Going Nielsen: Dramatic Actors Who Should Consider Doing More Comedy
Inspired by Leslie Nielsen's mid-career turn from TV dramas and adventure movies to goofball spoofs, we highlighted some "serious" actors who could benefit by flexing their funny bone a little more. Add your suggestions to the list!
- •Michael FassbenderEven in a deathly serious film like Shame, Michael Fassbender always looks like he could break into a cocky smirk at a moment’s notice. Although he doesn’t do exclusively “serious” roles—speaking of cocky, his Magneto is quite the charmer—Fassbender hasn’t done many comedies, although he displayed the essential comedic trait of commitment in the odd-duck indie comedy Frank. He should try it more often; he’s certainly got the confidence.
- •Helen MirrenOver the course of her six-decade career, Mirren has been in a high-class porno (1979’s Caligula) and played the Queen Of England (2006’s The Queen), and you can’t acquire that kind of curriculum vitae without a healthy sense of humor about yourself. That sense of humor consistently comes through in interviews, when Mirren displays her self-deprecating charm. Mirren would be a delight playing opposite other performers in a comedic ensemble, where her natural charisma would invariably shine.
- •Joaquin PhoenixJoaquin Phoenix has displayed a thoughtful approach to physical performance, using characteristics like Freddie Quell’s facial tic in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master to convey emotional nuance with subtle physical cues. This finesse would serve him well in comedy, where he could sell the hell out of absurd characters and situations.
- •Denzel WashingtonImagine the commitment Washington brings to his deadly serious characters applied to a comedic performance. He has often played men who can find humor in difficult circumstances, but he’s never really done a straight comedy. Someone who can take a pratfall has to be lovable for the audience to connect; God knows, when he turns on the charm, Denzel Washington makes lovable look easy.
- •Daniel Day-LewisIt’s not that Daniel Day-Lewis has never been funny on film before; there’s occasionally a twinkle behind his Methodical eyes. But imagine what an actor with such commitment and intensity could bring to something completely absurd. If Day-Lewis lives in a tent and refuses to call his co-stars by anything but their character names, what might he do with his own version of Billy Madison? He might very well create an entirely new genre of movies so funny that they’re scary.
- •Shia LaBeoufLaBeouf could easily venture into the late-night world that’s been so kind to the aggressive antics of Tim & Eric and Eric André, deadpanning his way through hifalutin works of mindfuckery 15 minutes at a time. Failing that, he could just plagiarize himself and tap back into the rubberfaced idiosyncrasies that made him a star during the three-season run of Disney Channel’s Even Stevens.
- •Sam ElliottDespite turns in comedic fare like The Big Lebowski and Thank You For Smoking, and despite the number of one-liners he drops in Road House, Sam Elliott hasn’t played a lot of characters for laughs. Elliott carries himself with such gravitas that the slightest hint of irreverence can score him a laugh—especially if it’s carried off with that shit-eating grin he flashes at The Dude in The Big Lebowski.
- •Viola DavisDavis commands attention when she walks into a room, is an expert in delivering intense monologues, and does a absolutely killer bemused smirk to boot. So while Davis would have to loosen up a bit in order to play a truly comedic role—she even brought gravitas to her role in Madea Goes To Jail—cast in a part that ironically references her other roles, and with the proper sidekick to regard skeptically, she just might make a great straight woman, or, at the very least, an intriguing one.
- •Liam NeesonNeeson possesses a particular set of skills to make his transition into comedy a natural one: a brutal, unflinching deadpan, and a resourceful willingness to play with and mock his increasingly terrifying image. It’s worth remembering that those same traits were what once made De Niro’s early forays into comedy so successful and surprising; it remains to be seen whether Neeson can walk the tricky line of self-parody that eventually consumed the star of The Godfather: Part II and Little Fockers.