Obvious statement of the day: most successful entertainers tend to be multi-talented chameleons. But that doesn’t stop us moviegoers from having the tendency to pigeonhole actors and actresses into a genre, or worse — being unable to see them as anything other than their most famous role. That’s why those in the business of acting need to work really hard to remind the world that they’ve got range.
Here are 5 standouts who’ve made some drastic career moves in order to fight against their stereotyped personas.
Blake Lively – For many (myself included), Mrs. Ryan Reynolds will always be Serena from Gossip Girl. But she’s a long way from the Upper East Side in The Rhythm Section (now at the Box and Redbox On Demand), where she plays a woman hell-bent on revenge after learning that the plane crash that killed her family was actually the work of terrorists. Jude Law and Sterling K. Brown also star in this thriller about the lengths someone might go to in order to right a horrible wrong. This isn’t the first time Lively’s tried to shake her “pretty rich girl” reputation, however. In the midst of her Gossip Girl run, she starred as a drug-addicted single mom in the excellent 2010 crime thriller The Town, opposite Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner.
Robert Pattinson – Sparkly vampire no more! The next Batman has made excellent career choices in order to distance himself from the “heartthrob” reputation he earned thanks to the Twilight saga. In both the heart-pounding Good Time and the truly bizarre (but brilliant… but really, really bizarre) The Lighthouse, he plays characters that no teenage girl would ever want to make vampire babies with.
Adam Sandler – How many people reading this remember when Sandler sang about lunch ladies on Saturday Night Live? How many ever saw his early stand-up tours? (I did—twice!) Here’s a guy whose name is synonymous with goofy comedies (Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, The Wedding Singer, Grown Ups…). How in the heck did he go from toilet humor to critical acclaim? By starring in 2019’s Uncut Gems as a desperate jeweler who makes increasingly risky decisions in order to dig himself out of debt. Granted, Sandler has had some good dramatic performances in the past, but he’s never achieved the level of critical respect he’s got now. Both Good Time (mentioned above) and Uncut Gems were directed by brothers and Josh and Benny Safdie, so perhaps that duo has a knack for helping actors develop more Hollywood “street cred”?
Octavia Spencer – Remember her Oscar-winning performance in The Help and her Oscar-nominated performance in Hidden Figures? Or her standout roles in Smashed, Snowpiercer and The Shape of Water? Well then you gotta respect her saying, “You know what? Screw it — I’m gonna have some FUN in a horror movie!” and doing a complete 180 as a murderous loner in the gory (and campy) Ma.
Chris Pratt – And finally, I can’t think of a better recent example of an actor who completely decimated his past persona. Pratt made his name in the comedy series Parks and Rec, playing the pudgy, lovable loser Andy Dwyer. It’s jaw-dropping to watch early seasons of P&R and compare Pratt to what he looks (and acts!) like as Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy or as dino handler Owen Grady in the Jurassic World films. SURELY all of us can make a similar physical transformation one day, right? Right after I get off my couch during this quarantine… it’ll definitely happen.
Which actor or actress do you think has most successfully changed their past reputation?