Type keyword(s) to search

Best Of

Ranking the 20 Best Poker Face Guest Stars

We’re taking one last look at the murderers’ row of talent in Season 1.
  • Clockwise: Adrien Brody, Lil Rel Howery, Hong Chau, Dascha Polanco, Ellen Barkin in Poker Face (Photos: Peacock; Primetimer graphic)
    Clockwise: Adrien Brody, Lil Rel Howery, Hong Chau, Dascha Polanco, Ellen Barkin in Poker Face (Photos: Peacock; Primetimer graphic)

    Created by Rian Johnson, the reigning king of whodunits, and Natasha Lyonne — who is one of the most captivating and original voices in television today — Peacock’s Poker Face puts a refreshing spin on the procedural murder-mystery genre while still capturing its essence. A comedic take on Columbo, Poker Face fully orbits around Lyonne’s Charlie Cale, a former poker player who has the ability to be a human lie detector. Charlie travels across the U.S. to thwart a foe of her own, working odd jobs and  the odd murder case.

    With only Lyonne serving as a recurring actor, save for Benjamin Bratt’s occasional guest appearances in several episodes, the show’s murder-of-the-week format is the perfect vehicle for a wide array of familiar faces, who are thrust into the center of intricate, twist-filled scenarios. And it has yet to disappoint. From legendary performers to rising stars and Johnson and Lyonne’s frequent collaborators and friends, the series has managed to consistently fill our screens with a diverse and immensely talented ensemble of scene-stealers. 

    With Season 1 of Poker Face coming to an end today, we’ve selected 20 standout performers from the sprawling guest cast. 

    20. Simon Helberg

    “Time of the Monkey” (Episode 5); “The Hook” (Episode 10)

    One of the best things about Poker Face is the lack of cops in it, save for Simon Helberg, who has not one but two cameos as FBI agent Luca Clark. When Charlie helps Agent Luca solve a case in “Time of the Monkey,” he in turn helps her in the final episode by not arresting her for the murder of Sterling Frost Sr. or any other crimes she may have been implicated in. Helberg’s post-Big Bang Theory career has been an interesting one to watch, and we wouldn’t complain if he were to show up again in the second season. 

    19. John Ratzenberger

    “The Night Shift” (Episode 2)

    Veteran actor John Ratzenberger rarely appears in live-action projects anymore and typically sticks to voice acting, which makes his small role in Poker Face all the more memorable. While the episode doesn’t revolve around him and he largely remains a side character, a mechanic named Abe, he plays one of the show’s most genuinely likable and helpful people amongst a group of individuals Charlie meets who are untrustworthy and downright awful. 

    18. John Darnielle

    “Rest in Metal” (Episode 4)

    In his first ever acting role as metal band Doxxology’s guitarist, Al, musician John Darnielle brings an authenticity to the band and has impeccable comedic timing. In addition to his on-screen stint, the Mountain Goats singer-songwriter also utilized his musical expertise to help craft some of Doxxology’s music, including the fictional hit “Staplehead” and their attempted comeback “Merch Girl,” both of which are incredibly catchy. 

    17. Luis Guzmán

    “The Orpheus Syndrome” (Episode 8)

    Though he doesn’t feature heavily in the episode, Luis Guzmán makes the most of his screentime and plays a crucial role in helping solve the episode’s murder. He plays Raoul, a film archivist who aids Charlie in her investigation by giving her access to old tapes from a movie studio’s storage. This episode is the show’s least outwardly comedic thus far, but Guzmán imbues it with humor through some hilarious line deliveries and an overall delightful supporting role. 

    16. Dascha Polanco

    “Dead Man’s Hand” (Episode 1)

    Poker Face offered Johnson and Lyonne a great opportunity to work with their friends, and we get the first taste of this in the premiere episode when Lyonne’s former Orange is the New Black co-star Dascha Polanco makes an appearance. She plays Natalie, Charlie’s co-worker and close friend, a kind-hearted person stuck in a bad situation with an abusive husband. Natalie becomes the show’s first murder victim after making a discovery in a high-roller’s suite at the casino. Though she’s only in the first half of “Dead Man’s Hand,” it’s great to Polanco continue to find ways to reunite with Lyonne — they previously worked together in Russian Doll

    15. Clea DuVall

    “The Hook”(Episode 10)

    Yet another one of Lyonne’s close friends and former co-stars, Clea DuVall appears halfway into the Season 1 finale as Emily, Charlie’s estranged sister, whom she pays a visit in order to hide from the police after being framed for a murder at the casino. While DuVall is only on screen for a short time, her character gives us more information on Charlie’s backstory, and it’s a delight to see the natural chemistry between her and Lyonne back on screen after so long, even if they are at odds with each other.

