He Really Can Act (Sugar Wiki)

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A Fan-Speak phrase: this is what you say to yourself when someone gets their first serious role, instead of the goof-off they've always been, and you're at least half-expecting a train wreck, and then... wow! They pull it off! Turns out He Really Can Act afterall.

The in-universe version is Master Actor.

Examples of He Really Can Act (Sugar Wiki) include:
  • Kevin Bacon, commonly known as a teen movie star for most of his career, had almost ended that career when he starred in A Few Good Men.
    • Critics also loved him in The Woodsman.
    • He was also excellent in Murder in the First.
    • He also won praise for his portrayal of Sebastian Shaw in X-Men: First Class
    • The Woodsman also had a terrific example in Mos Def. His monologue about the child who had been torn apart by a rapist is both chilling and a Tear Jerker.
      • Another one by Mos Def in the TV biopic Something The Lord Made where he played pioneering black cardiac surgeon Vivien Thomas. He manage to not only hold his ground but possibly surpassed it against Alan Rickman. Mos Def was nominated for Golden Globe and Emmy.
      • Mos (it's just Mos now, motherfucker!) has also received praise for his performance in the sixth season of Dexter.
  • Ask the Kingdom Hearts fandom, and most will say that the prologue for Kingdom Hearts II took a turn for the heart-wrenching towards the end. The sob-inducing performance of Roxas? Yeah, that was Jesse McCartney. Same goes for Alyson Stoner (the English voice of Xion) in 358/2 Days.
    • And if you were still unconvinced by Jesse McCartney in KH2, then Birth By Sleep and358/2 Days will change your opinion.
    • Here's another example: see him acting as Robin/Nightwing in Young Justice.
  • This is one of the reasons The Truman Show is widely considered to be Jim Carrey's best movie.
  • Emily Osment in Dadnapped and the Series Finale to Hannah Montana
  • Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction.
  • A lot of viewers had this reaction to Zac Efron in 17 Again. His acting really is much better in this film than it is in his more famous films, especially since he's a 22 year old, playing a 37 year old turned into a 17 year old.
  • The performances of Rick Moranis and Steve Martin in Little Shop of Horrors were top-notch, not just in acting, but singing, too.
  • Adam Sandler has been getting this recently due to more serious films like Reign Over Me and Funny People.
    • Seth Rogen's performance in Funny People was praised even in negative reviews of the film. While few critics consider him a bad actor, he was never much of a critical darling as a leading man.
    • Sandler previously felt this effect from his role in Punch-Drunk Love; however, that time, his dramatic turn didn't quite stick, and he went right back to doing goofy slapstick movies.
    • Click too.
  • Eddie Murphy's performance in Dreamgirls has been described like this. In fact, it's said that he could've won an Oscar for his performance had Norbit not been released before the Academy voted.
    • Beyonce Knowles in Dreamgirls really shone. Just when it had been so easy to write her off, too...
      • Have you seen her in Obsessed? Two words: Kick.Ass.
  • Sylvester Stallone in Cop Land.
    • Interestingly, Stallone was wildly praised for his performance in the original Rocky movie, with Roger Ebert comparing him to Marlon Brando. Same thing with First Blood, only for both franchises to turn into simpler, more stereotypical action movies.
      • Same for Rocky V and Rocky Balboa, which went closer to the feel of the first film.
      • A friend of mine explicitly said this about Stallone's performance in Nighthawks.
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme in JCVD.
  • Will Smith's rising career was down to a series of steps where he would set himself up with fans with his winning smiling, slightly goofy and fun personality and then use a dose of serious acting to establish his credibility and then open himself up to a bigger audience.

Neville: "I promised a friend I would say hello to you today. Hello."

(starts to cry)

Neville: "Please say hello to me."

  • John C. Reilly went for a sort of meta example of this in Walk Hard, since we already knew he was a good actor, but in character, he has a lot of Oscar Bait-style "deep acting moments", like pulling the sinks off the wall a la Walk the Line. Also stretching the idea of playing the character from the youngest age possible, in this case 14, to oldest, as late 70's.
    • Also on Reilly, his role in the movie Chicago. He can really sing and dance!
      • It was Boogie Nights (1997) that gave him the opportunity to serve notice on how versatile and intelligent a character actor he really was (as it also did for Philip Seymour Hoffman).
  • Robin Williams in One Hour Photo gives a restrained and finely-nuanced performance as the photo store guy who's (probably) stalking a family with sinister intent. Who knew, eh?
    • He has had several other sedate, respectable roles before One Hour Photo, though (perhaps most notably in Good Will Hunting, which he got an Oscar for).
    • Dead Poets Society, people! Earlier than that, there was the TV-movie adaptation of Seize The Day (no relation to DPS), and of course The World According To Garp... but people weren't really paying attention to those when they came out. They wanted wacky Mork-Robin. How times change...
    • And Moscow on the Hudson, Awakenings, Being Human, etc...
      • To paraphrase a post-Oscar moment (which Williams recieved for Good Will Hunting), when an interviewer asks him how he felt about taking on such a serious role: "I went to Juilliard!"
    • Another example is his terrifying performance on Law and Order SVU as an amoral psychologist screwing with people in real-life versions of the infamous Milgram Authority Experiment.
  • In an odd example, Hilary Duff's performance seems to be the only thing in War, Inc. which the critics did like.
    • Raise Your Voice is a much earlier example. The only reason it bombed was because of the demographic issues. It was too mature for her pre-teen fans.
  • Lindsay Lohan in Georgia Rule although it received mostly negative reviews, most critics praised her acting and said that her performance was the best part of the film.
    • Lohan has shown that she's pretty good at playing more than one character, in such films as her debut The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday. Her impression of Jamie Lee Curtis in the latter is uncanny. However, the winning streak ended with I Know Who Killed Me - Lohan appeared to have a lot of trouble working with prosthetic special-effects makeup.
    • She was also excellent in A Prairie Home Companion, as Meryl Streep's daughter. She more than holds her own both acting-wise and vocal-wise, measuring up against actors like Streep, Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones, and Virginia Madsen.
  • John Wayne is an older example of this. After seeing Red River (directed by Ford's friend, Howard Hawks) John Ford famously said, "I didn't know the big lug could act."
  • In his review of Inglourious Basterds, Moviebob captioned the photo of Eli Roth with the phrase "When did he learn to act?" There was also Mike Myers' One-Scene Wonder.
  • Brendan Fraser has appeared in movies ranging from crap like Monkeybone to comedies like George of the Jungle to campy blockbusters like The Mummy Trilogy and Journey to the Center of the Earth. While his acting was fairly good, his role on Scrubs seriously shows his chops as an actor. He also turned out to be a man of a thousand voices - listen to the audio books he's narrated.
    • Gods And Monsters, anyone? If you're sharing the screen with Sir Ian McKellen, just holding your own has to qualify.
    • Also The Quiet American.
    • While Blast from the Past wasn't exactly the most serious fare of his career, he did play a sheltered, socially-awkward gentleman very convincingly.
    • Audio Books? How about Inkspell? He's the vocal inspiration for one of the roles! (Mo. And he played him in the well casted Inkheart movie.)
  • Jeri Ryan's debut on Star Trek: Voyager was met with a degree of eye-rolling from the fanbase: "Oh great, here comes a shameless attempt at Ms. Fanservice, Narm ahoy, etc..." Then came that episode where she had to manifest a dozen different personalities in twenty minutes... Hidden Depths indeed.
