Actors are like masters of their craft, each with their own unique style. Some are all about the drama, while others thrive on comedy. But there are a few exceptional individuals who can effortlessly switch between these two worlds, leaving us in awe of their versatility. It’s a real treat to witness serious actors stepping into the realm of comedy, stealing the limelight from the usual funny folks who hog the movie posters.
Let’s take a moment to celebrate those actors who have surprised us, making us laugh until our sides hurt and challenging our assumptions. They prove that they’re not just as funny as a cheesy late-night commercial with Sarah McLachlan crooning about abandoned puppies.
And joining the ranks of these exceptional performers is none other than the charming and talented Ryan Gosling.
1. Tom Cruise In ‘Tropic Thunder’
Ben Stiller may have been the star and director of Tropic Thunder, but it was Tom Cruise who gained the most from his involvement in the film. And I’m not just talking about the fat suit he wore to play the shouty studio exec Les Grossman.
Before taking on this surprise supporting role, Cruise was known for his dramatic performances and had faced criticism for his intense off-screen persona. His energetic performance in Tropic Thunder not only showcased his comedic skills, but also helped to soften his image and improve his reputation. It was a truly memorable and transformative experience for him, as he became almost unrecognizable in the role.
2. Vincent D’Onofrio In ‘Men in Black’
Vincent D’Onofrio surprised audiences with his portrayal of the evil space roach Edgar the Bug in the sci-fi comedy Men in Black. Many viewers had not seen him since his incredible performance as Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket ten years earlier. D’Onofrio looked completely different from his previous corpulent, tragic character, instead hilariously embodying a 12-foot, homicidal, six-legged arthropod.
In the years that followed, amidst his more serious roles, D’Onofrio reminded a whole new generation of his talent for playing ridiculous jerks. He showcased this skill in Jurassic World, where he had theatergoers cheering as a velociraptor devoured him like a tasty Christmas goose.
3. Philip Seymour Hoffman In ‘Along Came Polly’
In the rom-com Along Came Polly, Philip Seymour Hoffman surprised many with his comedic talent. While his role in Red Dragon showcased some humor, it was his portrayal of Stiller’s goofy friend, Sandy Lyle, that proved he could be even more hilarious. Despite the film’s low rating of 27% on the Tomatometer, the “Sasquatch Basketball” scene alone deserves credit for lifting it up a few points.
4. Charlize Theron In ‘Arrested Development’
Charlize Theron, known for her diverse acting abilities, has taken on various roles throughout her career. From romantic leads to a serial killer to the top Imperator of the Wastelands, she has showcased her limitless range. However, it came as a surprise to many when she effortlessly tackled the challenge of playing a funny “MRF.” This outdated acronym, which you can take up with the Arrested Development producers, refers to a character in the show.
In Arrested Development, Theron was cast as Rita Leeds, a character who captures the heart of Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman). Rita’s unconventional behavior led viewers to suspect that she might be a British spy. However, it turns out that her odd mannerisms were simply a result of her parents being cousins. Portraying such a role could easily be seen as crude and insensitive in less capable hands, but Theron proved to everyone that she is the most valuable player when it comes to “MRFs.”
5. Kevin Kline In ‘A Fish Called Wanda’
Kevin Kline, known for his comedic roles, showcases his humor in the animated series Bob’s Burgers, where he portrays the character of Mr. Fischoeder, the landlord. Fans of his comedic talent will be glad to see him in this role, especially if they remember his performance in the not-so-great film Wild Wild West alongside Will Smith. However, Kline’s comedic prowess goes way back to 1988 when he starred in the beloved heist comedy A Fish Called Wanda.
In A Fish Called Wanda, Kline played a British-hating criminal partner to Jamie Lee Curtis. His character was a weapons expert and an absolute lunatic. Kline’s portrayal was so impressive that he even won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. With his ability to convincingly portray a con artist with a touch of madness, he certainly proved his versatility as an actor.
Given his success in comedic roles, it’s understandable that Kline would respond with “Don’t call me stupid” to anyone suggesting he should have stuck to more serious, dramatic roles. Winning an Oscar for his comedic performance in A Fish Called Wanda is a testament to his talent and justifies his choice to explore different genres in his career.
6. Jason Statham In ‘Spy’
Jason Statham and Melissa McCarthy may seem like an unexpected duo in a slapstick comedy about secret agents. Statham, known for his tough guy roles, takes on a parody version of himself in director Paul Feig’s Spy. Surprisingly, it is Statham’s character, operative Rick Ford, who steals the show and elicits the most laughter in a film that is intended to showcase McCarthy’s comedic talents.
