As film actors successfully jump to TV, spare a thought for those TV actors struggling to leap the other way.
Screen Robot recently published an article titled ‘For screen actors, television is the new black’, and while many movie stars do seem to be flocking towards television these days, TV stars are still hard at work trying to make the jump the other way. Most notable of late are Breaking Bad stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. After career-defining roles in Breaking Bad, their next moves were always going to be crucial, and intriguing. Vince Gilligan was quoted as saying, “if there is any justice in the world, Aaron Paul is going to be a huge star.” Sadly, Paul’s first big screen blockbuster was the slightly stupid Need for Speed, in which he did what he could, with those intense and ever expressive eyes, but with a few more movies like that, Paul could disappear quickly and be remembered only as Jesse Pinkman.
Based on the track records of TV actors, Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston are likely never to find the movie stardom they deserve
On the other hand, Paul’s Breaking Bad co-star, Bryan Cranston, is appearing in a blockbuster of his own this summer. Godzilla is released on May 15th, and based on the trailers and some early reactions, suggesting there actually isn’t too much of the big green lizard guy, we can be excited for a film with hopefully great ‘human’ characters as well, with Cranston leading the way. However, come what may, this film is still just another summer blockbuster.
Paul and Cranston deserve to be starring alongside Cate Blanchett and Leonardo DiCaprio, in the types of movies that win Oscars. Instead they’re racing cars and running from monsters. Any prior silver screen appearances made by either of the two have been small roles in smaller films (like Cranston in Drive) or slightly bigger roles in minute films (like Paul in Smashed). There’s nothing wrong with these parts, it’s just that some of these TV stars deserve better.
Sadly, based on the track records of other TV actors who have tried to make the transition, they are likely never to rise to the height of movie stardom they deserve. The late James Gandolfini was lauded with praise for playing Tony Soprano, and though he appeared in a few films after the success of The Sopranos, he was often typecast and never really given the chance to shine. There is no doubt that Gandolfini was talented, so why did he find it so hard? Maybe it’s because he will always be Tony Soprano.
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Aside from Cranston and Paul, some other TV stars have more recently attempted the transition. Kit Harington, better known as Game of Thrones’s Jon Snow, is currently starring in the 3D special effects-laden Pompeii. Only the slews of ravaging reviews say that Harington is just another heroic, chiselled face in an expensive sea of CGI lava and explosions, but little else.
With movies, we often remember the actors, the stars. With TV, we remember characters we’ve grown to know and love over hours
You need only look to the movie stars making the jump the other way to see how differently it works for them. When Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson appeared on TV in True Detective, we referred to them as Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. When Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston appear in movies, we refer to them as Jesse Pinkman and Walter White. Maybe movie advertising is at fault, but when we watch movies we often remember the actors, the stars. When we watch TV, we remember the characters we’ve grown to know and love over the hours spent looking into their lives.
Comedy is a different ball game altogether, but there are similar trends with comic actors and actresses attempting to jump from the little screen to the big. After airing for ten years and despite coming to a close a decade ago, Friends is still one of the most popular television shows ever created, yet its stars (Jennifer Aniston aside, arguably) have struggled. Everyone knows Joey, Rachel, Ross, Chandler, Phoebe and Monica, and we know that Joey (remember Days of Our Lives?) can’t act to save his life, so no wonder he can’t get movie roles. But what about the rest of them?
Conversely, there are a set of great comedy movie actors, such as James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel, who made their debuts in television’s Freaks and Geeks. The fact that Judd Apatow produced Freaks and Geeks, as well as most of the movies Rogen and co went on to make their big screen debuts in, undoubtedly was a key contributing factor to their success. So maybe the answer for the likes of Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston is this: Vince Gilligan needs to forget about Better Call Saul and write some movie scripts instead.
Of course this is a pessimistic view, and hopefully Cranston and Paul will defy the odds. They both have movies lined up and in production. Cranston will follow up Godzilla with Kung Fu Panda 3 (a guy’s gotta have some fun) and then Holland, Michigan, where he’ll star alongside Edgar Ramirez and Naomi Watts. Maybe, with time, Walt and Jesse – or shall we say Cranston and Paul – can become two of the few. There is that little known TV actor called George Clooney who started off on ER and is now one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, with two Oscars to go with that title. So it has been done, it can be done, and it will be done again. Sadly, it just doesn’t happen very often.
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Featured image: AMC
Inset images: HBO; NBC