  • Much of the young adult cast (the "Golden Trio", in particular) of the Harry Potter franchise have been receiving relieved sighs from critics, who recognize that, as they've grown, they've all truly grown into their characters. Daniel Radcliffe, who recently starred (nude, yes) in Equus in London's West End (and other places afterwards), also received positive reviews overall... And come to think of it, there are plenty of child actors that developed into, you know, actual actors.
  • Jamie Foxx earned his stripes with Ray.
  • Colin Baker, aka the Sixth Doctor was widely considered the worst from his short TV tenure on Doctor Who. When the actor reprised the role for the Big Finish audio dramas, he was later voted the best.
  • Whether Arthur Darvill was any good at acting in his earlier career was mostly up for debate due to the fact that he spent most of it playing back up for a much more famous teddy bear, and now... well, watch any episode of Doctor Who he's in and you'll see what this guy can do. His conversation with Amy in "The Pandorica Opens" is arguably his best scene.
  • Owen Wilson in Wes Anderson films: The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.
    • Speaking of Royal Tennenbaums, typically sophomoric movie actor Ben Stiller convincingly plays a grieving, tightly-wound widower.
  • When Teri Hatcher is cast as the Other Mother in Coraline, let's just say that most people didn't expect her to pull it off that well.
  • Channing Tatum, mostly known for being reasonably hot and dancing in Step Up, actually pulled off a really powerful and tragic performance in A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, even going so far as to have a Method moment and throwing a table through a window in an unscripted and highly emotional scene.
  • Frank Sinatra crooned and hoofed his way through Anchors Aweigh and On The Town, and then won an Oscar as Maggio in From Here To Eternity. In his acceptance speech, he admitted that he was just a "song-and-dance man." (One that would go on to play several more Oscar-worthy roles, such as The Man With the Golden Arm, and Suddenly, where he plays a stone-cold psychopath.)
  • Doc Hammer of The Venture Bros had this reaction to himself. In the DVD Commentary to The Invisible Hand Of Fate, he says that normally he and Jackson Publick are reading the lines for their many side characters, they're pretty much just reading the lines in a funny voice without even trying to act. In that particular episode, Doc discovered his acting chops, pointing out the scene where Billy Quizboy angrily confronts the people manipulating him.
  • Edward Scissorhands got this kind of attention for Johnny Depp. During his 21 Jump Street days he had been thought of more as a teen mag coverboy than an actor (a situation that did not make him happy).
  • Dick Powell was a regular song-and-dance man in the forties used to doing lighthearted musicals, but his turn as a jaded and cynical private detective in Murder My Sweet was spot-on.
  • Vincent Price is normally thought of a quite a Large Ham, more campy than generally scary. Even in straight-up horror suspense pictures like House on Haunted Hill, there's a fun quality to his character. Until you watch Witchfinder General (aka The Conquerer Worm), where he's utterly terrifying.
    • Or if you watch Dragonwyk where he deftly pulls off the charming leading man, capable of seducing Gene Tierney. It's a role Gregory Peck was originally supposed to play.
    • Anyone who still doubts Prices acting chops should see his role in "The Song of Bernadette,"
      • Or listen to some of his old radio acting, especially his appearances on Suspense.
  • Who knew that Sean Hayes, the guy that played a bimbo Camp Gay for years, could act out a breakdown so easily?
  • A lot of people said this about Farrah Fawcett in The Burning Bed.
  • Patton Oswalt getting an actual subplot after a few episodes of just being a joke-spouting friend on United States of Tara.
    • Patton was amazing in Big Fan.
    • Hell, Toni Colette on United States of Tara. Not only portraying five people living in the same body of varying ages and genders, but playing the main personality badly impersonating one of the other personalities. Wow.
    • Muriel's Wedding.
    • And in Dollhouse's Growing the Beard episode, "Man On The Street".
  • Mo'Nique, whose entire filmography up until this point had consisted of low-brow comedies, shocked everyone with her portrayal of an abusive, mentally unstable mother in Precious, a role which earned her a much-deserved Oscar.
    • Mariah Carey's performance in the same film was also praised.
  • Although critics nowadays are generally big fans of Leonardo DiCaprio, his iconic role of Jack Dawson in Titanic annoyed so many male viewers that it took him several following roles for them to begrudgingly admit that he's not just a pretty boy actor any more.
  • Kristen Stewart, best known for playing Bella Swan, got this reaction with her performance as Joan Jett in the Biopic The Runaways.
    • It's worth noting that she already had a good performance to her name.
      • Also from earlier on, Panic Room, especially the hypoglycemic fit while trapped with her mother in said room.
      • Speak is a great performance too.
      • Adventureland also counts, with a surprisingly realistic performance.
    • Perhaps her most admired performance so far is her role as a prostitute from Welcome to the Rileys.
    • Stewart seems to be a genuinely talented actress; she's simply best known for a role whose motivations and lines are incredibly hard to communicate convincingly.
  • Billy Connolly in a number of smaller roles, but the breakout is probably the film Mrs Brown. As well as The Boondock Saints franchise in which he plays the stoic, aging yet ruthless Hitman with a Heart.
    • Anyone who's surprised by Billy Connolly's acting ability obviously hasn't seen his stand-up, where he plays hundreds of characters of varying voices and accents. There's an early video of him playing a man doing a quiet Anguished Declaration of Love, only to let off a fart in the middle of it.
  • Neil Patrick Harris is an odd example. He's re-invented himself as a comedic actor in the last decade after being known as a child star in the 80s. Then came Doctor Horribles Sing Along Blog. He already had plenty of fans because he's just a cool guy, but compared to his role in the Harold & Kumar films, his role as Dr. Horrible was surprisingly good.
  • Firass Dirani was wasted on Mystic Force, as demonstrated by his recent (Logie Award-winning) appearance on Underbelly: The Golden Mile. Similarly, Anna Hutchison's fantastic performance as Allison Dine on Underbelly: A Tale Of Two Cities.
    • So was Amy Jo Johnson. There's a great moment from the second season of the original show when Kim is kidnapped by Goldar and is turned into his perfect bride... which happens to be Rita Repulsa. The potion doesn't take, but Kim decides to mess with Goldar, Squatt and Baboo and turn in a pitch-perfect imitation of Rita, right down to the screeching and "I have a headache!", enough that Goldar thinks it worked too well. Even Linkara mentioned in his review of the series that this moment is scarily good.
    • Power Rangers is actually pretty good for these moments. Considering that one of the prerequisites for being a Ranger is being a "Teenager with Attitude" (or at least a young adult), you end up with very young people who are doing their very first big job, and have little experience otherwise. It could be said that they become good actors because of their time on Rangers.
    • Melody Perkins jumps in leaps and bounds from her first appearance as Astronema in Power Rangers in Space. In her first few appearances, she chews and hams more than the previous season's villain Divatox, including a great amount of Shatner speech. A few episodes and she'd gotten better, and then came the epic 'Secret of the Locket' arc, where she portrayed Astronema teetered between good and evil so well that the viewer honestly didn't know where she would end up in the end. And THEN, after turning her back on being a bad guy, she is downright TERRIFYING when she is reprogrammed back into her Astronema persona.
