Career Watch: TV Provides Stepping Stone to Film for Edgy Emmy Nominees Dreyfuss, Driver, Louis C.K.
Career Watch: TV Provides Stepping Stone to Film for Edgy Emmy Nominees Dreyfuss, Driver, Louis C.K.
These days, a movie star can easily make the switch to TV with no loss of stature. In fact, Matthew McConaughey’s acclaimed work on the HBO series “True Detective” probably helped to seal the deal on his Oscar win for “Dallas Buyers Club.”
But taking the leap from TV to film? That’s an iffier proposition. Just because someone is popular on a small screen doesn’t mean they will have the same impact at the multiplex. And audiences often have a problem accepting a lead of a long-running series as a different character. Here are three actors – all competing for Emmys when this year’s ceremony airs on Aug. 25 – who have had varying degrees of success with conquering film.
Signature line: “Only that it sucked.” – Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes, replying when asked what was bad about “The English Patient” on NBC’s “Seinfeld.”
Before “Veep”: Most TV audiences were first exposed to the distinctive comedy stylings of this Second City alum when she was a regular on “Saturday Night Live” for three seasons (1982-85). That led to a nine-season tenure beginning in 1990 on sitcom-redefining “Seinfeld.” Louis-Dreyfus’ yuppie princess held her own and proved to be equally adept at being annoying and self-centered (yet also improbably likable) as a female foil to her three male comrades — Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards.
Louis-Dreyfus found time to cross over into movies after “SNL” and during “Seinfeld,” making her debut in in the dreadful horror fantasy “Troll” before upgrading to Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters,” both in 1986. Although more supporting roles would follow in such films as “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989) and the critically savaged “North” (1994), none came close to the lasting impact of “Seinfeld’s” Elaine.
Instead of pursuing more films after “Seinfeld,” however, Louis-Dreyfus stuck with the medium that made her famous. (She explains why here.) Her first attempt at headlining a series, NBC’s all-but-forgotten “Watching Ellie” in 2002, stuck around for two seasons before being canceled. But in 2005, she managed to overcome the much-hyped “Seinfeld” curse – which supposedly doomed the show’s four stars from ever succeeding with another TV venture – in CBS’ “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” The show about a neurotic divorcee and single mom who runs a women’s gym was a ratings success and lasted five seasons.
Since “Veep”: In 2011, Louis-Dreyfus positively thrived amid the uncensored free-for-all of pay cable as Vice President Selina Meyer, who is desperate to be taken seriously as a political leader, on “Veep.” Imagine if Elaine could curse to her heart’s content as well as indulge her worst opportunistic impulses but with greater consequences. The scathingly satirical comedy series, which has been renewed for a fourth season, has been praised as “savagely hilarious” by “TV Guide” and “TV’s best grown-up comedy” by “The New York Times.”
Her “ Veep” acclaim probably was one of the reasons behind Louis-Dreyfus scoring not only her first film in 15 years, but also her first lead in 2013’s well-reviewed “Enough Said.” After the death of James Gandolfini, who played her love interest, the media focused on his presence in the romantic comedy directed by indie filmmaker Nicole Holofcener. Critics managed to applaud the late “Sopranos” actor in a rare humorous role while also finding delight in Louis-Dreyfus’ nuanced performance, with the “Washington Post” taking special note of her “daffy relatibility” and “self-deprecating wit.”
Awards attention: Nominated for 15 acting Emmys, and won four times – including back-to-back trophies for “Veep.” Nominated for six Golden Globes, including one for “Enough Said,” and won once in 1994 as supporting actress in “Seinfeld.”
Biggest asset: True, Louis-Dreyfus will forever be identified with “Seinfeld.” But since then, she has accomplished a feat that few other female sitcom stars have pulled off besides Lucille Ball, Courtney Cox and Bea Arthur : Reinventing herself in multiple successful series. Her longevity indicates that viewers like her and she has only gotten better at inhabiting smartly humorous though deeply flawed characters who make us laugh.
Biggest drawback: Her value as a movie attraction is still a question mark, although “Enough Said” did well enough for a low-budget effort by taking in $17.5 million at the box office. But how much was that due to the fact that it was Gandolfini’s second-to-last role? Or was it because Louis-Dreyfus’ role was basically a softened version of the characters she is best known for on TV? Finally, the Motion Picture Academy tends to under-appreciate both television and comedy.
Career advice: Clearly, Louis-Dreyfus’ talents are best served within the intimate confines of TV. And, judging by her career path, she is fully aware of that. Not that she can’t occasionally take a film role now and then. But her fan base probably wouldn’t want her to roam too far beyond her comedy roots – although it might be interesting to see what she would do in a drama sometime.
Signature line: “When you love someone, you don’t have to be nice to them all the time.” – Driver as Adam Sackler, Hannah’s off-and-on beau and carpenter-turned-actor on “Girls.”
Before “Girls”: Even if he never had a chance to be a breakout male figure in a show dedicated to the female of the species, Driver would probably be going places. In a showbiz world rotten with pretty boys, it didn’t take long for this strong-featured, 6-foot-3 ex-Marine who was raised in the Midwest to attract attention in the New York theatrical community after graduating from Juilliard. He did off-Broadway and Broadway with success, including replacing Zachary Quinto in a revival of “Angels in America” in 2010.