Even in scenes where McCarthy is front and center, such as the one where they are both hanging from a helicopter, it is Statham’s character who delivers the physical punchline. In this particular scene, he takes the risk of angering CIA Human Resources by using McCarthy as a climbing wall in an attempt to climb to safety.
7. Ben Kingsley In ‘Iron Man 3’
Since his role in Gandhi in 1982, British actor Ben Kingsley has been known for his serious and weighty performances. However, it was a pleasant surprise to see him in Iron Man 3, where he hilariously portrayed Trevor Slattery, a degenerate actor hired by the terrorist organization AIM to impersonate the Mandarin, the supposed main antagonist.
Playing the character of Slattery, Kingsley had no idea about his involvement in global affairs. It was enjoyable to witness him reveling in the luxuries and drugs provided by AIM. Even when Tony Stark foiled the plan and everything fell apart, Slattery seemed to have a great time in prison, reveling in his undeserved fame.
8. Meryl Streep In ‘Death Becomes Her’
When people start calling you the “best actress of her generation” and you’ve won countless awards over a career that spans decades, you pretty much have the freedom to choose any script that catches your fancy. So, it’s no surprise that Meryl Streep, a true legend in the industry, decided to take on the challenge of starring alongside Goldie Hawn and a young Bruce Willis in the Robert Zemeckis black comedy Death Becomes Her.
You might think that it would be a bit of a departure for someone known for her incredible performances in films like Sophie’s Choice and A Cry in the Dark. However, Streep proved once again that she was more than capable of embodying even the most twisted and self-absorbed character – in this case, a member of the undead with a twisty neck.
Making the film in 1992 meant that Streep had to contend with the challenges of working with computer-generated effects, which were still relatively new at the time. But, as always, she rose above and delivered a performance that not only earned her a Golden Globe nomination but was also described as “as fabulous as Death Becomes Her’s innovative special effects” – special effects that, by the way, won an Oscar that year, beating out Alien 3 and Batman Returns.
9. George C. Scott In ‘Dr. Strangelove’
The iconic actor George C. Scott, renowned for his portrayal of General “Old Blood and Guts” Patton, decided to take a detour from his usual path in 1964. He ventured into the role of another general named Buck Turgidson in Stanley Kubrick’s peculiar black comedy masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
To Scott’s surprise, his performance in the film turned out to be unbelievably absurd. Kubrick had cleverly convinced him to act as ridiculously as possible, treating it as an “exercise,” and assuring him that those takes wouldn’t make it to the final cut. However, Kubrick went against his word and included those very takes, leaving Scott dumbfounded. This incident led Scott to pledge never to collaborate with the renowned director again.
Nevertheless, as time passed, Scott came to understand Kubrick’s unconventional approach and began to appreciate the final outcome of the film.
10. Omar Sharif In ‘Top Secret!’
In the 1980 comedy Airplane!, Leslie Nielsen delivered a side-splitting performance that established a new standard for serious actors being unexpectedly hilarious. However, in 1984, Egyptian actor Omar Sharif, renowned for his compelling roles in Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, surprised audiences with his appearance in another zany comedy called Top Secret!, created by the same brilliant minds behind Airplane!
Despite co-director David Zucker’s initial intention to avoid excessive surprise cameos, Sharif was irresistibly cast as Agent Cedric, forever solidifying his status among the great actors by willingly becoming the subject of a dog poop joke.
11. Ryan Gosling In ‘Barbie’
Ryan Gosling has always had a comedic side, but he’s never really gone all out with it. In movies like The Nice Guys, Lars and the Real Girl, and Crazy Stupid Love, he showed some restraint. However, in 2023’s Barbie, he completely unleashed his comedic energy and we couldn’t help but laugh and fall in love with his outrageous performance.
According to director Greta Gerwig, Gosling’s portrayal of Barbie’s supposed plastic boyfriend is a mix of Marlon Brando, Gene Wilder, John Barrymore, and John Travolta. And honestly, that description hits the nail on the head. With a perfect blend of dramatic insecurity and emotion, he tries to win Barbie’s heart with grand gestures and perfectly coordinated outfits. His dude-bro vibe, combined with his earnest and over-the-top facial expressions, not only makes his performance the best in the movie, but also one of the best in Gosling’s career. It’s his unwavering commitment that makes this singing, dancing beach boy truly stand out.