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Alia Shawkat’s quiet force adds a layer of depth to FX’s ‘The Old Man’

Alia Shawkat as Angela Adams in "The Old Man."Prashant Gupta/FX

One of the pleasures of the excellent FX thriller “The Old Man” (which is also streaming on Hulu) is watching Alia Shawkat’s artfully enigmatic performance in a cast that includes two expressive heavyweights, Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow.

Shawkat plays an FBI agent named Angela Adams who is enlisted in the hunt for a rogue CIA agent (Bridges) by her mentor at the FBI (Lithgow). No spoilers, but Angela’s identity is a lot more complicated than it first appears.

Shawkat started acting on TV very early, starring in “State of Grace” when she was just 12. She decisively proved her comedy chops a couple of years later as the rebellious teen Maeby in the groundbreaking “Arrested Development.” (A recurring joke of the series was that Maeby’s cousin, George Michael, played by Michael Cera, had a crush on her.)


In last year’s “Being the Ricardos,” Aaron Sorkin’s film about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Shawkat made her presence felt as the pioneering comedy writer Madelyn Pugh, a key force behind “I Love Lucy.”

In “The Old Man,” Shawkat subtly hints at the complex inner life beneath Angela’s hard-to-read surface. She’s one of those actors who can suggest wells of deep feeling with just the slightest change of expression. In scenes where she has little or no dialogue, she makes you wonder what’s going on in Angela’s mind.

Not every child actor can successfully make the transition to adult roles, but I’d say Shawkat, now 33, is doing a splendid job of it.

Don Aucoin can be reached at donald.aucoin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeAucoin.