Are Comedians the New Indie Actors?

Kristen Wiig, Steve Carell, Rashida Jones, Will Forte, Adam Scott. You probably recognize these actors from SNL or other prime time comedy shows like Parks and Recreation or The Office. Although these comedians are most known for their roles in some of the most popular comedy shows on TV, what are they up to when those shows are off-season? Some of you might be saying, “Uh, big comedy movies, like Anchorman 2 and wasn’t Adam Scott in that Walter Mitty movie where Ben Stiller skateboards cross-country with a really tan Sean Penn or something? Oh, and wasn’t Rashida Jones in, like, eight romantic comedies with Paul Rudd…”. Well, yeah, ok, a lot of the films these actors have been in are big time Hollywood comedies, but dammit this blog is about indie filmmaking (most times) so we’re going to stick to that theme. Plus, a little searching and you’ll find that these actors aren’t all chuckles and laughs for big paychecks.

I recently came across a great film starring Adam Scott called The Vicious Kind.   In it, Scott plays a character far removed from his lovable, geeky, tabletop game playing character from Parks and Rec. Instead, we find a fast-talking, depressed asshole, brilliantly played with a seething anger, which makes you love and hate him all at the same time. Although I have always respected Scott’s acting ability from Parks and the Starz original show Party Down, this was a complete departure from these roles.

Adam Scott's other talent?  Wearing a suit like a champ.

Adam Scott’s other talent? Wearing a suit like a champ.

This caused me to look up other films similar to The Vicious Kind courtesy of Netflix’s surprisingly reliable aggregate system. This led me to Take this Waltz a drama about infidelity where Seth Rogen plays a husband whose wife cheats on him. Although there are some comedic moments in his performance, he mostly plays it straight as a man unable to communicate to his wife that their marriage may be in turmoil.   Sarah Silverman is also in this film as a recovering alcoholic who has a scene-stealing moment towards the end of the film. Just like Rogen there are moments of comedy in her performance, but for the most part she plays the part of a women struggling with addiction, conscious of the risk of self-destruction.

Any of you who may have seen Celeste and Jesse Forever may have seen Rashida Jones play opposite Andy Samburg in this dramedy about two people who break up and attempt to continue their friendship.  Through most of the film, Jones plays Celeste with a underplayed sadness at learning that Jesse has moved on and found someone new.  Not only does Jones bring a more dramatic performance than we are used to seeing her in, but she also co-wrote the film.

The most notable example of this new trend I feel has to be that of Will Forte. Everyone probably remembers him as an SNL regular for a decade, but his recent work in last year’s Alexander Payne directed film Nebraska earned him an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor. Nebraska is a fantastic drama made all the better by Forte’s performance as a son trying to reconnect with his ailing father played by the incomparable Bruce Dern.

Bruce Dern looks absolutely fantastic for 78.

Bruce Dern looks absolutely fantastic for 78.

Perhaps it’s the fact that a lot of these actors come cheaper, but possess their own fan base from their respective comedic roles. I don’t think there is much argument that TV is in a sort of Golden Age. Many popular shows command the same amount of production value as some Hollywood pictures nowadays.  As a result, more people are becoming TVaphiles and many of the shows we see on the small screen have huge followings. You may remember that while back in the day popular comedians from SNL would immediately move into long-lasting film careers, shows like 30 Rock, Parks and Rec and Brooklyn 99 have shown us that many are now flocking to TV to further their careers. The combination of these two points could certainly account for the demand to fill independent movies with these types of actors. Not only are you getting actors equipped with an already large fan base, but also as many of these indie films have shown us, these comedians have the chops to take on more dramatic roles.

Personally as a fan of sketch comedy shows like SNL and standup comedy in general, I hope to see this trend continue. Nothing entertains me more than seeing an actor or comedian play against type and surprise me with hidden talent that they may otherwise not get to showcase in their respective fortes.

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