"Wow! They really can act!" moments

There are lots of actors out there who you just look at and think, “Meh, they’re OK but not great.” Then you see one performance and say, “Holy crap! They really are an actor!” It might be the only worthwhile performance of their whole career or it might be a turning point where they grew.

The one that always stands out for me was Farrah Fawcett in Extremities. I did like her in The Burning Bed but I thought her work in Extremities was incredible. She wasn’t the bubble headed blonde bombshell. She was vicious, tough, strong and definitely not someone to screw around with. You also saw her fighting her emotions and desire for vengeance. When she is talking to her assailant, and the camera is close on her face with tears and snot running down her nose, it really made me appreciate her talent.

What are some other examples of actors exceeding your expectations?

Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. He went from over-the-top comedian to serious actor.

Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys, to me, proved he wasn’t a face.

Steve Martin in All of Me
Leonardo DiCaprio in Gilbert Grape

There is an episode in “Buffy the vampire slayer” where Buffy and Faith swap bodies. I found it uncanny how they mimicked the other characters’s gait, body language, mannerisms, and just general “feel”.

Sylvester Stallone in Copland.

Brent Spiner. He seemed flat in ST:TNG because that was the character, but he’s capable of a lot more as seen in Threshold. From Wil Wheaton’s review of Datalore:

Flander, regarding Jim Carrey, Joss Whedon has said that he actually prefers hiring comedic actors to do drama, because drama’s the easy one. Comedy actors bring a lot to the drama table because they’ve mastered the harder style of acting, and I think that does hold true often.

OK, that reminds me of another one: Kevin Pollak in The Usual Suspects. As a guy whom I knew only from his standup and his hilarious turn as a brownie in Willow, he surprised me.

Shawn Ryan, creator of *The Shield, * has said the same thing about his choice of Michael Chiklis and Anthony Anderson (playing a corrupt cop and gang-lord, respectively) - two actors who were previously known chiefly as comics.

Billie Piper in the Doctor Who episode where Cassandra hops into her body. Finding she had acting ability was… unexpected.

Donnie Wahlberg in Band of Brothers. Particularly “The Breaking Point”, which focuses quite a bit on his character, and which he narrates. It was a very nuanced, understated performance – that matched up to what we got to see of the actual person he was portraying, in the interviews. That was the point where I forgave him for New Kids On The Block.

His brother, Marky Mark, is also a surprisingly enjoyable actor, but I’ve yet to be “wowed” by one of his performances.

Hey, I was gonna mention that one. I thought Stallone was pretty good in Rocky, but his role in Copland was a pleasant surprise.

I’ll add Charlize Theron, who I thought was an attractive but otherwise forgettable actress in The Italian Job. I’d heard she was good in Monster, but holy cow, was she good.

Agree on both of these, though I wanted add that I was even more impressed by Mr. Pitt in Se7en, and thought that Jim Carrey had already showed a convincing non-slapstick side to him in The Truman Show.

I’ll add to this list Bill Murray’s performance in Groundhog Day. Before that I thought of him as “the crazy guy from Saturday Night Live, Caddyshack and Ghostbusters”. But his nuanced performance in that movie really makes it something special.

It works. The Shield is my favorite show.

As far as comedians playing drama roles, it works for some. Jim Carrey and Kevin Pollack are good examples; though I’m sure I’ll never see Chris Rock or Bernie Mac pulling of a great dramatic performance.

A twofer: Mark Wahlberg and George Clooney both surprised me with their performances in Three Kings.

Check out Chris Rock in Nurse Betty sometime. He’s got one scene in there at the very end that’s haunted me for years now.

Steve Zahn in Rescue Dawn, a poor and pointless movie IMHO (are we really still doing Vietnam POW movies that don’t add anything new to the genre?). I guess he is a really good actor but I didn’t notice it until Rescue Dawn.

Well, it wasn’t high drama, but his scene with Matt Damon in Ocean’s Eleven about the gambling license was pretty good. :smiley:

I could see Chris Rock doing something non-comedic, though. He’s got a good voice and delivery that could make for an intense scene.

For me, the moment for Wahlberg was in the series “The Kill Point.” As the hostage negotiator, he definitely held his own with John Leguizamo.

Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love.

Thanks for reminding me to put Rescue Dawn on my Favorite Films of 2007 list. I thought it was an amazing movie, with great performances from both Zahn and Christian Bale. Werner Herzog, one of my favorite directors, just keeps getting better and better. It certainly added something new for me, since I had missed Herzog’s earlier Little Dieter Needs To Fly and I didn’t know about this true story of Dieter Dengler.

Ashton Kutcher in "The Butterfly Effect"

While is was not an over the top performance, I was stunned at the contrast from his standard X Rated Goofy on steroids characters. Good movie and not bad acting.

Ah, Donnie. My favourite New Kid back in the day. I had heard that he was in The Sixth Sense, watched it and couldn’t spot him…later heard specifically what part he played, thought “No, that’s not right, guy didn’t look anything like him” and went and watched it again. Wow. Not only did he do a respectable job acting - he drastically altered his appearance for that role and looked like hell. I’d never have recognized him otherwise, and this is a dude whose image graced every wall of my bedroom once upon a time.

Keanu Reeves in… nah, I’m just kidding.

I guess my “wow” moment would be Jamie Fox in Any Given Sunday. Remember The Jamie Fox show? That show was awful, so it was a pleasant surprise to see him hold his own with Pacino.