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November 08 2010

Guest stars playing against type. Mentions John Ritter's performance as Ted in the season two Buffy episode Ted.

Aw, I was hoping to see John Lithgow for Dexter.
I disagree about Lithgow for Dexter. It was a stunning performance, but we've seen him do serious and sinister before. ("Footloose" comes to mind.) Kinda like Robin Williams. "One Hour Photo" is not so surprising after what he did in "Awakenings" and "Dead Again". Or think about Leslie Nielsen. It used to be that comedy was playing against type (he was the serious love interest), but now it would be against type for him to not do comedy.
I will admit, these are my favorite types of roles. Ritter was great in that, but I have to admit I loved most of these.

I think these tend to show that "types" are really an audience construct and that most actors can (and in fact WANT) to do other things. I have no doubt Frank Langella could play a goofball in some comedy, it's really casting directors that tell us it's not something we're going to see.

It's interesting that we mostly see comedic actors in this playing serious. I wonder if that comes from the 'ole drama>comedy conceit. Because there have been plenty of serious actors in comedies. As OneTeV points out, Leslie Neilson basically created a second career by doing something completely different.
It was a stunning performance, but we've seen him do serious and sinister before. ("Footloose" comes to mind.)


And Raising Cain. Not just sinister, but an actual psycho killer.

I'd vote Joel Grey as Doc in season 5. Fantastic performance, and I think completely against type, though I don't know his career well enough to be positive.
Well, you're right... Grey has had a lot of TV roles so it might be hard to pin him down. But Doc is lightyears away from the Emcee (I've seen him listed as that or Master of Ceremonies) from Cabaret.

The only similarity I can see is that you could imply that the emcee was anti-Nazi although he performed for them wheras Doc was pro-Glory while appearing to help the Scoobies.

[ edited by azzers on 2010-11-08 22:23 ]
If they were including movies, I'd say Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love would have a rightful spot on the list.
From movies I might have Henry Fonda in 'Once Upon a Time in the West'. Just inherently more disturbing seeing someone like him do the stuff he does in that film.

If they were including lead roles, Bradley Whitford as Dan Stark in 'The Good Guys' has to be up there. About a million miles away from both Josh Lyman and Smuggity McSmugsmug (or whatever his character on 'Studio 60' was called ;).

And Raising Cain. Not just sinister, but an actual psycho killer.

He was the baddie in 'Cliffhanger' too. Lithgow's played a few baddies, i'd say it's partly the not against type aspect that works in his 'Dexter' role - he could be a mild mannered family man OR a serial killer and that rounded Trinity out, lent him a humanity which made him all the creepier.

Most of those are people known for lighter, more comedic roles taking a serious turn which I find less surprising than the reverse. A lot of comedy comes from quite a dark place so comedians have that to draw on (not to mention their real lives with all the triumphs and disasters everyone deals with), going from heavy drama to comedy strikes me as harder.

(Robin Williams also played a husband whose wife was murdered in front of him and his family in an episode of 'Homicide', really fantastic bit of acting I thought, a very truthful, powerful performance)
Saje, I haven't seen the "Homicide" episode you mentioned. Was it anything like Williams' role in "The Fisher King", where he played a husband whose wife was murdered in front of him?

OMG, Battlestar Galactica was right. "All of this has happened before and all of it will happen again." (Except I see on the contentgrrl blog that the Disney's Peter Pan starts with those words as well.)
I thought Lithgow was playing against type in Third Rock from the Sun. Up until then I had only seen him play nasties, and suddenly he was endearingly hilarious!
I was gonna say Martin Short - but then I found that they already had him in there. Although, I would point out his role in Law & Order: SVU !
Wasn't Ted one of Buffy's highest rating episodes? I think John Ritter was great in it.
He was great for sure, good episode in general.

Was it anything like Williams' role in "The Fisher King", where he played a husband whose wife was murdered in front of him?

Well, it had similarities OneTeV (e.g. he was a husband whose wife was murdered in front of him ;). But the 'Homicide' role was (as you'd expect) more grounded, just a guy dealing with his grief and trying to help his kids deal with theirs (while being frustrated by the apparent callousness of the detectives working the case). It's the first episode in season 2 if you want to check it out (Jake Gyllenhaal appears in an early role as his son - his dad, Stephen Gyllenhaal, directed the episode).
I remember being really shocked when I saw Serena Scott Thomas playing Mrs. Post, as I had only seen her at that time in this British comedy of manners/soft romance movie called "Harnessing Peacocks" as the charming, everyone-wants-her MFC, Hebe.> (Based on the Book by the same name. Nice book, BTW. Perfect for the beach.)
When you include Extras in a list like this, it makes it all void. The point of that show was to put the actors against type. John Ritter worked real well because of that as well.

