Every so often, a comic actor goes through a crisis of faith. Maybe they feel they’re being pigeonholed into roles that involve fart jokes and being hit in the head too often, or maybe they just want to see what else they’re capable of. Sometimes this can be a train wreck, but for these eight actors, it’s gone pretty well at least once.
Here are a few comedians who held a straight face effectively for an entire film. In fact I might argue that some of these guys should be in dramatic roles all of the time. Anyway, let’s take a look at some of these guys and feel free to add more in the comments!
Why P.T. Anderson chose Happy Gilmore to star in one of his films, I have no idea, but it turned out pretty great. As an emotionally stunted businessman in Punch Drunk Love, Adam Sandler made us forget all about his goofy past, at least for two hours. Sandler also tried to be more serious in films like Spanglish (ugh) and Reign Over Me (ugh to a slightly lesser extent), but Punch Drunk so far has been his dramatic tour de force. Now what’s he doing? Bedtime Stories and weird Netflix movies.
Bill Murray has had wild swings back and forth between outrageous goofyball and serious actor. He’s ventured into drama a few times, with Broken Flowers, Ed Wood, and most notably Lost in Translation, where he played a rich lonely actor who bonds with Scarlett Johansson in Tokyo, which scored him a Best Actor nom at the Oscars. Only a few other comedians can say the same.
For someone whose career started so long ago, I’m still pretty impressed that Steve Martin is able to sell himself as a leading comedic man to this very day. His brief dip into drama was in Shopgirl, which was adapted from a novel that he himself wrote. Not bad. It was generally thought of as an art house movie, but most thought his performance as a bored businessman was right on.
Bill Murray’s Ghostbusters counterpart also scored a big Oscar nom for his supporting role in Driving Miss Daisy. He took other stabs at drama, but they ended up being in unfortunate places such as Pearl Harbor, so Miss Daisy will probably be his most memorable straight role. That’s all well and good, but I’d rather see him crossing streams or dancing the blues than trying to act all serious.
Probably the most over-the-top comic on this roster, Jim Carrey has had varying degrees of success trying to play it serious. He failed horribly in The Majestic, was great in Eternal Sunshine (if you consider that a drama, I don’t), but above all else he was spot on in The Truman Show, where he played a hapless worldwide celebrity quite literally trapped in a bubble.
Steve Carrell will probably have more drama ahead on the horizon, but he began his serious roles in the black comedy Little Miss Sunshine where he played a gay, suicidal author trying to deal with his insane family. Sure the film itself is a comedy, but look at that picture and tell me that’s not a drastic personality change for the man. And let us not forget about his performance in Foxcatcher. That was truly messed up…and awesome.
Here’s the thing. I actually liked Robin Williams much better as a serious actor. He was amazing in Good Will Hunting, One Hour Photo, The Fisher King and Death to Smoochy, often playing some truly messeed up characters. Sure he was great in comedies like Mrs. Doubtfire, but I’d rather see him play a psychopath any day of the week rather than to see the playful Patch Adams.
Pegg used to be unknown to the American masses but his two comedies, Shaun of the Dead and Hott Fuzz were both wide releases and instant classics that anyone with half a brain saw. He was very solid J.J. Abrams Star Trek. Like these other legends of comedy before him, Pegg can stepped up to the dramatic plate when he needed to.
Kal Penn in The Namesake – But he’s not particularly funny to begin with.
Vince Vaughn in Into the Wild – One of the most random cameos of that year.
John C. Reily in Magnolia – Part of the ensemble.
Will Ferrell in Melinda and Melinda – Yes, Will Ferrel was in a Woody Allen movie, for some reason.
Owen Wilson in Behind Enemy Lines – But it sucked.
Luke Wilson in 3:10 to Yuma – Blink and you’ll miss him.
Ben Stiller in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty