10 Unexpected Dramatic Roles by Renowned Comic Actors

Andrew Buckle,

Inspired by Sofia Vergara’s performance in the hit Netflix series, Griselda, we’re taking a look at some of the most unexpected dramatic performances from actors usually renowned for their roles in comedy.

Sofia Vergara – Griselda

Sofia Vergara is best known for her headlining role in Modern Family, one of the most popular sitcoms ever made. Her portrayal of Gloria Delgado-Pritchett earned her four Primetime Emmy Awards and has created many meme-worthy moments. Vergara has also starred in comedy movies Chef and Hot Pursuit. In the gritty crime drama miniseries Griselda, Vergara undergoes a stunning transformation for the role of Griselda Blanco, a notorious Columbian drug lord who pursued wealth and power in the Miami drug scene.

See also: Bent and Bottom of the 9th

Jason Bateman – The Gift

Jason Bateman‘s unsettling performance in Joel Edgerton‘s psychological thriller is a far cry from his wider known roles in the trailblazing comedy series, Arrested Development, and raunchy adult comedies such as Horrible Bosses and The Change-Up. In The Gift Bateman plays Simon, who, along with his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall), finds themselves the target of mysterious intimidation by an old acquaintance of Simon (played by Edgerton). The strange confrontations unlock secrets from Simon’s past, and his mask of composure begins to fray to reveal a darker personality.

See also: Ozark and The Outsider

Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best know for her hilarious performances in many culturally-significant comedies, including Bridesmaids, Spy and Ghostbusters, Melissa McCarthy‘s dramatic portrayal was an impressive transition. Marielle Heller’s film Can You Ever Forgive Me? is based on the 2008 confessional memoir of the same name by Lee Israel, with McCarthy adopting the role of Israel, a writer attempting to revitalise her career by forging letters from deceased authors and playwrights. McCarthy’s riveting performance was widely acclaimed, including a nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards.

See also: The Kitchen and Nine Perfect Strangers

Adam Sandler – Punch-Drunk Love

Adam Sandler was the funny man of the ’90s, famous for his characters in Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, Big Daddy and many more. At the turn of the century Sandler would team up with indie filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson for the magnificent Punch-Drunk Love. While Sandler remains funny in this role, the tribulations of his socially awkward character, Barry Egan, ask for a completely new level of range from Sandler. Is this Sandler’s greatest dramatic performance? No, I think that belongs to Uncut Gems, released many years later. But is it the most surprising performance of his career, and is Punch-Drunk Love the best film he has been associated with? Almost certainly.

See also: Uncut Gems, Hustle and The Meyerowitz Stories

Aubrey Plaza – Emily the Criminal

While Aubrey Plaza isn’t the only star of Parks & Recreation on this list (spoiler alert), her transition into dramatic roles in recent years is perhaps the most impressive. In addition to Parks & Rec Plaza’s early career included indie comedies such as Safety Not Guaranteed and more mainstream raunch such as Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and The To-Do List. Plaza’s transition into dramatic roles includes a main role in the mind-bending series Legion, but her acclaimed work in Emily the Criminal is what gets her onto this list. Plaza stars as a young woman saddled with student debt who gets involved in a credit card scam, acting as a dummy shopper and buying increasingly risky products with stolen credit cards.

See also: Black Bear, Ned Rifle, and The White Lotus

Steve Carell – Foxcatcher

Steve Carell burst onto the scene as the lead in the comedy classic, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, back in 2005 and became a comic mainstay in the years to follow. He starred in the rewatchable romcom Crazy, Stupid, Love, continues to provide the voice of Gru in Illumination’s Despicable Me franchise, and made his role of Michael Scott in The Office (US) an unmistakable part of pop culture. Carell was almost completely unrecognisable in the devastating true story of Foxcatcher, a bold role that garnered him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Carell stars as John du Pont, a multimillionaire wrestling enthusiast, and the film tells the story of the tragic relationship between du Pont and two 1984 U.S. Olympic gold medalist wrestlers, brothers Mark and David Schultz.

See also: The Big Short, Beautiful Boy, Last Flag Flying and The Patient

Kristen Wiig – Welcome to Me

Kristen Wiig is perhaps best-known for her appearances on Saturday Night Live and for writing and starring in Bridesmaids. While she has taken on some more dramatic roles in recent years she continues to be one of the most reliable comic actors in the business, and the underrated gem Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar is one such example. In the very odd and often unsettling comedy-drama, Welcome to Me, Wiig is transfixing as a single woman suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder who uses her lottery win to fund her own syndicated talk show.

See also: Diary of a Teenage Girl, Wonder Woman 1984 and Hateship Loveship

Bryan Cranston – Breaking Bad

Bryan Cranston is probably the poster boy for this sort of analysis, bouncing from his iconic role in Malcolm in the Middle (although he will always be Jerry Seinfeld’s dentist, Tim Whatley, in Seinfeld) into one of the most celebrated television series of all time, earning an array of awards for his portrayal of Walter White. White is a chemistry teacher who, upon learning he has cancer, decides to get into the meth-making business to repay his medical debts. Cranston largely plays it serious these days, but shifting gears in such a major way for Breaking Bad was a stunning mid-career transformation at the time.

See also: Your Honor, Wakefield, The Infiltrator and Godzilla (2014)

Olivia Colman – Tyrannosaur

Prior to starring in Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur, a devastatingly bleak tale, Colman almost-exclusively starred in comedies. Her most notable role was in seasons 1-7 of British sit-com, Peep Show, in which she stars as Mark’s work colleague and love interest. Colman is such a gifted actor – and now an Academy Award-winning actor for The Favourite – that she straddles comedy and drama with ease. In Tyrannosaur Colman stars as Hannah, a Christian charity shop worker in an abusive marriage, whose path crosses with Joseph, a man plagued by violence and rage who finds a path of redemption through their unlikely friendship.

See also: The Crown, The Father, The Night Manager and Broadchurch

Nick Offerman – The Last of Us

The other notable star of Parks & Recreation to deliver a jaw-dropping dramatic performance is the inimitable Mr Ron Swanson himself, Nick Offerman. Offerman has been making his more recent career in the indie scene, largely in light, heartfelt comedy-dramas such as The Kings of Summer and Hearts Beat Loud. But, in the post-apocalyptic horror series, The Last of Us, Offerman guest stars alongside Murray Bartlett (The White Lotus) in the series’ most moving and celebrated episode.

See also: Fargo, Devs and The Founder

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