9 Actors Who Prove Lightening Can Strike Twice
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9 TV Actors Who Prove Lightning Can Strike Twice

By Joanna Robinson | Seriously Random Lists | June 18, 2012 | Comments ()


It's obvious that a good actor has range. And while one role can't and shouldn't define them, it's also true that television, as a medium, has a fairly damning way of inextricably linking a particular actor with a particular character we see week in and week out. To a certain extent, Nick Offerman is Ron Swanson, or Peter Dinklage is Tyrion Lannister. In our minds at least. This can spell trouble for actors looking to work after their initial successful (or at least memorable) TV series has ended. But here is a (by no means comprehensive) look at 9 actors who've successfully shaken off their previous images. If you have the chops, it can be done.

Michael C. Hall: David Fisher/Dexter Morgan: Hall's loose, tanned portrayal of Dexter Morgan in "Dexter" is such a complete 180 from the high-strung David Fisher that the blood-spattered anti-hero has all but obliterated the "Six Feet Under" character from our memory.
Michael C. Hall .jpg

Chris Bauer: Frank Sobotka/Andy Bellefleur: Though many viewers didn't love the dock worker plot line of HBO's "The Wire," I have a weird affection for Season 2 and Frank Sobotka remains one of my all-time favorite characters. That's why it's a joy to see Bauer have such fun with the Bellefleur character in the much campier "True Blood."
Chris Bauer .jpg

Edie Falco: Carmela Soprano/Jackie Peyton, RN: Who would have thought that in a post-"Sopranos" world Carmela would be the most successful member of the family thanks to "Nurse Jackie"?
Edie Falco .jpg

Walton Goggins: Detective Shane Vendrell/Boyd Crowder: Though he was absolutely fantastic on "The Shield," Goggins (and his hair) hadn't quite reached maximum potential. So it's lucky for us that "Justified" creator Graham Yost thought so much of the Boyd Crowder character that he re-wrote his death in the pilot. Goggins' second go-around is even better than the first.
Walton Goggins.jpg

Idris Elba: Stringer Bell/DCI John Luther: It's enough of a shock for fans of "The Wire" to hear Elba speak in his native accent on BBC's brilliant "Luther," but the physical differences between the detective and Stringer Bell are what make the biggest impression. The way in which Stringer Bell's leonine prowl became John Luther's beat-down shuffle reveals just a fraction of Elba's acting genius.
Idris Elba .jpg

Aidan Gillen: Tommy Carcetti/Lord Petyr Baelish aka "Littlefinger": Gillen, of course, is also well-known to European audiences for the original "Queer As Folk." But for American audiences it's heaps of fun to contrast the two smarmy politicians "The Wire's" Carcetti and Baelish, of "Game of Thrones."
Aidan Gillen .jpg

Zosia Mamet: Joyce Ramsay/Shoshanna Shapiro: Given how small Zozia Mamet's role in "Mad Men" was, it's a bit of a stretch to include her here. But I want to heap some accolades her way because the difference between the loose, political Joyce Ramsay and the tightly-wound princess Shoshanna is night and day. Zosia has emerged as one of the most enjoyable parts of the increasingly great "Girls," and nepotism has nothing to do with it.
Zozia Mamet.jpg

Timothy Olyphant: Sheriff Seth Bullock/Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens: There are some superficial similarities here between the Sheriff of "Deadwood" and the Marshal of "Justified" (hat, scowl, etc.). But Raylan lacks a certain pole-the-ass attitude that plagued Seth Bullock. That is to say, it's more fun to see him swagger, smirk and flirt with the dark side.
Timothy Olyphant .jpg

Peter Krause: Nate Fisher/Adam Braverman: Krause, in fact, has struck lightning thrice with "Sports Night," "Six Feet Under" and "Parenthood." (And as one of the few fans of "Dirty Sexy Money," would argue four times.) He's one of the best everyman actors we have, and I'm not sure why he isn't a bigger star.
Peter Krause.jpg

The Big Four On The Floor: How to Revitalize Network Television | A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Morgan_LaFai

    The only one I disagree on is Aidan Gillen. He is a brilliant, self entitled, promiscuous, ass in all three of those roles. But he does it so well I don't give a fuck.