Most likely it was Driver’s stage work that attracted the attention of A-list film directors, including Clint Eastwood (“J. Edgar,” 2011), Steven Spielberg (“Lincoln,” 2012) and Noah Baumbach (“Frances Ha,” 2012). But the arrival of “Girls” in spring 2012 introduced his animalistic yet artistic slab of manhood also called Adam to TV audiences –and took Driver to the next level.
Since “Girls”: Thankfully, Driver’s character on “Girls” has gone far beyond the id-driven caveman sexual antics of the first season and evolved into what “New York” magazine has called — while referencing “Sex and the City” — “a kind of contemporary Mr. Big.” Meanwhile, Driver has continued to be a most-wanted man in movies.
He put his church choir experience to good use by harmonizing with Oscar Isaac and Justin Timberlake on “Please Mr. Kennedy,” one of the musical highlights of last year’s “Inside Llewyn Davis,” the Coen brothers’ ode to the ‘60s folk scene. He also appears in this fall’s ensemble comedy “This is Where I Leave You” alongside Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda. Next year will bring “Midnight Special,” directed and written by hot indie director Jeff Nichols (“Mud,” “Taking Shelter”).
But nothing says you have arrived at the big time than being recruited for “Star Wars Episode VIII,” also due in 2015. While Driver’s part hasn’t been announced, speculation suggests he will be playing a villain.
Awards attention: Two Emmy nominations for “Girls.”
Biggest asset: Driver is so unusual – and versatile enough to succeed in many mediums and genres. He can go from mainstream commercial to art-house eccentric without missing a beat. He has basically redefined the male sex symbol for the new millennium with a youthful vigor that not even Benedict Cumberbatch can match.
Biggest drawback: Driver is so unusual – which means he is never going to be always believable as a typical leading man and may more often be cast as a supporting player, at least in movies.
Career advice: A TV sensation like “Girls” comes along maybe once in a decade and it is doubtful that the small screen will be Driver’s primary venue after the show ends. The stage seems to be his first love, and while the newlywed actor probably appreciates the hefty paychecks that Hollywood offers, he might do best to continue to do theater work as well.
Louis C.K, 47, best actor in a comedy series for FX’s “Louie” (also up for directing and writing the show as well as hosting “Saturday Night Live”)
Signature line: “It’s a positive thing to talk about terrible things and make people laugh about it.” – Explaining his philosophy of comedy in a 2011 interview with “GQ” magazine.
Before “Louie”: A popular stand-up and comedian’s comedian who specializes in dark and sometimes shocking observations about life first got his break on TV doing HBO concert specials and appearing on late-night talk shows after paying his dues at comedy clubs in the ‘80s. Besides providing material for David Letterman and Conan O’Brien, he also wrote for “The Chris Rock Show” (1997-99) and co-scripted two of Rock’s films, “Down to Earth” (2001) and “I Think I Love My Wife” (2007).
HBO canceled his first attempt at a cable sitcom, “Lucky Louie,” after just one season in 2006. But he found other acting opportunities on TV, including a running character on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.” He also found roles in such second-tier film comedies as “Role Models” (2008) and “The Invention of Lying” (2009).
Since “Louie”: In 2010, he became a one-man sitcom band as the star, creator, producer, writer, director and even –for a while – editor of “Louie.” The “Washington Post” in its initial review described the cable series about a divorced man raising his two young daughters while coping with his ramshackle life thusly: “It conjures some of the same discomforts of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ and some of the absurdity of ‘The Sarah Silverman Program’;’ it also makes ‘Seinfeld’ reruns look like ‘Barney & Friends.’”
Louis C.K. (which is a phonetic pronunciation of his Hungarian surname, Szekely) did take a 19-month break from his series duties to act in two of 2013’s biggest films: as an outwardly sweet yet deceptive suitor in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” and as Bradley Cooper’s humorless FBI boss in David O. Russell’s “American Hustle.”
Awards attention: He’s been nominated for 28 Emmys. He has won three for writing: for his comedy special “Oh My God” and for “Louie” in 2012; and as part of the writing team for “The Chris Rock Show” in 1999.
Biggest asset: As a movie actor, he embodies a certain struggling modern big-city male that other men relate to and certainly added some extra flavor to both “Blue Jasmine” and “American Hustle.” He is comfortably uncomfortable in his own skin and milks that for all its worth. He’s also a smart enough businessman to be a successful self-distribution pioneer, selling his and other comedy DVDs direct to the public via his website.
Biggest drawback: Louis C.K. will always be best at playing Louis C.K., whether in a TV series, in concert or as a talk-show guest.
Career advice: Keep “Louie” alive and make it your priority as long as possible while it returns for a fifth though shortened season next spring. Opportunities that offer such immense creative freedom are rare for anyone who isn’t at the level of a George Clooney. Also, avoid showing up even in an uncredited role in a disaster like this summer’s Robin Williams vehicle “The Angriest Man in Brooklyn” – you may be doing a friend a favor but it does you no favors. Better that you collaborate on your planned TV movie project with Zach Galifianakis.