The 12 Best Poker Face Guest Stars, Ranked

This post contains spoilers for Peacock's "Poker Face."

Rian Johnson's mystery series "Poker Face" is one of the best -- and most successful -- Peacock Originals yet. The series stars Natasha Lyonne, who is always good but has never been better, as Charlie Cale -- a character that only she could play. Charlie is a whip-smart gal, living life on the open road and happening across mysteries that she solves through her uncanny ability to always know when someone is lying. Her ability to build a rapport with anyone throws her into sticky situations, which Johnson uses to craft the show's kooky-yet-dramatically-intense tone.

Lyonne is great, but one of the greatest pleasures of "Poker Face" is the show's impressive roster of guest stars. In every episode, the supporting characters who populate Charlie's world are played by recognizable actors. Famous actors like Judith Light stop by for an episode and nearly run away with the whole show. The show is truly an embarrassment of riches, promising a delightful and surprising performance waiting around every bend in the road. These are the 12 best guest stars in the first season of "Poker Face," ranked.

Benjamin Bratt As Cliff Legrand

Benjamin Bratt is one of two recurring guest stars on this list. He's excellent, but he's at the bottom because his recurring guest spot doesn't feel quite as special as someone who stops by for only one episode and knocks it out of the park. Bratt plays Cliff Legrand, a fixer who's hot on Charlie's tail as she travels across the country. Charlie meets the ominous Cliff in the series premiere. His character pops in intermittently, reminding us that while "Poker Face" is an episodically structured show, there is still a season-long arc between Cliff's boss and Charlie.

Bratt really gets a chance to flex his acting muscles in the season 1 finale. Just as each episode rewinds and shows that Charlie was there all along, the season finale reveals what Cliff has been doing this whole time. We see Cliff spending 368 motel-filled days on the road. But then the call comes in: They've found her. As Cliff drives Charlie back to certain doom, he recites the lyrics to Blues Traveler's "Hook." Bratt delivers the moment as though he's performing a Shakespearean sonnet. "You really are the f****n' worst," Charlie moans. Bratt's steely stare lends Cliff a particular element of unpredictable danger. Moment-to-moment, we're never sure how much of an immediate threat he poses, which makes his character so fun to watch.

Adrien Brody As Sterling Frost, Jr., Episode 1

Adrien Brody is a Johnson vet and starred in the director's sorely-underrated sophomore feature, "The Brothers Bloom." In that film, he plays a con man. In "Poker Face," he's exactly the sort of smug, rich a*****e his "Brothers Bloom" character would have tried to swindle. Broday portrays Sterling Frost, Jr. in "Poker Face" -- a casino owner and sleazebag desperately trying to prove he's capable of running the family business to his father. Unfortunately, an employee finds something incriminating on a high-rolling hotel guest's laptop, so he has her killed. But the employee just so happens to be best friends with Charlie Cale, and Charlie knows he's lying about her murder.

Brody has one of those faces that works perfectly in a screen-filling closeup, and Johnson (who directed the pilot) knows it. He's a fitting first guest star for Charlie to use her human lie-detector powers on, as these closeups invite the viewers to read Brody's face for signs of mendacity just as Charlie does. In Frost's final scene, he perfectly captures the character's realization that the jig is up and there's no way out. His choice to jump off his balcony is a fitting end to the character, but it also sets up our expectations for the series overall: no A-lister is safe.

Nick Nolte As Arthur, Episode 8

In "Poker Face" episode 8, Nick Nolte plays Arthur, an aging special effects wizard. He works in practical, stop-motion effects, Phil Tippett style -- in fact, Tippett helped design some of the creatures featured in the episode. But these effects are no longer in style. Arthur left the industry when he sensed animation's shift to CGI, anticipating his work would be crafted by computers.

One way to use a guest star is to lean into the years of gravitas that a long career gives an actor. Nolte has that in spades: The one-time Sexiest Man Alive is in his 80s, but he still boasts a commanding presence on screen. Sure, he walks and talks a little slower these days. But this makes him the perfect choice to portray a former titan of his industry who knows full well that his glory days have come and gone. There's a real sadness in Nolte's eyes as he talks about the past with former business partner, Laura (Cherry Jones).

Episode 8 is the rare "Poker Face" episode that has a body count higher than one, so Nolte also gets an excellent death scene to remind us of his acting chops. After visiting Laura and pretending to hand over incriminating footage, he realizes he's been poisoned. Nolte's performance borders on haunting: He's a man not just past his prime, but one who knows he's reaching his end.

Ron Perlman As Sterling Frost, Sr., Episode 10

The "Poker Face" season 1 finale is all about exploring possible ways forward. There was no way Charlie was going to outrun Cliff Legrand forever. Although we've heard his voice in the show's pilot, we finally meet the man behind it all: Sterling Frost, Sr. (Ron Perlman). Sure, there's not much of a family resemblance between Perlman and Adrien Brody, but it's easy enough to go with the show here. Perlman is a welcomed on-screen presence, and it's been long enough since we've seen Brody, that it's easy to suspend any disbelief.