  • Zombietroy

    Michael C. Hall should get a comic hero...I nominate Moon Knight or Daredevil.

  • annoyed

    Yes Brian Cranston and Lewis / Danes for Homeland (Not mention Mandy Patinkin) should all be on this list.

    Also what about Lance Reddick? OZ, The Wire, Fringe.

    Plus there is Wendell Pierce, Clarke Peters, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Andre Braugher to consider.

  • TheReinaG

    NPH? No NPH?! Pretty sure Doogie and Barney are pretty night and day...

  • Mitchell

    Claire Danes, Bryan Cranston, Nathan Fillion, David Boreanaz, David Duchovny, etc.

  • Pretty comprehensive list. I personally would have added Bryan Cranston and Alison Brie.

  • toph

    mamet also had a brilliant guest arc on united states of tara. she's exceedingly versatile.

  • Leelee

    Something which absolutely floored me was finding out that the same actress (Bridget Moynahan) who played upper-east princess Natasha (as in Big and Natasha) in Sex and the City was also Rachel the "New York bitch" in Coyote Ugly. Both small parts, but so polar opposite as to give me a great respect for her acting skills.
    I'm so easily impressed.

  • Tarn

    Jim Beaver.
    Whitney Ellsworth to Bobby Singer.

  • Kip Hackman

    Jim Beaver needs way more praise.

  • dizzylucy

    Great list, love the double shot of Justified and SFU.
    Would second the Bryan Cranston, Jeffry Tambor, Ed/Katey/Christina, Alyson Hannigan, and Nathan Fillion nominations.


  • Becca Eberman

    Peter Krause is in so many I like, I think he has taken to haunting me. I'm serious, it's like every time I close my eyes, I see floppy brown hair and an attractively rumpled dress shirt.

  • Becca Eberman

    Grr. "Peter Krause is in so many THINGS I like..." God I am so OCD.

  • JQ

    I'm gunna go ahead and throw Hugh Laurie in the mix. After having watched him in Blackadder during my childhood, seeing him as an American in House was mesmerising. Well, for the first few seasons at least...ugh

  • BWeaves

    Throw in Jeeves and Wooster. Laurie will forever be Bertie Wooster to me.

  • Mrs. Julien

    When you show pictures of Olyphant leaning I get it, for a moment anyway. What is it about leaning? Angela Chase knew the score when she was only 15.

  • 3Barrels

    No love for Jeffrey Tambor? He epitomizes double-lightning having starred in the two greatest comedies of all time (The Larry Sanders Show and Arrested Development). Moreover, Hank Kingsley and George Bluth couldn't have been more disimilar. Hey now! I think you've made a huge mistake.

  • Cree83

    The show had problems, but I was really impressed by Matthew Perry on Studio 60. I really didn't think there was any way I could see him as anyone but Chandler Bing until then. Actually, Courtney Cox had done a pretty good job too, speaking of the Friends cast.

  • RAS

    Chris Noth AND Julianna Margulies

  • GwenBear

    No love for Alyson Hannigan for Willow Rosenberg/Lily Aldrin? Sometimes when I look at pictures of her as herself, I get confused and my brain goes "Lily?...Willow?..." in endless repeat because she's so memorable in both those roles.

  • meh

    I have to confess this to somebody: I thought for the longest time that Aiden Gillan had THE WORST british (or Westerosi) accent that i had ever heard. Really threw me off.

    Then I hunt up an interview with him and lo and behold, that's his natural accent. Well played, Lord Baelish.

  • I am stunned at how much Zosia Mamet resembles her mother, down to the acting techniques.

