TV actors who have succeeded in creating two very different memorable characters within a few years

(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=“—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=“”]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.


Betty White went from Miss Brooks, to Sue Ann Nivens, to Rose Neyland.
Mary Tyler Moore went from Laura Petrie to Mary Richards.
Bea Arthur went from Maude Finley to Dorothy Zbornak.
Rue McClanahan went from Maude friends to Blanche Deveraux.
Ron Howard from Opie Taylor to Richie Cunningham.
Harry Morgan went from Officer Gannon to Col Potter
Johnny Galecki went from spineless David Healy (Roseanne) to Leonard on TBBT.
Ted Danson went from Sam Malone to Dr John Becker
Lucy Ball went from Lucy Ricardo to Lucy Carmichael to Lucy Carter.

Okay, I really messed up the picture links. They should read:

"In BB he looks more likeHeinrich Himmlerthan Hal (No-Last-Name-Given) and when you add in thepork pie hat Waltlooks like a ca. 1960s Mercedes plant foreman in Buenos Aires who “doesn’t talk about his past”.


“You really don’t think Debbie when you see Sharon Gless as Madelyn (and so much time has passed since Cagney it’s easy to put that one aside as well).”


Since editing anyway, I’ll hijack and say I was amazed how badass (not in the sexy way but in the “someone you don’t want to mess with” way) ‘Hal’/Bryan/Walt looked in the Negro y Azul (‘talkin’ about some Heisenberg’) music videoon the series.

Is it okay to cheat slightly and stretch the decade into a dozen years? Because then Neil Patrick Harris as Doogie Howser and Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother) could be on the list.

Speaking of How I Met Your Mother, I think Alyson Hannigan has been rather successful making Lily quite distinctive from Willow.

Hugh Laurie from King George in Blackadder the Thrid and Bertie Wooster in various Jeeves and Wooster shows, to Gregory House. Completely amazing difference.

William Sanderson.

He played Larry (“Hi, I’m Larry. This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother, Darryl”) on Newhart, then played the much darker, much more three dimensional and even more pathetic EB Farnum on Deadwood.

He currently plays the Sheriff on True Blood, who is one of the most normal characters Sanderson has played.

A bit of trivia – Sanderson also has a law degree.

Hard to ignore going from The Commish to Vic Mackey.

Quantum Leap Guy to Enterprise Captain

Sam was always a reluctant hero. Going back in time was almost a curse.

Archer the bad ass man of action.

This was going to be my nomination. Like night and day.

There were several actors with recurring rolls on Night Court who had other quite different rolls they were known for.

Brent Spiner played Bob Wheeler, the husband in the backwoods couple that showed up in court occasionally, then went on to play Data on Star Trek TNG.

John Astin did a great job of playing Buddy on Night Court, but was better known as Gomez Adams (though the time lapse between the two probably disqualifies him from this discussion.)

William Utay played Phil the bum, and his evil twin brother Will, then later went on to play Dr. Rolf, the mad scientist on Days of Our Lives.

Marsha Warfield played Roz the bailiff, then shortly thereafter joined the cast of Empty Nest as Dr. Maxine Douglas. This is probably the best example from Night Court since both characters were regulars.

How about Don Knotts as Barney Fife and Mr. Furley.

How about Robert Conrad?

Tom Lopaka in Hawaiian Eye (1959-1963)
Michael Garrison in Wild Wild West (1965-1969)
Pappy Boyington in Baa Baa Black Sheep (1976-1978)
Himself in Battle of the Network Stars (1977-1979, 1983)
Come on, he was the best part of Battle of the Network Stars.

I think it was just this year that I noticed Bryan Cranston is also Dr. Tim Whatley in Seinfeld.

How about Katy Segal -

Peg Bundy on “Married…with Children”

Leela on “Futurama”

Cate Hennessy on “8 Simple Rules”

Richard Dean Anderson:

Ernest Pratt on “Legend”
Colonel Jack O’Neill on “Stargate SG-1”

Actually that was pretty much the same character.

In fact, Jess Oppenheimer, the producer of “I Love Lucy,” sued DesiLu when her second show “Lucy” came on because, though the show said it was based on the book “Life Without George,” it was really based on the scatterbrained Lucy Ricardo which he had rights to. And the court agreed that the character of Lucy Carmichael was essentially the same as Lucy Ricardo and Oppenheimer got payments made on this and her follow up show as well.

And now Gemma Teller Morrow on Sons of Anarchy.

Also Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder and Mr Bean and Tim McInnerny as Lord Percy in the first two series and Captain Darling in the fourth.

And Gemma Morrow on Sons of Anarchy.

Damn Little Nemo’s quick fingers!

Tony Shaloub

Antonio Scarpacci on WINGS

Adrian Monk on MONK