In case no pundit has told you, we’re in another Golden Age of television. If more proof was needed, then consider that television roles no longer carry the stigma they once did for actors. Hollywood’s best thespians have been slowly gravitating toward TV, not just as guest stars but as regulars. Consider the following:
Show: “The Killing”
Film history: One of the best actors of his generation (and married to another of them, Maggie Gyllenhaal), Sarsgaard is a stealth movie-stealer. The key is that his looks are deceiving: He looks like a nice guy, but underneath he’s capable of much more, be that murder (“Boys Don’t Cry”), calculation (“Shattered Glass”) or lies (“An Education”).
Jump to TV: Meaty Hollywood (or even indie) roles are these days thin on the ground. That’s one reason he suddenly appeared as a cast addition on the third season of “The Killing," playing a death row inmate soon to be executed for murdering his wife. Alas, that means spending months acting in a tiny cell.
Quoted: “So many of my favorite actors are on television … If you want to act with them, you have to be on television.” — Metro
Show: “The Shield,” “Damages”
Film history: Since 1982’s “The World According to Garp,” Close has been one of the biggies, competing for the same kind of prestige sought by Meryl Streep. She’s a six-time Oscar nominee, who probably should have won for “Dangerous Liasons,” plus a three-time Tony winner.
Jump to TV: She’s also a woman, and unlike Classic Hollywood, execs don’t know what to do with women once they pass 40. She’s fared better than most in that department, but the big roles have dried up — or gone to Meryl Streep. She wound up first on “The Shield,” then on “Damages,” which recently concluded its run. At the time it was unheard of that an actress of her stature would do TV. But now it’s clear she was ahead of the curve.
Quoted: "When I did TV as a young actor, people said it would kill my movie career. But if it's great writing, why not do it?" – Good Housekeeping
Film history: You know, he’s Dustin Hoffman. He’s Benjamin Braddock from “The Graduate.” He’s Ratso Rizzo from “Midnight Cowboy.” He’s Kramer from “Kramer Vs. Kramer.” He’s Tucker the horse from “Racing Stripes.”
Jump to TV: Truth is, Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with aging men, either. Hoffman could easily coast on small, starry roles in kid movies like “Kung Fu Panda” or [shudder] “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.” But he hasn’t had a real challenge in ages. That would have been “Luck” — had it not been cancelled prematurely due to controversy over horses killed on set.
Quoted: "They have money, so you’re not rushed to shoot 20 pages [of script] in a day, like you are with normal TV. HBO leave you alone and there’s no censorship. You do the work you want to do.” — Slate
Show: “The Following”
Film history: The son of legendary Philadelphia city planner Edmund Bacon, Kevin has rarely been without work. In fact, he's so prolific and versatile that there’s even a dumb time-waster game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, exploiting all the actors he’s worked with. The roles aren’t always great, and only occasionally let him live up to the promise of his brash Fenwick in “Diner.”
Jump to TV: Bacon’s wife, Kyra Sedgwick, finally achieved stardom with TV on “The Closer.” Though a household name, he isn’t a mega-star, which may be one reason he teamed up with “Scream”’s Kevin Williamson to do “The Following,” which tracks his FBI agent as he chases an escaped killer (James Purefoy).
Quoted: “Nothing was coming in that I was desperate to do. From the ‘70s onwards, you were able to make films that had violence and edge – and where are they now? They are on television.” – Telegraph
Show: “Downton Abbey”
Film history: Dame Maggie Smith has won the Oscar twice: for her tyrannical teacher on “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” in 1968 and, ironically, as an actress who doesn’t win the Oscar in “California Suite” in 1978. But it wasn’t until later in life that she became an icon, as the catty dowager in “Gosford Park.”
Jump to TV: Reteaming with "Gosford Park" screenwriter Julian Fellowes, Smith basically recreated her character —although her countess is far less acid-tongued.
Quoted: “I'm not quite sure what [being a star] means. I am familiar to people now, which is what I was not before … that is entirely due to the television set." – CBS
Show: “House of Lies”
Film history: Starting with his breakthrough in “Devil in a Blue Dress” (although he goes back to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”), Cheadle has been one of the most reliable greats. Particularly worth shout-outs are his turns in “Boogie Nights,” “Out of Sight” and “Hotel Rwanda.”
Jump to TV: Insanely, it’s been awhile since he’s had a truly juicy role. You have to go to Showtime to see his turn as a charmingly ruthless management consultant on “House of Lies.” Cheadle won a Golden Globe for his work, and the show has just been picked up for a third season. Like many film actors who do TV, he admits that it’s a different type of acting, requiring more stamina and flexibility.
Quoted: “[An Academy Award nomination] doesn't mean s— ... I'm doing a TV show now where there's steady work and more creative freedom." — Metro
Film history: The daughter of Paul Sorvino, she is a talented actress who unfortunately joined the small clique of actors who struggled despite (or because of) winning an Oscar. Few could follow up her feted performance as a ditzy prostitute in “Mighty Aphrodite,” but she’s sadly largely (but not completely) faded from view. (She did get good notices for the recent indie “Union Square.”)
Jump to TV: Sorvino broke through with a comic performance, so it’s appropriate that her most prominent role in years is a comedy show. She will soon play Jim Gaffigan’s wife on “Gaffigan,” the comic’s new show based on his own life as a father and husband living in a small New York apartment. This is great news.
Show: “Hatfields & McCoys”
Film history: Once upon a time Kevin Costner was the biggest star in the world. He could help take a three-hour, factually handicapped, paranoid raving like Oliver Stone’s “JFK” and make it a hit. He could do Robin Hood with an American accent (against Christian Slater, speaking British). His fall was mighty, but he’s rebounded as a fine supporting player in “The Upside of Anger” and “The Company Men.”
Jump to TV: One of the biggest hits he’s had in ages has been “Hatfields & McCoys,” a miniseries for The History Channel. If that sounds like a worse fate than a box office dud, then consider that the show — about the storied warring families — had huge ratings and garnered 16 Emmy nominations, of which he won one. TV execs tend to be less of a presence on productions than with movies, where every second is combed over, often by those who don’t know the art.
Quoted: “I won’t make a movie unless I have the ability to do it the way I want, so I hold my breath for a very long time. At this point in my life, I don’t want to make a movie I don’t want to make, or one that somehow gets manipulated in a way I don’t feel comfortable with.” – Telegraph
Show: “Pan Am”
Film history: Child stars and “It” girls don’t have long shelf lives. Ricci was both, and perhaps it was inevitable that a series of duds — most notably the Wachowskis' “Speed Racer,” which was too insane for mainstream audiences — would cut down on her film work.
Jump to TV: Like many, she found solace on television. On “Pam Am,” she played a ‘60s era stewardess, in what was a naked attempt to cash in on the “Mad Men” craze, but with more sex. The show started strong but was canceled 14 episodes in.
Quoted: “Especially with all the new cable channels and all the new content that’s being created, there is amazing writing and amazing opportunities for great talent and great directors to find a home and do some really interesting things they might not necessarily be able to do in the film world." – Huffington Post