  • onetimecomment

    Ummm...Jeffrey Tambor? He starred in perhaps the two greatest television comedies of all time (The Larry Sanders Show & Arrested Development). What makes his double-lightning even more impressive is how different the two characters were.

  • Guest


  • Semilitterate

    I guess guys like Bruce Willis (moonlighting/Die Hard) or Tom Selleck (Magnum/Quigley Down Under/Jesse Stone) or Clint Eastwood (Rawhide/Dirty Harry/Man With no name have no place on this list, unless they are just too obvious

  • Bert_McGurt

    I think we're looking TV only here.

  • Tracey

    Nathan Fillion.... Firefly and Castle....why isn't that number 1?

  • NoPantsMcLane

    Ricky Gervais. The Office and Extras.

  • John W

    Anyone know when the next season of Luther airs?

  • duckandcover

    Not yet announced!

  • L.O.V.E.

    And evidently Joshua Jackson (R.I.P.) is still alive.

    Or a zombie!

    Joshua Jackson, Zombie. Its as plausible an explanation for what happened to him on Fringe as any, doesn't it? (Has not watched Fringe since it pulled some "The Prestige" disappearing act shit)

  • Irina

    He came back. Nekkid. In the middle of a lake. Lions: oficially moistened. Naked wet zombies turn this girl ON! Apparently.

  • AngelenoEwok

    Watch out: I don't think lions enjoy being moistened. I'd hate for either you or Zombie Joshua to be the victim of a big wet cat attack.

  • Irina

    You're not in on the joke I see.

  • Jezzer

    Let's shun him/her.

  • L.O.V.E.

    Mark-Paul Gosselar, broseefus!

    Saved By The Bell to NYPD Blue (which has multiple candidates for this list) to that Franklin & Bash show I intend never to watch.

  • Me

    Not trying to nitpick but since you did it twice I thought I'd let you know that she spells her name Zosia and not Zozia.

  • damnitjanet

    Those Fisher boys are hot as FUCK! And Olyphant? Dear fluffy lord.....


  • Slash

    Oh, and yeah, it's LIGHTNING. No e.

  • Slash

    Agree on the Cranston addition. He's awesome.

  • TheOtherGreg

    Alyson Hannigan? Even Kelsey Grammer, though I don't know the fate of "Boss".

  • Gumbercules

    How about Lance Reddick from The Wire, Lost and Fringe? Or Wendell Pierce from The Wire & Treme?

  • space_oddity

    I would argue Lance Reddick just plays the same character, with slightly different variations. But the same is true of several people included in this list, so I dunno.

  • Ok, quick, unrelated question about Littlefinger: I *finally* got caught up on Season 2, and I was distracted by how different his voice was this season. Am I losing my mind?

    Carry on.

  • space_oddity

    No you are not. His voice was fucking off in season 2, and his accent varied widely. I have no explanation. But you are far from the only person who noticed.

  • branded_redux

    I can't help but think that it's easier for dramatic actors than comedy. Especially very successful comedic actors to break from a schtick. There are some, but like with DC's list of best pilots, it's easier to come up with more recent quality examples for drama, whereas comedy forces choices from further back (e.g. Bob Newhart).

  • seanfast

    "I wore white... I wore white to her surprise wedding!" - zosia lol

  • L.O.V.E.

    Ed O'Neill, Christina Applegate and Katey Sagal could all go on this list.

    Poor, poor David Faustino.

  • duckandcover

    David Faustino has been making his rounds in the voice-acting circuit. He's currently the voice of Mako in "The Legend of Korra," sequel of "Avatar: the Last Airbender."

  • Luka

    What about Christopher meloni from Oz to SVU??

  • duckandcover

    Oz to SVU to True Blood.

