6 Actors Who Changed Their Careers With Unexpected Roles

Hollywood can often find actors stuck playing the same roles over and over again. It’s a time-honored formula that’s kept Michael Cera working as the go-to awkward teen and 20-something, Johnny Depp as the strange oddball, and Zooey Deschanel as everyone’s favorite manic pixie dream girl. But some actors out there have made it a personal mission to break out of their typecasting chains and remake their careers.

It’s a mission that’s almost never easy, and almost always begins by giving audiences a collective form of whiplash. Whether it’s seeing your favorite comedian take on a serious role, or an Oscar winner suddenly becoming an action star, it’s hard not to admire the efforts of actors who are never satisfied with the box they’ve been put in by Hollywood.

1. Liam Neeson

Jason Merritt / Getty Images

Jason Merritt / Getty Images

For a long time, Liam Neeson was known for his iconic role in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. But right around 1999, when he was cast in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, his roles changed drastically. Soon after that, he was Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins, and then along came Taken, the movie that launched his career as a certifiable action star. Two sequels and a slew of other roles later, and Neeson officially has gone from dramatic Oscar roles to growling on-screen at bad guys while dual-wielding handguns.

2. Steve Carell

Source: NBC

Source: NBC

Steve Carell got his start as a Daily Show correspondent, quickly moving on to bigger and better things from there. His performances in AnchormanThe Office, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin put him on the comedic map as a Hollywood A-lister. Soon after that though, he showed us some serious acting ability in Little Miss Sunshine as a suicidal Proust scholar, and as a struggling single dad in Dan in Real Life. He’s since fluctuated between dramatic roles and his more run-of-the-mill funnyman movies, but he’s shown that he can go far beyond comedic relief if needed.

3. Ellen DeGeneres

Source: NBC

Source: NBC

Ellen DeGeneres started out her career on TV, so it’s only appropriate that after a brief dip into movies she returned to the medium that got her started. Beginning as an actress starring in a series of oddball roles, she quickly parlayed that into her own talk show, eventually making herself into an almost universally loved Emmy-winning TV personality. She’s lately starred less in scripted movies and series and more in a role where she can make her own way, making her the quintessential self-made woman in Hollywood.

4. Terry Crews

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

The career trajectory of Terry Crews has been a strange one to say the least. He started out as a linebacker in the NFL, retiring in 1997 to take on Hollywood. Following secondary roles in movies like White Chicks and Soul Plane, he’s since made himself into a leading man able to star in action, comedy, and everything in between. His big breakout came in 2010’s The Expendables as well as a run in Old Spice’s creative ad campaign, leading to a deluge of TV and movie roles that have made it so everyone’s familiar with Crews. He can now be seen starring in Brooklyn 99, giving him his first opportunity as a regular cast member on a hit TV show.

5. Steve Buscemi

source: HBO

Source: HBO

Steve Buscemi made a healthy living for himself in obscure roles, showing up in the background just about everywhere you turn. Nobody saw fit to try him as a leading man, with him settling comfortably into an everyman sort of actor a la Stephen Tobolowsky. Then along came Boardwalk Empire, a meaty dramatic show on HBO that cast him as Nucky Thompson, a terrifying and ruthless gangster in charge of Atlantic City circa the Prohibition Era. In it, we’ve seen Buscemi spread his wings in a dramatic role, displaying acting chops nobody knew he possessed. Needless to say it’s led to him garnering far more respect in Hollywood as an actor with real talent.

6. Mila Kunis

Mila Kunis - Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Source: Universal

It’s easy to forget that there was a time where Mila Kunis was far from a leading lady. Fans may remember her for her role as Jackie from That 70s Show, wrapping up after nine successful seasons. She made the jump into more major roles almost seamlessly with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and hasn’t looked back since. It’s all culminated in her recent spell in Jupiter Ascending, dipping into sci-fi for the very first time, all while showing she’s more than simply a successful child actor.

More from Entertainment Cheat Sheet: