Spanning from guest-starring roles on TV shows to being one of the faces of Marvel to dominating the festival circuit, Sebastian Stan’s decades-long career has made him one of the best, yet underrated, actors of this generation. In preparation of his new comedy thriller film Fresh, also featuring Normal People’s Daisy Edgar-Jones, check out some of Stan’s most famous and standout roles.
Bucky Barnes – Avengers Franchise
Most people recognize Stan for his decade-long turn in the Avengers franchise as Captain America’s long-time best friend and sidekick, Bucky Barnes. Beginning as a 1940s clean-cut soldier in the original Captain America and spanning through the future to a 21st century man-out-of-time in the original series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Stan’s acting emphasizes all that Bucky has experienced and witnessed. Whether it’s the haunting gaze of PTSD, the strength and endurance of a super-soldier, or the quick jibes of wit exchanged on and off the battlefield, Bucky has always been one of the most dynamic and my personal favorite Marvel character.
The Winter Soldier – Avengers Franchise
Okay, I know some of you might be wondering why I’m including the Winter Soldier right after I highlighted Bucky Barnes. But this distinction is exactly what makes Stan such a dynamic actor because he truly makes the Winter Soldier its own separate character. He plays the brainwashed assassin primarily in the second installment of the Captain America trilogy. Physical prowess and knife-flipping skills aside—Stan did many of his own stunts, as per usual of many Marvel actors—it’s in the eyes where his talent really shows. Throughout the course of the film, despite the Winter Soldier’s lack of dialogue, we watch as the cold, hardened eyes of the villain shift into a scared, insecure version of his former self desperate to break out.
Tommy Lee – Pam and Tommy
We see a lot more of Stan than ever in this role…more of his acting, of course, what did you think I meant? He’s almost unrecognizable after his physical transformation into the famed Mötley Crue drummer complete with shaggy hair, a lanky build, and plenty of tattoos on display thanks to the brief amount of clothing that he wears onscreen. Beyond the visual commitment to the role, Stan brings a level of emotional depth to the character and one of the most renowned celebrity couples. His range as Tommy Lee expands from a crazed rocker threatening his workers to an impulsive druggie wooing women left and right to a secretly hopeless romantic supporting Pamela Anderson’s Baywatch career.
Stan has a face that can easily replicate other famous men, demonstrated with his take on Jeff Gillooly which is chillingly accurate. While I can’t say I’m a particular fan of the mustache—or the man he’s playing—I am impressed with his commitment to the role. While the film focuses ultimately on Tonya’s story, Stan’s ability to slide from a sense of fragile romance to a violently volatile mindset makes this one of his most standout performances. His take on Jeff perfectly complements Margot Robbie’s Tonya Harding and symbolizes the very nature of their unstable relationship and infamous scandal.
Frank – Endings, Beginnings
When Stan’s not dominating blockbuster franchises or critically-acclaimed shows, he dedicates a lot of his time and talent to the world of independent films. Featuring a love triangle that I never knew I needed alongside Shailene Woodley and Jamie Dornan, Stan once again plays the bad boy with a hidden heart of gold. What really makes him shine in this role is that it seems to be the most naturally fitting to his real-life charming, thoughtful, and humorous personality. Perhaps this is because a lot of the film is improvised, another testament to Stan’s acting ability: the tenderly strained or ferociously intimate scenes featuring Frank are not strictly performance, but rather creations pulling from his own innate intuition as an actor.
Carter Baizen – Gossip Girl
While Carter Baizen is the sort of guy your parents warn you about, I’m proud to say that he inspired me to become a fan of Sebastian Stan. This character, flitting in and out of the main storyline with romantic encounters with either Blair or Serena, encompasses the very aura of what makes Gossip Girl such an addicting show. Stan is just as addicting, oozing charm, confidence, and good looks as he tackles the Upper East Side along with the best of them.
Charles Blackwood – We Have Always Lived in the Castle
It’s not easy playing a villain, but Stan seems to play a lot of them very well and memorably. In the cinematic take of Shirley Jackson’s acclaimed gothic novel, he plays the cousin who moves into town with supposedly good intentions. It’s refreshingly chilling, though, to see Stan inhabit a character that truly does not have a good bone or sense of morals in his body. This allows him to expand his acting range into exploring the dark complexity of Charles’ psyche. Stan’s usual screen presence is turned slightly on its end throughout the film, making each smile, lingering glance, and easy confidence seem at the very least patronizing, if not downright possessed.
Chris Beck – The Martian
I know what you’re thinking…Sebastian Stan is in The Martian? While he may not compare to Matt Damon’s level of fame, I think it’s impressive that he holds his own against this top-notch cast. His moments with onscreen wife Kate Mara are some of the most human and tender, playing the perfect balance against the sterile world of solitude that Damon’s character is subjected to.
Scott Huffman – The Last Full Measure
In one of the only roles on this list where Stan plays the lead, in The Last Full Measure, he becomes a Pentagon employee fighting for recognition of a Vietnam War veteran’s heroic achievements. Stan showcases versatility as his character expresses weaknesses and strengths while experiencing both doubts and growth. Despite being backed up by an extraordinary cast including Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Plummer, the true story was met with mixed reviews. While war films may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Stan’s portrayal of Hoffman centers the film and elevates it into a film of good intentions, regardless of its actual execution.
T.J. Hammond – Political Animals
No list covering Sebastian Stan’s roles would be complete without his run as T.J. Hammond on the mini series following a former first family dealing with public and private struggles. It’s his most heartbreaking role to date as he explores heavy issues such as his sexuality, addiction, and suicide attempts. It’s a bit soap-y and heavy-handed at moments, but Stan grounds the show, exposing a reality that many men and women in the nation experience to some degree. With no shortage of tears and still a nice dose of his typical smile, Stan’s vast emotional range in this role established him as a serious actor to watch.
Fresh will be streaming on Hulu on March 4.