Save a few quick scenes setting up what's about to go down, Perlman's appearance boils down to one intense conversation with Charlie. Our expectations change line by line, not just about the clear and present danger Charlie faces but what the show might possibly evolve into in the future. Frost offers Charlie a chance to stop running, to start working for him again, and put her lie-detecting abilities to use making a heck of a lot of money. Perlman is so good and intense that it seems like an enticing proposition. If he were to stick around in the second season of "Poker Face," it might be pretty fun. Then "Poker Face" takes a page from the "Glass Onion" playbook -- it puts a loaded gun on the table and turns out the lights. In this way, Perlman reminds us what Brody did ten episodes earlier: No guest star is safe.

Lil Rel Howery As Taffy Boyle, Episode 3

In the third episode of "Poker Face," Lil Rel Howery plays Taffy Boyle, the proprietor of a Texas BBQ joint where Charlie stops for a while to work. The place is a local hotspot so popular it even has its own radio show, which Taff hosts each night. It's a quirky joint — every table has a bowl of floss, and their slogan is: "We'll put the meat between your teeth, but you gon' get it out!" Howery's affable charm translates perfectly in this setting.

He gets numerous moments of comic relief. (See: the madcap sequence where Taff pretends to host the show but actually slips away from the radio station to murder his brother (Larry Brown) for becoming a vegetarian after watching Bong Joon-ho's "Okja.") Still, when Charlie begins to suspect him of the crime, we learn this isn't just a case of casting a guest star because of their familiarity. Howery then plays against type, becoming quite sinister as he feels the walls closing in around him. He's downright chilling, even, which isn't a mode Howery often gets to play with in roles. That distance between his usual star image and his impressive performance here lands him a higher spot on this list.

Stephanie Hsu As Mortimer Bernstein, Episode 9

In the ninth episode of "Poker Face," Academy Award nominee Stephanie Hsu plays a kleptomaniac drifter who falls in with Charlie. Ever the joker, Charlie nicknames her "Mortimer Bernstein," or "Morty" for short. In "Everything Everywhere All at Once," Hsu proved her astonishing emotional range. Here, she's mostly in comic relief mode, but it works well. After all, the show's biggest strength might be its nimble ability to shift between tonal extremes. In an episode where Charlie spends most of the runtime battered, we need a character like Morty to lighten things up.

I say Hsu is acting mostly in comic relief mode because she finds opportunities to flesh out the character's humanity. Morty's relationship with Charlie is based on mutual respect. There's a kinship between them, as they both live on the road and do what they have to do to survive. Still, Morty repeatedly nicks Charlie's wallet. Every time she's asked to return it, she pauses. We can read every thought that passes across her face. Hsu's expression perfectly toes the line between a lovable "ain't I a stinker?" attitude and a calculated deviousness. We almost believe that next time, she just might get away with it.

Hong Chau As Marge, Episode 2

Oscar nominee Hong Chau shows up in the series' second episode as Marge, a drug-dealing trucker. The no-nonsense woman meets Charlie in a truck stop bathroom as the latter tries to staunch the blood flow from her gunshot wound. When Charlie collapses, Marge brings her into her truck and superglues her back together. She's resourceful, from the glue on down to "Baby Roscoe," the pistol she keeps tucked in her boot. Unfortunately, she's captured on CCTV dumping a body she found in her truck. Cops arrest Marge, so Charlie sets out to prove her innocence.

Chau is a versatile actor, as anyone who saw "The Menu" and "The Whale" can attest. She disappears into the gruff-talking role of Marge, especially vocally. Throughout the episode, she acts in a huskier register than we're used to hearing. We immediately believe that this is a woman who lives her life on the road, just as Charlie will learn to do. She even gives her crucial advice that will shape the episodic series: "Anywhere you land, find a side hustle that pays cash."

She also has phenomenal comedic timing, as she's proven in her previous roles. Marge veers wildly between extremes -- one moment confessing to having cried while watching Bambi and the next offering, "I'm getting...not-gonna-hook-up vibes?" Chau makes a major impression with less than ten minutes of screen time, landing her high on this list.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt As Trey, Episode 9

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a longtime Rian Johnson collaborator. Of course, the director would direct the ninth episode of the season, featuring the "Inception" star. Gordon-Levitt starred in Johnson's debut feature "Brick," and ever since, he's popped up in his projects in fun ways: For example, he's the voice of the hourly "Dong!" chime in "Glass Onion." In "Poker Face," he plays against the "good guy" type that made him famous. His character, Trey, is a criminal under house arrest. When a blizzard knocks out the monitoring system used to track his ankle monitor, Trey decides to go for a drunken joyride in his Lamborghini. Flying down the snow-filled highway, he accidentally runs over Charlie. After unceremoniously stuffing her in his trunk, he dumps her body in a decaying tree near the motel his friend (David Castañeda) runs.

Gordon-Levitt really shines when Charlie manages to claw her way out of her shallow grave and crawl back to the motel. As he tries to figure out what Charlie remembers, Gordon-Levitt lets the character's sinister past peek through his demeanor. When the situation spirals out of his control, he explodes into violence. It's unusual to see Gordon-Levitt in this mode -- the odd "Don Jon" aside, he still tends to play good guys -- but a scumbag like this is a welcome addition to the actor's repertoire.

