Darren Criss and 9 More TV Stars Who Transformed Between Roles

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Darren Criss

Darren Criss: Glee (2009) to American Crime Story: Versace (2018)

From musicals to murder. From 2009 to 2015, Criss portrayed Blaine Anderson in Glee, a charismatic, gay high school student who joins the glee club. Now, Criss is serial killer Andrew Cunanan on Assassination of Gianni Versace, a (albeit creepy) role that has gained him critical acclaim.

Hayden Panettiere

Hayden Panettiere: Heroes (2006) to Nashville (2012)

From 2006 to 2010, Panettiere lead the cast of Heroes as Claire Bennet, a cheerleader who could heal from any injury. In 2012, Panettiere hung up her uniform to portray Juliette Barnes in Nashville, a country pop star. While Juliette was gifted with a great voice—and family drama—her lack of healing superpower makes this a much more vulnerable role for Panettiere.

Bryan Cranston
FOX; Doug Hyun

Bryan Cranston: Malcolm in the Middle (2000) to Breaking Bad (2008)

A father of comedy transitioned to a father of drugs. Cranston was first best known in the early 2000s role as Hal, the goofy patriarch in Malcolm in the Middle. Cranston took things to the next level in 2008 as Breaking Bad drug lord Walter White. While extremely different, both parts earned Cranston multiple awards.

Michelle Dockery

Michelle Dockery: Downton Abbey (2010) to Good Behavior (2016)

As Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey, Dockery is headstrong but compassionate, and completely devoted to her home of Downton. As Letty Raines in 2016’s Good Behavior, Dockery goes to the dark side as a thief, con artist, and drug user—but also, loving mom.

Taylor Kitsch

Taylor Kitsch: Friday Night Lights (2006) to Waco (2018)

Kitsch has evolved from scoring touchdowns to leading spiritual groups. In Friday Night Lights, he was the high school running back and bad boy with a heart of gold, Tim Riggins. Kitsch now stars in Waco as David Koresch, the real-life leader of a spiritual movement involved in the infamous Texas cult siege.

Lea Michele
FOX (2)

Lea Michele: Glee (2009) to Scream Queens (2015)

For six years, Michele starred in Glee as Rachel Berry, the self-absorbed glee club leader with Broadway aspirations. After that, the actress transitioned to antagonist and murderer Hester Ulrich on the series Scream Queens. Both roles were met with extremely positive reviews for Michele.

David Schwimmer

David Schwimmer: Friends (1994) to American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson (2016)

Schwimmer is almost synonymous with Ross Geller, the goofy but intelligent paleontologist from Friends. In 2016, Schwimmer took on a much more serious gig as lawyer Robert Kardashian in American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson. Both roles earned Schwimmer an Emmy nomination, but no matter what, he will always be Ross to Friends fans.

Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris: How I Met Your Mother (2005) to A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017)

Harris’ most notable role is easily How I Met Your Mother womanizer Barney Stinson, who was considered the breakout character of the series. In 2017, Harris began starring as villain Count Olaf in A Series of Unfortunate Events. While not necessary the “good guy” in either series, Barney is tame compared to the corruption of Count Olaf.

Aubrey Plaza

Aubrey Plaza: Parks and Recreation (2009) to Legion (2017)

Plaza perfectly embodied sarcastic intern April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation for seven seasons. In her current role on Legion, the actress’ character Lenny Busker is considered an optimist as The Shadow King. This is certainly a change in attitude.

David Tennant

David Tennant: Doctor Who (2005) to Broadchurch (2013) to Jessica Jones (2015)

Tennant has been through the wringer with character changes. He first gained fame as the protagonist on the UK’s Doctor Who, appearing as the Tenth Doctor, a Time Lord alien. He then transitioned to crime series Broadchurch, appearing as the very human, pragmatic detective Alec Hardy. Most recently, he distanced himself from normalcy once again as Netflix’s Jessica Jones super villain, Kilgrave.

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Actors need to show their range—and sometimes, that means a total role reversal between TV projects.

We’re talking stars like Darren Criss, who went from sweet Glee prep school crooner to diabolical serial killer in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. And he’s not alone!

From a hero to a villain, normal to crazy, and beloved to despised, we’ve rounded up 10 actors and actresses who have undergone drastic changes from one character to the next. Click through the gallery above to explore these (often jarring) changes.