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TV actors take on drama and comedy

November 28, 2011 | 10:26 am

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Actor Garret Dillahunt is solemn as he reflects on his acting career, picking at the knee of his jeans as he composes his thoughts on his road from "Deadwood," where he played a throat-slashing geologist who preyed on prostitutes to his turn as the boorish patriarch on the Fox comedy "Raising Hope." And yet his seriousness is offset by the fact that, minutes earlier, he goofily strolled into the dressing room  on the Chatsworth set of "Raising Hope"--for the interview--on a scooter.

It's the sort of light-switch shift that has worked in the 46-year-old actor's advantage in moving from comedy to drama and back again.

"It's just what I wanted to do," Dillahunt said. "A good thing about doing this for a while is that it becomes your thing--you get a reputation for being versatile. I like the thought that people might think of me for a wide roster of roles. Even if it's a mistake, I like having the shot."

Being a skilled actor in one performance arena is already a difficult endeavor. But the rise of cable television,and the big four networks becoming less cookie-cutter, has provided actors an opportunity to play against type and branch out into other genres.

Bryan Cranston went from a buffoonish dad on "Malcolm in the Middle" to a cancer-stricken, meth-producing dad on AMC's "Breaking Bad." John Goodman's surly role as Dan Conner on the long-running sitcom "Roseanne" has since been followed by more serious turns, including his role on HBO's "Treme." And there's many actors like them, known for one role in one genre and trying to branch out: Kelsey Grammer, Ted Danson, and Edie Falco, to name a few.

Katey Sagal, probably still viewed as big-haired Peggy Bundy in the eyes of viewers, paced herself before taking on the tough-as-nails biker gang matriarch on FX's "Sons of Anarchy"--which her husband Kurt Sutter created--and starred in other comedies before landing guest stints on dramas such as "Lost."

"With women my age ... I mean there are a lot of great actors," she said. "It's a competitive age-range for not that many parts."

Cranston is perhaps the most notable example of this trend in recent years. Aside from his seven-year gig on "Malcolm in the Middle," Cranston might also be known to viewers for his role as Jerry's dentist Tim Whatley on "Seinfeld."  But "Breaking Bad" is cut from a different (more serious) cloth. And that's precisely what drew him to the part. In reflecting on first reading the pilot, he thought back to something he learned while taking an acting course from veteran actress Shirley Night.

"She always said actors need to have what's called an 'actor's arrogance,' " he said. "She didn't mean it like you walk around being full of yourself. But you have to be the kind of person who wants the ball with three seconds left in the game. 'Give it to me! Let me take the chance to sink that basket!' When you read a character like Walter White--or any character that takes you to a myriad of places--you salivate. You see a two-page monologue that well written and you say, 'Come to papa.' It's nectar."

For more on actors who've made a genre transition, check out this Sunday Calendar feature.

--Yvonne Villarreal

twitter.com/villarrealy

Photos, from left: Garret Dillahunt on the set of "Raising Hope"; Bryan Cranston as Walter White in "Breaking Bad"' a 1987 photo of Katey Sagal as Peggy Bundy in "Married with Children." Credits: Gary Friedman, Los Angeles Times; Ben Leuner / AMC; Ron Batzdorff / Fox

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