10 Film Actors Who Could Use A Cable TV Comeback

claire jeff 10 Film Actors Who Could Use A Cable TV Comeback

Around a decade ago, the crowd that showed up to the Emmys did not look too much like those in the audience at the Oscars. However, while the movies used to be where the crowning achievements in entertainment were, the sudden catapult in quality of cable TV dramas and comedies is drawing film actors, writers and directors.

On television over the past few years, Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton took on an American family feud in Hatfields and McCoys. Meanwhile, Steve Buscemi and Jeremy Irons, two fantastic actors with very different voices, lusted for power on Boardwalk Empire and The Borgias, respectively. Dustin Hoffman took a gamble with HBO’s Luck (which was produced by Michael Mann), while Charlie Sheen found a new home for several years on FX. Even Kevin Bacon can be connected to more stars now due to his role on the much-watched The Following (a network show, albeit one that may have been more appropriate for cable).

Meanwhile, female actors used to complain about the dearth of women protagonists in their forties or fifties in Hollywood screenplays. It’s no wonder that Laura Dern (Enlightened), Laura Linney (The Big C), Toni Collette (The United States of Tara), Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City), Holly Hunter (Saving Grace) and Glenn Close (Damages) found statuettes waiting for them on the other side. They were hungry for meaty characters and found that dish on a small-screen show.

With episodic television giving actors the chance to bring greater depth to a character over the course of several seasons rather than a meagre 2 hours, it’s no wonder that those vying for an Emmy a few weeks ago included esteemed actors like Kevin Spacey, Don Cheadle and Robin Wright.

The niche market of cable television is opening up their most prestigious roles for those with a film pedigree. Thankfully, there is a collective of actors known for their big-screen work that could use a cable show as a way to stage a comeback and thrust their way back into the spotlight. Today, the small screen is not the smaller medium. It’s time for some of the more forgotten stars of the past few decades to use a series and resurge into the public eye.

Here are 10 actors who have never made the jump onto headlining their own cable series, but seriously ought to.

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Ellen Barkin

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She’s best known as a dazzling looker in erotic late 80s thrillers like Sea of Love and The Big Easy, and for strong turns in ensemble pictures Diner and Ocean’s Thirteen. But this graduate of the Actors Studio also has the qualifications to headline a major cable show.

For one, she still has the acting chops; Barkin has an Emmy and Tony in her collection – the first she received for the TV movie Before Women Had Wings, the second for her featured role in a revival of The Normal Heart. Barkin also chewed up the scenery as the acerbic grandmother on The New Normal, which brought her critical acclaim (even though that show only ran for a season).

A veteran of the stage and screens who has not quite throttled back into the spotlight besides a few stellar performances, Barkin has what it takes to lead the cast of a cable drama. She is a commanding screen presence that has the potential to thrive as a fiery, autonomous female on a series a la Glenn Close, Laura Dern and Kyra Sedgwick. As these examples show, cable loves mad, merciless blonde women in their fifties, and this type of role fits comfortably within Barkin’s range.

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Jeff Goldblum

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He provided quintessential comic relief in two of the 1990’s biggest blockbusters – Jurassic Park and Independence Day – as quirky know-it-alls. Nowadays, the actor prefers to make casual appearances on series like Portlandia, Glee and The League.

Goldblum once said that he loved portraying smart characters who figure out what’s going on before anybody else, which is likely why the only recent series he latched onto was Law and Order: Criminal Intent, where he played Detective Zach Nichols. Goldblum rarely demands lead roles on the big screen anymore and prefers to exercise his eccentricity on New York stages.

Nevertheless, he can capably play loopy and intelligent at the same time, and would be a perfect fit for a quirky HBO comedy in the vein of Bored to Death or Curb Your Enthusiasm. Or he could pull off a scene-stealing supporting turn a la Sam Waterston on The Newsroom (although his manic, haltering rhythm of speaking would likely frustrate Aaron Sorkin) or Entourage’s Jeremy Piven (although as his movies show, Goldblum is not much of a yeller, even when there’s a T-Rex chasing his Jeep). That leaves room for a bumbling, know-it-all investigator type (think Psych, Monk or facsimiles of those shows) who could be personified best underneath Goldblum’s wit and charm.

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Ed Harris

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Many of the film actors that have progressed to headlining their own cable shows have one prominent thing in common: a past resistance to lead roles. One of Hollywood’s most prolific supporting performers, four-time Academy Award nominee Ed Harris, rarely gets the chance to take a lead role, but makes a crushing impression nonetheless. Harris often plays the man in power, although he usually does so in supporting roles, covering real-life characters like Gene Kranz in Apollo 13, John Glenn in The Right Stuff and John McCain in HBO’s Game Change. These blistering figures of control also extend to fictional characters, and he played domineering villains in The Rock and A History of Violence.