    Prison rapist
    Guy who fucks up prison rapists and deviants
    Guy who fucks up vampires

  • Strand

    I don't think you can do any more of a 180 than going from 'prison rapist' to 'guy who fucks up prison rapists and deviants'

  • zeke_the_pig

    Unless it's to 'guy who fucks prison rapists and deviants.'
    No, wait, that's actually more of a 270.

  • Also have much love for Krause and Bauer together in The Lost Room <3 Would heap on Bryan Cranston for Malcolm in the Middle and Breaking Bad.

  • Fredo

    I'd second Chris' nomination of Bryan Cranston. I'd also add:

    Katey Sagal (Married with Children/Futurama/Sons of Anarchy)
    Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers/Life/Homeland)

  • Paisley Poppins

    Damien Lewis will always be Soames Forsyte for me.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Good call.

  • Gigi

    I agree that Bryan Cranston should be on this list.

    What about David Duchovny? Fox Mulder was hard to shake off but he did it with Hank Moody and Californication.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Oh yes, definitely.

  • Nieve 'The Threadkiller Queen'

    I'd add Gillian Anderson, I know she does mostly UK TV now but she has completely banished Scully as is one of the best character actors on TV.
    However I live in eternal hope that Duchovny and Anderson email to each other as Scully and Mulder all the damn time.

  • Guest

    Yes! Her Lady Dedlock is testament to this.

  • Sirilicious

    Chris Bauer definitely struck thrice considering Third Watch.

  • Martin

    by the way, I HATE the new commenting format. I know we all have to get in line with the new, integrated world order, but it's hella glitchy. Don't like it one bit.

  • BWeaves

    I like it better, and I'm an alta cocka for change. It was glitchy at first, but seems to be much better now.

  • Martin

    Seconded and cosigned on Peter Krause. I'd give Casey McCall the nod over Adam Braverman, but the latter is the more recent, so I understand the reasoning.

    "He’s one of the best everyman actors we have"Agreed.

  • Chris

    What about Bryan Cranston? From Malcolm in the Middle to Breaking Bad?

  • Green Lantern

    Bryan Cranston x 1,000,000,000m000,---,000

    Plus infinity. It's amazing how that funny, zany man has become the duplicitous Walter White. A-freakin'-mazing.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Emmys on both counts as well, if I'm not mistaken.

  • lightalpha

    YES even though I've only seen a handful of episodes, he's virtually unrecognizable in every which way.

  • Guest

    I have a weird affection for Season 2 and Frank Sobotka remains one of my all-time favorite characters.

    Effing WORD. Thanks for giving Frankie and S2 some love.

    I maintain the king of lightening-squared is Duchovny. From Mulder to Moody--talk about a 180. And fierce seconding of Elba--it took Luther to finally wash Stringer away from that actor. Talent.

  • I_Sell_Books

    Season 2 is my favorite. And seriously, both DD and GA are fabulous actors.

  • Nadine

    Imma need you to change the background picture and banner picture to that header picture. Now. Please. We all know this photo and we sleep with it and make our boyfriends tape it to their head all the time. Lets just make The Olyphant our Messiah already so that I can lust for him religiously.

  • Nadine

    *In Godtopus Name

  • Nieve 'The Threadkiller Queen'

    Dude regarding the birthday presents discussion we had earlier this week? I just thought of yours: THERAPY.

  • Nieve 'The Threadkiller Queen'

    oooh and socks!

  • Alison Brie?

  • zeke_the_pig

    I fucking loved Season 2 of the Wire. At first it seemed completely isolated from the rest of the seasons, and yet a minor surface scratch showed it to be actually totally and awesomely integrated. And Sobotka was a beautifully tragic character.

  • Strand

    Yeah, this is the first time I heard about Season 2 being the least-loved season as it was probably my second favourite after Season 4 (the schoolkid season). The end of S2 was one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever seen in my life.

  • Guest


  • GURP

    *Lightning lightning lightning dammit. <3

  • JoannaRobinson


  • TheOtherGreg

    Unless he's getting paler.

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