With 'Oranges,' Hugh Laurie of 'House' (and possibly 'Gossip Girl' Leighton Meester) could take the film plunge
It can be a crapshoot when TV actors step from the small screen into features; for every George Clooney or Steve Carell, there's a Zach Braff or Katherine Heigl.
But a buzzed-about new movie called "Oranges" may be trying exactly that. The project, a dark dramatic comedy about an older man who has an affair with the daughter of a family friend, has been on Hollywood's radar for several years now. Back in 2008, the Jay Reiss-Ian Helfer script landed on the Black List, the grouping of the entertainment industry's most desired screenplay. (It came in at No. 2, ahead of vaunted projects like "Inglourious Basterds" and just behind the "The Beaver," the Mel Gibson-Jodie Foster collaboration that could hit later this year.) And it's being produced by Anthony Bregman, an indie producer with serious bona fides -- like, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" bona fides. (Glen Basner's Film Nation and Leslie Urdang's Olympus Pictures, incidentally, are financing "Oranges.")
Now the project may have another claim to fame: It could mark the first lead feature role for Hugh Laurie, who plays Dr. Gregory House on the hit Fox medical series. Sources say that Laurie is in discussions to play the lead role of the creepy/sympathetic older man. The British actor has done voice work and a number of supporting parts in films such as "Sense & Sensibility" and "Stuart Little" but has never carried a movie before. Of course his work as a darkly comic presence on Fox for the past five-plus should make him familiar to audiences. And he has a versatile acting background, starring in a range of roles with former partner Stephen Fry.)
The "Oranges" TV credentials don't stop with Laurie, though. Sources say two candidates have jumped to the top of the list for either the lead female role or possibly another role: "Gossip Girl" Leighton Meester and former "That '70s Show" co-star Mila Kunis. The latter has been turning a few film tricks of late -- she starred as the romantic/action co-lead in "The Book of Eli," and is playing a nemesis figure opposite Natalie Portman in Darren Aronofsky's upcoming "Black Swan." Meester, known for the pincers-out Blaire Waldorf character on "Gossip Girl," would be wading into newer waters (a foray that would mark an interesting litmus test for CW stars on the big screen -- just as Chace Crawford attempts same in "Footloose").
Television roles can in some ways be more demanding than film, since they require a much higher arc over many hours of episodes, not just a three-act transformation. But, of course, everything is also more magnified on the theatrical screen, so when actors seem too small for a part, or try too hard, the results can be disastrous.
In a poetic twist, boith Meester and Kunis are set to star opposite each other in the upcoming comedy "Date Night." The film is headlined by Steve Carell and Tina Fey -- so Kunis and/or Meester could at least have a successful TV-film path in which to follow.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Hugh Laurie of "House." Credit: Fox Broadcasting Co.