Portraying characters of immense power suits the stoic actor, and it’s confounding that no cable series has hooked him. With an imposing stance, gruff voice and impeccable acting chops, could Harris have taken on the role of Ray Donovan on Showtime, Chester Bernstein on HBO’s Luck or even one of the gangsters on Boardwalk Empire? I think that Harris would fit right into a crime series setting, whether historical or contemporary. Since the motion picture Academy likely won’t be crowning him in glory anytime soon (he was a frontrunner for Apollo 13 and Pollock but left empty-handed for both films), perhaps he’s at a time in his career where he should be looking to sway a different Academy.

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Michael Keaton

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He has portrayed a U.S. president, an investigator in two Elmore Leonard adaptations, an obnoxious ghost and the Caped Crusader. Even with a variety of comedic and dramatic work behind him, Michael Keaton is still yearning for that career comeback. With the exception of memorable voice acting (like Ken in Toy Story 3), it’s been a quiet decade for the ex-Batman star. But few actors have the range to mix up comedy and drama so smoothly – see his straight-faced but zany turn as the police captain in The Other Guys – and it’s a shame that Keaton is still mostly thought of as a relic from the late 1980s.

He has an approachable, father-like appeal and can be also a fast-talking working man. While Keaton is on a bit of a career resurgence, with upcoming roles in the Robocop remake and Birdman – a clever piece of casting, where he portrays a washed up actor best known for playing a superhero – he also has the chops to make his mark on a cable show. I would instantly follow a series where he revisits his terrific turn as ATF agent Ray Nicolette in Jackie Brown (which was adapted from Rum Punch, by the late Elmore Leonard). If Timothy Olyphant is looking for a charming, cunning villain to square off against on FX’s Justified, which itself is based on a Leonard short story, or another network decides to adapt that late great pulp writer’s work, Keaton would be a masterful fit as any of the shady, sarcastic antiheroes that populated those sinister story worlds.

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Val Kilmer

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From one Batman to another Batman… Val Kilmer suffered from an even worse post-franchise collapse than Michael Keaton. If you can name three movies in which Kilmer appeared in a starring role during the 21st century without checking IMDb, I would be very impressed. (And, no, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang does not count, since that was more of a Robert Downey Jr. show, although Kilmer did do a fine job there).

Kilmer was red hot about about 15 to 20 years ago, where he played parts as varied as John Holmes and Jim Morrison; however, like those real-life people, his sensation of being on top didn’t quite last. His scarce presence at the multiplex since the late 1990s opens up a potential for a comeback on the small screen. Kilmer has both Shakespearean training and a fantastic deadpan look when facing goofier material (see MacGruber), meaning that he is good company in a variety of genres. The cheeky humour he brought to Gay Perry in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang would also prove that he has the panache to make fun of his brooding persona.

Perhaps the able-bodied, deep-voiced star has what it takes to be a featured star on a western. With Deadwood and Hell on Wheels, the genre seems to have a more prolific presence on cable than network TV. (I mean, there are those with fond memories of Tombstone, right?)

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Ray Liotta

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As far back as I can remember, Ray Liotta could always portray a gangster. The actor is best known for playing seedy, unhinged tough guys – the anti-heroes that cable series specialize in – and for filling up his resume with a bunch of small supporting performances in both terrific and terrible films. It would be a commendable trade for the actor to ditch the various TV movie and direct-to-DVD prospects he touches every year and completely commit himself to a complex, crafty character not too far from Henry Hill, the real-life mobster he played to perfection in Goodfellas.

Nearly every role he’s remembered for is a corrupt cop or shady criminal. Despite a gripping performance as detective Henry Oak in Narc, and some memorable supporting turns in ensemble thrillers like Killing Them Softly and The Place Beyond the Pines, seeing his face on film is not an automatic signal of high quality. But the dark, conflicted characters that are his bread and butter translate well to small-screen crime shows. Although returning to the spotlight as a gangster or cop would be typecasting, it could also allow Liotta to show the impenetrable darkness and bruised humanity that lie underneath his most memorable work.

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Frances McDormand

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Sharp and bitterly hilarious, Frances McDormand has both an Oscar (for Fargo) and a Tony (for the play Good People) under her belt. But the acerbic actress, best known for playing the quirky, hard-working police chief in Joel and Ethan Coen’s classic, seems fit for another statuette: the Emmy. Considering that Holly Hunter – another favourite of the Coens – made a smooth transition to the small screen on Saving Grace, there’s a near-guarantee that if a similar opportunity presents itself for McDormand, she should grasp it.