    • Olivia Tennet, and her performance as Dr. K, are just a couple of the reasons why Power Rangers RPM is so awesome. Let's review: At first, she is totally deadpan and hardly changes facial expressions or displays emotions. (It's in character, so it's justified. Dr. K only loses it whenever someone mentions that the suits are made of spandex, including a little kid.) And then there's the episode "Doctor K", where Olivia really gets to shine. Holy cow. That she portrayed the various emotions her character felt throughout the episode, especially the guilt she faced over her mistakes, with seeming effortlessness was awesome enough--especially considering how difficult it would be to portray a Teen Genius that accidentally destroyed nearly the whole world. That she did it at only 17 years old (when RPM began production) makes it a Crowning Moment of Awesome for her.
  • Jackson Rathbone's performance in Twilight? Hilariously terrible. His performance in Criminal Minds? Very believable. In Criminal Minds, he played a shy, troubled, perennially mumbling, drug-addicted janitor and said janitor's split personality. What makes this even more impressive is that the other personality was a serial-killing woman with a Southern accent, contrasting with the normal personality in every possible way. To top that off, Rathbone had to transition between personalities in the middle of a scene, and he pulled that off as well.
    • There are a lot of surprisingly good turns for UnSubs. James Van Der Beek as a killer with three personalities, Jamie Kennedy as an unrecognizable cannibal, and Frankie Muniz as a haunted comic book artist are just three examples.
  • Even though it was just voice-acting, Andy Dick (in)famously known for his shock-value comedy, gave a truly tragic performance as Nuka in his last moments in The Lion King II.
  • Somewhat subverted in the case of Eliza Dushku and Dollhouse. Most fans agree that her acting skills at the show's beginning were, while not awful, very limited. But then came the season 2 finale in which she hits it out of the park, when the realization of Paul's death finally hits her.
  • Paris Hilton in Repo! The Genetic Opera surprised a lot of people.
    • And her brief, almost self mocking appearance on Supernatural in season 5.
  • In the early '90s, probably no one thought that rapper "Marky Mark" Wahlberg will once be nominated for an Oscar (The Departed, 2006).
  • Most people wrote Orlando Bloom off as basically worthless because of his popularity with girls and women until his self-deprecating appearance on an episode of Extras and his performance as a near-suicidal failed writer in the London play In Celebration. Fans could have told these people that all they needed to do was watch him in Ned Kelly or Haven to see what he can do.
    • Or Elizabethtown.
  • Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys.
    • Eh, we'd already seen Pulp Fiction.
      • The Sixth Sense is arguably a better example, proving just how much range he really has.
      • An earlier example: Death Becomes Her. Who knew that he could be goofy too? (Well, anyone who remembered Moonlighting, but such films as Die Hard had overshadowed his earlier comedy career.)
      • Even earlier, anyone who thinks he can only play wisecracking action heroes is advised to see him as a disabled Vietnam vet in In Country.
    • This has happened to Bruce a few times. He started off as a comedic actor in Moonlighting and when it came time for him to do action roles like Die Hard, people laughed and couldn't believe this comedian could ever be an action star. Once those movies took off, he was known as an action star and when it came time for him to do comedic roles again, they couldn't believe this action star could ever be a comedian. Once he dipped back and forth for a while, he started doing more dramatic roles and again... people didn't think this guy could pull it off.
      • He's not the only one. Lloyd Bridges came at it in the opposite direction, spending part of the 60s establishing himself as a dramatic, action hero actor on film and in television. And then came Airplane!, and his comic career was born. More than ten years of parody films like Hot Shots later, his son Jeff Bridges is doing Blown Away and needs someone to play his character's uncle. When Jeff suggested his dad for the role, the producers apparently responded with, "Doesn't he only do comedies?"
    • The movie adaptation of Sin City.
  • Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys.
    • Note that this is one of the first roles where his looks were seriously downplayed and he had to succeed on pure ability. And he aced it.
  • Cher. When her name came up in the opening credits for Moonstruck, the audience laughed. She bagged an Oscar for it.
    • Cher in M.A.S.K.. People felt she should have bagged an Oscar for it.
  • Tom Wansey, in Ace Lightning. For most of the first series, people weren't convinced he knew what he was doing; then came an episode with the series first character "death". He hasn't been seen since, of course, excluding a brief stint in a hospital drama; make of that what you will...
  • Mike O'Malley is known for subpar comedies that somehow made it past 5 seasons, Nickelodeon game shows, and being a Boston sports fan. However it wasn't until his turn on Glee as Kurt's father that people realized that he can actually act!
    • He's also playing a recurring role on Parenthood.
      • Also revealing unexpected depth on Parenthood -- Dax Shepard, who got his start goofing off with Ashton Kutcher on Punk'd.
        • Back on the subject of Mike O'Malley, this goes back earlier than Glee and Parenthood. Case in point: the Too Good to Last NBC series My Own Worst Enemy where he switches back and forth between a falsely created personality as a loving husband and his true self as a Badass killing machine spy.
  • During the Rifftrax of the movie Daredevil, Mike is briefly impressed by a moment of good acting from Ben Affleck as he plays blind lawyer Matt Murdock.

Matt: What is your problem with our clients, we have good, respectable clients. What's your definition of better? Define better.
Mike: Huh. Ben Affleck takes a stab at acting. And that's the last time we'll ever see him do that.

    • Chasing Amy, particularly the car scene.
    • Hollywoodland also got plenty of mileage in this department.
    • He manages to be a legit scene stealer in Boiler Room as well. To the point that he almost steals the entire movie.
      • The Town, is also an example of this. Also, Blake Lively reveals that she can do more than Gossip Girl, and Jeremy Renner, while not being considered anywhere near a bad actor, reveals that he has much more than The Hurt Locker in him, he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the academy award, his second nomination after his first for Best Actor in The Hurt Locker.
    • While We're on the subject of the Affleck Brothers, let's not forget Casey. After bit parts in comedies such as The Last Kiss and the Oceans Films, no one expected much. Then in The Assassination of Jesse James, he delivers an absolutely stunning and brilliantly understated performance as Bob Ford, the much reviled murderer of Jesse James, who wants nothing more than to be famous. His role in Gone Baby Gone shows that he's only going to get better!
    • He isn't alone either. While no one was really in doubt after Babel and Fight Club, Brad Pitt really proved his talent as the violent, psychotic, but self-loathing, and deeply remorseful Jesse, who has the live with the guilt of the bloodshed he has caused.
  • How about Ludacris in Law and Order SVU as Darius, Fin's evil stepson. He was pretty impressive as a villain, and honestly stole the show as a legitimately intimidating perp.
    • SVU is apparently good for this sort of thing. Witness Carol Burnett (yes, that Carol Burnett) as Birdie Sulloway in season 10's "Ballerina" and Kathy Griffin, (yes, that Kathy Griffin) as Babs Duffy in season 11's "P.C."
    • Another odd case is Cynthia Nixon. While she is a good actress, and no one's arguing that, she's best known at this point for Sex and the City, a show with a reputation for being a little vapid and superficial. When she goes on SVU, she plays a woman with multiple personalities, and jumped from one personality to another easily (and horrifying people who only knew her as Miranda).
    • Even before Ludacris, there's Ice-T himself. While he'd been seriously acting for a few years, most of his roles were drug dealers and gangbangers, which people probably didn't see as a stretch for someone known primarily as a gangta rapper. There were a lot of raised eyebrows when he appeared on screen to play Fin Tutuola, with jokes about the rapper who brought you "Copkiller" playing a cop. And then he proceeded to own the role.
    • There was also Schyuler Fisk, best known as Sissy Spacek's Daughter and the Girlfriend in Orange County playing a college student who has a child with her estranged father. Talent clearly runs in that family.
