The 8 Stages of Oscar Winners Who Move to TV

Oscar-winners like Jane Fonda know TV is an ideal medium for actors seeking a challenge, but non-Oscar-winners like us know that TV is also a good way to forward an actor's reputation. Don't want to be a frightening character actress anymore? Join NBC's new legal drama! Want to maintain the prestige of your early career? Take up a lead role on Showtime's new historical series! TV has become such a viable forum for thespian respect that some Oscar-winners are heading to the small screen before taking home the gold (Melissa Leo on Treme, anyone?). Here are the eight stages of Oscar-winners who move to the small screen -- usually with great success.


1. The Child Actress Who Wants to be a Grown-Up

Case in Point: Anna Paquin in True Blood

Anna Paquin was the picture of innocence as Holly Hunter's daughter in The Piano, and she attempted to break that glossy-eyed naivete with roles in Amistad, Almost Famous (as Polexia Aphrodisia), and the X-Men series. Salvation arrived in the form of Sookie Stackhouse, whose telepathic sexiness, vampiric trysts, and critical respect have relegated her role in Jane Campion's period-piece to the real past. Hailee Steinfeld, you may have lost to Melissa Leo, but please take notes.


2. The Gifted Niche Actor Who Wants to Prove Mainstream Credibility

Case in Point: Linda Hunt in NCIS: Los Angeles

Linda Hunt is a true anomaly in the biz: a quirky dramatic actress who gained recognition for playing a man in The Year of Living Dangerously and then -- after years of small parts that didn't quite show her range -- found a juicy character role on one of TV's biggest (yet most mainstream) dramas. NCIS: Los Angeles won't be racking up a Best Drama Emmy anytime soon, but Hunt's droll performance as the authoritative Hetty Lange prove she's vital and viable.


3. The Creepy Character Actor Still Playing Creepy Characters

Case in Point: Jeremy Irons in The Borgias

We've already explored Mr. Irons's sassy stankface in The Borgias, but his role on the new Showtime drama proves one thing: once a sinister character actor, always a sinister character actor. Irons' Oscar win for Reversal of Fortune exhibited his knack for high-brow, corrupt characters, and his subsequent roles in M. Butterfly, Lolita, and now this flashy costume drama send the same message.


4. The Relatable Actress Who Wants to Remain Relatable

Case in Point: Sally Field in Brothers and Sisters

Two-time Oscar recipient Sally Field has spent 30+ years nabbing enviable roles, but she somehow remains the actress most of your friends would choose to play their mother. I know I would! Her harried intelligence makes her worthy of audience sympathy, and her Emmy-winning role as Nora Walker on Brothers and Sisters is simply an extension of her crowd-pleasing cinematic oeuvre. Yes, even that role in Punchline.


5. The Respectable Actor Who'd Like to Reemerge as a Gritty Badass

Case in Point: Timothy Hutton in Leverage

Ordinary People is, to my eyes, the greatest family drama of all time. Timothy Hutton's Oscar-winning role as the traumatized Conrad Jarrett set up the young actor (who was 20 at the time) for a life of critical respect and winsome banner roles. But more than twenty-five years after that staggering debut, Hutton sought something a little rougher, a little more street-smart. If Mr. Hutton's role as a modern-day Robin Hood on Leverage isn't enough evidence that he's a badass, please inspect his enjoyable Twitter feed.


6. The Respectable Actress Who'd Like to Reemerge as a Gritty Badass

Case in point: Kathy Bates in Harry's Law

Count Glenn Close's turn on Damages in this category too, even though she never won an Oscar -- or even a Golden Globe -- for any of her five nominated film performances. Kathy Bates played one of the movie's most horrifying antagonists in Misery (a movie that holds up remarkably well, in case you were wondering), and her long-awaited TV reemergence on Harry's Law as patent lawyer Harriet Korn -- a role originally intended for man -- is nothing but an onslaught of spitfire spunk. It's not a perfect TV show, but Harriet is a classically fiery protagonist.


