It's always a challenge for an actor to play a well-known part on TV and then to start over on a new show as someone entirely different. Audiences will always be tempted to see them as that first character, leading to typecasting and premature cancellations of new projects. However, recently, actors like Ray Romano have turned this theory on its head. After nine (nine!) seasons on Everybody Loves Raymond, he's deftly crafted a new persona on Men of a Certain Age that, for all intents and purposes, is the anti-Ray Barone. As the second season comes to a close tonight on TNT (and as we count down to the return of Breaking Bad), we take a look at other performers this summer who moved from a career-defining role to successfully portraying its polar opposite. (Yes, we know Sons of Anarchy isn't really a summer show, but we couldn't resist.)
Take 1: The title character on Everybody Loves Raymond. Raymond was easygoing; unwilling to take his family or his kids seriously. They were annoyances as he tried to avoid responsibility at all costs. While his wife was neurotic, Raymond was the passive everyman.
Take 2: Joe, the divorced dad of two on Men of a Certain Age. Joe is sensitive, still not over his ex-wife and reluctant to date, dealing with a gambling problem and his desire to get back on the pro golf circuit. He's a little obsessed with his health, and he stresses out over raising his two teenagers, uncomfortable and unaware of the way to say the right things. It's a sweet, nuanced performance from Romano, entirely different from his laugh-track sitcom role what seems like all those years ago.
Connection: Both are generally awkward people, but other than that, nothing really. Romano is the prime example of a real TV transformation.
Take 1: Hal, the good-cop dad to Jane Kaczmarek's bad-cop mom on Malcolm in the Middle. Hal was more like one of the kids than he was a father figure. He played Legos with them and set up strange domino contraptions in the kitchen. His strength was his ability to engage with his children more than it was to discipline them.
Take 2: Walter White, Breaking Bad's meth-cooking science teacher with terminal cancer. Like Romano, Cranston couldn't have chosen a more different show and different character than his first hit. Walt is a real absentee father, prone to flashes of anger (like when he teaches Walt Jr. to drive or forces him to drink shots of tequila at a family party) and inconveniently missing important family events (the birth of his daughter). In fact, parenting is really the last thing Walt ever does, even though he claims he's cooking meth to make money for his family. Yes, he was as awkward as Hal when he started cooking, but now he's a severe, murderous, mastermind criminal, who orders the competition to "stay out of my territory."
Take 1: Scott Quittman, Sarah's boyfriend and eventual husband on Big Love. Yes, he was ten years older than her -- not exactly a dream suitor -- but he turned out to not only be caring, faithful and earnest; he helped Sarah escape the life she so despised. They married, and in the season finale they were shown to have a child named Bill (after Sarah's father). Theirs was a TV happily ever after.
Take 2: Jesse Pinkman, Walter White's meth-making partner on Breaking Bad. Not only does Jesse cook and deal meth, his trademark baggy clothes, tattoos, and fondness for adding the word "bitch" to the end of every sentence is the opposite of the gentle do-gooder Scott Quittman. Jesse has nothing -- his family doesn't trust him, he doesn't really have friends -- he's broken. As he told Walt, he's come to accept that he is the bad guy, and he's willing to play that role.
Connection: They both like complicated women. (Jesse dated the doomed heroin addict Jane in Season Two.) But in all seriousness, Jesse comes closer and closer to Scott Quittman territory as Walt makes his way to the dark side. If there was ever a sign that Jesse has always had some kind of inner Scott-like goodness, it was that last shot of Season 3.
Take 1: The dramatic, drag-clad, AIDs-ridden Prior in HBO's Angels in America miniseries. Prior's boyfriend Louis leaves him when he finds out Prior is sick; while Prior has friends, it's suggested he doesn't see his family often, so he is pretty much left to die on his own. Another thing -- Prior is inherently serious, and spends much of his time crying or being spoken to by angels. His existence is a dramatic one, laden with the burden of disease, religion, life and death.
Take 2: Uncle Andy on Weeds. Andy is fun, and everything he does is for fun -- his shenanigans are the reason we keep watching, because they successfully distract us from Nancy's stupid, idiotic, no good, very bad decisions. For example, he's become a tour guide in Denmark under the name "Wonderful Wonderful Tours." (Of course.) And although he's not always vocal about it, family is the most important part of his life -- he has become a father figure to Silas and Shane (and, let's face it, Doug, too).
Connection: Falling in love with people that ruin lives. (Prior with Louis; Andy with Nancy.)
Take 1: Also an Angels in America vet. Yes, we know MLP's been famous for a while, but she had one big TV stint apart from Weeds -- she played AIA's crazed, Mormon, pill-popping Harper Pitt. Harper stays inside all day, takes Valium until she hallucinates, lies about being pregnant, and accuses her husband of being homosexual but refuses to leave him. She's certainly the saddest character in the series; helpless, desperate and lost.
Take 2: Drug-dealing mommy Nancy Botwin on Weeds. First of all, Nancy is the epitome of control. Every move she makes is to maintain control over her life, her family and her income -- whether that entails moving from place to place or ending all of her relationships in very un-Harper like ways (I think it's even safe to assume Nancy "became a lesbian" in jail to stay in control). And what did she do in this season's premiere? Break out of her halfway house as soon as she could. Nancy takes charge. And it's not because she's crazy like Harper -- she's just selfish. Oh, and another thing -- she may deal drugs, but she doesn't use 'em.
Connection: Nancy and her coffee = Harper and her pills. They're also both whiny and annoying, but that's more MLP's acting style than anything else.
Take 1: Nathan Maloney, a confident, fifteen year-old gay schoolboy on the UK's Queer as Folk. Yes, he was coming to terms with his sexuality -- a bit shy at first -- but quickly morphed into a wild, outgoing young man, thrilled about the new world he was uncovering. He was in love with love, delightful and up for anything (including spending a lot of time on the show completely naked).
Take 2: Jax Teller, the Vice President of the California chapter of the motorcycle club on Sons of Anarchy. Jax is the opposite of Nathan Maloney, not just in his leather jacket, arrest and tattoo count -- he's his family's (very reluctant) moral compass. While Nathan Maloney became comfortable with his sexuality, Jax Teller has become more and more uncomfortable with his role as a member of SAMCRO. And while Nathan was carefree, Jax has concerns constantly rattling his brain -- his mother, stepfather and son, as well as taking care of the club. He's killed for SAMCRO, so there's that, too. He's young to be Vice President, but we can't imagine he was ever really the picture of youth that Nathan Maloney represented.
Connection: Moody (albeit in very different ways) and brooding.
Take 1: Peggy Bundy, Al Bundy's redhead, spitfire wife on Married...with Children. She was lazy and selfish, and she and Al's hate for each other was as clear as day. But who wouldn't hate their wife if all she did was sit around drinking cocktails and watching TV or stealing his money to go shopping? Peggy hated her kids, too, and hated cooking -- really, she only liked herself.
Take 2: The matriarch of the Sons of Anarchy family, Gemma Teller Morrow. Much like Mary Louise Parker's switch, Sagal's new character's defining quality is action instead of inaction. She's protective of the men in her family above all, so much so that she manipulates people and keeps secrets like it's her job. (It sort of is.) And oh yeah, she's a rape victim and a murderer. Not exactly Peggy Bundy material.
Connection: Tight clothes; both in need of attitude adjustments.
Watch TWoP's editors preview July's must-see TV shows in this segment airing on the New York Nonstop cable news channel:
View more videos at: http://www.nbcnewyork.com.
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