This month, SNL alum Will Forte makes the great cinematic leap from MacGruber to Alexander Payne's Nebraska (trailer below), delivering a subtle, resonant turn as the son of an alcoholic (Bruce Dern). But not every comedic actor's first foray into drama has been worth taking seriously.
Comic Start: Cross-dressing screwball in Bosom Buddies; Oscar-nominated ham in Big; rom-com cutup.
Dramatic Turn: Wrongfully terminated AIDS-infected lawyer Andrew Beckett in 1993's Philadelphia.
Reception: Cheers. Hanks won over the critics and the Academy, taking home an Oscar for Best Actor.
Post-Script: Enjoys his reign as Hollywood's most beloved genre-hopping macher-mensch.
Comic Start: Frat-boy high jinks on SNL; more frat-boy high jinks in the likes of Old School and Anchorman.
Dramatic Turn: Dabbled in dramedy in Stranger Than Fiction and in the somber indie Everything Must Go.
Reception: Grudging nods. No awards but some critical kudos for his nuanced performances.
Post-Script: His roles, A.O. Scott said, "embody Updike's definition of a grown man as 'a failed boy.'"
Comic Start: An early SNL regular who did basic training in Stripes, then hunted gophers in Caddyshack.
Dramatic Turn: A traumatized World War I pilot in the 1984 adaptation of The Razor's Edge.
Reception: Jeers. Roger Ebert called him "too passive, too contained, too rich in self-irony."
Post-Script: Now Hollywood's esteemed elder statesman of passive, contained, self-ironic roles.
Comic Start: The guy who gave us Cajun Man, "The Chanukah Song," and films like Happy Gilmore.
Dramatic Turn: Weak-willed Barry Egan with overbearing sisters in Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love.
Reception: Confusion. The film baffled many, but Variety called him "watchable and even engaging."
Post-Script: A return to the low-low-brow (Grown Ups 2) with one exception: the mordant Funny People.
Comic Start: Alien observer ("Na-nu, na-nu!") in rainbow suspenders on the 1970s sitcom Mork & Mindy.
Dramatic Turn: T.S. Garp, the fatherless son of a feminist icon in 1982's The World According to Garp.
Reception: Mixed. The Times' Janet Maslin described his performance as "affecting...but erratic."
Post-Script: Three Oscar nods and a win for Good Will Hunting, but also a bunch of clunkers.
—Details senior editor, James Gaddy.