    • Let's not forget Robert Patrick, best known as the T-1000. His role as a sex offender is creepier than anything involving liquid metal or guns.
      • Of course, fans of The X-Files knew Patrick could act. His turn as Agent John Doggett is one of the only highlights of the 8th and 9th seasons.
      • And don't forget his turn in The Sopranos as a compulsive gambler in way over his head. When he finally breaks down in anguish, it is absolutely heartbreaking.
      • Hell, anyone who saw Terminator 2 knew that. There's a reason the T-1000 has made so many "best villain" lists, and at least half of that is due to Patrick's utterly terrifying performance.
    • While he was always good, Chris Meloni really proved himself in his monologue in the season two episode "Victims."
  • While Chris Pine was hardly bad in Star Trek, he didn't exactly get a chance to show off his acting chops, and his prior work consisted mainly of romantic comedies. Then came a little play called Farragut North...
    • But then, anyone who saw Bottle Shock knew that he could act already...
    • Anybody saw "Carriers", was spot on being a jerk, but with other implications... heartbreaking actually...
  • Ellen DeGeneres's "I look at you, and I'm home" speech in Finding Nemo.
    • The DVD commentary said that the take they used was her second one- by the end of recording the first one, she was crying so much because she thought she had ruined the line, and she had to take a break. By the second try, she was still distraught over the first take. Probably an example of method acting.
  • Miley Cyrus in Bolt.
  • It might not have been intentional, but the Critic's "nasty-wasties" speech in Kickassia proved to a lot of people that Doug Walker can act legitimately terrifying whenever he wants to be.
    • These people must have missed the end of the bit where he acts out the Joker's monologue from The Dark Knight.
    • While most of the Critic's proper woobie moments are just Doug putting his natural-born Puppy Dog Eyes to good use, his breakdown before the Crowning Moment of Awesome in the "Commercials Special" wasn't just shouting, screaming or OTT crying, it was... genuinely sad.
    • And he does it yet again in Suburban Knights. From Ma-Ti's death to Linkara giving him an idea for another quest, the Critic looks and acts like his whole world has been destroyed. And not just common review suffering, he's 100% broken. Doug should be proud of himself.
  • Lewis Lovhaug had a "holy shit, he can act!" moment, too, when he's nearly Driven to Suicide in the last Silent Hill: Dead Or Alive review. Unlike most times on the site when it was Suicide as Comedy, the crushed look on his face is terrifying.
    • Lewis is amazing at portraying fear and sadness, portraying these in Cry For Justice 5-7 and Care Bears 13.
    • 90's Kid possessed/replaced by the Entity is easily the high point.
  • "8-Bit" Mickey Paradis surprised a lot of people with his acting chops in Suburban Knights. Known more for his wacky dancing and willingness to lose his clothes, his range of emotions was a big change.
  • Nella in The Nostalgia Chick's "Dark Nella Saga". Scary but funny, hammy but menacing and in the last two reviews she could go between fangirl and evil quickly and awesomely.
  • Not a comedic example, but after playing Meredith Grey as a perpetually vague, droll, half-asleep character for what seemed hundreds of episodes, all of a sudden Ellen Pompeo confronts her lucid mother about how she just can't deal with yet another upheaval in her life. It's not one of Izzie's Steven's hysterical meltdowns; it's quiet, understated, and completely rips your heart out.
  • Georgia van Cuylenberg spent most of Final Fantasy XIII making Vanille into one of the most irritating Genki Girls ever. Then came a little scene on a stormy rooftop in Nautilus. Damn but she can act an epic breakdown.
  • Josh Peck, famous for kid-oriented shows like Drake and Josh, The Amanda Show, and various movies got his HRCA moment in 2008's The Wackness.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt in just about everything he's done since 3rd Rock from the Sun.
    • Basically every review for Mysterious Skin has a sentence that is essentially: "HOLY. COW. Didn't see that coming."
    • But nobody really noticed until he returned to acting after taking off a few years to go to college. And not only his acting chops, but how fully committed he can be to any role or bit performed. His stint as host of Saturday Night Live had him perform the "Make Em' Laugh" number from Singin in The Rain to near perfection on live television. To give some perspective, even stage performances of the number nowadays don't require the actor to perform all of the stunts because of the sheer amount of athleticism required pull it off.
      • The performance can be seen here. And yes, he does do the backflip off the wall. Twice.
      • His performance in Brick, which came out very soon after Mysterious Skin and starred Gordon-Levitt as a teenage hardboiled detective, had a similar effect. But for the grand majority of movie audiences, it was almost certainly Inception.
      • Actually, for the majority of people his breakout role was more likely Five Hundred Days of Summer.
  • Robert Pattinson. Remember Me. Not that he was ever bad, per se, but holy cow. But he earned a Razzie nomination for it.
  • Roger Moore is best known for playing suave, charming international playboy types. Seeing him in The Man Who Haunted Himself, in which he plays an uptight exec who thinks he's being stalked by his own double and ultimately has a nervous breakdown, is a jaw-dropping experience. Partly because his performance is so good, and partly because seeing Roger Moore going realistically insane is genuinely disturbing.
    • Right in the middle of his stint as James Bond, he starred in The Wild Geese as basically Daniel Craig's version of Bond, ie a hard, cold badass. His first scene where he forces a drug dealer to overdose on his own product is quite unnerving to people used to his foppish, denonair Bond.
      • Not forgetting For Your Eyes Only, are we? You know, the one with him acting as ruthless as Connery, Craig and Dalton at their coldest.
  • The Invention of Lying, despite being a comedy, features one very effective scene of Ricky Gervais' character improvising a description of Heaven to comfort his dying mother, which shows Gervais could easily start a career as a dramatic actor if he ever wanted to.
    • This should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen the Extras christmas special and Andy's speech to camera at the end.
    • Wait. This is a surprise? Anyone who was watching Series 2 of The Office in the U.K already knew this.
  • Anthony Anderson spent quite a few years being thought of as just a funny fat guy, verging on Uncle Tomfoolery in some roles. Then came his terrifying run as Large Ham Complete Monster Antwon Mitchell on The Shield, leading to more highbrow films like The Departed and a starring role on Law and Order...shortly before it was cancelled.
  • Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich. She's unrecognizable and really good.
  • Mark Hamill impressed everyone after Star Wars by taking very serious roles in the Broadway versions of Amadeus, and The Elephant Man. Then he started voice acting...
  • While he was arguably already giving the best performance in the Twilight films, Taylor Lautner's performance as the host of SNL really sold him as an actor to Hollywood
  • You know Charlie Chaplin? The guy with the funny mustache who did slapstick in old silent comedies? Behold. Holy moley.
  • The Rock, while technically an actor, was hardly what most people would have thought of as one. Dwayne Johnson, on the other hand, is quite successful.
    • Interestingly, when the idea for the movie The One was first put forward, the role of the good and evil protagonists (It Makes Sense in Context) was written for Dwayne Johnson. However, he opted to do The Scorpion King instead, and the script was re-written for Jet Li. While YMMV on the how good The One is, there's no denying the awesomeness of seeing Jet Li kick his own ass. Seeing the Rock do that would probably not be as cool. Besides, Jet Li and Jason Statham make a great team. The role of a Conan-like barbarian suits the Rock better.
