“What I’m calling you is a…TV actor,” the warden (Lames Lipton) spews with rancour at Tobias (David Cross) when he refuses to fully commit to a role in the cult favourite Arrested Development. For there was a time, long before the ages of binge-watching and prestige networks like HBO – long before Tony Soprano first set his husky frame in a chair in his psychiatrist’s office – that television was considered a low art form.
It’s worth mentioning that the inventor of the cathode receptor – what first made TV possible – Philo T. Farnsworth sunk into severe depression, poverty and alcoholism after he saw how his invention was being used. He lived just long enough to witness man set foot on the moon in 1969; an event that he claimed had almost made it all worthwhile. Almost.
One must wonder what Farnsworth may have thought of his device today (though we no longer need his precious device). Would he appreciate the grim, morally-relative world of Breaking Bad? The one-camera sitcom of the aforementioned Development? Or have we, as a society, still failed him?
Nevertheless, television was once a wasteland. A refuge for the untalented, the also-rans and the formerly famous. There they were expected to toil in a kind of acting purgatory, wringing what they could from ham-fisted punch lines and soapy drama.
But now, with more creative outlets than ever before and more networks willing to take risks previously unheard of, TV is a wonderland for an actor. A chance to delve into meatier, more complex characters allowed to develop organically. Major movie stars are taking their places behind and in front of the lens of the small screen. It’s even been known to give some struggling with late-career exhaustion or a rudderless future a much needed jumpstart. Here are a few that deserve such a chance.
15. John Cusack
John Cusack launched onto the screen with small roles in 1980s teen comedies before landing leading roles in such films like Better Off Dead… and The Sure Thing. But his career didn’t really take off until his iconic performance as Lloyd Dobler in Cameron Crowe‘s high-school-romance-for-adults dramedy Say Anything… (he also holds the lead for starring in films with ellipses in the title, apparently).
But Cusack had his eye on bigger things from the beginning. In 1985, he wanted to option Jim Thompson’s psychologically complex crime novel The Grifters with the intent to star. When he learned Martin Scorcese and Stephen Frears were working on an adaptation, Cusack pursued and won his dream role.
Since then, his career ran the gamut of deeply personal projects and more mainstream works. Recently, however, it seems the only work the actor can find is in tax-incentivized fare like Drive Hard and The Numbers Station. Even in schlock, he’s not always phoning it in (his vaping, rambling hitman in Drive Hard is far better than the film deserves), and still manages to appear in interesting work like David Cronenberg’s Maps To The Stars.
14. Richard Dreyfuss
We are currently experiencing a 90s renaissance, and that’s hard to do without Bill Pullman. His role as President James Whitmore, recently reprised played by the haggard corpse of Pullman in Independence Day: Resurgence, is well-remembered and the decade saw him doing interesting character work on the side. His role as a crooked, junkie doctor in John Dahl’s The Last Seduction is as giddily off-kilter as anything Dennis Hopper ever attempted.
Pullman recently had a failed sitcom, 1600 Penn, which was mostly a vehicle for comic actor Josh Gad. But putting Pullman’s quirky everyman front and centre would be a worthy investment. At the very least, it would clear up that Pullman/Paxton confusion with which so many are afflicted.
10. Susan Sarandon
Susan Sarandon has had a tough year. After throwing all her weight behind candidate Bernie Sanders, essentially spearheaded the Hollywood branch of the Bernie or Bust movement, she stormed out of the Democratic National Convention, disgusted with the first female candidate ever to be nominated to the highest elected office in the country.
Her ex-husband Tim Robbins‘ performance in the cancelled HBO comedy series The Brink was one of the show’s highlights, and also allowed Robbins (who also produced) a chance to convey his far left ideology, however briefly.
9. Chris Sarandon
It’s easy to forget that Susan’s brother Chris was once an Oscar-nominated actor. He’s probably best remembered for his role of Prince Humperdink in The Princess Bride, but long before that he was Al Pacino‘s lover in the robbery-gone-wrong classic Dog Day Afternoon.
In the 80s, he lent a frightening, memorable charm to Fright Night as the vampire-next-door (he also appeared briefly in the remake, much to fans delight).
8. Parker Posey
Whether it’s appearing in an improvised Christopher Guest film or a supporting role in a major blockbuster, it’s always been a pleasure to see Parker Posey. Leading roles, however, always seemed to elude the actress. She seems to be an indie darling that never caught the right role to ride to big screen stardom.
She’s already made memorable guest appearances on Louie and The Good Wife. It can’t be much of a stretch for her to land the leading role in one of the powerhouse dramas of basic cable, or even Netflix. She’s certainly earned such a role in her years in the trenches.
