It’s always nice to see actors break typecasting and show off their range of talent, particularly when there’s a shift in genre. It makes things more interesting for the audience, and the actors get to experiment outside of their comfort zones. It’s especially interesting to see performers who are known for making us laugh take on a more dramatic role. Unfortunately comedic performances — in film more than on television, it seems — typically don’t get the same critical acclaim or awards attention that serious ones do, so inhabiting a serious role can really shift public perception of a comedian’s chops.
It’s often said that comedy is harder to pull off than drama, so is it any wonder so many comedians have made the transition to more emotionally gripping movies with the greatest of ease? Let’s take a look at twelve memorable performances from funny people in dramatic roles and give them a big hand. And I mean like a Buster Bluth-style big hand. We still like them as comedians, after all.
1. Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society
After becoming known for his high-energy, mile-a-minute comedy, Robin Williams was nominated for three Oscars before winning for Good Will Hunting. He went on to play an even darker role in One Hour Photo. But what I’ll always remember him for is his role as an inspirational teacher in Dead Poets Society. O Captain! My captain!
2. Jim Carrey in The Truman Show
Much like Robin, Jim Carrey has explored quite a few dramatic roles, including films like Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Arguably his most memorable dramatic performance is as Truman Burbank, a man whose entire life is being broadcast on television without his knowledge.
3. Jamie Foxx in Ray
It’s easy to forget that Jamie Foxx started out in comedy because he’s made such a successful transition into more serious roles. One of Jamie’s first forays into drama was when he co-starred alongside Tom Cruise in Collateral, which earned him an Oscar nomination. But he’ll probably be remembered most for the performance that finally earned him an Oscar, as musician Ray Charles.
4. Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction
After seeing Will Ferrell ham his way through the Anchorman 2 press tour as Ron Burgundy, you might have given up on him ever taking anything seriously. But don’t forget this gem of a dramedy in which he plays a man whose life is narrated by a disembodied voice as he realizes he’s the character in a novel.
5. Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple
You might have forgotten that before Whoopi was co-hosting The View she was starring in some pretty serious movies. You might have also forgotten that she was funny. (Zing!) She was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as Celie in The Color Purple but didn’t take it home until she starred in Ghost. Nevertheless, this was a pretty incredible performance.
6. Bill Murray in Lost in Translation
Bill Murray still got to show off his great comedic chops in this film, but he also showed that being funny isn’t all he has to offer. The role earned him an Oscar nomination. Now if only we could figure out what he whispers to Scarlett Johansson at the end.