  • Michael Cera's constantly mocked for his typecasting ("Hey, have you seen that Michael Cera film where he plays an awkward teenager who falls in love with a quirky girl?"), but he's starting to be seen in a new light after playing Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass Scott Pilgrim. In fact, it could be said that once Scott takes a level in badass, so does Cera.
  • Alyson Hannigan. She did okay in films, and looked decent in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the episode "Dopplegangland" was where she showed she could really, really act. Evil Vampire!Willow was darn impressive, but then Good!Willow tries to imitate Vampire!Willow, and Vampire!Willow tries to imitate Good!Willow. It was a tour de force performance.
  • Brenda Song does as well in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and the sequel series The Suite Life On Deck as anyone can be expected to do in a Disney Channel series. She'd basically played the same character in everything she'd done: dumb, spoiled rich girl with a penchant for snobbery. These series turned that Up to Eleven and she's gone with it. Everyone who has seen her act before is therefore in for a very pleasant surprise should they see The Social Network; Christy's a slutty, jealous, and sometimes downright scary bitch, and you will respect her for it.
  • When Nina Dobrev was cast in the roles of Elena and Katherine for The Vampire Diaries most people thought she would never be able to carry the series, let alone play two completely different characters, judging by her performances on Degrassi. Fast forward to mid season one, and people started to realize just how talented she actually is. Fast forward to season two, and she had viewers and critics floored by how easily she slips between Elena and Katherine while keeping both of them completely in character.
  • Tom Welling is able to play several completely different in personality characters in Smallville. There's Clark Kent, Kal (Clark while infected by Red Kryptonite, a hedonistic and insensitive Jerkass), Kal-El (Clark Kent's Straw Vulcan Kryptonian self), a teenage Jor-El during flashbacks, Bizarro (who starts out as a Complete Monster and gets Character Development into a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds), and Clark Luthor/Ultraman (a Complete Monster who's screwing his own sister). And when Clark gets possessed, he perfectly copies the person's speech patterns.
    • He also did a great impression of John Glover/Lionel Luthor in the Body Swap episode.
    • Welling also has good comedic timing, as can be seen in "Hex" where he's cursed into forgetting he has superpowers. See here for some of the highlights.
    • You can even see how Tom Welling improves as an actor by the different personalities he portrays on the show. Kal and Kal-El seem a little over-done and forced when he portrays them, but his Clark Luthor is so different from the normal Clark through subtle acting differences and a more reserved portrayal. Clark Luthor is probably the most disturbing thing this troper has seen on the show; he looks like Clark, but Welling portrays him completely differently whilst simultaneously avoiding the viewer thinking "this is just the guy who plays Clark doing him another character" - we are absorbed into the role.
    • The same can also be said for his co-star Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor. While he was never bad in the series (Quite the opposite, in fact), it was the season three arc when Lex is desperately trying to win his father's affection by doing increasingly terrible things that really showed how much he had grown. When he crosses the line into full-on villainy, its both terrifying and heartbreaking. He shows how horrible a person Lex can be while reminding us of the boy he used to be. By the end, it is practically impossible to imagine anyone else playing the role.
  • In case you didn't catch Ryan Reynolds in Definitely Maybe, you might want to check him out in Buried, which is basically just him in a box acting his butt off. Also in Smokin Aces he manages to pull of some great emotion especially in the final scenes.
  • Justin Timberlake in Alpha Dog. This probably got him the cred he needed to get a key role in The Social Network.
    • Timberlake also really earned his bones as a comedy performer with the famous Saturday Night Live skit "Dick in a Box" and his series of commercials for Sony.
      • Timberlake's performance in The Social Network is also one of these, as both a comedic & dramatic actor.
      • Even his vocal performance as Boo-Boo in the Yogi Bear movie has gotten some praise for how well he did the voice.
      • His understated performance in Black Snake Moan is quite impressive.
    • Watch the video for Elton John's 'This Train Don't Stop There Anymore', especially the part where Elton's against the wall and sinking. Then notice where this entry is on the list, and that Sir Elton doesn't look like that these days ... and look at how accurate it was.
  • Hugh Jackman the triple role of Tomas/Tommy/Tom in The Fountain. It was amazing.
    • Another example is him portraying the double of a man who is also played by him in The Prestige. Up until the double starts "acting" as him, they actually look, sound and move like different people and the transformation is genuinely astonishing.
    • The skill in portraying such a morally ambiguous yet still somewhat sympathetic character in The Prestige that makes the viewer forget that they're even watching Wolverine's actor also shows his skill.
  • George Eads of CSI was a passable but unremarkable actor, but then came the season five episodes "Grave Danger: Volume 1" and "Grave Danger: Volume 2." Wow.
    • Especially considering that he spends about 90% of "Grave Danger" in a box the size of a coffin.
  • Marlon Wayans in Requiem for a Dream
  • Chris Tucker in Dead Presidents
    • And for both him and Ice T in New Jack City. Often in the same scene.
  • Megan Fox in Eminem's "Love The Way You Lie" music video.
  • Jessica Biel in The Illusionist.
    • Easy Virtue showed she was a great actress. As well as a surprisingly good singer!
  • From the serious to the comic: David Bowie's mysterious, cool, sensual aura has bled into so many of his film/TV roles over the years that one can forget his genuine acting talent...so as a quick refresher, enjoy the short film/music video hybrid Jazzin' for Blue Jean, in which Acting for Two results in Adam Westing of the coolness and an Adorkable protagonist.
  • Jet Li, best known as a pint-sized badass martial artist, in Ocean Heaven. The romantic drama, proudly touted as his "first non martial-arts film", has Li play a terminally-ill father of a 22-year-old autistic child.
    • Or Danny the Dog. The martial arts are used in service of the story (i.e., the fights express emotion just as clearly as the dialogue), and his mannerisms when playing a man raised as a dog are uncanny.
    • As to his martial arts movies, it is worth pointing out that Li delivered terrific performance in Hero and Fearless. He managed to carry an all-around mediocre The One with his acting as well. You gotta give the man some credit - even when he knows that the audience just wants to see asses kicked and kung fu done, he still makes an effort to act well.
      • Don't forget his role as Wong Fei Hung in the Once Upon a Time in China series, arguably his most famous role and the one that is synonymous with the image of Wong Fei Hung. Also his role in The Warlords as the conflicted Anti-Hero Panq Qinqyun, the role was critically praised, earning Jet his second Hong Kong Film Award for Best actor nomination and his first win (the first nomination on which he did not win was for the aforementioned Fearless).
  • Natalie Portman in Black Swan. Through most of the movie, it looked like she was on the verge of crying. And considering what her character put up with, you couldn't blame her.
    • Natalie Portman has been doing critically acclaimed movies for some time now.
  • Lisa Kudrow, better known for her role as Phoebe in Friends, in the 1998 film The Opposite of Sex.
    • See also her work in The Comeback and Web Therapy.
    • And her role in Paper Man, where you can actually see her channeling "Angrish Phoebe" in a productive way that works. It's on Netflix, look it up.
  • Jesse Eisenberg, although giving good performances in films like Zombieland and Adventureland, really proved himself as a actor in The Social Network, especially during the end.
  • Mickie James, in that episode of WWE Raw where she tricks Trish Stratus into believing Trish's boyfriend Jack had just tried to rape her.
  • That doofy guy from Bosom Buddies, and Bachelor Party, and Volunteers, and Mazes and Monsters, ... and then Tom Hanks did Philadelphia, and Big, and A League of Their Own, and Forrest Gump, and Apollo13, and Saving Private Ryan, etc., etc.
