Premium Television Actors Appear with Oscar’s Finest
For many years there was a definitive line between the performers who appeared on the big screen and those who showed up weekly in our living rooms. Crossover certainly happened at times. Jack Klugman is best known for the years he spent as Oscar Madison on “The Odd Couple” television show and as the titular character on “Quincy,” despite appearing in well-respected films like Days of Wine and Roses, and 12 Angry Men. The king of Television sitcoms, Dick Van Dyke, crossed over memorably into silver screen musicals like Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Bye Bye Birdie. There are many other examples, but there was a time when there was a stigma attached to working in television.
TV was considered work that you did when you were climbing up to stardom…and when you were climbing back down.
Vestiges of this attitude still remain, but with the advent of premium television series which can address topics previously reserved to R-rated films, the cross-pollination of talent has increased. As content restrictions also loosened on the major networks, well-known actors began to find more attractive opportunities. Established film actors like Keifer Sutherland, Dustin Hoffman, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, and Kevin Spacey have taken on starring roles in these shows. The bleed through is going both ways, though, and while catching up on this year’s Oscar nominated films, I happily noted several actors in small roles who I know from such shows.
Michael K Williams
The actor who has played both Omar from “The Wire” and Chalky White from “Boardwalk Empire” shows up in a small role in Oscar favorite 12 Years a Slave (Best Picture nominee). This is an occasion when the actor’s recognizability and reputation serve the story being told. I don’t think that qualifies as a spoiler.
This guy is one of the most buzzed-about actors of the last couple of years. He is best known for playing the iconic private investigator in the BBC’s series “Sherlock.” This year, however, he has also impressed playing key supporting roles in multiple Oscar-nominated films. Cumberbatch plays the first man to own Solomon in 12 Years a Slave, (Best Picture nominee) a complicated and important role. He also more than holds his own alongside a crowd of top-notch actors in the big screen adaptation of the stage hit August: Osage County (Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts are both nominated this year). Perhaps most notably, Cumberbatch provided the voice for the awesome dragon Smaug in the most recent Peter Jackson Tolkein adaptation The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (nominated for 2 sound awards).
I was particularly happy to see this guy pop up as a neighboring plantation owner in 12 Years a Slave (Best Picture nominee). Batt played the long lamented and disappeared Sal Romano on AMC’s great show “Mad Men.”
“Boardwalk Empire” backstabbing brother Whigham appears in two of this year’s Best Picture nominees. In Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street he plays the captain to one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s yachts. Maybe the role was bigger at some point, but ended up on the cutting room floor (lord knows, that movie could stand to be about an hour shorter as it is), because I found Whigham showing up to be a little distracting. The same cannot be said about his role in David O Russell’s American Hustle. While it is almost as small a part, for me the recognition was more appropriate due to the nature of the film. Whigham has shown himself to be an excellently nuanced and intense actor on “Boardwalk Empire” and I hope when that show ends after next season he’ll get bigger roles in film.
Nicholson has made multiple appearances in television series over the past several years, showing up in “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “The Good Wife,” “Masters of Sex,” and “Boardwalk Empire.” This is another favorite who I hope gets to show off her abilities in more upcoming projects. Despite not getting the supporting actress nomination which went to Julia Roberts in August: Osage County, she was just as deserving, giving one of the several indelible performances in that film. The adaptation from stage to screen has received plenty of criticism, but I’ve seen both versions, and I just don’t see what all the dissatisfaction is about.
One of the most idiosyncratic and maddening characters on all of television is “Adam” on HBO’s already divisive show GIRLS. Much of the problem some people seem to have with the series appears to have to do with the fact that the lead, Lena Dunham, is not pretty enough. To hell with those people. A more serious issue is that some viewers are of the opinion that Adam (the character Driver plays, not the actor himself) raped his girlfriend last season. I understand why people found what he did creepy, degrading and unattractive. It was a scene I decided not to subject myself to recently when I re-watched some of season2. But it was not rape. Okay, with that out of the way, let me get to the point of this article to begin with and mention that the actor Adam Driver makes a standout appearance in the criminally under-represented Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis (it only garnered cinematography and a sound mixing nominations). I see no reason why Driver shouldn’t continue to pop up in films for the foreseeable future. He is visually interesting and is a great vehicle for effective oddball characters. He has a deft and natural comic touch. Update: Driver has been cast as a prominent bad guy in the new JJ Abrams Star Wars! I did not see that coming!
Jack Huston has been one of the biggest fan favorites on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” since he first showed up wearing that tin mask. The character of Richard Harrow drew obsessive treatment, being lampooned on national comedy shows and becoming a very popular Halloween costume. It’s the kind of role that could hinder an actor from finding more work. You know, like playing Luke Skywalker did to Mark Hamill. Hopefully the mask and hoarse voice will handle that issue. He has a small part in David O Russell’s Oscar-nominated American Hustle which raises hopes for a strong second career in film.
Okay, so I’m done with listing “Boardwalk Empire” actors here (by the way, Max Casella, who played Leo D’Alessio on BE shows up in both Inside Llewyn Davis and Blue Jasmine. Okay, now I’m done). How about somebody who used to be on “The Walking Dead”? Jon Bernthal has a pretty sizable role in The Wolf of Wall Street. While that bodes well for his future as an actor, it sure would be better if it had been a good movie. How it garnered a Best Picture nomination is beyond me. Scorsese is apparently the Meryl Streep of directors, just with fewer actual wins.
This guy is a movie star already. In fact, he’s one of the favorites to take home the prize for Best Actor this year. But he has just started a run of a new show on HBO called “True Detective.”
Squibb is a veteran performer who has an impressive filmography for someone you’d never heard of before this year. Between 1990 and 2002, she appeared in Woody Allen’s Alice, Martin Brest’s Scent of a Woman and Meet Joe Black, Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence, Frank Oz’s In & Out, and Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt. Her performance in this year’s Payne film Nebraska as Bruce Dern’s foul-mouthed wife has earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. I’m not a huge fan of the picture or her performance in it, but anybody with her resume must have some actual talent. Later this season she will be showing up in a couple of episodes of HBO’s series GIRLS.
He actually has a pretty extensive resume that runs back to an episode of “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” back in ’93 & includes roles in Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown and Zach Braff’s Garden State. But folks here probably know him best for supporting roles in the premium series “True Blood” (Russell Edgington) & “American Horror Story” (Spalding/ Larry Harvey). O’Hare also shows up in the Oscar nominated picture Dallas Buyers Club, playing a doctor who comes into conflict with the film’s heroes because he’s trying to run a valid study on an important new medicine. How dare he.
I’m sure I’ve missed some, but these really caught my attention. Let me know in the comments section if you’ve noticed any other TV favorites in this year’s Oscar nominated films.