And... *big breath* - I never understood the Lithgow praise really. He and Michael C. Hall done fine performanes, but nothing really jumped out. It was all very muted and... expected, or something. Saying that, I never know when I'm being fair to Dexter; it bores me to no end and as soon as I begin to like a part of it, they yank it away and put more boring stuff in its place. This season is okay, I guess, but overall it reminds me of Lost Season 3.
...as I had only seen her at that time in this British comedy of manners/soft romance movie called "Harnessing Peacocks"...

See, to me one role isn't usually a type but it raises the question of what it takes to have a type at all, how many performances ? With some people (who may have one or two particularly distinctive features) I reckon you only need to hear a few lines or even maybe just see them to form a type in your mind.

The point of that show was to put the actors against type.

Yes and no I think. Some of the guest stars were cast against type but with some they basically played amplified versions of themselves with something added/removed. It's truer to say that they were specifically written to subvert their "star personas" IMO (sometimes by actually playing something very close to their real selves, or at least how they're perceived - Les Dennis springs to mind for instance, that was so "plucked from the headlines" it was excruciating to watch). 'Extras' is actually a more subtle critique of celebrity and celebrity culture than it's often given credit for IMO.

And if you're not so keen on 'Dexter' then I guess Lithgow's not going to impress that much. Was it, like, Oscar worthy ? Not IMO but he was good in it, his performance was convincing (as was e.g. Jimmy Smits or, currently, Julia Stiles).
If I were to have elaborated, I would have most definitely said all of that stuff. :p I'm on quite a Gervais/Merchant high actually, I've just finished listening to all of their old XFM radio shows and now working through the odds and ends of hilarious material by them both, and Karl that's on Pilkipedia. It's a massive a massive bank of comedy. <3

About Dexter, I think my Lost comparison works again actually. All of the regulars have fine-tuned their characters so well at this stage, they just seem to be enjoying whatever they get given, really. My trouble was the hype that built up around Lithgow rather than his performance itself. (Hey, that works as a metaphor for the show as well). I would like some of the guest stars more if they had more significance beyond their visiting season, but I'm not giving up, this season looks game-change-y.
Heh, I say these things so you don't have to Jaymii ;).

I watched 'Dexter' S4 as it aired (and being a spoiler-phobe I didn't know much about it in advance) so I missed the hype but I get that perspective since that's true of most things I reckon - if it's really built up it almost certainly won't meet expectations.

FWIW, there're a few things about this season (so far) that i've been slightly disappointed by (though not Ms Stiles who's been good IMO) and i'm starting to feel like it could be time to start wrapping things up, maybe even end it this season or next at the latest (there're things they can do to open it back out and make it last longer without milking it, just depends on whether they do them). Some of the secondary stories in particular are starting to drag a bit (or feel slightly repetitive) to me.
"See, to me one role isn't usually a type..."

Well, yeah if you're going to bring actual logic and like, word definitions into it. ;-) I guess it maybe depends on how big an impression a particular role makes on the viewer(s)? Sometimes no matter how good an actor is in a different role, viewers just won't accept an actor as a new type of character. Mark Hamill IMO was never really accepted beyond "Luke." I think most of the roles he was cast in were of a somewhat stunt nature. (Again, my opinion.) Which is a pity, because he was great in "The Big Red One."

And then there is that question of who's doing the typing. I think the public is a little more accepting of the actors doing other roles than the production people are, at least here in The States. Here it takes prosthetics for a real chance to do something different--like Jeff Kober in "Tank Girl" as Booga. (Makes me smile, he does.) Now there's playing against type.

"...but it raises the question of what it takes to have a type at all, how many performances?"

Dunno, but it sure would be fun to see:

Sigorney Weaver as... an airhead
Tom Cruise as... a shy, picked on, absent minded professor
Jeremy Irons as... a hyper goof-ball, best-man at a wedding
Steve Carrel as... a sociopathic, icy assassin
Sandra Bullock as... a ruthless corporate climbing devil whom everyone is afraid of

And some people just seem to leave the idea of "type" in the dust. Like Alfred Molina. :)
For me Alfred Molina quite often leaves the idea of even being recognisable behind, 'chameleon' ain't in it. Great actor.

Mark Hamill IMO was never really accepted beyond "Luke."

