Talk to anyone who’s ever worked with Jesse Plemons—a list that includes some of the biggest names in film and television—and they inevitably will tell you that he doesn’t act. “He simply becomes a character,” says Lesli Linka Glatter, who directed Plemons in the Texas Monthly–produced series Love & Death, which last year scored the Mart, Texas, native his third Emmy nomination. Plemons’s ability to make every performance, no matter how fleeting, feel immediately lived-in and real means you could be forgiven for knowing some of those characters’ names better than his. From Friday Night Lights to Breaking Bad to Killers of the Flower Moon, Plemons brings such natural, quiet complexity to a role that it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly what he’s doing, because he’s so good at being.   

“I think he’s easily one of the best actors of his generation,” says director Scott Cooper, who’s cast Plemons in three of his films. “He can give you anything that you want.” That versatility, combined with Plemons’s uncanny ability to say everything even when perfectly still, is why other directors such as Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg keep coming back to him. And if it seems like he’s sort of been everywhere lately, that’s because seeing Jesse Plemons name in the credits has become a mark of excellence—a guarantee that at some point he’s going to come in and absolutely nail it.

Here Plemons and his creative partners—including Cooper, Glatter, Scorsese, and Plemons’ wife, Kirsten Dunst—illuminate a haunting oeuvre defined by thirteen stunning performances (plus a fun little thing he did for Disney).

Jesse Plemons Friday Night Lights

Landry Clarke

Friday Night Lights, 2006–2011

“It feels like that fork in the road where my life would have been so different,” Plemons says about playing the Christian-speed-metal-loving smart-ass on the beloved football drama, a show whose freely collaborative spirit he’s been chasing ever since. 

Jesse Plemons Battleship

Jimmy “Ordy” Ord

Battleship, 2012

Director Peter Berg “begged” Plemons to join his alien-invasion thriller, knowing the actor could find moments of nuance between dodging CGI fireballs and flirting with Rihanna. “I owe Jesse one forever,” Berg says.

Jesse Plemons The Master
The Weinstein Co.

Val Dodd

The Master, 2012 

Plemons earned his art house stripes—and caught the attention of A-list directors—playing the son of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s charismatic cult leader. “I turned to my wife and said, ‘My god, who was that kid?’ ” director Scott Cooper says.

Jesse Plemons Black Mass

Kevin Meeks

Black Mass, 2015 

To play a hulking mob enforcer in this Boston gangster drama, Plemons gained forty pounds and “changed everything about him,” Cooper says. “I can’t say enough about his dedication to craft.” 

Ed Blumquist

Fargo, 2015 

Plemons earned his first Emmy nomination and met his future wife, Kirsten Dunst, playing her grimly devoted husband in this acclaimed anthology series. “We were very similarly dedicated in terms of the way we work,” Dunst says. “We’re very prepared, but then we’re very in the moment with each other.”

Jesse Plemons Other People


Other People, 2016

The indie dramedy remains one of Plemons’s favorites. “It captures in such a realistic way what the grieving process is actually like,” he says.


Game Night, 2018 

Plemons’s turn as the lonely neighbor you rush inside to avoid has attracted a cult following, thanks to his ability to mine deadpan hilarity out of the driest of lines. (“How can that be profitable for Frito-Lay?”) “Game Night’s a big one,” Plemons says. “A lot of people love Game Night.”

Robert Daly

Black Mirror, 2018 

Playing the heroic captain of a Star Trek-esque space adventure—who is also, in reality, a meek programmer venting all his “nice guy” frustrations—Plemons earned a second Emmy nomination for this dystopian British series. “I’m drawn to characters that are harder to divide into good and bad,” Plemons says. “Because I think that’s difficult to do in life.”

Jesse Plemons Breaking Bad

Todd Alquist

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, 2019

This feature-length sequel revealed disturbing depths to Plemons’s oddly childlike killer, who sings along to yacht rock with a body in his trunk. The role has been hard to shake: “People would be like, ‘Oh my God, you’re married to Todd?’ ” Kirsten Dunst says.

Jesse Plemons Power of the Dog

George Burbank

The Power of the Dog, 2021 

His Oscar-nominated turn as a Montana rancher reminded Plemons of his Central Texas roots. “Growing up in this expanse, but also your world is contained to that, it has to seep into your soul,” he says. “I remember thinking, ‘Well, I guess that happened to me.’ ” 

Jesse Plemons Jungle Cruise

Prince Joachim

Jungle Cruise, 2021

Plemons torpedoed his usual subtlety to play a demented German aristocrat in this Disney thrill ride. “It was just throwing caution to the wind, remembering the target audience, and having fun hamming it up,” Plemons says.

Jesse Plemons Love and Death

Allan Gore

Love & Death, 2023

Gore is a lying, self-pitying adulterer, but you can’t help feeling for him. “Jesse made him so, so active and alive,” director Lesli Linka Glatter says. “You almost think nothing is happening, and you realize everything is happening.”

Jesse Plemons Killers of the Flower Moon

Tom White

Killers of the Flower Moon, 2023

“It certainly helped that he’s a Texan,” director Martin Scorsese says of Plemons’s performance as a government agent. “But more than that, it was his ability to make the character’s essential goodness and commitment to justice compelling and fresh.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Jesses Boys.” Subscribe today.