7. The Actor Who'd Like to Prove He's Not a Horrid Dictator, Thank You Very Much

Case in point: Forest Whitaker on Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior

Whitaker won every trophy in sight for his role as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, and his turn on the new Criminal Minds spinoff will bring him much closer to the people. If Idi Amin's rule was characterized by human rights abuse and corruption, Whitaker's new role will prove the actor can be just as fearsome when defending justice.


8. The Well-Known Celebrity Who Believes She Can Be Convincing as an Opinionated Pundit

Case in point: Whoopi Goldberg on The View

She's known for her missteps on the daytime chatfest, but Whoopi Goldberg has settled into her role on The View with unforeseen ease. She's the people's Oscar-winner, a gadabout who picks up Tonys, Emmys, and Grammys with effortless elan, almost accidentally. The challenge for a specialized talent like Goldberg is maintaining her commoner persona on a daily basis,
even if she still stars in high-brow cinema and TV regularly.


  • writa says:

    Melissa Leo? Did you forget Homicide: Life on the Street?

  • Louis Virtel says:

    Yes, but she wasn't also on Homicide after the Oscar win. Please, I never forget in a woman in a matching brown blazer and tie!

  • Louise says:

    You cite Treme for Melissa Leo? If she made a name for herself anywhere before her celebrated turns on the big screen, it was on Homicide: Life On the Streets.

  • Louise says:

    Sorry, I hate reiterating what someone else has already noted. Still. Treme over Homicide? No.

  • Amy says:

    I really love how winning an Oscar freed up Forrest Whitaker to do so much mainstream, well, crap. Seriously. Because he is so ferociously talented, yet went unrecognized for so long that now that he's finally gotten the recognition, he deserves to coast for a while.

  • Madeline says:

    Jeremy Irons a "creepy character actor"? No. He may have played a few "creepy" characters in his time, but -- earlier in his career -- Irons was primarily regarded as a romantic lead. He's no longer in that category because of his age, but it's unfair and inaccurate to dismiss him as a creepy character actor.

  • Louis Virtel says:

    Who's dismissing him? Loved him in The French Lieutenant's Woman, but his characters are often damn dastardly.

  • blizzard bound says:

    Kathy Bates was in Six Feet Under. And Linda Hunt has played other tv roles -- wasn't she a judge on Law & Order or some show like that?

  • Louis Virtel says:

    Those are featured/guest roles. These eight are starring parts. (Linda Hunt was on The Practice as a judge.)

  • The Winchester says:

    Yes, because he was so dreamy in Dead Ringers.
    And there were two of him!

  • casting couch says:

    Glenn Close on The Shield and Damages.
    Whoopi Goldberg on Star Trek: The Next Generation (as Guinan).

  • Glenn Close, I wish! Never won an Oscar though. She has some bait coming out this year, though, right? The cross-dressing thing? Someone help me here.

  • JAS says:

    Funny you said "high-brow" about Whoopi, who in fact has no eyebrows! LOL Good one!

  • Steve says:

    Forrest Whitaker's best TV work was on The Shield during it's fifth season. Seriously, nothing short of genius. This was just before he won the Oscar, but he did come back for a few great episodes in Season Six, post-gold.

  • Rob says:

    Ernest Borgnine (Marty To McHale's Navy) and Shirley Booth (Come Back, Little Sheba to Hazel) Donna Reed (From Here To Eternity to the Donna Reed Show) Shirley Jones ( Elmer Gantry to The Partrifge Family) Patty Duke (The Miracle Worker to The Patty Duke Show) I could go on, but I won't!

  • david says:

    Kathy Bates has always been a gritty badass! And always been full of "spitfire spunk" (e.g. Primary Colors). She's awesome on the show though

  • Codd says:

    Did no one notice the author's creepy recommended for Hailee Steinfeld to sexualize herself at the earliest opportunity?

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