Rainn Wilson can do so much more than just comedy. Want proof? The actor (best known for playing the militant nerd Dwight Schrute on 'The Office') is garnering buzz for his role as a pill-popping, emotionally unavailable father in 'Hesher.'
The film premiered at Sundance over a year ago, and is just now starting to creep into theaters across North America in limited release. It stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt ('Inception,' '(500) Days of Summer') as the titular character, a moody metalhead who befriends T.J. (Devin Brochu, 'Ghosts of Girlfriends Past'), a young boy being raised by his grieving father Paul (Wilson) following the death of his mother.
Hesher's questionable mentorship of T.J. sparks the concern of a local grocery clerk played by Natalie Portman, who steps in to shield the young boy from Hesher's negative influence. As Hesher and T.J. spend more time together, Paul falls into a deeper funk on his mother's couch. (Yes, he lives with his mother.)
Wilson is undeniably skilled at playing troubled losers. Dwight Schrute is (or was, in earlier seasons) one of the funniest characters in recent television history. Wilson was also great as a lovable loser in 'The Rocker,' a not-so-lovable loser in 'Juno,' and a weirdo loser on 'Six Feet Under.' It's no surprise he's transitioning his formidable skills into drama now.
Audiences are often skeptical of comedic actors who try to reinvent themselves as serious dramatic actors. It's no easy feat. (Just ask Ben Stiller, who is still trying to get people to take him seriously even after 'Greenberg,' or Adam Sandler, who quickly returned to comedies after 'Punch Drunk Love.')
Wilson may have the chops to pull it off, though. Here's hoping his dramatic turn in 'Hesher' paves the way for more serious roles for him. I, for one, think he would make an excellent serial killer. And not just a cartoonish slasher-flick serial killer -- a complex, multifaceted serial killer like Hannibal Lecter.
Of course, the transition from comedy to drama has been successfully done before. Just look at Will Smith, who made the unlikely leap from 'Fresh Prince' to one of the biggest box office draws in the world. With that in mind, here's a list of my top five favorite dramatic performances by comedic actors. Share yours in the comments section!
Tom Hanks in 'Catch Me If You Can'
Thought I was gonna say 'Philadelphia,' didn't you? Well, this list is about my own favorite dramatic performances, and Tom Hanks was amazing as the uppity Carl Hanratty, who wouldn't rest till he got his man. Hanks has proven himself as both a master comedian and a skillful dramatic actor. He's at the point in his career where he could announce that he's playing an obnoxious, deaf, mute gigolo with a gift for music and nobody would question whether he could pull it off.
John Leguizamo in 'Summer of Sam'
Leguizamo has worked hard to avoid being pigeonholed as the funny guy, and his efforts have paid off. He's known for his memorable roles in everything from 'Carlito's Way' to 'Romeo + Juliet' to 'Moulin Rouge,' but my personal favorite dramatic Leguizamo performance is his take on Vinny in 'Summer of Sam.' He's just so good as the womanizer paranoid about getting offed by the serial killer terrorizing the 'hood.
Mo'Nique in 'Precious'
Remember Mo'Nique in 'Beerfest'? Probably not. Her Oscar-winning, heart-wrenching performance as the mother from hell in 'Precious' has transformed perceptions of Mo'Nique so much that it's easy to forget she got her start in comedy. I don't even really like Mo'Nique, but I think it would be a huge oversight to exclude her from a list such as this. And there's no denying that she was amazing in 'Precious.'
Bill Murray in 'Broken Flowers'
When did the goofy guy from 'Caddyshack' get so good at playing brooding men facing some sort of life crisis? Murray garnered attention for his dramatic skills with 'Rushmore' and later in 'Lost in Translation,' but his turn as the prickly aging playboy Don Johnston is my favorite "serious Bill" role. Extra points for the amazing car music during the driving scenes (even though Murray probably didn't have anything to do with that).
Woody Harrelson in 'Natural Born Killers'
Wow. Maybe sweet Woody from 'Cheers' ain't so sweet after all. Harrelson shocked 'Cheers' fans when he totally nailed the role of psycho killer Mickey in the now-cult-classic Oliver Stone flick. Since then, Harrelson has demonstrated again and again that he is truly one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood, mastering diverse roles in flicks like 'Kingpin,' 'The People vs. Larry Flynt' and, more recently, 'Defendor.'
"Opposite" honorable mention: John C. Reilly, who transitioned from a serious Oscar-nominated actor in films like 'Chicago' and 'Magnolia' to the super-hilarious star of contemporary comedy classics like 'Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,' 'Talladega Nights' and 'Step Brothers.'