(Actor here is a unisex term and can mean any gender or age.)
Some actors are forever typecast: whenever I watched HEAT OF THE NIGHT I was always conscious that “Weird hearing Archie Bunker is talking in a southern accent”. Some have more than one memorable character but it takes a long time in between: Andy Griffith had many years of being Andy Taylor before becoming MATLOCK for example, just as Ray Walston had a decades long layover twixt MY FAVORITE MARTIAN and PICKET FENCES. Some leave a hit show and never leave it behind: Kelsey Grammer will always be FRASIER no matter how many shows he appears in.*
That’s why I’m really impressed with Bryan Cranston. I loved him as Hal, the world’s most p-whipped henpecked adoring husband and immature dad, on Malcolm in the Middle, and now as Walt White, the overqualified high school chemistry teacher turned wannabe Meth Lord on Breaking Bad. Both are great characters and he’s believable in both and not typecast in either.
A part of the believability and “forgettability” of the roles has to do with great writing and the fact they’re very different individuals. Aside from the fact that Walt and Hal were both under a lot of financial and family stress and basically decent guys whose ethics could be plastic, there’s hardly anything that similar between them. Appearance is also a major part: since Walt is a cancer patient he has a buzzcut head. (Since not everybody who’s in chemo goes bald [many just get thin hair or their hair stops growing] I’ve wondered if this was intentional.) In BB he looks more like [URL=“http://images.fanpop.com/images/image_uploads/Lois—Hal-malcolm-in-the-middle-275436_262_400.jpg”]Heinrich Himmlerthan Hal (No-Last-Name-Given) and when you add in the pork pie hat Waltlooks like a ca. 1960s Mercedes plant foreman in Buenos Aires who “doesn’t talk about his past”. Most is acting though; he’s great in both roles. (I do wish they’d give him fewer nude scenes though; let Jesse [Aaron Paul] take some of those for gollsakes.)
Sharon Gless now has several memorable TV characters to her credit. She had a long layover twixt CAGNEY & LACEY and QUEER AS FOLK (including a couple of series that are forgotten), but she had an amazingly smooth landing going from the world’s biggest fag-hag guttermouthed “I’m overly proud of my gay son” mom
in QaF to chain smoking bitter but likable hypochondriac Madelyin in BURN NOTICE. You really don’t think [URL=“http://www.tvworthwatching.com/werts/burn%20notice%20sharon%20gless.jpg”]Debbiewhen you see her on the show (and so much time has passed since Cagney it’s easy to put that one aside as well). As with Bryan Cranston, I think the change in appearance is a major part of becoming the other character (so maybe Ted Danson should lose the rug next time he has a series).
Who are some other actors who’ve gone relatively seamlessly from one great role into another in a relatively short amount of time? (I’ll let you define how long or short that is, but should be less than a decade at most.)
*He’s about to star on Broadway in a revival of La Cage Aux Folles, possibly the first conservative Republican to have played a gay nightclub owner. Also risky since the last revival flopped miserably.