Top 5 Unexpected Performances


There is something special when a type-cast actor comes out of left field and drives a film in a role that they are not used to. Here is my top 5 list of these performances, plucked from my memory (somehow all landing between 2002 and 2006) in reverse order.

Will Ferrell as Harold Crick – Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

Not the best movie in the world, but it had its bright spots, one of them being Will Ferrell as Harold Crick. After outlandish comedies Old School (2003), Elf (2003) and Anchorman (2004) he turns in a somber performance here, creating a nervous introvert with an aching heart. Not the easiest of characters to pull off, especially after all of the loud and obnoxious characters he had played in the past. He did play a similar role in Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda (2004), but that was more comic, still worth checking out.

Jim Carey as Joel Barrish – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

The Truman Show (1998) showed us that there’s more to Carey than meets the eye, but the role still demanded him to be loud and wild in places (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The quiet, contained Joel Barrish gave Carey a chance to show off his full arsenal, and show off he did. A touching performance and a great film overall.

Robin Williams as Seymour Parrish – One Hour Photo (2002)

Williams had had some minor roles outside of comedy (you may have spotted him in Good Will Hunting (1997)) before his part in One Hour Photo. Of course he was an established actor, but the role, a stalker who spies on his customers’ through their photo’s, was a shock for anyone. Still, he does a great job; it creeped the fuck out of me.

Mos Def as Sgt. Lucas – The Woodsman (2004)

The transition from musician to actor is not a new thing, see: J-Lo, Madonna, Bowie, and is not always successful, see: those guys. Mos Def dabbled in a bit of television before hitting the big screen in The Woodsman, going head to head with Kevin Bacon (a daunting task for any man). He has to interrogate Bacon’s character and manages to orchestrate some real tension. He holds his own, delivering a bone-chilling performance and creating some truly memorable scenes with Bacon.

Adam Sandler as Barry Egan – Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Alas we get to number one and I am not ashamed to say that I didn’t think Sandler could do it. His recent works had consisted of The Waterboy (1998), Big Daddy (1999), Little Nicky (2000) and The Animal (2001), so why Paul Thomas Anderson chose to take a punt on him is beyond me; but thank goodness he did. Sandler goes way beyond the boundaries that he had created for himself with his previous roles, seamlessly portraying one of the most complex characters in recent memory. Barry Egan is an introvert with several psychological issues who has to deal with all sorts of trials and tribulations throughout the movie. His groundbreaking performance may have had a great deal to do with PTA being behind the camera (the score was stunning too) but the achievement is still astonishing.


2 Responses to “Top 5 Unexpected Performances”

  1. The Deadender Says:

    i agree with all your choices, i don’t suppose its really a shock to see 4 stand up comedians throw themselves into a more serious role.

    For my part i don’t think Adam Sandler should be number one. his role in punch drunk is still clearly morphed from previous work. i would go as far to say that barry egan is similar to happy gilmour (short tempered, angry, easily confused) but without the happy.

    FWIW i would perhaps have forest whittaker in the Last King of Scotland. from memory he plays soft and introvert roles (crying game), and some comedy (stakeout), but nothing that is on a par with playing a charasmatic, appealing, if not slightly alarming genicidal maniac. just a thought.

    or how about charlie sheen? went from work like platoon to hot shots.
    or leslie neilsen, who went from a very serious film career to airplane and naked gun etc…

    oh and typo in first line of piece. no need for ‘about’ 😉


    • guydavis88 Says:

      Those are some good choices and I was concerned with the amount of comedians I had chosen. To be honest I hadn’t really seen any Forest Whitaker films before Last King of Scotland so was not really aware that it was an unusual role, although I did love his performance. Charlie Sheen and Leslie Neilson are good choices but again I am not as aware of their filmography as I am the actors that I chose.

      Cleared that up, ta.

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