    14. Charles Melton

    “Future of the Sport” (Episode 7)

    Charles Melton, one of the few Riverdale cast members to be seeking out ambitious and compelling work beyond the teen drama, turns in a fantastic performance in Poker Face. As Davis McDowell, a confident rising star in the world of racing, he becomes the target of a veteran actor’s attempted sabotage, which ultimately goes terribly wrong. “Future of the Sport” is a highly entertaining episode made even better by Melton’s rebellious take on Davis and his ability to hold his own against an actor like Tim Blake Nelson. 

    13. Colton Ryan

    “The Night Shift” (Episode 2)

    The second episode of Season 1 features a stellar cast, including Colton Ryan, who plays Jed, a socially awkward young mechanic who pushes Brandon Micheal Hall’s influencer/Subway worker Damian off a roof in order to claim his winning lottery ticket as his own. Ryan, who most recently starred in The Girl From Plainville, is utterly convincing as the creepy man who lacks any remorse for his actions, making the episode an unsettling watch. 

    12. Ron Perlman

    “The Hook” (Episode 10)

    As Poker Face makes its way back to Las Vegas for the finale, the series ends on a strong note by finally introducing us to Sterling Frost Sr., the infamous owner of the casino where Charlie once worked. Played by Ron Perlman, Sterling Sr. ends up being the final murder victim in a plot set up by his seemingly loyal henchman Cliff (Benjamin Bratt). Though he was unseen for much of Season 1, his presence loomed over the show — his son Sterling Jr. (Adrien Brody) died by suicide in the premiere, which led to Sterling Sr. vowing to hunt down Charlie, kicking off her cross-country trek. But Perlman’s voice is so distinctive and familiar, we knew he was playing Junior's dad before he even appeared on screen. The finale provides a stellar payoff as we finally watch Perlman and Lyonne go toe-to-toe. 

    11. Stephanie Hsu

    “Escape from Shit Mountain” (Episode 9)

    Following Everything Everywhere All at Once, Stephanie Hsu continues her killer streak with Poker Face. While cleaning car windows at a gas station, Charlie bumps into Hsu’s kleptomaniac Mortimer “Morty” Bernstein (her real name is never revealed). The two women find themselves in a nightmarish situation, first getting stranded in a snowstorm and later stuck in a motel with Jimmy (David Castañeda) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a criminal who hit Charlie with his car. After a series of events involving an unsolved murder, Morty becomes one of the episode’s murder victims, but despite her early departure, Hsu delivers a stellar and darkly comedic performance. 

    10. Nick Nolte

    “The Orpheus Syndrome” (Episode 8)

    As Arthur, a Hollywood special effects artist and old friend of Cherry Jones' Laura, Nick Nolte makes a memorable appearance in what is easily the most ambitious episode of Poker Face’s first season. Essentially playing a more grizzled version of Oscar-winning stop-motion guru Phil Tippett, Nolte delivers a fantastic turn in the series, and seeing him and fellow raspy-voiced performer Lyonne act opposite each other feels like a match made in heaven.

    9. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

    “Escape from Shit Mountain” (Episode 9)

    Rian Johnson has found a way to work with Joseph Gordon-Levitt on nearly all of the films he has made thus far, so it’s only fitting that the actor make an appearance at some point in Charlie’s journey across America. In Season 1’s penultimate episode, we meet Trey, a white-collar criminal under house arrest for insider trading who turns out to be the show’s most prolific murderer thus far, going so far as to try to kill Charlie. Though his actions grow more chaotic, Trey is a sophisticated criminal, and Gordon-Levitt never makes him feel like a caricature of a villain. 

    8. Tim Blake Nelson

    “Future of the Sport” (Episode 7)

    While making another stop, this time at a go-kart complex near a race track, Charlie finds herself captivated by the rivalry between up-and-coming-young racer Davis (Charles Melton) and Keith Owens, a veteran driver played by Tim Blake Nelson who fears he is past his prime in the sport. Fueled by jealousy over the young driver’s growing popularity and success, Keith plans to sabotage his vehicle, only to deal with the tragic aftermath. One of the very best character actors working today, Nelson shines in this gripping standout episode full of twists and turns. 

    7. Hong Chau

    “The Night Shift” (Episode 2)

    Fresh off her Academy Award nomination for The Whale, Hong Chau makes the most out of her few scenes in Poker Face’s second episode. Her character, Marge, is a mysterious truck driver who helps Charlie when she makes a stop in New Mexico, eventually getting mistaken as the perpetrator of the episode’s murder. Chau is brilliant as the elusive woman who hasn’t interacted with another human in 270 days, and she easily walks away as one of the most memorable parts of an episode packed with guest stars. 

