Steve Buscemi is a Golden Globe-winning thespian responsible for such indelible characters as Nucky Thompson on "Boardwalk Empire," Carl Showalter in "Fargo" and Mr. Pink in "Reservoir Dogs." He's a serious man who makes serious films. And so it's only natural that this week he's about to co-star in his latest gritty drama: "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"?
Okay, so Buscemi isn't exactly a complete stranger to comedy, either. After all, he was one of the main characters in the legendary 1998 cult classic "The Big Lebowski." But it's still jarring to see someone like Buscemi get dolled up as a Vegas magician and go toe to toe with the likes of Jim Carrey and Steve Carell in an all-out farce.
And that got us thinking: What other "serious" actors have taken a stab at comedy? Sure, funny folks like Carrey and Bill Murray have long transitioned to serious roles, but it's still an unusual thing for serious actors to go the opposite direction. So with that in mind, here's a look at eight other serious actors who got their funny on.
Once upon a time, Tom Cruise was as serious as they get. Then he went completely loopy, infamously jumping around on Oprah Winfrey's couch and marrying someone literally 800 years younger than him, resulting in a career nosedive as fans abandoned him in droves. Until, that is, Cruise reinvented himself with an unexpected appearance in the 2008 comedy "Tropic Thunder," where he wore a bald cap, fat suit and just went for it in every single scene. It was comedy gold and brought Cruise back from the brink of Hollywood irrelevancy. Good job, Tom.
Robert De Niro
Long regarded as the greatest actor of his generation (if not all time), Robert De Niro earned his stripes in deadly serious films like "Taxi Driver," "The Godfather Part II" and "Raging Bull." Really, the last thing fans expected him to do was turn to high comedy. But that's exactly what De Niro did, first in 1999's "Analyze This" and then in 2000's "Meet the Parents." Naturally, he proved so adept at the comedy that he's added several more to his resume since. There apparently is nothing this guy cannot do.
Mark Wahlberg is not only is a serious actor (see his Oscar nominations for 2006's "The Departed" and 2010's "The Fighter"), he's also notoriously prickly about his sense of humor, as proven by his pseudo-feud with Andy Samberg after the comedian lampooned him on "Saturday Night Live." So even though Wahlberg first rose to prominence in the 1997 dramedy "Boogie Nights," straight-up farce did not seem to be in his future. That, of course, was before he made "Ted" and earned over $500 million worldwide last year trading smack talk with an animated teddy bear. Just make sure you're laughing with him and not at him, okay?
A thespian with a capital T, Alan Rickman may be best known now as Professor Snape in the "Harry Potter" films, but he first rose to fame as a member of the world renowned Royal Shakespeare Company. Shakespeare, though, was no stranger to comedy himself, so it shouldn't have been a surprise when the seemingly straight-laced Rickman co-starred in the 1999 sci-fi parody "Galaxy Quest." And, of course, he was absolutely fabulous in it. As the Bard might have said: A joke by any other name still laughs as hard. Or ... something.
Over the course of his long career in Hollywood, acting legend Gene Hackman had a chance to do pretty much everything. And while you could argue that his role as Lex Luthor in the "Superman" series was mostly comic in nature, pure comedy is still just not what you associate Hackman with. You know, this is the guy from "Unforgiven" and "Hoosiers." Or, at least, he was until 2001, when a whole new generation of film fans discovered him as Royal Tenenbaum in "The Royal Tenenbaums." Considering he retired from acting just three years later, Hackman's final and surprising legacy may end up being comedy after all. Not a bad way to go out.
Not every serious actor ends up being a success when they try comedy. Case in point: Edward Norton, whose two Oscar nominations did nothing to help him wrangle any laughs out of the ill-fated 2002 flop "Death to Smoochy." We will give Norton this much, though: it's hard to regain your self-respect after running around in a Barney suit for two hours and being pelted with lame jokes by Robin Williams, but Norton somehow recovered unscathed and remains a respected actor to this day. But hey, Ed? "Moonrise Kingdom" aside, let's stick to dramas from now on, okay?
Let's get one thing straight: There's nothing funny about Willem Dafoe, who terrorized audiences as the Green Goblin in the "Spider-Man" trilogy and whose steely (or is that manic?) gaze has been transfixing audiences for decades. And yet there is at least one pretty damn funny film on his resume, namely 2004's "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," which features Dafoe as a beanie-wearing straight man. Still, as funny as Dafoe is in that film, we're still hesitant to laugh at him — this is the same guy who played Jesus in "The Last Temptation of Christ," after all. Laughing just seems ... blasphemous.
And then there's the dean of all straight actors who turned to comedy, the legendary Leslie Nielsen. Yes, it may be hard to imagine now, but back before "Airplane!" and "The Naked Gun" and all of his other hit comedies, Nielsen was as serious an actor as you could find. And he was totally fine at it, appearing in movies like 1972's "The Poseidon Adventure" and TV shows like "Kojak" and "The Streets of San Francisco" as a solid, even grim, figure. But 1980's "Airplane!," which allowed Nielsen to spoof his own buttoned-down image, changed all that — and revealed to the world one of Hollywood's true comic icons. And that's reason enough to hope that, funny or not, more serious actors keep trying their hand at comedy. Because you never know ... the next Leslie Nielsen might be out there right now, just waiting for a banana peel to slip on.