With the upcoming releases of both Stan & Ollie and Beautiful Boy, starring funnymen Steves Coogan and Carell respectively, it felt as good a time as any to shine the light on a selection of other performances that shone new light on actors better known for their prowess in comedy.
Adding new strings to their bows, the following managed to diversify their IMDb pages while picking up numerous awards for their performances…
10. Bill Murray in Lost In Translation (2003)
We’ll start with an easy one, shall we? Despite coming through the ranks as a part of the Saturday Night Live ensemble before appearing in films like Caddyshack and Stripes, it’s surely Murray’s performance as fading movie star Bob Harris that will prove to be his definitive showing.
9. Patton Oswalt in Big Fan (2009)
After dedicating a few minutes of his Finest Hour comedy special to the constant auditions he’s had to endure for menial, stereotypical “gay best friend” parts, Oswalt headlined 2009’s Big Fan, telling the story of a devoted American Football fan beaten up by his favourite player. Slightly different to his other lead role as Remy the Rat in Pixar’s Ratatouille, this is a bleak portrayal of obsession and the unwavering, tribalistic nature of fandom.
8. Dave Johns in I, Daniel Blake (2016)
Until a couple of years ago, Johns was probably best known for his improvisational live comedy and as a guest on panel shows like Never Mind the Buzzcocks – but as the title character in Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake he broke through with a devastating display. Playing a joiner denied benefits despite being fit for work, Johns’ work anchors this deeply moving attack on the UK’s current Conservative government and its austerity dogma.
7. Mo’Nique in Precious (2009)
In Lee Daniels’ Precious, the standup comic Mo’Nique played Mary, the abusive mother of Gabourey Sidibe’s titular teenager, and created one of the most immensely unpleasant characters in recent screen history. As deeply unlikeable as Mary is, there’s no denying the force of Mo’Nique’s Oscar-winning performance; the way she instills even a modicum of humanity into a character who shows moments of pure evil is a genuine actorly triumph.
6. Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
In the wider context of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s filmography, Punch-Drunk Love is definitely on the lighter side of the spectrum – but that should in no way take away from an emotional, if typically erratic, showcase from Sandler. Despite his recent years giving a seemingly never-ending run of juvenile Netflix Original comedies, Sandler has often proved to be a legitimately brilliant dramatic actor; his turn in Noah Baumbach’s recent dramedy The Meyerowitz Stories proved to be another solid reminder.
5. Lily Tomlin in Nashville (1975)
Though currently best known to younger viewers for her role alongside Jane Fonda in the sitcom Grace and Frankie, Tomlin’s finest hour came as the gospel-singing mother of a deaf son in one of the most lauded films of its time, Robert Altman‘s classic Nashville. The story involves a huge cast of characters in seemingly unconnected subplots before amazingly tying all the stories together in a riveting, shocking finale and despite the amount of co-stars, Tomlin – making a move from sketch comedy and one-woman shows – shines brightest.
4. Steve Carell in Foxcatcher (2014)
After appearing in nearly 150 episodes of The Office and a particular Judd Apatow film, one could be excused for pigeonholing Carell – but following an arresting turn in Little Miss Sunshine (2006), he’s worked to create a career outside of comedic fare and proved to be an extremely capable thesp. Though Sunshine was his breakthrough, it was for Foxcatcher that Carell picked up his first Oscar nomination, playing tyrannical multimillionaire wrestling enthusiast John du Pont.
3. Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple (1985)
Following the surprise success of her one-woman Broadway show, unknown Goldberg was tapped by Steven Spielberg to headline The Color Purple, the story of a young girl named Celie Harris. Goldberg’s performance was astounding as it tackled subject matter often avoided on screen, with the problems African American women faced during the early 20th century shown in an uncompromising and an unflinching manner. As she’s toed the line between the dramatic and the comedic so expertly, it’s important to remember she’s one of just a few to complete the EGOT.
2. Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Following a peerless comedy run in the mid ’90s that catapulted Carrey into the stratosphere, he rounded the century out appearing in The Truman Show and Man on the Moon, giving audiences the sort of tender, moving performances they hadn’t seen from him before. His crowning achievement to date, however, was in Michel Gondry’s cerebral tale of literal lost love, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where his tempered melancholia worked perfectly.
1. Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting (1997)
Across a highly eclectic career, comedy legend Williams proved to be a highly dependable pair of hands in which to entrust dramatic roles, with masterful appearances in the likes of Dead Poets Society and The Fisher King. In Good Will Hunting, however, Williams gave a performance for the ages as Dr Sean Maguire, a psychologist trying to connect to troubled genius Will (Matt Damon). Williams’ immensely empathetic and touching performance revealed another level to his talent – he would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.