Breaking Type-Casting: 15 Dramatic Rolls Perfected by Comedic Actors

Have you been blown away by an actor's creepy or evil role because it's so out of character for them? Then you have company. Recently someone asked, “What's a menacing performance by an actor not known for being scary?” Here are some of the top picks for unexpected instances where actors broke their type cast.

1. Kevin James, Becky (2020)

Dominick sits around a campfire with Jeff
Image Credit: Yale Productions.

For much of his career, Kevin James has been type-cast as the big oaf. Becky was an unexpected turning point for the Paul Blart alumni. Sure, he’d done dramatic roles before, as seen in the World War II drama Little Boy (2015), but in Becky, he’s a Neo-Nazi who straight-up murders people. James finally drops his delightful personality in favor of a more menacing and imposing presence.

2. Steve Carrell, Foxcatcher (2014)

Du Pont sits back in a chair and contemplates
Image Credit: Fair Hill, LLC.

In Foxcatcher, funnyman Steve Carrell portrays philanthropist and wrestling enthusiast John Eleuthère du Pont. Unfortunately, du Pont is also infamously known for the murder of Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler March Schultz. Foxcatcher is an upsetting telling of the events that led up to the real-life killing of Schultz, and Carrell’s depiction of du Pont is haunting and uncomfortable from the get-go.

3. Macauley Culkin, The Good Son (1993)

Henry and Mark peer over a rocky ledge
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Macauley only had eight movies under his belt by the time 1993 rolled around, but it was clear he brought some comedic value or innocent charm to every role. Then he starred in The Good Son opposite Elijah Woods. As the psychopathic Henry, Macaulay drops the good-kid act and really does some damage as a disturbed child with murderous tendencies. He played the part so well, that it’s a little surprising it didn’t spawn a more diverse career afterward.

4. Jim Gaffigan, Most Wanted (2020)

Jim Gaffigan on the set of Most Wanted
Image Credit: Caramel Films.

It’s difficult to think of the comedian who did an entire bit about hot pockets in a more dramatic and villainous role, but Jim Gaffigan’s depiction of conman Glenn Picker in Most Wanted was no comedy act. His slovenly and violent demeanor seemed to fit him quite well as he helped bring depth to the darker role. While it’s not a role we’ve seen Gaffigan in often, there’s certainly no question that he should take on more dramatic parts.

5. Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad (2008)

Walter White sitting by his pool
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Television.

After watching Cranston ham it up as Hal on Malcolm in the Middle, it was shocking to see him mow down drug dealers and poison children in Breaking Bad. While Cranston caught Vince Gilligan’s eye in a 1998 episode of The X-Files, the actor often fulfilled more comedic roles such as Dr. Tim Whatley on Seinfeld, Curt Sincic on The Louie Show, and Tim Sacksky on The King of Queens.

6. Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones (2009)

Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones (2009)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Imagine playing a character so vile that you don't want to be associated with it after the cameras stop rolling. That was Stanley Tucci's experience as serial killer George Harvey in Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones. Even though Harvey is a completely fictionalized character, his mannerisms and actions throughout the movie are downright hellish, making it understandable that Tucci actually tried to get out of playing the role.

7. Robin Williams, One Hour Photo (2002)

Robin Williams in One Hour Photo (2002)
Image Credit: Fox Searchlight.

When Robin Williams was revealed as playing a creep in One Hour Photo, it marked a shift in the actor's typical persona. Sure, he'd taken on dramatic roles before and wasn't always dishing out the laughs. But to play someone so disgusting as the eerie and perverse Seymour Parrish was a bold move that once again proved just how talented Williams was. 

8. Robert Blake, Lost Highway (1997)

Robert Blake in "Lost Highway"
Image Credit: October Films.

Setting aside his potential involvement in the death of Bonny Lee Bakley, Robert Blake wasn't known for taking on overly villainous or questionable roles. Then came Lost Highway, where he played the Mystery Man who makes people question their reality because it is hard to tell if he is supernatural or real. There's an uncomfortable aura surrounding the Mystery Man that Blake does a good job depicting.

9. Morgan Freeman, Street Smart (1987)

Morgan Freeman and Christopher Reeve in Street Smart (1987)
Image Credit: Cannon Group.

When a reporter makes up an exposé that accidentally resembles the true life of a pimp, this crime drama takes moviegoers on a thrilling ride. Though the movie itself may be of questionable quality, Morgan Freeman's depiction of Leo Smalls, Jr. earned him Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor. As Smalls, Freeman had the difficult task of intimidating Superman himself. And as it turns out, he was quite good at it.

10. Patrick Stewart, Green Room (2015)

Patrick Stewart, Brent Werzner, Mason Knight, Samuel Summer, and Colton Ruscheinsky in Green Room (2015)
Image Credit: A24.

You may never look at Professor Xavier the same way after watching Green Room. Patrick Stewart leads a group of skinheads, who terrorize Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots, two actors who couldn't be any less deserving of such brutal treatment. After watching Stewart lead the crew of the USS Enterprise and offer sage advice to the X-Men, it's very difficult to imagine him playing a deadly skinhead.

11. David Tennant, Jessica Jones (2015)

David Tennent and Krysten Ritter in "Jessica Jones"
Image Credit: Netflix.

Sure, David Tennant is beloved for his time as the Tenth Doctor, but wait until you see him in Jessica Jones. Once a hero, Tennant is brilliantly menacing as Kilgrave, a mind-controlling fiend responsible for Jones' fall from grace as a superhero. Tennant can achieve a great range and he is sure to let that side of him loose during his time on Jessica Jones.

12. Vince Vaughn, Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

Brawl in Cell Block 99 Vince Vaughn
Image Credit: RLJE Films.

With a failing marriage and a loss of job, the main character ends up in jail doing the dirty work of drug runners. Vince Vaughn has always had kind of a looming presence, but it wasn't until his time as Bradley Thomas in Brawl in Cell Block 99 that you saw him use all that bulk. Not quite a villain, Thomas is manipulated into pulling off an impossible task that involves quite a lot of brutality.

13. Alan Arkin, Wait Until Dark (1967)

Alan Arkin in "Wait Until Dark"
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Wait Until Dark is based on a play about a blind lady, Audrey Hepburn, whose husband accidentally brings home a drug-packed doll that Alan Arkin's Harry Roat, Jr. so desperately wants to get his hands on. Arkin has a gruffness to him, but the things he does in Wait Until Dark are quite uncharacteristic for the former member of The Second City sketch comedy group.

14. Henry Fonda, Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures and Euro International Films.

This old, 1960s Western film will leave you on the edge of your seat as Claudia Cardinale plays a widowed homesteader just trying to hold onto her land.  When an outlaw named Frank (Henry Fonda) tries to secure the land for himself, things get messy and the bodies start piling up. Once Upon a Time in the West was a shocking turn of character for Fonda, who set aside his role of leading good guy to terrorize the Wild West.

15. Jude Law, Road to Perdition (2002)

Jude Law in "Road to Predition"
Image Credit: DreamWorks Pictures.

A somber mob movie about a father trying to save his son, Road to Perdition is loosely based on true events. Jude Law steps in as Harlen Maguire, a freelance killer and crime scene photographer hired to murder Tom Hanks' Michael Sullivan. Jude Law plays dramatic roles well, it's just the fact that he's a bit more murderous in Road to Perdition that his fan base wasn't quite expecting.

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