Ellen Barkin As Kathleen Townsend, Episode 6

In the sixth episode of "Poker Face," Charlie works at a small-time dinner theater. On opening night, a woman (Jameela Jamil) falls through a trapdoor and dies. As she tends to do, Charlie realizes that it wasn't an accident. Her suspicions land on two past-their-prime stars of the play, Michael Graves (Tim Meadows) and Kathleen Townsend (Ellen Barkin). Was the backstage argument caught on a hot mic proof of animosity between the former "Spooky and the Cop" co-stars? Or was it an alibi to cover up a murder? (Hint: It's the latter. After all, this is "Poker Face.")

The construction of the episode gives Barkin plenty to play with, and she gets to be in several different versions of scenery-chewing diva mode. She rampages around the theater, directing the play. Her begrudging appreciation for Charlie giving attitude right back to her is delightful. She's a scheming murderess, though not in the way we initially think. We all see her character act out "Ghosts of Pensacola," a hacky Tennessee Williams ripoff. In a particularly fun sequence, she gets to drop the act, bickering with a bewildered Charlie through a stage refrigerator. She also spends a not-insignificant amount of screen time wearing a wig cap, which has the effect of highlighting just how expressive her face is -- especially in rage-filled closeups. She's a treat!

Cherry Jones As Laura, Episode 8

In the eighth episode, Cherry Jones plays Laura, a movie producer who, decades ago, accidentally caused an actor to drown on set. We meet her as she witnesses her business partner Max (Tim Russ) jump off their balcony to his death. While it seems like suicide, this is "Poker Face," so it's not really a surprise when it turns out there is more going on than initially met the eye.

At this point in the first season of "Poker Face," we have a general handle on how things go: we meet characters, time gets twisted up, and we learn that one or more are capable of doing terrible things. For most of the episode, the calculating Laura swans around the screen. Jones' severe silver bob tells us everything we need to know about who she is. Jones is great at selling the character's transition, shifting how we should be interpreting her. She's an agile actor, taking Laura from severe businesswoman to cunning murderer to, in the end, something sadder.

The episode's final few minutes serve as a showcase for Jones. She's filled with guilt and paranoia, as she walks down a long hallway stuffed with stop-motion monsters that appear to come to life. Jones acts the scene in a severe, fisheye-lensed closeup, showcasing her genuine terror. It's a superbly-acted, well-animated, melancholy end for one of the best villains in "Poker Face."

S. Epatha Merkerson And Judith Light As Joyce And Irene, Episode 5

In episode 5, Charlie works at a retirement home. The Lucky McKee-directed installment boasts one of the season's best guest star rosters. In addition to "The Big Bang Theory" vet Simon Helberg, the episode sees Judith Light reuniting with Reed Birney, her co-star from "The Menu." However, it's her pairing with "Law & Order" legend S. Epatha Merkerson that lands both actors on this list. Their performances are so intertwined that it would be impossible to choose between them. The mischievously inseparable murderous duo Joyce (Light) and Irene (Merkerkson) steal the show.

Some of the other murderers in "Poker Face" tend to be one-note, but not Joyce and Irene! When Charlie meets the women, she sees them as kindred spirits. Lyonne is clearly having a blast playing off the two actors. They're an utter hoot together: I'd watch an entire sitcom about them annoying nosy fellow resident, Betty (K Callan). But soon Charlie suspects them of murder and their performances shift. At first, we wonder if Joyce and Irene have teamed up to kill Gabriel (Birney) because he wronged them in the past. Maybe this is revenge we (or at least Charlie) can applaud. But it turns out that they're dangerous women. Both actors tear into these later scenes, and they go from kooky to genuinely unsettling in a way only "Poker Face" can do best.

Chloë Sevigny As Ruby Ruin, Episode 4

Few actors in the business are as good at conveying world-weariness as Chloë Sevigny. In the best guest star appearance of the first season, Sevigny plays Ruby Ruin, the lead singer of a punk band called Doxxxology. They had one great song a few decades ago, but nowadays, Ruby Ruin works at a home improvement store. People still sometimes recognize Ruby -- she's Chloë Sevigny! Of course, she's a star! But she also has one of those faces that is perfectly believable as, well, a dissatisfied employee at a big-box store.

When Doxxxology cobbles together the chance to go on tour, Charlie gets hired on as a roadie. She's there when a member of the band is electrocuted onstage and realizes Ruby lies about the accident. Sevigny is a joy to watch in these scenes. When she and real-life "sister" Natasha Lyonne spar, we can tell we're witnessing two actors matching wits at the peak of their powers.

Sevigny is especially great in close-up frames. (See: Her barely-concealed fury when their young drummer, Gavin ("Outer Banks" star Nicholas Cirillo), steals her scream part in a song.) Her final shot of the episode is transcendent. Finally onstage, commanding the crowd she feels she deserves, awash in a spotlight, Sevigny beams. It's chilling and sad and triumphant all at once.

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