Clockwise from left: Michael Yarish/AMC; Cate Cameron/The CW; Adam Taylor/Netflx
Some TV actors have a problem with typecasting, whether it's getting cuffed into a chain of crime dramas or ending up as the butt of the joke in every slapstick comedy that comes along. Others seem to go out of their way to reinvent themselves with new roles, breaking free from their established comfort zones and running counter to what audiences have come to expect. These 10 actors haven't let the successes of their iconic roles fence them in.
From Left: Courtesy Everett Collection; Frank Ockenfels/AMC
Bryan Cranston: Malcolm in the Middle to Breaking Bad
Before he was hanging his clothes at a safe distance from noxious meth fumes in the New Mexico desert, Bryan Cranston found plenty of other reasons to run around in his tighty-whities as goofball father Hal on Malcolm in the Middle. Part of what made Walter White's development of the drug lord Heisenberg persona on Breaking Bad so compelling was the fact that Cranston seemed the exact opposite of the type who would make sense as a crime boss; his work on Malcolm in the Middle certainly contributed to that cognitive dissonance. Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has gone on record saying that comedic actors are great at playing serious roles, and with both Cranston and Better Call Saul's Bob Odenkirk as examples, it's difficult to argue that he's not on to something.
From Left: Jessica Burstein/NBC; Barry Wetcher/Netflix
Vincent D'Onofrio: Law and Order: Criminal Intent to Daredevil
Vincent D'Onofrio established himself as a versatile character actor in film long ago when he followed up his role in Full Metal Jacket with an appearance in Adventures in Babysitting. In his longest-running TV role, D'Onofrio played former narcotics officer and NYPD Major Case Squad Detective Robert Goren on Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
Now, he has jumped as far to the other side of the law as possible, playing crime kingpin Wilson Fisk in Marvel's Daredevil. As Fisk, D'Onofrio attempts to maintain control of an international narcotics distribution operation and an illegal real estate grab. He also exhibits a compelling and brutal emotional fragility as he deals with some serious daddy issues and romantic insecurities throughout the series.
From Left: Fox; FX
H. Jon Benjamin: Archer to Bob's Burgers
Despite his unifying deadpan delivery, H. Jon Benjamin is anything but typecast. As a voice actor, he's played everything from a can of vegetables to Satan to Mothmonsterman.
Right now, Benjamin plays the lead in two popular cartoon series: Archer and Bob's Burgers. Cross-over episodes on the two shows have poked fun at the fact that both characters sound the same, but their personalities couldn't be more different. Archer is a self-absorbed womanizer with a secret agent skillset and a hilariously dysfunctional relationship with his mother, while Bob is a humble family man who more often than not plays the straight man to his family's shenanigans.
Michael Yarish/AMC; Netflix
Jon Hamm: Mad Men to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Playing alcoholic adulterer Don Draper on AMC'S Mad Men launched Jon Hamm to household name status, and playing such an iconic role could have cast a long shadow over the future of his career if he had chosen to stick with dramatic roles. As the period drama comes to a close, however, Hamm has made his move into scene-stealing comedy with roles like Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne on the Netflix comedy The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
When Hamm turned on his comedy chops as Kimmy's four-named captor and cult leader on trial for kidnapping, not even a concurrent guest appearance by Tina Fey herself could pull the spotlight from him.
Cate Cameron/The CW; Gene Page/AMC
Emily Kinney: The Walking Dead to The Flash
The Walking Dead's Beth had her ups and downs (mostly downs, given the nature of the zombie apocalypse), but even as she toughened up, there was never any doubt that she was meant to be one of the good guys. After she recovered from her suicidal inclinations on the farm, her kind disposition and relative innocence helped several characters cope with the dreary post-infection world, most notably Daryl. Recently, Kinney got the chance to switch from sweet innocence to villainy with her appearance as the Bug Eyed Bandit on CW's The Flash. In the Flash crossover with Arrow, Kinney played the vengeful computer genius with an army of weaponized mechanical bees, leaving Beth's saccharine singing to rot with the walkers.
Adam Taylor/Netflx: Amazon Studios
Jeffrey Tambor: Arrested Development to Transparent
As the imprisoned head of the Bluth Company, George Bluth Sr. (and his twin brother Oscar), Tambor imparted the undying wisdom that there's always money in the banana stand. But the self-centered CEO and con man he played on Arrested Development is a far cry from Transparent's Maura Pfefferman. The sensitivity required for a cisgender man to play a transgender woman as she seeks acceptance from her family is a significant departure from Bluth's raging insensitivity.
From Left: Randy Tepper/Showtime; Courtesy Everett Collection
John Lithgow: 3rd Rock From the Sun to Dexter
Like Bryan Cranston, John Lithgow made a name for himself as a comedy actor before moving into much darker territory. On goofy 3rd Rock from the Sun, Lithgow played the fish-out-of-water high commander Dick Solomon. He examined normal human interactions with childlike wonder and delight—which made it especially jarring to see Lithgow use those normal human behaviors to disguise the extent of his evil as the chilling Trinity Killer on Dexter eight years later.
From Left: John P. Filo/CBS; Chuck Hodes/FOX
Taraji P. Henson: Person of Interest to Empire
The staggering popularity of Empire has placed Taraji P. Henson at the head of a devoted legion of Cookiemonsters. As ex-con diva Cookie Lyon, Henson has developed a reputation for sassy one-liners and over-the-top catfights. But before that, she played the much less extravagant (and more law-abiding) Detective Joss Carter on CBS's Person of Interest. Given the record-breaking success of Empire's first season, she'll be embodying the Lyon matriarch for the foreseeable future, but she's already shown she can handle tamer, more down-to-earth roles.
From Left: Robert Viglasky/Hartswood Films/MASTERPIECE; Chris Large/FX
Martin Freeman: Sherlock to Fargo
In addition to his tenure as Hobbit Bilbo Baggins on the big screen, Martin Freeman's made his mark with roles on niche TV shows, playing confident straight-man Dr. John Watson opposite Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes on BBC's Sherlock and frustrated salesman-turned-criminal Lester Nygaard opposite Billy Bob Thornton's Lorne Malvo on FX's Fargo. Aside from standing on opposite side of the law in the two roles, the most notable character difference between Watson and Nygaard has to be the accents. Freeman does William H. Macy's Fargo accent proud as he navigates the seedy criminal underbelly beneath the idyllic, frozen surface of Midwestern life, but his native British gets out on Sherlock.
From Left: Sony Pictures Television; Prashant Gupta / FX
Katey Sagal: Married...With Children to Sons of Anarchy
Sagal melts naturally into both the frivolous, foolish Peggy Bundy's teased hair and flashy outfits on Married ... With Children, and tough motorcycle mama Gemma Teller Morrow's biker-chic leather on Sons of Anarchy. The versatile actress hits all the right notes as both an over-the-top comedienne and gritty drama queen. (And we haven't even mentioned her animated turn as one-eyed space captain Turanga Leela on Futurama.)