The Eight Best Dramatic Roles by Comedians

November 10, 2010

Comedians have been crossing over to dramatic roles for a while now, but only a select few have been able to conquer the next artistic level. It takes true skill to do what these performers have accomplished, as transcending mediums is an act that few thespians have done succesfully. Let’s had out some love, y’all.

8. Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love

Photo: George Pimentel/Getty Images

Over the years, most of Adam Sandler’s films have been filled to the brim with raunchy humor and endless cameos by his Saturday Night Live alumni. With this said, his Golden Globe-nominated role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love kinda took us all by surprise when it was first released. Yes, the role was pretty much tailor-made for him, but nonetheless, he still killed it. For a guy that became famous for ridiculous bits like "Opera Man" on SNL, it was a breath of fresh air to see Sandler step out of his “want to touch the hiney” comedy box and use his huge Hollywood name for a relatively independent film. I’m sure a ton of people out there thought it wouldn’t be possible for Sandler to pull off a role with such a critically-acclaimed cast and director, but he sure damn did.

7. Bill Murray in Lost in Translation

Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Not matter what you do, it’s kind of impossible to take Bill Murray 100 percent serious in almost any part he plays. Murray’s classic sarcasm always seems to bleed through no matter the role. He was on the verge of accomplishing a completely straight take on a character as Herman Blume in Rushmore, but Lost in Translation was truly one of those rare moments where Murray took things a little more seriously than usual and gave us all one of the most endearing performances of his entire career. Yes, there’s a ton of hilarious moments in the film, but none of these are over-the-top or goofy. They are natural and totally organic. Sofia Coppola apparently wrote this film with Murray in mind and it really shows. Each moment in the film seems to be tailor-made for him. Either way, any which way you slice it, the man can do no wrong. 

6. Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple

Source: Warner Bros.

Simply put, Whoopi Goldberg tore it the f*** down in The Color Purple. I know a lot of you only really know Whoopi from the trainwreck daytime show The View, but before she looked and sounded like a butch version of the Predator, Ms. Goldberg was actually a huge box office draw as well as a legitimately talented comedian.

Before hitting it big in Hollywood, Whoopi was spotted by Color Purple director Steven Spielberg during her one-woman show on Broadway and she was given a starring role in his new film. As Celie Harris Johnson in The Color Purple, Whoopi’s character is relentlessly tortured by her father, husband and unruly step kids. There’s no question that Goldberg’s work makes the film what it is. The depth of her emotion throughout the movie rivals any actress alive or dead. I guess that’s why she took home a Golden Globe for her trouble back in 1985. Let’s all try to remember Whoopi for her work like The Color Purple instead of Hollywood s**tshows like Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Just sayin’.

5. Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting

Photo: Ron Galella/Getty Images

Joke stealer or not, Robin Williams has talent by the truckload. Dead Poets Society, The Fisher King, Good Morning, Vietnam and Awakenings are all solid works that deserve to be mentioned on this list, although Mr. Williams’ Oscar-Winning role as Sean Maguire in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting simply stole the show in terms of his career highlights. It also made Robin one of the most sought after actors in Hollywood. For a guy that got famous playing a wacked-out alien on Mork & Mindy, it’s extremely surprising to see how far Williams has come. The man is easily one of the most multi-talented entertainers of all time and the skills that he processes are a rarity these days.


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4. Peter Sellers in Being There

Photo: Keystone/Getty Images

For those of you who haven’t seen the 1979 Forest Gump-like masterwork Being There, you should seriously do yourself a favor and watch it as soon as possible. Peter Sellers’ work as the simpleminded Chance The Gardener is a performance for the ages. There are comedic elements to the character, but the core of the role is absolutely dramatic. It’s also the straightest role Sellers ever played. Compared to his goofy comedic work in classics like Dr. Strangelove and The Pink Panther, Being There saw Sellers prove once more that he’s hands down one of the most talented performers ever and could do almost anything on screen. Without Sellers this movie would have been just another throwaway Hollywood feature, but he brought a depth to the character of Chance that only a select few could ever pull off.  The man is a genius pure and simple. RIP Peter Sellers

3. Tom Hanks in Philadelphia

Photo: Fotos International/Getty Images

Throughout the 1980s, Tom Hanks was only really known for his goofy comedic roles in stuff like Bosom Buddies, Splash and Bachelor Party. Hanks started to show some acting range in the ‘90s with A League of Their Own and Sleepless in Seattle, but when he tackled the extrememly serious subject matter in 1993’s Philadelphia, Tom hit a whole new level. As cliché as the movie seems now, Philadelphia was a big freaking deal when it first came out. Not only was it one of the first real big-star movies to tackle the issue of AIDS, Hanks proved without a shadow of a doubt that he wasn’t just a one-hit wonder in terms of his acting skills. Hanks, of course, went on to win the Academy Award for his extraordinary work on Philadelphia and it also led to starring roles in little films like Forest Gump and Saving Private Ryan. 

2. Jamie Foxx in Ray

Source: Universal Pictures

Talk about a multi-talented artist. For a guy that started out doing standup and playing weird and wild characters like Wanda on In Living Color, Jamie Foxx sure did hit heights no one ever thought possible. The fact that he went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Ray Charles in is nothing short of amazing. Foxx showed glimpses of his talents in films such as Any Given Sunday and Ali, but it was Ray that put every actor in Hollywood on notice. His ability to transform into the R&B maestro floored audiences worldwide and it essentially changed his entire career overnight. In my opinion, performances like this are usually taken for granted because actors like Jamie are able to pull them off so effortlessly. Here’s to yah, Wanda.

1. Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon

Source: Universal Studios

In terms of natural talent, few can rival Jim Carrey. The man was born to be a performer. His early years of standup showcased his off-the-wall physical comedy as well as his mind-blowing impressions. His days on In Living Color also showcased these extremely wacky gifts. Comedic gems like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb & Dumber made Jim one of the biggest box office draws on the planet, but his dramatic role in the 1998 film The Truman Show simply changed everything. Mr. Carrey proved to audiences the world over that he wasn’t just a wacky one-trick pony. Jim has put down some respectable dramatic roles over the years, but his Golden Globe-winning take on Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon was simply his finest hour. Not only did he play Andy to a tee, he did a pretty darn good job bringing Tony Clifton and Latka to life as well. Jim took method acting to a whole new level and may have lost his mind in the process. That’s what true artists are supposed to do. In my opinion, we didn’t know how lucky we had it when Carrey was in his prime.


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