    6. Cherry Jones

    “The Orpheus Syndrome” (Episode 8)

    One refreshing aspect of Poker Face is that it gives established actors the chance to fill the shoes of utterly kooky characters, and Cherry Jones is one of the many performers who gives it her all. Fully leaning into being a Hitchcockian horror, the eighth episode centers on Laura (Jones), a powerful Hollywood executive who will go to extreme lengths to protect her career, which means killing her soon-to-be ex-husband, Max (Tim Russ) to hide the fact that she helped orchestrate the on-set death of an actress 40 years prior. Jones brings to life the glamorous yet sinister woman who craves power — and slowly loses her mind as a result — with exceptional skill.

    5. Lil Rel Howery

    “The Stall” (Episode 3)

    It’s rare to see comedian Lil Rel Howery, who is best known for his roles in Get Out and Bad Trip, in a villainous role, which is exactly what makes his guest stint in Poker Face’s fourth episode all the more memorable. When Charlie makes a pit-stop in Texas, she comes across a “fascist” dog that leads to her working at a local barbecue restaurant, which is co-owned by Howery’s Taffy, a radio host who crafts an elaborate plan to kill his brother, George (Larry Brown). Howery seamlessly balances the comedic nature of the absurd situation with the episode’s overall dramatic tone.

    4. Adrien Brody

    “Dead Man’s Hand” (Episode 1)

    With roles in SuccessionWinning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, and Chapelwaite, Adrien Brody has recently become something of a TV staple, and Poker Face sees him once again stealing scenes. He appears in the first episode as Sterling Frost Jr., the son of a casino owner who has recently been put in charge and is attempting to prove that he isn’t a complete failure. After his involvement in the show’s first murder, his interactions with Charlie are what set the larger narrative in motion. Brody embodies the charming yet chilling nature of the complex, deeply flawed character as he makes poor decisions that ultimately lead to his demise. 

    3. Judith Light and S. Epatha Merkerson

    “Time of the Monkey” (Episode 5)

    Lyonne and Johnson deserve all the praise for coming up with the genius pairing of Judith Light and S. Epatha Merkerson, two TV stalwarts who played against type. Set in a retirement home, Episode 5 introduces us to Light’s Irene, who is best friends with Merkerson’s Joyce — the two aging women find immense joy in being rude to their fellow residents. Underneath their bitter exteriors lies an even worse truth: Irene and Joyce are convicted felons who kill a man by injecting chemicals through his neck. Though the episode isn’t the strongest of the season, watching the two icons act together is pure entertainment. 

    2. Chloë Sevigny

    “Rest in Metal” (Episode 4)

    Chloë Sevigny has collaborated with real-life best friend Natasha Lyonne throughout the years (she played her mother in Russian Doll), so it’s no surprise that the Girl From Plainville star also shows up in Poker Face. Sevigny plays Ruby Ruins, a hardware store employee who was once the fierce frontwoman of a one-hit-wonder metal band called Doxxology. Desperate for another hit following their ’90s song “Staplehead,” the group recruits a new drummer, Gavin (Nicholas Cirillo), to join them on tour. But Gavin dies after writing a song that could give the band a second shot at success. Sevigny, who is easily one of the coolest people on the planet, makes the character distinctly her own and dazzles in the shoes of a rock star. 

    1. Ellen Barkin

    “Exit Stage Death” (Episode 6)

    A highlight of Poker Face was seeing an amazing actor like Ellen Barkin get a role as compelling as that of Kathleen, a washed-up Broadway star obsessed with being the best as she desperately seeks out a role that will remind everyone of her talent. Working on a theater production alongside her former acting partner Michael (Tim Meadows), the pair are seemingly at odds with each other until it’s revealed that they are secretly lovers and have devised a plan to have his wife (played by Jameela Jamil) fall through a trapdoor and plummet to her death. Donning a fiery red wig and speaking in southern drawl as she shouts at those around her, Barkin is a sensational standout in the show’s ensemble. 

    Poker Face Season 1 is now streaming in its entirety on Peacock. Join the conversation about the show in our forums

    Jihane Bousfiha is a culture writer based in Florida. 

    TOPICS: Poker Face, Charles Melton, Cherry Jones, Chloe Sevigny, Clea DuVall, Colton Ryan, Dascha Polanco, Ellen Barkin, Hong Chau, John Darnielle, John Ratzenberger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Judith Light, Lil Rel Howery, Luis Guzmán, Natasha Lyonne, Nick Nolte, Rian Johnson, Ron Perlman, S. Epatha Merkerson, Simon Helberg, Stephanie Hsu, Tim Blake Nelson