  • People only familiar with Angelina Jolie from the Lara Croft Tomb Raider movie would do well to watch such films as Life or Something Like It, where she gives a powerful performance as a TV reporter who discovers she is doomed to die in a week.
    • Her role in Girl, Interrupted cemented her status as a great actress, and that was before Tomb Raider.
  • For a while, it seemed like James Franco was going to be remembered as whiny and irritating Harry Osborn in Spider-Man. Then along came Pineapple Express, and 127 Hours, boosting his esteem considerably.
    • This had arguably happened earlier when he fully embodied the role of James Dean and when he held his own in Milk. Earlier still in Freaks & Geeks as Daniel, the cool rebel deconstruction, who desperately wants to break out of the loser perception everyone has of him. His speech about being one of the "Dumb Kids" is heartbreaking, even if you know before hand that it is setting up a final joke...
    • He actually improved alot over the course of the Spider-Man movies, going from wooden in one movie, to "whiny and irritating" in the next, to very convincing in the third, as he plays Harry as evil and vengeful, with amnesia, in a moral dilemma, and dying all in the same film.
  • Gorillaz bassist Murdoc is voiced by Phil Cornwell, who's a comedian by trade. Since the tone in the interviews and animated shorts is usually weird and light-hearted, this works out pretty well. But in the iTunes session interviews, there are some surprisingly frightful parts, and Cornwell proves himself as an actor by bringing Murdoc across as phenomenally scummy, even intimidating. The brutal on-tape fights and suggestive chloroform scene are played quite convincingly for the characters, adding a dark new layer to the Gorillaz story development.
  • Richard Pryor. Anyone who has only seen a small portion of his standup and his movies with Gene Wilder can be forgiven for assuming that he is not a particularly great actor. Funny yes, but not a great actor. And then in some of his performances, he'll pull out the Mudbone character, or some other similar characters (junkies and such) that are both amazingly well performed and a serious bit of Mood Whiplash compared to his usual energetic comedic style.
    • He also gives an excellent straight dramatic performance in Blue Collar.
  • Kanye West in We Were Once a Fairytale. Twice.
  • Joel McHale in Community. Jeff seems like the same "character" plays on The Soup. Then you see something like "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking", and the look on Jeff's face during the following line. For context, Pierce promised Jeff would get to meet his estranged dad, whom he has issues with. Jeff said that if it turns out to be a Mind Screw by Pierce, that he will beat Pierce. Jeff is currently looking at a limo, and has answered from a phone call from a man claiming to be his father and in the limo. It's obviously Pierce, and Jeff has just realized that and is right in the middle of switching between "hopeful" and "murderous rage".

Jeff: ...Go on.

    • Pretty much everyone on Community is amazing. It may just be the writing but Chevy Chase is incredibly funny on it. Chevy Chase. The guy who took pratfalls for one season on Saturday Night Live, did two good vacation movies and has basically been a punchline ever since, because everything he tried either simply failed or was a complete disaster. Rebooting this guy's career is pretty much just one of this show's 6 billion CMOAs and counting.
  • Shane Kippel in Degrassi. He was criticized a lot during his tenure on the show (primarily earlier seasons) for not really being able to act when it came to dramatic sequences (which, being Degrassi, did happen sometimes). Then he played a supporting character in the film Dog Pound, which caused just about everybody to go back and do a Double Take... even the notoriously major assholes of IMDB gave him praise for his performance in it.
  • Jack Huston, grandson of that famous director and nephew of that other badass lady, was perfectly serviceable in things like "Eastwick," the very silly and enjoyable Outlander and even Eclipse, but it wasn't until his subtle, scary, heartbreaking, Method-influenced Boardwalk Empire performance as deformed WWI veteran Richard Harrow that we saw how talented and committed he really is.
    • Boardwalk Empire has this effect with a few of its stars. Steve Buscemi plays very well against type as the ruthless but humane Nucky; but it is Michael Stuhlbarg, a former bit player whose only major role was as the timed Woody Allen type lead in A Serious Man, as the brilliant but deeply twisted Arnold Rothstein and Michael Shannon as the psychopathic Knight Templar Agent Van Alden that really leave a mark.
    • To say Paz de la Huerta is disliked by the majority of the fandom is putting it mildly. However, watching her performance in the season two episode "A Dangerous Maid" surprised a lot of her detractors as you watch Lucy Danzinger come to terms with her pregnancy, her baby's father, and her future. It's some very deft work from Ms. de la Huerta.
  • Jackie Chan is known for more comedic roles, so his dramatic performance in The Karate Kid remake surprised many viewers.
  • Though Damages wiped out any possible doubts about Ted Danson, no one expected Sam Malone to knock it out of the park as Gulliver in the '90s TV version of Gulliver's Travels.
  • After twenty years, Sam Rockwell became everyone's favourite quirky independent actor. He gave excellent serious performances in The Assassination of Jesse James and Frost/Nixon but it was his complex, emotionally demanding role in Moon (which he carries all by himself) that proved how good he can be.
  • After small roles in The Adventures of Pete and Pete and other shows, Heather Matarazzo turned a searing and remarkably mature performance in Welcome to The Dollhouse proving immense skill for any actor but especially for a twelve year old.
  • Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married proved that she is a force to be reckoned with.
  • Something of a retro example: Christopher Walken has never been regarded as a bad actor, but his persona is so famous that it can often overshadow his talent. He was brilliant in King of New York as the drug kingpin who knows that his dreams of redemption are futile and he cannot escape the burden of guilt and in The Funeral as a man who is fully aware that his bloodlust will only cause more destruction for everyone and who believes that he will go to Hell when he dies. And if you can get through Catch Me If You Can without shedding a tear, there's a fiver here with your name on it.
    • And if you need further convincing, check out this behind-the-scenes clip of Walken from Catch Me If You Can (at about the 2:20 mark). This guy's the real deal.
  • Harvey Keitel was always a good supporting actor, proving he could hold his own alongside De Niro but never getting the big parts. Then in Bad Lieutenant he gives a brilliant performance as a man we should detest but we pity due to his intense self-hatred and despair. It blows De Niro and Pacino completely out of the water.
  • Simon Pegg in Shaun of the Dead's dramatic scenes. A comedy actor shouldn't be that good at crying.
  • Many people who only knew Hayden Panettiere as Claire the cheerleader got a very pleasant surprise on seeing her performance in Scream 4.
  • You wouldn't think that Diedrich Bader would be any good at serious deadpan roles after The Drew Carey Show and Office Space. But his performance as Batman on Batman the Brave And The Bold showed us all!
  • After being known as a Leading man and Hollywood Actor, Tom Cruise proved his talent in Born On the Fourth of July as the all-American ex-Marine turned anti-war activist Ron Kovic. He had similar parts in A Few Good Men and Magnolia showing what he can do. He arguably proved it earlier than that in The Color of Money, merely by not being blown off the screen by Paul Newman.
  • While best known for taking his shirt off constantly and talking like a drunk, Matthew McConaughey proved he was no slouch in A Time to Kill, in which he brings remarkable depth to what could have been a shallow role and effortlessly holding his own alongside veterans and critically acclaimed actors such as: Samuel L. Jackson, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Spacey, Chris Cooper, Brenda Fricker and Charles Dutton. He now seems to be returning to that with his role in 2011's Lincoln Lawyer.
