No Laughing Matter

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By Finley Crebolder.

Many dramatic actors have often said how much harder they find it to make people laugh than to make them cry. In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that being funny is often considered the greatest and most difficult skill to grasp in the industry. Bearing this in mind, it should come as no surprise that traditionally comedic actors have so often tried their hand at more serious roles and excelled, changing people’s views of them as well as the trajectory of their careers.

Here are five actors who have done just this…

Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey burst onto the scene in 1994 with his comedic and slapstick roles in “Dumb and Dumber” and “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”. Following further roles in “The Cable Guy” and the Ace Ventura sequel, he was on top of the comedy industry as well as being one of the highest paid actors in the world. However, this wasn’t enough for him, and in the final two years of the decade he pursued more serious and dramatic roles, taking pay cuts to do so. The first of these was in Peter’s Weir’s “The Truman Show”, where Carrey played Truman Burbank, a man who throughout the film discovers that his life has been a simulated TV show. The film as well as the Canadian’s performance was critically acclaimed, and he won the Golden Globe for “Best Performance in a Motion Picture Drama”, although he was somewhat controversially not even nominated for an Oscar.

The following year Carrey yet again won a Golden Globe for his performance in the biographic film about the life of entertainer Andy Kaufman, “Man on the Moon”, yet again drawing huge critical praise. Following his double Golden Globe win, Carrey largely returned to comedy, but did put in another excellent dramatic performance in 2004 in the now cult classic “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, for which he received BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations. It would be an understatement to say that in recent times Carrey has distanced himself from the mainstream film industry, and we can only hope that someday he’ll return to at last gain the Oscar nomination he deserves.

Steve Carell

Steve Carell is known by most for his role as Michael Scott in the US Office as well as his performances in Frat Pack comedies such as “Anchorman”, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Evan Almighty”. Nevertheless, he showed his dramatic abilities as early as 2006 in the comedy drama “Little Miss Sunshine”. Whilst this was still at times a comedic role, he showed a more serious side not shown before in many scenes. The same can be said for his performance in another comedy drama six years later, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”. Following this, Carell began to move away from comedy to pursue a career in drama, and has impressed in biographical dramas in particular.

In 2014 he gained both a Golden Globe and Oscar nomination for his stunning and sinister performance as millionaire murder John Du Pont. This was the first time Carell truly showed his acting chops and it was a sign of things to come, as two years later he would put in another excellent performance as businessman Mark Baum in “The Big Short”, for which he was once again nominated for a Golden Globe. He is also gaining praise for his role opposite Emma Stone as Bobby Riggs in the sports biographic “Battle of the Sexes” as well as his performance in Richard Linklater’s “Last Flag Flying”. He will most likely be a major player in the awards season this year and for many years to follow.

Will Ferrell

This one may come as a shock considering that Will Ferrell’s bigger, more well-known roles have come almost exclusively in comedies, but asides from his performances as Ron Burgundy, Brennan Huff and Buddy the Elf, he has also shown his dramatic abilities in more low key, indie films. One of these is the 2010 comedic drama “Everything Must Go”. In this film Ferrell plays a beaten and broken man who’s recently been sacked, divorced and is fighting Alcoholism, and he does it to a tee. Through his damaged and often heartfelt performance, he manages to make the audience sympathise and even care for a character who on paper should be hugely unlikeable, and gained a Golden Globe nomination in the process.

However, Ferrell’s best “serious” role was three years earlier in the aptly named “Stranger Than Fiction”, for which he also got a nomination. In the film he plays a man who discovers he’s a fictional character inside a novel and the author is going to kill him off. Working with a cast that included Dustin Hoffman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Emma Thompson, Ferrell quite simply steals the show, having the ability to make you cry tears of laughter and tears of sorrow. Whilst it didn’t turn out to be his “Truman show” like he may have hoped, it is a wonderful performance nonetheless.

Bill Murray

Bill Murray took on his first dramatic role in the 1984 film “Razor’s Edge”. However, the film flopped so badly that Murray took four years off from acting to study instead. Upon his return to the industry, he went back to his more comedic roles such as the “Ghostbusters” sequel and the Christmas film “Scrooged”. He continued to so with comedy box office hits like “Groundhog Day” until 1998 when he decided to return to more dramatic acting in the Wes Anderson film “Rushmore”. Murray received huge critical praise playing rich businessman Howard Blume, and won many awards for his performance, also being nominated for a Golden Globe.

This marked a “second coming” of his career as he took on more and more serious roles, and five years later he would return to win the award, win a BAFTA and narrowly miss out on an Academy Award for his career best performance in Sofia Copolla’s “Lost in Translation”. In the film he plays a washed-up movie star who’s in Tokyo to shoot a whisky advert and befriends a young woman played by Scarlett Johansson. It’s a warm, touching and moving performance, and one he deserved the Oscar for, but like Carrey and Carrel, was snubbed. Can you see a pattern emerging? The Academy generally do not like comedy actors.

Robin Williams

Okay, apart from this guy. Yep, Robin Williams’s performance in “Good Will Hunting” was just too good for the Academy not to give him an Oscar for. Upon his tragic death, most looked back fondly on the comedic performances of his career such as those in “Mrs Doubtfire” and “Good Morning Vietnam”, but Williams put in some truly stunning dramatic turns, and is arguably the best actor on this list. He is of course most known for his Oscar winning performance in “Good Will Hunting”, and rightly so. Playing the grieving widowed therapist to Matt Damon’s genius janitor, Williams puts in one of the best performances seen in film in a long long time, with his monologue on the park bench becoming truly iconic.

His other truly great performance came in “Dead Poets Society”, where he played an inspirational teacher at a harsh soulless boarding school who taught his students to seize the day (“Carpe Diem”). In these films he plays two of the most inspirational and moving characters film has seen, and whilst these are his two best performances, he also performed incredibly in “The Fisher King”, “One Hour Photo”, “Insomnia” and many more. Williams was undoubtedly one of the true greats, both comedically and dramatically, and we are all hugely lucky to have witnessed his greatness. Thank you, O’ Captain My Captain.

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