Let’s face it: you’re not going to win an Oscar by perfecting the dramatic crotch shot reaction or romantic embrace. Rom-coms and comedies have long been ignored during awards season in favor of darker, more thought-provoking features that wouldn’t make your college film professor scoff. In order to gain the recognition they deserve, many comedy stars have transitioned into the world of serious acting. Some have done it so well, we can hardly remember a time before they were starving themselves for their roles or whispering philosophical mantras into the camera.
1. Matthew McConaughey
Let’s start with the obvious, shall we? Nobody represents the “zero to hero” transformation more than Matthew McConaughey. The True Detective star was once the go-to guy for Hollywood rom-coms, landing roles in How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days, Fool’s Gold, and Tropic Thunder. His wavy locks practically guaranteed broken hearts and box office success. Somewhere along the way (probably after he watched himself in Failure to Launch), the actor decided to take on more “indie” roles, which eventually led to him taking off his clothes and juggling film awards. (Magic Mike. I’m talking about Magic Mike.)
2. Channing Tatum
Yes, yes, I realize that neither Channing Tatum nor his biceps have won any Academy Awards to date, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. The new trailer for Foxcatcher, a biopic based on the life of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz, has me convinced that Channing Tatum is considering other film genres, specifically, ones that don’t require him to take his shirt off every 5 seconds. The Sony Pictures film shows the actor bashing his head into a mirror, boosting his chances of seeing an Oscar or, more likely, the inside of a psych ward.
3. Anne Hathaway
Remember when Anne Hathaway was that timid, 19-year-old Princess Diaries star with frizzy hair and a passion for “awkward girl” tropes? Me neither. It’s hard to believe the Les Mis actress used to rely on nerdy stereotypes and cheesy “happily ever after” endings to make money in Hollywood, especially after seeing the nitty gritty roles that she takes on now. Anyone that questions her ability to be tough need not look further than her rap solo on Conan. Go. Watch. Now.
4. Steve Buscemi
Though Steve Buscemi has done a handful of serious roles over the years, he’s most remembered for his various comedies, including Monsters Inc., Mr. Deeds, and Fargo (which is arguably more weird and terrifying than it is funny). In fact, Buscemi’s natural affinity for comedy is so engrained in my mind, that I almost found his heartless Boardwalk Empire persona to be too unbelievable. Then again, he did play Randall in Monster’s Inc., so perhaps he does have a hidden capacity for evil.
5. Bradley Cooper
Wedding Crashers. Failure to Launch. He’s Just Not That Into You. Brad’s baby face has carried him through a decade of comedies, but recently, the actor has started to explore new territory with films like The Words and American Hustle. His role as Pat in Silver Linings Playbook proved to audiences around the world that he can play more than a cranky drunk or friend-zoned guy friend. I wonder, though: Is Mr. Cooper earning these awards for his stellar acting abilities? Or is he benefitting from the magical wake that Jennifer Lawrence leaves behind in all her movies? Considering the two have starred in three major movies in the past three years (Silver Linings, American Hustle, and, soon, Serena), it’s hard to say.
6. Reese Witherspoon
Elle Woods has come a long way. Since the release of Robert Luketic’s Legally Blonde back in 2001, Reese Witherspoon has starred in her fair share of romantic comedies, including Just Like Heaven and Four Christmases. It wasn’t until the release of Water for Elephants in 2011 and Mud in 2012 (which also starred, surprise, Matthew McConaughey) that I began to take America’s sweetheart seriously.
7. Ben Stiller
Unlike his popular character Derek Zoolander, Ben Stiller has more than one “look.” At least, he’s starting to. The comedy legend, who has induced one too many laugh attacks with movies like Meet the Parents, Dodgeball, and Along Came Polly, has, in recent years, begun experimenting with some more serious roles. Asides from being one, not-so-subtle marketing campaign for Life/TIME Magazine, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty also marked an incredible shift for Stiller, whose track record for “serious” films is practically non-existent. While the actor will be sticking to his comedy roots for his next two projects (Zoolander 2 and Dodgeball), I have faith that he’ll continue to explore his dark side in the future.