  • Colin Morgan and Angel Coulby easily dominated the early episodes of Merlin, especially with their character's reactions to their girlfriend and father's deaths respectively, but Bradley James gets to prove himself with Arthur's rage against Uther and subsequent meltdown when he discovers the truth about his mother. Angel and Bradley also deserve credit for completely and utterly selling the Arthur/Guinevere romance, a relationship that even the shippers admit was initially a bad case of Strangled by the Red String.
    • Katie McGrath was often considered the weak link amongst the younger cast considering she was the only one who had no professional training, but she manages a heart-rending delivery of the line: "I'm scared, Merlin," and nails a later scene in which Merlin is forced to poison her, in which she goes from confusion, to gradual realization, to horror and panic without a single word of dialogue.
    • It's pretty common for fans to be blown away when seeing Colin Morgan in a serious role for the first time - he's never bad as Merlin, but in Island and Parked', his two subsequent film roles, he's phenomenal to the point that after having gone to see either film specifically for him, it's easy to be so drawn in to his performanc that you forget tha that it's him.
  • Season 10 of Smallville is showing that Lucas Gabreel doesn't need High School Musical to show that he can really act, especially since he plays Alexander Luthor and Conner Kent.
  • In a rare voice acting example, Andrea Libman has always been known for playing kiddie roles that doesn't exactly require too much acting. For My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, her performance as Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy was great. The final two episodes "Party Of One" and "The Best Night Ever" had the characters she voiced crack under pressure and it was outright unnerving.
    • This also applies for some of the other voice actresses on the show. As CR put it, their performances in the previous My Little Pony shows were probably only lackluster because they weren't given anything interesting to say.
  • Vin Diesel is the kind of "actor" who basically plays the same type of character, regardless of what character he's supposed to be playing. And then he did Find Me Guilty, and suddenly people were quoting the trope name.
    • Although one could argue this was foreshadowed a bit by his performance in Boiler Room years before.
    • It took a real actor to make us feel so much for The Iron Giant, so this was even true in 1999.
    • Also, he's pretty good in his self-directed, short film debut "Multi Facial".
    • Most people would be surprised to know that he started as a stage actor. A part of that is hinted in The Pacifier where he helps a kid put on a play.
  • Burt Reynolds in Deliverance. Little more than beefcake at the time, he proved his chops in John Boorman's infamous adaptation of the weekend trip whose ecological anvil somehow got drowned out by Squeal Little Piggy. See also Boogie Nights.
  • Topher Grace's character in Predators at first seems like his usual role, an awkward wimp... until The Reveal that he's an extremely depraved serial killer who's been stringing the others along.
  • Misha Collins' Castiel in the Supernatural episodes "The French Mistake," where Misha seamlessly transitions from Castiel to his tweet-happy self, "The Man Who Would Be King," where Castiel is begging for a sign from God, and "The Man Who Knew Too Much", where we learn that Misha can be really scary when needed, are all evidence of this.
    • The episode "The Rapture" aired two seasons before the above episodes, and is widely praised as one of the best examples of Misha's acting ability. In this episode, he transitioned from the relatively emotionless Castiel to his very human vessel Jimmy, and brought many viewers to tears in the process. Notable since this episode is during his first season on Supernatural, before which he was largely unknown.
  • Nicole Richie as an enemy agent in Chuck.
  • While Tobey Maguire may be best known for being Peter Parker, he has considerable acting chops. A notable example comes from Brothers, with one of the most terrifying performances you'll ever see. Before that, there was The Wonder Boys.
    • See also The Cider House Rules and Pleasantville.
  • The acting in Game of Thrones is superb across the board, but special congratulations has to go to Jack Gleeson, as Joffrey. Granted, it's the sort of amazing acting that makes you want to toss him to direwolves, but still. Well done... you little bastard.
  • Remember Judith Light from Who's The Boss?? Well, before she was Tony Danza's co-star, she was on One Life to Live. As Karen Wolek, who had to admit to being a prostitute on the witness stand at her friend's murder trial. The scene is here. She won the 1980 Daytime Emmy for Best Actress for that scene, BTW.
  • Lacey Turner was fairly well-known in Britain for portraying Stacey Slater in popular soap opera Eastenders. When she was cast in the third season of Being Human (UK), many fans groaned at the prospect of having to sit through the performance of an actress largely known for shouting loudly at everyone else in the room. The fanbase was very pleasantly surprised when she turned in a surprisingly nuanced performance as vengeful murder victim Lia.
    • She also underwent quite a transformation within EastEnders. She was perfectly good as a shouter, but her last few months on the show and her character's struggle with being bipolar showed what a phenomenal actress Lacey Turner actually is.
  • Adrian Edmondson on Holby City. His character, Abra, starts out as borderline comic relief, as one would expect from him, but it eventually becomes clear that the man can reduce his audience to a sobbing mess just as easily.
  • Carrie Anne Moss proved some depth in Memento, but you'd have to pause halfway through one movie, looking closer, to realize she was even in it, the character was so far away from Trinity. Moss acted her ass off in, of all things, Fido.
  • In his first two major roles, Moonlight and Three Rivers, Alex O'Loughlin didn't impress many people (except with his hotness). But then he guest-starred on an episode of Criminal Minds as a tormented serial killer with a crippling case of OCD. His performance was incredible, and he's almost unrecognizable to someone who knows him from his other work.
    • When you compare the withdrawn, quiet and fairly meek serial killer to his highly-physical, snarking, and aggressive Steve McGarrett in the new Hawaii Five-0, the difference is astounding. Even someone who's seen both roles would be hard-pressed to recognize him as the same actor, even though the only difference in appearance is a pair of glasses.
  • Demi Lovato won critical praise for her guest role in 2010 on Greys Anatomy as a suicidal patient.
  • Lady Gaga at the 2011 VMAs proved that she could be a great stage actor.
  • Bizarrely, some have had this reaction to Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, namely Patrick Dempsey as Complete Monster Dylan Gould.
    • In a more "he really can direct" way, this movie clearly proved that if Michael Bay wants to make a serious, mature and dark movie, he makes a serious, mature and dark movie right.
  • Kiernan Shipka as Sally Draper on Mad Men, especially when she pulls the Deliberately Cute Child act in "The Beautiful Girls". There's a reason why her little brother has been replaced four times while she's still on the show, even getting into the opening credits in Season 4.
  • Jack Black is known for being goofy, silly, immature, etc. Then comes along his despicable character in the King Kong remake...
  • John Ritter and Dwight Yoakam in Sling Blade.
  • Iwan Rheon in Misfits was certainly never considered a bad actor, and was arguably the best of the main cast. However his role as Future!Simon shows his clear talent: through subtly changing his behavior, Rheon in a few scenes clearly showed the character development Simon has undergone, and exhibits simultaneously a vastly different personality, yet with a few glimpses of the Simon we know and love peeking through. Not an easy job to handle.
  • Nathan Lane's sinister turn as Preed from Titan A.E. may come as a surprise to people who know him as Timon from The Lion King.
  • Woody Allen in The Front. Up until this point in his career, he had been known for playing silly, nebbishy nerds. Although there are traces of that here, it's a deeper and more dramatic performance than even his fans are used to.
  • Britney Spears is rather respected for her comedic-timing in her bit parts on How I Met Your Mother and Will and Grace.
  • Film critics savaged Madonna's performances for years until her turn as Eva Perón in Evita; she eventually won a Golden Globe for her performance.
  • If there's anyone out there that doubts Sarah Michelle Gellar has skill as an actress, they should be made to watch the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Body" and the episode following it. They could not have worked nearly as well without Gellar's painstricken performance.
