Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean once said: “dying is easy; and comedy is hard.” Perhaps that is why so many comedic actors are such talented performers. In fact, many comedic actors have given masterful performances in dramatic roles. It likely takes as much talent to be a stellar comedian than it does to be a great dramatic actor.
There are a number of actors in the history of Hollywood that have straddled the line of comedy and drama so perfectly. These versatile thespians almost always prove to be entertaining no matter what type of roles they take on. Tom Hanks and Bill Murray are equally at home doing comedy or drama, and the late Robin Williams proved that a stand up comedian could not only star in the biggest comedy hits of all time, but some of the best dramatic films, too. Here’s a look at the ten best dramatic performances from comedic actors.
10. Kristen Wiig in The Skeleton Twins
Not only did this dark and dramatic indie comedy show that Kirsten Wiig had range, but it showed that Bill Hader has range, too. The chemistry the two share in this film that flew under the radar of mainstream audiences is the best in just about any film in recent years. After leaving SNL, Wiig has shown that she isn’t limited to over the top and silly performances. Aside from Bridesmaids and next year’s Ghostbusters, most of her film roles have been strange semi-serious indie comedies.
9. Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction
There are few thing funnier than Will Ferrell screaming, and he certainly does that in this film, but the sweet romantic film blends comedy and drama perfectly, and it shows us that Will Ferrell has some true potential as a dramatic actor. This weird little movie tells the tale of an IRS auditor who somehow becomes part of a story that is being narrated by its author. Ferrell’s reaction to the bizarre happenings around him provide laughs, but his dramatic chops are clearly on display here as well.
8. Jim Carrey in The Truman Show
Jim Carrey tried his hand at many dramatic performances, but unlike his comedic roles not all of them worked. One of the ones that proved to be critically successful was the Truman show, and now the film has become somewhat of a cult hit.
The combination of deeply emotional, heartbreaking scenes with ridiculous comedy moments made this film a winner in the eyes of many fans. Jim Carrey tried his hand at a number of other dramatic films including The Majestic, The Number 23 and Man on the Moon, but The Truman Show is the one that Jim Carrey wasn’t just a rubber-faced funny man.
7. Robin Williams in Insomnia
Robin Williams was not only one of the greatest stand up comedians and comedic actors of all time, but he was also one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood history. Williams particularly excelled at playing creepy villains like he did in the underrated Christopher Nolan film Insomnia.
Williams’ turn as a mystery writer with a dark secret proved to be the perfect foil for Al Pacino’s tortured cop out of his element. The back and forth between Williams and Pacino helped build the tension of the film. Williams would go on to play other creepy villains in movies like One Hour Photo.
6. Steve Carell in Foxcatcher
Who knew Michael Scott had such range? The Oscar nominated film Foxcatcher depicted the sordid life of murderer John du Pont and his obsession with the wrestlers he purported to be training. Carell’s stunning turn as this vicious monster earned him an Oscar nomination. After his run on The Office ended, Carell’s career took a dramatic turn.
While he still starred in mainstream comedies like Anchorman 2, many of his roles were in indie comedies with a serious slant or flat out dark dramas. His ability to play serious roles and slapstick comedy prove just how versatile of an actor Steve Carell is.
5. Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love
Movie fans have been desperately pleading for Adam Sandler to do something more serious for years. Sadly, Sandler seems content to star in mainstream comedies like Grown Ups 2.
While many consider Sandler’s best to still be his early comedies like Happy Gilmore and the Waterboy, it is his dramatic roles that truly set him apart. His performances in Reign Over Me and Spanglish made people take notice, but it was his portrayal of a nebbish love struck man with anger issues in P.T. Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love that made people realize that Adam Sandler has the potential to win an Oscar.
4. Robin Williams in The Fisher King
Robin Williams’ role in the Fisher King played to all of the late actor’s strengths. There were moments where the heartbreaking story of his character made you cry, but then there were moment of pure elation when Williams would act just plain silly.
The Fisher King is perhaps Williams’ best role that he didn’t win an Oscar for, but he was nominated for best actor. It’s one of his earlier attempts at a dramatic role, and it showed that even early on in his career Robin Williams had the potential to be one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors ever.
3. Michael Keaton in Birdman
Michael Keaton gave the performance of his life in Alejandro Inarritu’s Birdman last year. The performance was so breathtaking and groundbreaking that it earned him an Oscar nomination. Many thought he would win, but it was a tough race between him and Eddie Redmayne, who played Stephen Hawking in the Theory of Everything. Keaton’s portrayal of a washed up superhero actor not only mimicked his real life situation, but resulted in one of the best comebacks in Hollywood history.
Keaton started as a stand up and then starred in a number of high-profile comedies like Mr. Mom, Multiplicity and Beetlejuice He was such a household name in comedy that many were upset when he was cast as Batman. In recent years he has focused more on dramatic roles, and it is really paying off. It looks like his string of excellent dramatic performances will continue in Spotlight.
2. Bill Murray in Lost in Translation
Many people feel that Bill Murray was robbed of an Oscar for his role in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Murray plays an aging actor called Bob Harris who is in Japan to film a whisky commercial for Suntory. There he meets Scarlett Johansson’s Charlotte, who is the young girlfriend of a photographer.
The two share an unlikely connection in the isolating metropolis that is Tokyo. The final scene between Johansson and Murray is still hotly debated to this day. What did Bob say to Charlotte? Murray ended up losing the Oscar for best actor in a leading role in 2004 to Sean Penn for his role in Mystic River.
1. Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting
Robin Williams’ best performance earned him the Oscar that he so wholeheartedly deserved. Good Will Hunting is a great movie, but it is Robin Williams that makes the movie a masterpiece.
Without him, the movie simply wouldn’t have the emotional resonance. His sarcastic delivery and caring attitude made his character, Sean Maguire, the one audiences could connect to and relate with the most.