7. Demi Moore
Demi Moore‘s career all but dropped from under her own star power. After becoming one of the biggest box office draws in the early 90s, the notorious flop Striptease damned her to smaller and smaller films. Then her personal life, particularly her relationship with the much younger Ashton Kutcher, was eviscerated by the paparazzi and gossip media. Today, she’s hardly mentioned outside of the context of early 90s nostalgia or society’s obsession with perverse rubbernecking.
Now would be an excellent time for Moore to make a career comeback, with all scandal and flops nearly forgotten. She’s already proven she can carry a film, and a Damages-style role as a battle-hardened, steely corporate type is probably sitting out there somewhere, in the mind of a young auteur who grew up watching her.
6. Dylan Baker
You probably best know Dylan Baker as the pedophile father in Todd Solondz disturbing, cringe-inducing yet funny Happiness. If not, you’ve doubtless seen on whatever Law and Order, NCIS, CSI or CSI:JAG (that’s a thing, right? Ask your parents…) on which he was guest starring.
He recently completed making memorable appearances on The Good Wife as Colin Sweeney, the never-convicted but charmingly creepy serial killer. Alongside actors like Phillip Baker Hall and the now-famous J.K. Simmons, he is one of the legendary “That guy” actors in film, always delivering solid character work.
5. Ashley Judd
Ashley Judd was one of the 90s beauties that, once aged, Hollywood appeared to be done with. She delivered solid work in junky airport novel thrillers such as Kiss The Girls and The Bone Collector, but her roles in the likes of William Friedkin’s Bug has shown she’s certainly above the simple shlock that dominated the box office in the late 90s. Since then, however, she appears in Divergent in roles that make the audience think, “Oh yeah, she’s still around.”
Judd has tried to make the transition to television with the short lived Missing in 2012 – the television equivalent of her mainstream films. Perhaps television wasn’t ready then for a Judd-led procedural, but now the time is ripe.
4. Daryl Hannah
Daryl Hannah was a breakthrough star, playing small roles in the early roles in favourites like Blade Runner and Brian De Palma‘s The Fury. In the latter half of the 80s, she was an intellectual bombshell, cozying up to Steve Martin in his adaptation of Cyrano De Bergerac, Roxanne. More recently, she appeared in Quentin Tarantino‘s Kill Bill vol. 1 and 2 as a relentless, one-eyed hitwoman.
Sadly, her latest work has been direct-to-dvd trash. You know you’ve fallen far when you’re headlining a Syfy original movie called Zombie Night.
Like Dreyfuss, Hannah has focused a lot of her attention to activism. Unlike Dreyfuss, however, she’s still committed to acting. Perhaps a show starring the two might rejuvenate their passion and careers.
3. Mariel Hemingway
Mariel Hemingway made big waves in 1983 when she played murdered playmate Dorothy Stratten in Bob Fosse’s Star 80. Prior to that, she played Woody Allen‘s underage girlfriend in Manhattan. Her career looked beyond promising. And for a while, she regularly gave good performances in mainstream work.
Sadly, her career fizzled in the 90s. It turns out that she inherited more from her namesake (Ernest is her grandfather) than talent. She has since written a memoir about her own struggles with mental illness, as well as the abuse she suffered growing up and the severe alcoholism that ran rampant through the Hemingway bloodline.
2. Kurt Russell
Russell was always one of the most reliable action draws of the 80s, working in thinking man’s action films (but action films nonetheless) against the tide of more brainless works starring Bruce Willis and Jean Claude Van Damme. Unlike other action stars, Russell also has an undeniable charm that plays just as well in the romantic comedies of the era.
Russell’s leap to television seems like the next logical step in his career. He’s worked with Tarantino rebranding his image as an aging gunfighter as opposed to a young gunslinger. And his appearances in the Fast and the Furious franchise may as well have listed him as “guest appearance by.” Action television shows are always a bit of a gamble. If they fail, the budget is so extreme the studio is guaranteed a heavy loss.
1. Emilio Estevez
Ladies and Gentlemen, we’ve lost Charlie Sheen. We’re sorry to report the news, but due to extreme exposure to Tiger Blood, winning and megalomania, he has ascended to a dimension we do not have the ability to understand. We are now witnessing traces of Sheen, the remnants of whatever was left before he crossed over.
But the Sheen dynasty is one of television. His father, Martin, ruled supreme; lording an Aaron Sorkin-scripted court over the rest of network dramas for eight years. Charlie had his own success in a show whose success will one day puzzle historians and anthropologists, Two and a Half Men.
Now it’s time for the last Sheen to come home. The one who wouldn’t change his name and attempted to work outside the system, directing passion projects like the Golden Globe-nominated-as-a-practical-joke film Bobby. Emilio, your brother has paved the way, cleared the landing.
So TV, say hi to Ernie Sheen, network’s newest, brightest star.
Sources: IMDB, Wikipedia