Acting is the art of becoming a chameleon. But first impressions are pretty damning, and no thanks to Hollywood’s ubiquitous reach of make-believe, audiences worldwide come to know one actor or actress for playing one type when they can be capable of much more.
From goofballs becoming villains to angels becoming bitches, below are some of the most memorable instances of a performer playing against their own stereotype… and totally working.
1. Chloë Sevigny, fashion model becomes Mormon wife (‘Big Love’)
It was hard to initially buy fashion icon and acclaimed actress Chloë Sevigny as a Mormon wife in HBO’s Big Love. From American Psycho to billboards for Louis Vuitton, it was curious to see her as a modest, religiously devout wife from Utah.
But from the very start of Sevigny’s career she demonstrated range when she turned heads in the Harmony Korrine-penned Kids before earning acclaim in Boys Don’t Cry as the lover of trans man Brandon Teena. A closer look at her career reveals range, and Nicki — the spiteful, selfish shopaholic — cold and hypocritical. That’s just Play-Dough for Sevigny.
2. Patrick Stewart, once Professor X, turns to doing X (‘Blunt Talk’)
He’s a renowned Shakesperean performer who commanded the Enterprise on Star Trek and mentored the freaking X-Men. He’s been nominated for Emmy and Tony Awards, he’s active in various philanthropic efforts, has been appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and given honorary doctorates from the University of East Anglia and Leeds. He also carried a torch for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
This September on Starz, you’ll see him snort coke on Blunt Talk.
Premiering later this year, Patrick Stewart is bucking his perceived image as a reckless L.A. cable journalist with a penchant for morning booze. In the above clip, Stewart admits he’s done things as Walter Blunt that he’d “never do in a darkened room”. Oh my.
3. Bob Saget, wholesome dad, is a filthy comedian (‘Full House’)
Remembered by ‘90s kids for being America’s most wholesome dad on Full House and delivering “dad jokes” on America’s Funniest Home Videos (could be alternatively titled YouTube Videos Your Grandma Sends You), people are still, mysteriously, shocked to learn he’s actually filthy. Have these people not been on the Internet?
With Netflix having loose content restrictons, maybe Danny Tanner can show he’s snapped and get this dirty on Fuller House.
4. Michael Chiklis, lovable father goes renegade cop (‘The Shield’)
Prior to The Shield, Michael Chiklis played the lovable but stern Tony Scali, a dedicated father and police commissioner for an upstate New York suburb in The Commish. Just look at this intro.
After playing one of the Three Stooges for a TV movie, Chiklis hit the gym to reinvent his image. Out came Vic Mackey.
The Shield won him an Emmy and a Golden Globe, and the respect few performers ever get.
5. Christopher Eccleston, serious actor plays a serious Doctor (‘Doctor Who’)
Although Doctor Who is beloved by fans, its reputation was (and still is) that of a cheesy sci-fi show on the same wavelength as Power Rangers. After years on hiatus, the show was revived and its producers casted an unlikely lead actor: Christopher Eccleston, then known for serious dramas. His run on the show established that this Doctor wasn’t going to be your grandfather’s time-traveling weirdo.
6. Brenda Song, hot nerd becomes hot psychopath (‘The Social Network’)
Brenda Song started her career in kids’ television, playing a nerdy girl in 100 Deeds for Eddie McDowd before portraying teen fashionistas in The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and Wendy Wu.
But then she dated Andrew Garfield’s Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network and was an utter psychopath, almost setting fire to a goddamn bed. Her roles since then have had a little more range. Let’s not talk about Dads, though.
7. Bryan Cranston, bumbling dad rises to meth kingpin (‘Breaking Bad’)
Bryan Cranston, whose career credits include the genre-defying Snizzard in Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, was best remembered for a time as the goofy dad in Malcolm in the Middle.
But a guest role on The X-Files convinced Vince Gilligan — and skeptical producers — to cast him as the man who knocks. As the American southwest’s most notorious meth cook in Breaking Bad, Walter White became a pop culture icon.
8. Walter Koenig, Enterprise’s butt monkey becomes Babylon 5’s psychic bastard (‘Babylon 5’)
Although comfortably within sci-fi, Koenig’s portrayal as whippersnapper Pavel Chekhov aboard the Enterprise in Star Trek stuck with him for years… until he became the charismatic, sinister son of a bitch Bester in Babylon 5.
Bester, a telepathic cop who polices psychics in J. Michael Straczynski’s sci-fi universe, was a cold, manipulative, conniving snake who was always five steps ahead of everyone else. You always had to be cautious what he was thinking under his smile. Even scarier: He knew exactly what you were thinking at the same time.
9. Bill Pullman, aloof space hero and U.S. President becomes a pedophilic child killer (‘Torchwood: Miracle Day’)
He was Star-Lord two decades before Chris Pratt but became a genuine monster in 2011’s Torchwood: Miracle Day.
Best remembered as Lone Star from Spaceballs, as well as the President who we celebrated Independence Day with (not to mention every preteen gothic girl’s surrogate father in Casper), Pullman shed his image to become the monstrous Oswald Danes. A cold-hearted pedophile and murderer, Oswald was mysteriously at the center of an alien conspiracy in Torchwood: Miracle Day, the fourth season of the adult-oriented Doctor Who spin-off.
However confusing his arc may have been — the show actually tried to make him sympathetic for some reason — his performance was well-received, giving Pullman a nomination for a Saturn Award. Pullman soon returned to being America’s most trustworthy paternal figure, when he played another President in the (failed) NBC sitcom, 1600 Penn.
10. Chevy Chase, smooth snarker turns into loudmouthed asshole (‘Community’)
Right before Community, Chevy Chase’s comedy career was in the shits. Although beloved from Fletch and the Vacation movies, Chase had become a shell of his former self in the late-’90s. His downfall was widely ridiculed, and you can almost see his heart break during his Comedy Central roast.
But in 2009, Chevy Chase proved he still had it in him when he became the hilarious, gross, blindly racist/sexist Pierce Hawthorne, the oddest oddball of Greendale’s Community College.
Although his departure from the show was unceremonious, Chase turned his career around. He’ll be back as Griswold in the upcoming Vacation.
11. Will Arnett, a cartoon jerk becomes a genuine husband and father (‘Up All Night’)
Arnett’s gravelly, unique voice and sharp facial features has led him to a career known for playing jerks, assholes, and jerky assholes. He even made Batman an asshole.
But Will Arnett was nothing like that as Chris Brinkley in the short-lived NBC series Up All Night. A loving, caring husband, Arnett admitted he was “happy to play a guy who’s just, kind of a nice guy.”
12. Hayden Panettiere, super cheerleader becomes super villain (‘Nashville’)
She was every geek’s crush as Claire, the small-town cheerleader who possessed invincibility in Heroes. But as teenage country music sensation Juliette Barnes in Nashville, she’s the arrogant diva whose hard exterior hides the lonely girl trapped inside.
13. Charlie Hunham, pretty boy heartthrob hardens into motorcycle outlaw (‘Sons of Anarchy’)
Charlie Hunnam was a pretty boy. From Undeclared to Nicholas Nickleby, Hunham was the living stereotype of every teen heartthrob. It was like he was genetically engineered to be plastered on their walls.
And then he lit a few cigs and hopped on a Harley for Sons of Anarchy.
Listing just how ruthless Jax becomes would be a chore, so knock yourself out here. Turn it into a drinking game, drink every time “badass” is on that page.