Every actor seems is known for playing certain kinds of characters. It doesn’t matter if is the hero, the villain, the anti-hero, the tough guy, the funny guy, or even the strange one—every actor seems to fit perfectly with a particular kind of character. When it comes to a genre such as drama, that identification of an actor with the roles he plays can be even stronger for the audience, who sees the actor giving these serious, powerful serious performances, and the critical recognition that often results.
Therefore, when that actor tries to play into a different genre, it turns to be a huge point of attention—maybe not because of the film itself, but for role the actor is portraying in that film. And while this doesn’t necessary always work, nor guarantee a great performance, there are sometimes performances that just work out… perfectly.
And because of that, here we present 10 iconic (and surprising) comedy performances from 10 dramatic actors.
10. Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld in “American Hustle”
Known for portraying strong, complex characters in every film—and for (sometimes dramatically) changing his body to suit the role, Bale is described by some as one of the best actors of his generation. Starting from a very young age at Steven Spielberg’s “The Empire of the Sun”, Bale’s career has brought different characters of all kind, from charismatic psychos to famous superheroes, always making his next role a complete 180 from his last.
And David O. Russell’s dark comedy “American Hustle” is a case in point. Here Bale plays a character completely different from all his previous works, including his previous collaboration with the director (as a skeletal, drug-addicted ex-boxer).
As Irving Rosenfeld, Bale brings us a confident-yet-neurotic character, trying to handle all the chaos and pressure from the FBI (spearheaded by Bradley Cooper), while dealing with both his crime partner/lover (Amy Adams) and his neurotic wife (Jennifer Garner).
All of this would sound quite dramatic in any other case, but under Russell’s direction, this allows Bale to show a different side of him. One that—while once again changing his body dramatically and earned him Golden Globe and an Academy Award nominations—brings an inherent dry humour to what should be a tense situation for his character.
9. Joaquin Phoenix as Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello in “Inherent Vice”
Phoenix chooses his roles carefully. This has allowed him to work by the hand of heavy name directors, like Spike Jonze, James Gray, and twice with Paul Thomas Anderson. No matter what the film is about, Phoenix gives powerful (and sometimes disturbing) performances that get acclaim from critics and audiences. This makes him then, the kind of actor that draws attention to a film merely by the act of being involved at all.
And while it is true that he has proven his comedy talents in more than one film, it is his portrayal of the ‘hippie’ detective ‘Doc’ Sportello in the adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon’s novel, “Inherent Vice,” that he gets to show such talent in some of the oddest situations. Sure, Phoenix is the guy that fell in love with a computer system before.
But the thing with his portrayal of Sportello, is that he finds himself involve in some of the weirdest and wildest situations we have ever seen Phoenix in, from getting beaten violently by Josh Brolin’s character to asking a guy he just shot at, “Did I get you?” Anderson himself has said slap-stick and off-the-wall comedy films, such as Airplane!, were an influence on this film.
This oddball nonsense makes Sportello then, one of the strange, funny, wild characters in a filmography filled with powerful characters—and one that got him an Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Comedy.
8. Brad Pitt as Chad Feldheimer in “Burn After Reading”
At this point, and despite a hollow beginning to his career, Pitt is now one of the biggest actors of all-time. He has several famous films under his arm, ranging from auteur cinema to blockbusters, and he works fine in every one of them. From classy, charming robbers to cynical, dangerous military characters, he shows a powerful charisma that creates an interesting point of attention in the film.
So, when he appears on screen, the audience waits for a charismatic (and mostly tough) character that will lead the plot (or at least, an important part of it) in an interesting clever way… and then comes Chad Feldheimer. Let’s be clear that this doesn’t mean that Chad isn’t an interesting character. He is. But he is also quite opposite to the kind of the characters that Pitt often portrays.
Even on previous comedy works (such as “Snatch” or “The Mexican”), Pitt’s characters at least know what they are up to. But when it comes to Chad, the personal trainer and co-worker of Frances McDormand’s character, he is a completely idiotic character that hasn’t any actual idea of what he is doing–which even leads him to (SPOILER) getting killed by George Clooney’s character. And, in a perfect end to a character Pitt plays to a T, Chad even dies smiling meekly and stupidly as if he can still get out of this situation.
But still, Pitt manages to portray Chad quite perfectly, with all the energy that a personal trainer could have and all the stupidity that a Coens’ comedy character could bring, even getting him a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor. And while the film may not be one of the most famous from neither the actor, nor the directors, there is no doubt that it features one quite interesting and notorious role for Pitt.
7. Ralph Fiennes as Gustave H. in “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Fiennes is described by many, as one of the best British actors in the industry. His works, from small indie films to huge franchises, always feature heavy, charismatic performances by the actor. He is likable even when playing the antagonist. And it doesn’t matter what the film is about or if he has worked on a similar film before, he manages to bring a different aspect to every one of his characters.
And while he has tried comedy in different ways (from playing Jennifer Lopez’s romantic interest in “Maid in Manhattan”, to be the mob boss of a depressed Colin Farrell in “In Bruges”), in Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Fiennes gets to play one of the most charming and charismatic characters from his powerful filmography—and from Anderson’s works, as well.
As the classy, sophisticated, and devoted concierge, accused of a murder that he did not commit, Fiennes features a perfect dry humour in the most pure style of Anderson. Getting critical acclaim, Fiennes got a well-deserved Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Comedy.
6. Tom Cruise as Les Grossman in “Tropic Thunder”
There is no need to explain the kind of actor that Tom Cruise is. He is a big name that has starred all kind of films. From heavy dramas to action blockbusters, the actor has proven once and again that he can do whatever role he wants to do. And when it comes to talk about the comedy genre, he has shown that he can hold the same charisma that drives his action films.
However, between the many comedy films he has starred in through his career, there is one that is quite different from the others. This is, of course, the intense executive producer Les Grossman from Ben Stiller’s parody of war films, “Tropic Thunder”.
As Grossman, Cruise not only features one of his most physically-changed performances, but one of his darkest and most morally wrong characters. A character that is an obvious (and quite perfect) satire of the film industry, he doesn’t really care about his film crew (which happens to be captured by a drug cartel), but for the benefits of the situation.
This allows Cruise to use his acting talents in a very, very different way than in any other of his films, and resulted in one of his coolest performances, even earning him an nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes.