Comedy actors are rarely given praise in favour of their more serious, dramatic contemporaries. The unspoken attitude seems to be that if a performer doesn’t appear to be taking himself seriously, then nobody else should. Jim Carrey was only recognised as a capable actor after his ‘serious’ appearances in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and, to a lesser degree, The Truman Show.
In terms of formal recognition, Bill Murray’s had one Oscar nod for his austere turn in Lost in Translation. It’s the same with Robin Williams, whose only win was for Good Will Hunting. You’ll hear many people say that Charlie Chaplin remains the best comedy actor ever, but even he never stuck simply to making people laugh. The general consensus, although nobody will say so, is that comedy actors just aren’t as good as someone who can frown his way through a movie.
Will Ferrell will probably never be considered a good actor no matter how many times you laugh at him onscreen. Even Stranger Than Fiction, which is as close as he’s ever got to having an Eternal Sunshine moment, has a reliance on comedy that turns people off from considering how good he actually is. He’s not Chaplin reborn, don’t get me wrong, but in a world full of actors reciting lines that known comedians have written, Ferrell sits towards the top of the heap not only thanks to his delivery but also his skill in improvisation.
And like it or not, the man’s acting has made him a millennial icon. That’s why I saw at least 20 people at this year’s Leeds Festival wearing tops that say “I’m kind of a big deal.” That’s why people go to see “the new Will Ferrell movie” once or twice a year, regardless of what the film’s about. It’s part of the reason why Elf has been all over TV for the past 8 or 9 Decembers. You know exactly what a typical Ferrell performance is like. He’s built his own style, and now there are films being made just so he can be Will Ferrell (The Other Guys, Step Brothers etc.). It might look easy, and for Ferrell it may well be, but just because he’s not pretending to be simple, stuttering for two hours or drinking someone else’s milkshake, it doesn’t make it peasant work.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Returns has finally arrived and seeing as everyone’s excited to see Ferrell return to his signature role, let’s have a look back over the films that helped to build so much anticipation, as well as the other side of the coin, the performances that smelled like bigfoot’s…
This article was first posted on December 20, 2013