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Can You Ever Forgive Me? star Melissa McCarthy and 5 other comedians who got serious


With the Golden Globes now firmly fixed in our rear-view mirror and the BAFTAs and Oscars hovering on the horizon, it's safe to say that awards season is well and truly on. And amid the plethora of fantastic performances up for Oscars this year, one that stands out is Melissa McCarthy's in the acclaimed Can You Ever Forgive Me? 

You'd be forgiven for doing a double take upon seeing the sometime Saturday Night Live star rubbing shoulders with awards shoo-ins Lady Gaga and Nicole Kidman. McCarthy is more often seen getting caught short crossing the road in Bridesmaids or calling the shots in The Heat, but it's refreshing to see McCarthy rewarded with her first Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama as well as her first BAFTA film nomination for Best Leading Actress. (Discover the Unlimited screening reactions to her performance here.)

Some might even say it's long overdue, especially when comedy actors are so often overlooked in terms of critical kudos. However, McCarthy's turn as the ailing author whose desperation results in deception isn't the first occasion in which we've witnessed a comedian swap the laughs for a more serious role – here are five examples.

1. Jim Carrey

The year was 1994 – aka the year that saw comedian Jim Carrey run roughshod throughout Hollywood with the triple threat of Dumb and Dumber, The Mask and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. This seemingly landed Carrey with a larger-than-life act from which he would never be able to escape, forever yelling "Alrighty, then", while writhing and gurning his way into cinema-goers' consciousness.

Thankfully, The Truman Show added a dash of existentialism to his repertoire as his character tried to derail his own reality show and Man on the Moon helped him find his method, but it was Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which finally broke the mold.

Carrey's portrayal of the heartbroken and conflicted Joel Barish exposed the raw nerve of a man who was trying to remove memories of his now-lost lover. Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations followed, as did a new, more considered chapter in Carrey's career.

2. Kirsten Wiig

Kirsten Wiig has had an esteemed on-screen comedy career over the last 20 years, including her portrayal of Brahbrah in Flight of the Conchords, leading lady Lucy in Despicable Me 2 and 3 and using the word 'party' as a verb alongside Melissa McCarthy in Bridemaids.

It will be interesting to see how she fares when trading comedy for comics as she squares off against Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman 1984. A bold casting choice perhaps, but also an intriguing one, as Wiig takes on the role of Barbara Minerva and her villainous alter-ego, The Cheetah. Blessed with super strength, speed and presumably some spots, Wiig joins fellow comedians such as Jim Carrey, who have turned their big screen laughs that bit more maniacal.

No doubt Wiig will be able to build on the dramatic chops she demonstrated in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, which showcased a fine performance from the actor as a beleaguered 1970s mother struggling to raise her daughter.

3. Adam Sandler

Long before Adam Sandler comedies went straight-to-streaming, the actor put in (what should have been) a career-changing performance in Punch-Drunk Love for director Paul Thomas Anderson.

Anderson had previously pulled Golden Globe-winning performances out of Burt Reynolds in Boogie Night and Tom Cruise in Magnolia, and managed to land the nomination for Sandler as the shy, lonely and softly-spoken Barry Egan.

Largely left out were the angry explosions of Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison et al, with audiences instead being treated to a nuanced, endearing performance that not only stood out from his back catalogue, but also served as the warm heart of the film. (That said, there are verbal eruptions on occasion, made all-the-more shocking by the character's largely subdued nature.)

4. Steve Carell

It's fair to say that most people's introduction to Steve Carell came through the modern comedy classic, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. As part of an ensemble cast alongside Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd and Christian Applegate, Carell's portrayal of the impressionable weatherman Brick Tamland led to impressions of him being (nearly) perfected and "I Love Lamp" t-shirts quickly selling out.

Fast forward to a year later and Carell also conquered TV when he took over from Ricky Gervais as the manager of The Office (US). His casting in 2014's sports biography, Foxcatcher was therefore greeted with surprise. Portraying the real-life multi-millionaire and wannabe Olympic wrestling coach John du Pont, Carell was barely recognisable, performing under prosthesis as a man with dark desires and a competitive compulsion.

Nominations came to Carell from across the board, but he, unfortunately, went home without the win. Nevertheless, his transformation into an actor of serious repute was complete.

5. Robin Williams

The late, great Robin Williams will forever be fondly remembered for setting his fake breasts on fire in Mrs Doubtfire, ducking and dodging green goo in Flubber and granting wishes as the Genie in Disney's Aladdin. Actually, he'll be remembered just for making us laugh in general. But it wasn't just fun he could make us feel.

As John Keating in Dead Poet's Society, Robin Williams was the teacher whom we all wish had taught us, as well as the adult we all aspire to be, and he won a BAFTA for his efforts.

Add to that his twisted and tragic turns in 2002's dark dramas Insomnia and One Hour Photo and it seems we only scratched the surface of seeing what Robin Williams could do.

Can't wait to see Melissa McCarthy tap into her dramatic side in Can You Ever Forgive Me? The movie is out on 1st February so keep your eyes peeled to the blog when tickets go live.

Robb Sheppard is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.