Sometimes movies features actors playing multiple roles that look exactly
The buzz surrounding Steve Carell in the new true-life thriller Foxcatcher got me thinking about comedians who get all dramatic on us. It’s easy to be pigeonholed in Hollywood, and none more than comedians and comedic actors. If they are good at delivering laughs, it’s always a surprise when the most successful comedic performers take dramatic turns in film. Sometimes it doesn’t quite work, but in these cases, these comedians found great success in shedding their wacky side for much more serious, dramatic roles.
Jonah Hill – This Judd Apatow alum has some solid range as a comedian, always playing the heavyset sidekick with the great lines. So it was a surprise to see him playing Peter Brand, a baseball SABRE metrics guru and number cruncher in Moneyball. Playing alongside Brad Pitt, who played Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, Hill’s performance was absent of any real comedy, and it earned him an Oscar nomination. He would grab another nomination for his role in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall St., but that role was definitely aimed at comedy.
Patton Oswalt – From voicing Remy in Ratatouille, to appearing on endless comedic television shows and performing standup, Oswalt is an under-the-radar comedic great. However, his turn in Big Fan was anything but funny. In the 2009 film, Oswalt played Paul Afiero, a lonely loser who lived with his mother and worshipped the New York Giants. The film took some dark and sad turns, and Oswalt was game as he hit all the right notes.
Albert Brooks – Brooks may be more like your father’s comedian, as his comedic writing and acting was prevalent thirty years ago. Nevertheless, Brooks has always been considered a funny man (he did voice Nemo’s father in Finding Nemor). However, the actor took the darkest of turns in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, an existential crime thriller starring Ryan Gosling. Brooks’ Bernie Rose was a sadistic and cold-blooded gangster. The performance was Oscar worthy, though Brooks was shut out.
Marlon Wayans – I suppose you could call Wayans a comedian, though he isn’t ever very funny in my book. From the Scary Movie franchise to endless racially-based comedies, most of which are in poor taste and just not very good, Wayans’ dramatic turn might be the most startling of the bunch. Wayans played Tyrone, a drug addict and partner of Jared Leto’s Harry Goldfarb in Darren Aronofsky’s searingly brutal Requiem For A Dream. wayans handles his own up against a solid cast of dramatic actors, and he fits into the role quite well. Unfortunately, Wayans returned to schlock almost immediately.
Adam Sandler – Here is one of the most maddening actors on the list. Adam Sandler made his way through Saturday Night Live, then parlayed that success into some solid but completely idiotic performances in films like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. Sandler had his niche in comedy. In 2002, however, Sandler dipped his toes in the water with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love. While it still had some laugh out loud moments, the film was a departure for Sandler. A few years later, Sandler would dive head first into drama, effectively playing a widow whose family was killed in 9/11, in Reign Over Me. The small film truly showcased Sandler’s ability to shed any goofy persona. Sadly, he would also return to making terrible comedies.
Bill Murray – The first comedy legend on this list, Bill Murray was at the center of classic comedies like Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, What About Bob?, and Groundhog Day. Then, in 2003, Murray teamed up with Sofia Coppola to play an aging and lonely version of himself in Lost in Translation, grabbing his first Best Actor nomination in the process. Murray would also rerun to drama in the Jim Jarmusch film Broken Flowers, and just this year tackled semi-drama in St. Vincent. Luckily for everyone, Murray does not appear to be done with either drama or comedy.
Steve Carell – The Anchorman star has also flirted with semi-dramatic roles in the past, in films like Dan in Real Life or Little Miss Sunshine. But those films were still comedies at heart. Now, however, Carell has abandoned any laughs in quite a serious 180. In Foxcatcher, Carell disappears into the role of John du Pont, the heir to the du Pont fortune who grew obsessed with an Olympic wrestler. Carell is nearly unrecognizable in the dark and disturbing role, and is sure to get an Oscar nomination in the upcoming Academy Awards.
Jim Carrey – I, for one, prefer Carrey’s dramatic work to his comedy, at least at this point in his career when his comedies fall flat. The rubber-faced wild man burst onto the scene with a trio of comedies in 1994, Ace Ventura, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber. A few years later, however, Carrey would show off his range in The Truman Show. He flirted with an Oscar nomination for his turn as Andy Kaufmann in Man On The Moon, and hit all the dramatic high notes in the mind-bending romantic drama Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. Here’s to hoping Carrey tries his hand at drama once again.
Robin Williams – There was nobody more unhinged in their comedy than the late, great Robin Williams. his manic personality dominated so many great comedies throughout the years, but Williams was once of the first and most consistent comedians to try his hand at drama. He balanced laughter and tears in Good Morning, Vietnam, and toned down his zaniness considerably for the great Dead Poets Society. But it was his turn in Good Will Hunting that would get him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. A few years later, Williams took some seriously dark turns in One Hour Photo and Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia. He will be missed, both in comedy and drama.