When we discuss the career progression of an actor, the transition often naturally swings from the small screen to the big. Television shows on a variety of scales can offer actors a prudent platform to hone their skills in the infancy of their careers.
But what with the rising appeal and status of network television shows, the landscape is invariably shifting. Previously established A-listers from the medium of cinema are making the jump to television in escalating fashion, relishing roles that offer something a little different, a means to explore and dissect a character over a more elongated amount of time. The possibilities, it seems, are boundless.
Anthony Hopkins – ‘Westworld’
A titan of industry, Welsh-born actor Anthony Hopkins has navigated an enthralling career in cinema that’s lasted over 5 decades. In 2013, he joined season 1 of the much anticipated dystopian sci-fi series, Westworld. Hopkins took the role of Dr Robert Ford, the co-founder and park director of Westworld, a technologically advanced wild west themed amusement park that was the setting for the beginning of the show.
Laced with idiosyncrasy, Hopkins is an arcane presence in one of the shows leading roles, portraying the assured gravitas that we have naturally come to associate with the long-serving actor. His performance lays the foundations for much of the narratives more mystifying elements.
Matthew McConaughey – ‘True Detective’
Back in the early 2010s, Matthew McConaughey was going through something of a metamorphosis. After a successful career posing shirtless on the big screen or pursuing damsels through the streets of Manhattan, he evidently came to the conclusion that a change was in need. In short, he wished for more.
After a 20-month hiatus from the industry that involved giving romantic comedies the “cold turkey” treatment, the McConaissance began with 2011s The Lincoln Lawyer. Not long after, he took the role of Detective Rust Chole in HBO’s seasonal anthology series, True Detective. The series was an immense success, both critically and commercially, showcasing a darkly spun narrative that exquisitely captured the troubling personal and professional lives of those on either side of the law. McConaughey, for his part, was deliciously captivating; joined to form immense on-screen chemistry by another Hollywood A-lister, Woody Harrelson.
Jude Law – ‘The Young Pope’
To give a frank assessment, British actor Jude Law has done well not to fall into a mold of formula over the years. Though often seen as favorable, good looks and a keen smile can just as easily construct an Achilles heel for an actor, pigeonholing them to more typecast roles that overexploit these features. Films like Closer and The Talented Mr. Ripley showcased Law as more than simple eye candy. This was an actor with a grasp of the complexity of acting, with many of his alternative roles demonstrating that notion.
By this assertion, his casting as Lenny Belardo in Paolo Sorrentino’s miniseries, The Young Pope, was a felicitous one. Sorrentino’s penchant for stylish, oblique storytelling establishes a sense of nuanced acting that relies on internal displays of vulnerability that work to dissect the character’s disposition. Law, it seems, was always in able hands, and he would go on to star in the follow-up miniseries, The New Pope in 2019.
Amy Adams – ‘Sharp Objects’
Now a household name in literature circles, American novelist Gillian Flynn has fast been making strides in the cinematic industry; with two of three published novels adapted into features films over the last decade. While Dark Places was ultimately poorly received by audiences, David Fincher’s Gone Girl (for which she also operated as screenwriter) was met with universal acclaim.
The third novel, Sharp Objects, was adapted into a television miniseries in 2018, with Flynn serving as co-writer and executive producer. Directed by the late Jean-Marc Vallee, the series follows a psychologically damaged reporter (Amy Adams) as she returns to her hometown to cover a violent murder. The series certainly merits recognition. It’s a narrative riving with suspense and Adams characteristically pours heart and soul into a performance that garnered her Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominations for best leading actress.
Winona Ryder – ‘Stranger Things’
The brainchild of the Duffer Brothers, Stranger Things is the show we didn’t know we needed. Taking cultural prestige by storm, the series paid homage to 1980s America by inducing stylistic and narrative-induced nostalgia, quickly becoming the prized commodity among Netflix originals.
Just as noteworthy, is Winona Ryder’s surprisingly authentic performance as Joyce Byers, a desperate mother in search of her missing son. Though certainly no run-of-the-mill actress, Ryder’s career had somewhat stagnated in recent times following her Oscar-nominated charge of the 90s. She’s back to her best here though. Joyce is the touching centre of the show’s first season that, along with Millie Bobby-Brown’s Eleven, adds genuine emotional depth to a sci-fi narrative otherwise defined by the mysterious and supernatural.
Mads Mikkelsen – ‘Hannibal’
After effectively owning the role across three separate movies, it’s nigh on impossible to imagine anyone but Anthony Hopkins portraying the mesmerizing serial killer that we’ve come to know, fear and love: Dr Hannibal Lecter. Concern came alongside intrigue, then, when plans were announced for a new Hannibal television series in 2011 on NBC. The show would be developed by Bryan Fuller, who had previously worked successfully with NBC on Heroes. What mostly quelled the initial concerns from fans of the Thomas Harris’ creation, however, was the news that Mads Mikkelsen would take up the rather enigmatic mantle of Hannibal himself.
Why? Simply, Mikelsen is screen presence personified. Before breaking out in Hollywood with his eery portrayal of Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, Mikkelsen had plying his trade in the film industry of his native Denmark. His striking features, raspy delivery and ability to potray emotion through austere body language provide an enigmnatic presence on screen; one that fits synonymously with the characteristics we assert with Hannibal. His performance gave a fascinating new dimension to the character, introducing an elegant nuance that allowed Mikkelsen to steer his peformance very much into its own paradigm.