Yep agreed, more or less. Which is to say, he had to hide his face to do it (he's absolutely fantastic as The Joker in the Batman animated films/series though i'd bet many casual fans don't even realise it's him doing the voice).

(and agreed unreservedly about 'The Big Red One' BTW, good film which he's good in)

Not a shy, absent-minded professor but Tom Cruise (to tie a couple of threads together) played way against type in 'Tropic Thunder', very funny performance (I recognised him more or less straight away but watching it in the cinema I overheard a kind of whispered argument as a woman insisted it "wasn't him, no way in a million years" while her significant other grew increasingly exasperated ;).

And Sigourney Weaver plays someone playing an airhead in 'Galaxy Quest'. I dunno though, some actors it'd be so against type that it'd either have to be a truly astonishing performance or it'd take you out of the film (Weaver just seems so level-headed and competent both in almost all her screen roles and in real life that it'd take a lot of convincing. Same with, for instance, Patrick Stewart). Or as I say, you can hide their face (even in live action, with prosthetics).
Dunno, but it sure would be fun to see:
Sigorney Weaver as... an airhead
Tom Cruise as... a shy, picked on, absent minded professor
Jeremy Irons as... a hyper goof-ball, best-man at a wedding
Steve Carrel as... a sociopathic, icy assassin
Sandra Bullock as... a ruthless corporate climbing devil whom everyone is afraid of


I don't know if that list is intended as tongue in cheek because I don't know if the others have actually performed these kinds of roles, but Sigourney Weaver distinctly went into airhead zoneness in "Galaxy Quest." And the first role I saw Steve Carrel in was in "Little Miss Sunshine" which, although a comedy, had him as a tormented, Proust scholar who had just tried to commit suicide. I would never have expected to see him do a broader comedic role.
John Ritters perfomance and the episode "Ted" was great. And the episode in it self desverves more praise, because under the sillyness of the evil robot husband-plot this episode is surprisingly dark and, to me at least, one of the more unpleasent Buffy episodes.

Unpleasent because it hits very close to home as it adresses, in a way, one of the most common of everyday "monsters" in the form of domestic abuse. To me Ted is one of the shows scariest monsters, because we all know that he and a lot of his non robot clones is out there in our world and is probably one of the monsters the average Buffy viewer have a large chance to meet in real life, often in their own home. That is something that Buffy often stays away from. A few episodes like "Gingerbread" touches upon it as well, but not on the same scale as "Ted".

Being a Joss show in the end its all about power and its heavy club violence. Unfortunately the show downplays the conseqence of Buffys habit of violent problem solving in making Ted a robot, but perhaps that was to dark a lesson for Buffy and something they saved for Faith.

Either way, a great episode and great acting.
Yeah, 'Ted' was too early to have Buffy do something like kill a human, you need to properly set the character up as a hero before you can undercut her, otherwise I think you'd lose her in too many people's eyes (in that sort of show I mean, where there actually are heroes).

And it is dark, both as a domestic abuse metaphor and as an examination of the whole "with great power comes great responsibility", double-edged nature of super-powers idea but then they'd already tackled child abuse in 'Nightmares' so they clearly weren't scared of the darkness, even early on (so long as, as I say, the viewers knew who the good-guys were - it wasn't until later in BtVS' run that they muddied those waters).
"I don't know if that list is intended as tongue in cheek..."

Not... really. When actors are interviewed, a lot of times they talk about roles that they would love to play. After all, they got into the biz to... *drumroll* ...ACT! When you find your passion, it's just natural to want to stretch yourself and try something new. In general though, the poor suckers are dependent on other people's perceptions and bankrolls to even get a chance to do something different. Must be tough. (But I guess that sort of thing leads to "The Guild." :-) ) I was just trying to think of good actors who are known for certain types of characters and trying to imagine an almost opposing type that I think it is highly unlikely that they will ever get a chance to act. I love it when actors play a part that I find surprising and still they suck me in. I don't think my list was too silly. I actually think they could all do them. (Even Sigourney. She'd just have to be a serious airhead. ;-) )Whether the public would accept it, is another story.
I must seek out this Stephen Colbert L&O episode!
@alexreager I'm not sure Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love was really that much against type. If you think about, most of his characters have that kind of explosive outbursts of anger like he does in Punch-Drunk Love, it's just that in this one he's played more seriously. So playing seriously is against type but not the "high strung" aspect.

@SpendTheNightAlone That Stephen Colbert L&O episode is a great episode. If you can find it I would recommend it.

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