv shows but who isn't famous.

EX: Did you see last night's episode of 30 Rock, it had that guy in it? What guy? You know, that guy with the white hair from Mad Men, Iron Man 2 and Ed.

The other definition that you found on the online slang dictionary refers to a generally negative action or type of person EX: Man, that girl at the gym is hot, I'm going to hit on her tomorrow while she's working out. Dude, don't be that guy.

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A lot of the answers here are on their way to correct, but not quite. A "that guy" is not specifically a character actor. In fact, a "that guy" is rarely a character actor.

A "that guy" is an actor that appears in several different television shows or movies in roles that are usually disposable. He's the guy that might say, "Sir, the President is on line two" or "Detective Columbo, here's the evidence bag you wanted." You'll often see a "that guy" play someone who gets killed and spends quite a bit of time in the morgue on shows like CSI, NCIS, Law and Order, and so on.

Producers like to use a "that guy" for these roles because they typically have more experience than extras and they're members of SAG, unlike most extras.

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The urban dictionary says:

That Guy:
The person everyone loves to hate and never wants to become.

That seems about right to me.

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This is not the answer. –  Robusto Sep 1 '11 at 23:46
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It is an answer. See the second definition that Kevin provided. –  Chris Cudmore Sep 2 '11 at 17:29
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Huh? That Guy is 'the dude'. He's the one who has something peculiar about him that you and the person you're talking to have a knowledge of.

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