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.
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.”
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”?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.