    • Ringer, playing two extremely different types of women..one kind of cuddly loving messed up Mama Bear and another ice queen/manipulative bastard defined.
  • Christopher Reeve was an unknown in 1978, although an unknown who'd gone to Julliard (where he was Robin Williams' classmate and friend). Rejected three times before he finally got the part, he came to define Superman for at least one generation, and on the strength of his acting, made us believe not only that a man could fly but that Clark Kenting was entirely possible.
    • And lest you think his talents are limited to filling out blue spandex or wearing glasses convincingly, go watch Deathtrap, where he plays an earnest young writer and murderous sociopath, or Somewhere in Time, but be prepared to cry. A lot.
  • Fred Durst, commonly known as the backwards red cap-wearing mook from Limp Bizkit, surprised critics with his acting in the movie Population 436. Then with his directing of the drama The Education of Charlie Banks.
  • Though his Cool as Ice performance was panned, Vanilla Ice earned appraisal for his performance in the Captain Hook in the Chatham, Kent Central Theatre pantomime production of Peter Pan.
  • After her disasterous debut performance in the Nightmare On Elm Street, many people wrote of Rooney Mara as the worst new star of the year. Near the end of the year, she had a One-Scene Wonder in David Fincher's The Social Network, and suddenly people began to see some potential in her. That potential was reached with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo where she managed to match Noomi Rapace's performance and (in some people's eyes) exceed it. Mara later revealed that she had a miserable time working on Nightmare On Elm Street, and almost quit acting. Thank God she didn't.
  • Sam Worthington in The Debt came as a surprise to some critics, especially those who thought he couldn't escape his Australian accent.
  • Matthew Lillard is usually known as a the Large Ham actor who played Shaggy in Scooby Doo. In The Descendants, he displays surprising restraint and emotion that some were not aware he was capable of.
  • Emmy Rossum was mainly known for giving bland, wide-eyed, ingenue performances. The came the US remake of Shameless where she not only proved she could act her ass off but somehow managed to come off as a better actor than William H. Macy.
  • Thomas Haden Church was best known as the goofy mechanic Lowell on the comedy series Wings. Then he appeared in Sideways in a role as far from Lowell as humanly possible and blew everyone away with his performance.
  • Stephen Colbert on Law and Order: Criminal Intent as a forger and murderer. It's not until the credits roll that you realize you've been watching that Stephen Colbert in a dramatic role.
  • Bryan Cranston on Breaking Bad is defining example of this trope in action. Almost no one thought the bumbling dad from Malcolm in the Middle could take on such a heavy role. Four seasons later, He has won three emmys, turned the show into a critical favourite and is considered one of the best Actors on Television.
  • Aaron Paul has a bit actor for years with some minor Film work and guess spots. Then He was cast as Jesse on Breaking Bad and turned what could have been a thin character into a remarkably deep, fragile human being with an abundance of regret, self-loathing, a compulsive habit of destroying himself and probably the only real moral compass of anyone on the show.
  • Inverted with Jon Hamm. He received tons of praise for his remarkably tense, understated performance on Mad Men and is praised as basically the reason the show is so successful. Many viewers have been surprised by his work in stuff like 30 Rock and Bridesmaids. which qualify more as "He really can be funny".
  • Emily Browning going from the childlike and innocent A Series of Unfortunate Events to Sucker Punch is mind blowing to some people. The difference in characters in immense...
  • Vanessa Hudgens proves she could go the distance in the acting department with her subtle but emotional performance in Sucker Punch where she plays the complete opposite of who she played in High School Musical.
  • An Inversion. David Caruso is best known to audiences for putting on sunglasses and cheesy one-liners. Therefore seeing him in King of New York as the violent but well-intentioned police officer who is disgusted that a wealthy man can get off for murder is quite a shock. He not only plays the role extremely well, he easily holds his own alongside Christopher Walken.
  • J.K. Simmons is likely best known to the public for his scene-stealing role as J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man, getting all the best lines. But anyone who saw him in Oz knew him as the depraved Nazi Vern Schillinger, a man who is in turns absolutely loathsome and at the same time filled with self-hatred and regret. Its a complex role and Simmons absolutely nails it, giving arguably the best performance in the whole series.
  • Tom Hulce made his first big acting mark as goofy Delta frat member Pinto in Animal House. Then along came a movie called Amadeus. And then, a movie called The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where it turns out he really can sing as well.
  • In voice-acting, Johnny Yong Bosch is a bit typecast; he used to work on Power Rangers and typically plays confident, outgoing heroes. Then comes Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, in which his character is not only a meek, ostracized coward but also has a Super-Powered Evil Side. You will not recognize him.
  • Another voce acting example: Jason Griffith. Compare his acting in Sonic X to his performance in the last Sonic game he worked on. Or his performance in Kurokami. You will see a marked difference.
  • Shailene Woodley is best known for her role on The Secret Life of the American Teenager, turning in a performance that ranges all the way from bitchy to pouty with heaps of Dull Surprise in between. Imagine the shock critics had upon seeing The Descendants where she is not only very good but nearly steals the film from George Clooney. Maybe there's hope for the rest of the cast too.
  • Hayden Christnensen got this reaction after Shattered Glass, suggesting that his wooden performance in the Star Wars prequels were at least partly a result of the director's lack of attention.
  • Martin Freeman. "The Reichenbach Fall". He deserved that BAFTA for series 1 and there's no doubt about it, and we've always known he could act, but "Reichenbach" is a whole different ballgame. Whatever remaining critics of his are out there, they've been silenced. And how.
  • Matthew Morrison certainly hasn't been bad on Glee, but his turn as co-plaintiff Paul Katami in the reenacment of the Prop 8 trial was fantastic. He conveys his character's hurt over being considered a threat to children perfectly.
  • Gary Busey - After seeing him in Rookie of the Year, I didn't believe it when I heard he was crazy. Then I saw a video of Gary Busey being Gary Busey... Well, at least He Really Can Act.
  • For some people (this troper included), Karl Urban gets this treatment after Star Trek. Just watch Doom or Chronicles of Riddick, where he wears the same exact expression for the entire film. Then watch him as "Bones" McCoy and be amazed (Leonard Nimoy certainly was). However, if you happen to recognize him as Eomer from The Lord of the Rings films, then it won't be much of a surprise to you.
  • Stephen Merchant's performance as Wheatley in Portal 2 showed off his impressive voice acting skills and his ability to turn in a genuinely menacing and threatening performance.
  • Richard Horvitz has always played comedic roles. In Psychonauts, while not being as large of a ham as he is notorious for, his character Raz is still pretty lighthearted. And then you see scenes like this and it hits you that maybe it's just the littlest bit serious. The littlest bit. And he can still pull that off.
  • A good deal of the musical guests on Saturday Night Live have appeared in skits, proving themselves to be not only talented musicians, but pretty good comedic actors as well.
  • There's no question that Jennifer Hale has talent, but some of her roles arguably did not make the best use of them. Then she was called in to play Commander Shepard in Mass Effect that defined who she played as the galaxy's ultimate badass and one of the greatest characters in the medium.
  • Chris Evans in Captain America: The First Avenger : Evans was mostly known for goofy/sarcastic characters. When it was announced he'd play Steven Rogers/Captain America many fans assumed this would be the Jump the Shark moment for Marvel films. When the movie came out, Evans drew rave reviews from both critics & comics fans.