Tuesday November 20, 2012
On top of their game
By ANN MARIE CHANDY and S. INDRAMALAR
There are good actors, but there are also those whose performances are forever etched in your mind.
ACTORS who play just about any role always intrigue me. It’s one thing being able to headline a TV series or movie, as a cop or detective or ... heck, serial killer but it’s quite another to get everyone rolling on the floor laughing in a sitcom. But when an actor is able to do both, he truly gets my attention.
And I’m not talking about the likes of Bruce Willis or Nathan Fillion who seem able to be everything all at once (another actor that comes to mind is Robert Downey Jr but I’ll stick to TV folk for now).
While Indra and I were discussing this week’s topic (in between playing 20 questions, guess the TV character I am thinking about), we stumbled onto a whole string of actors and actresses who seem to make light of switching from funny to familiar to freaky.
Take 67-year-old John Lithgow, for example. My first encounter with Lithgow was as the Reverend Shaw in Footloose. I hated the guy. Then I remember him again in the thriller, Raising Cain, where he played a twisted psychologist. But it wasn’t till I saw him play Dick Solomon in sitcom 3rd Rock From The Sun, that I understood Lithgow’s true genius. Did you know he also is the voice of Lord Farquaad in Shrek? What a hoot. And that he, yes the very same guy, played serial killer Arthur Mitchell on Dexter? How does he do it? Movies, television, good guy, alien, axe murderer, psycho, dramatic actor, comedian, you name it and Lithgow will relish the role and probably earn a Golden Globe or Emmy nomination along the way, too.
Another glowing example of versatility is Alec Baldwin. The 54-year-old star, most well known these days for his role as Jack Donaghey on 30 Rock, is one up on Lithgow in my humble opinion because he is also pretty dishy. Baldwin’s artistry hasn’t gone unnoticed either, and he’s received critical acclaim for his performance on the hilarious sitcom winning two Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, and seven Screen Actors Guild Awards. Wow.
Did you know that one of the first TV series he started out on was the soap Knots Landing? For real! He’s also guested on Friends (as Phoebe’s boyfriend) and Will & Grace.
Strangely enough, his movie career seems to be in direct contrast to his more comedic roles on TV, with Baldwin starring in films like The Hunt For Red October and Glengarry Glen Ross. But kudos to the guy, he really has outdone himself and has true staying power in a business that is quick to give you the boot if you are anything but the real deal.
Young Joseph Gordon-Levitt is another one of these chameleons, although the actor does have a sort of Bruce Willis type of charm to him. These days he has been making his mark more on the big screen than on TV, but I will always remember him as the cutie Tommy Solomon on 3rd Rock From The Sun.
As for actresses, I always was impressed with Courtney Thorne-Smith. I thought she was just oh-so hot. I’d only known her for her role as a lawyer on Ally McBeal, so when she showed up on According To Jim, and was more than able to hold her own opposite Jim Belushi, I certainly took notice.
There’s also Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother) who I thought would never be able to play a serious role, but she managed to win me over on The Avengers. Still, it was hard to think of her as Agent Maria Hill. I kept thinking what’s Robin doing there, and waiting for Captain America to make a joke or two about Canadians. Oh well.– AMC
VERSATILE actors? Hmmmm … I can think of a few: Katy Sagal, for example. How she went from playing Peggy Bundy on Married … With Children to playing Gemma Teller Morrow, the scheming matriarch on Sons Of Anarchy is ah-mayyy-zing. And then there is Hugh Laurie. Before he was making people cry as the grumpy doctor on House M.D., Laurie was making people laugh out loud in British sitcoms like Blackadder (with Rowan Atkinson) where he played the many incarnations of a character named George; A Bit Of Fry & Laurie and Jeeves And Wooster (both with Stephen Fry, whom he met while studying at Cambridge in Britain).
Yes, Laurie is hilarious. But my most favourite actor, in terms of versatility, has to be Woody Harrelson.
Does everyone remember the role Harrelson played in Cheers way back in the 1980s? He joined the sitcom in its fourth season to replace actor Nicholas Colasanto (who played “Coach”, Sam Malone’s former baseball coach-turned-bar keeper), who unfortunately died of a heart attack at the end of the show’s third season.
Harrelson, then 24, was Woody Boyd (full name: Woodrow Huckleberry Tiberius Boyd), a young and naive farm boy from Indiana who dreamed of someday becoming an actor. Woody was a hoot from the get go.
Naive and unsophisticated, Woody was a straight shooter who took almost everything the other characters said literally and always told the truth. He didn’t understand sarcasm or the rough jokes and comments made by the other characters. But he was always well-meaning and sincere and it didn’t take long for the regulars at Cheers to welcome him into their fold.
An example of a Woody-ism? In one episode (I really can’t recall the season), Woody and Sam were behind the bar when an attractive young lady walks in. Sam looks at Woody and says, “Oh, my God Woody. Is it me or is that woman gorgeous”. Woody looks at Sam thoroughly and replies: “You look nice Sam but I’ll have to go with the woman” (Ba-dum-bum-CHING!).
Yeah, he was a little “thick” and sure, this could be a little exasperating for the guys who hung out at the bar, but for me at home, Woody had me rolling on the floor clutching my tummy. His comic timing was spot on and I thought Harrelson was one of the funniest guys on TV at the time. (Harrelson starred in 200 episodes of Cheers, right to the finale in 1993 and walked away with an Emmy award for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy in 1989.)
The next time I saw Harrelson was a year later in the movie Natural Born Killers as Mickey, a homicidal maniac. And then, two years later, he starred as Larry Flynt, the infamous pornographer in the movie The People Vs Larry Flint. My mind was blown. Was this really the same guy who played Woody Boyd? Whoa! What an ace actor! Talk about range and versatility. Talk about talent.
Over the years, Harrelson has continued to impress me with his repertoire of performances. He’s acted mostly in movies these last two decades but since he got his start in TV, I think I can still wax lyrical about him, right? I mean the man is constantly shifting gears – from playing a renegade cop in the 2011 movie Rampart to playing Tallahassee, a Twinkie-craving survivor of a zombie apocalypse in the movie Zombieland.
He’s also guest starred in sitcom Will & Grace where he played Debra Messing’s boyfriend, Nathan (he did seven episodes in Season Three/Four), and he was Steve Schmidt, governor Sarah Palin’s senior campaign strategist in the TV drama Game Change earlier this year.
Actors take on different and challenging roles all the time but to be able to nail each role on the head, especially roles as diverse as the ones Harrelson has taken on, is astounding.
Harrelson is currently working on a new eight-part cop drama, True Detective, where he is expected to star alongside Matthew McConaughey. The duo play detectives whose lives collide during their 17-year hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana. I don’t know about you but I can’t wait to watch it!– S.I