When it comes to boosting a celebrity career, many famous people will take movie roles that result in the opposite effect happening. Movie genres like comedies have understood and defined formulas that have been etched into audience psyches throughout cinematic history. Great comedies require unique, or fantastic situations, witty and well-timed comedic line delivery, and moments of physical schtick.
Celebrities crossing into comedic roles rarely match audience expectations. There are several examples of this. One would be Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder. He played a braggadocios businessman working with a ragtag group of hired military mercenaries. Each of the supporting cast members were masterful in their comedic roles, but Mr. Cruise failed to add any comedic value. The role was funny, but that was due to the over-the-top prosthetic costume, and moments when it wasn’t evident that Mr. Cruise was the actor. He added star power, but zero comic depth.
Another marginal performance in this strain is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in Central Intelligence. Though the movie was written in a classic style, The Rock’s physical presence detracted from the slapstick goal of the movie. His stature was paramount to the core of the story, but his comedic presence was forced and overblown.
Similarly, actors who are known as comedians take great risks when they perform in dramas and non-comedy films. Comedians break into the limelight through a signature brand of goofiness that becomes endearing to audiences. In short, comedians cannot easily “escape themselves” when they take serious roles. They might be able to explore the entire spectrum of comedic acting, but these skills rarely venture completely out of the tension created by comedic timing.
A perfect example of this crossover tragedy is Seth Rogan in Take This Waltz. Though Rogan is well-placed in a self-loathing role, his performance overall equates to a Jar-Jar Binx-style, comedic relief counterweight in an otherwise successful romance movie. Every time he laughs, audiences begin to think the movie is a Knocked-Up sequel.
Steve Carell is another phenomenal comedian who should stray from dramatic roles. Dry wit, cartoonish exclamations, and nerdy overtones are his gifts. Long periods of seriousness elude him. Such is his role in Foxcatcher. He was a perfect choice to pull-off the look of a disturbed, philanthropic gazillionaire, but through the entire movie he had twitchy comedian facial and speech patterns that felt as though they were about to launch into a world class spoof. Again, Carell can never completely escape his position in the acting universe as a top tier goofball, a’ la 40 Year Old Virgin.
A third example is Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love. This indie film required a dopey common man actor who could represent the harsh realities of an unfulfilled life. Sandler’s blank-faced stares and thin-lipped expressions were perfect for this role. When it came time for him to “do something” however, speech and actions were limited to silent confrontations and menial tasks like picking a phone receiver up, or staring at a wall. It was a beautifully-conceived movie in which almost any awkward comedian could have participated.
Some comedians however, successfully cross into non-comedy movies. This usually happens because of acting maturity, or the comedian hails from a vintage style of humor. Jim Carrey is one of these enigmas. Though he is a master of physical comedy, his emotional range allows him to take serious roles. The Number 23 is a perfect example of his versatility. This dramatic thriller uses an unusual psychological and pathological theme that requires the talents of a mature comedian who has a deep understanding of the negatives in human nature. Carrey is also debonaire-looking enough to portray a troubled average Joe.
Robin Williams had several successful non-comedy roles. These include roles in movies like What Dreams May Come, and Insomnia. Again, the transformation into a fully dramatic environment is achieved through the use of dark emotional content tip-toeing on the edge of terror. Williams was also a veteran of past generational comedic techniques, and was famous for using serious elements in his brand of comedy. Williams was a legendary anomaly in the comedic world, and his successes as a dramatic actor are true rarities.
There are far more tragedies than successes created in the cinema world when comedians accept roles as dramatic actors. They broke into the world of fame with innate signature personality traits, and those traits permeate every facet of their beings. They are nearly impossible to hide within dramatic acting structures, and audiences can always sense it.