McDormand has earned four Oscar nominations, mainly for supporting performances in films like North Country and Almost Famous. She is best remembered for playing shrewd wives and worried mothers. Who doesn’t remember the hilarious scene in Almost Famous where she yells at a class of her college students that rock stars had kidnapped her son? A small but potent role in Moonrise Kingdom reminded audiences of the range the whip-smart actress showed in her early career. I don’t recommend that Frances McDormand should sign on to reprise her role as Marge Gunderson for FX’s TV adaptation of Fargo, but perhaps she should follow those film’s supporting stars, Steve Buscemi and William H. Macy, who have established big success on cable.

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Edward Norton

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Few actors in cinematic history burst onto the scene with such an impression as Edward Norton. He received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his film debut, Primal Fear, in 1996 and followed that up two years later with a raw, unnerving performance in American History X. He starred in a Woody Allen musical (Everyone Says I Love You), held his own among a dynamic Woody Harrelson in The People Vs. Larry Flynt, and sparred with an existential dilemma in bruising fashion in Fight Club, which became one of the biggest cult hits in recent memory. Arguably, his best performance came in Spike Lee’s 25th Hour, a film with such an entrenched setting and nuanced performances that it could have been extended into a six-episode miniseries on HBO or Showtime.

Many were quick to label him the next Robert De Niro, and like that esteemed actor, Edward Norton has done little over the last 10 years to recall his captivating first features. Recent comedic turns in Moonrise Kingdom and on Modern Family show a willingness to shed his brooding, angrier persona (he is known for sparring with producers and directors over final cut). Whether he continues to dedicate himself to acting, in either wry comedies or complex character studies, cable is certainly a place that can give the Norton the room and range to commit himself to a remarkable performance.

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Barry Pepper

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He’s known for playing soldiers, sleazebags and surly cowboys, and he can do each of these personas with equal aplomb. He’s also played two of the 1960s’ most famous men – as Yankee Roger Maris in the HBO movie 61* and Robert Kennedy in the mini-series The Kennedys – and won critical acclaim for doing so. Yet, his success on those small-screen ventures has never catapulted the intense B.C. actor to book a series of his own.

Instead, Barry Pepper insists on stealing films from A-list actors and looking good while doing it, whether it’s from Tom Hanks (in Saving Private Ryan and The Green Mile), Jeff Bridges (True Grit) or Kevin Spacey (Casino Jack). Barry Pepper is an actor that rarely fails to make an impression, and although he dedicates himself to the many rough and raw performances he’s been handed in large ensembles, he often shines above many of his co-stars.

One could easily see the actor in Damien Lewis’s role on Homeland or in Matthew Rhys’s place on The Americans. He easily adjusts to playing a variety of sly schemers, and since cable shows love to focus on tough, grizzled anti-heroes, why is the beloved character actor left out of these series? Networks, take notice: this is a superb actor in contention for leading man status.

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Sharon Stone

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She’s one of the most stunning actresses who has ever lived. That interrogation scene from Basic Instinct did not just catapult her to the A-list, it also remains as one of the 1990′s most iconic big-screen moments. But a decade later resulted in a decade of flops, as the 21st century brought audiences such anemic roles as the villain in Catwoman and, of course, her reviled performance in Basic Instinct 2 (which earned her a Razzie for Best Actress). How the mighty star of The Mighty hath fallen.

You may think that Sharon Stone had all but vanished from show business, even if you were one of the few who saw Lovelace this summer. In the biopic, Stone portrayed Linda Lovelace’s mother – and the actress is barely recognizable underneath red dye, frumpy clothes and wrinkled skin. She used to be unafraid to show skin; now, she is unafraid to show scars. Even amidst an absence from the big screen, her classic performances, including her Oscar-nominated turn in Casino, remain bracing and alive in wildly censored TV cuts.

She has aged wonderfully and her sensual power as an actress still drives audiences mad. If a cable series needs a game actress who can do gritty, glib or glamorous – and is unafraid of baring all to fit the standards of most cable dramas – Stone seems like a natural fit (or a basic instinct) for TV producers.

Tell us, which film actors do you think are ready for a TV cable comeback? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • SaucySnoop

    Yes! Well, for Ed Harris, Ellen Barkin and Frances McDormand. The rest of them can stay in the pit of obscurity where they have fallen, thankfully. Norton’s pretty good but he’ll come back on the big screen, he’s not there yet.