Arts Issue: Celebrity actors lend power to television

courtesy of 20th Century Fox Television
courtesy of 20th Century Fox Television

Television used to be a place for aging actors out of their prime, like Alec Baldwin in “30 Rock” or Christian Slater in “My Own Worst Enemy.” But as of late, actors still at an A-list level in Hollywood are pursuing roles in superior TV shows or even helping produce projects that would otherwise go ignored.

The most obvious example would be “True Detective,” which boasts Hollywood actors Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey — who also served as executive producers — as well as noted film director Cary Fukunaga directing all eight episodes for the first season. These celebrity presences helped garner attention in the first season, so the show may not need to rely on Hollywood actors to attract viewers in the future.

“House of Cards” is home to stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. Netflix could have cast two unknowns, but to include big-name actors draws a larger audience and brings an air of respectability. “House of Cards” began at a time when Hollywood actors in TV shows were rare and the show essentially broke that barrier for the first time.

Notable actress Jessica Lange has headlined the past three seasons of “American Horror Story,” which has a cast of recognizable names rotating every season including Zachary Quinto, James Cromwell, Kathy Bates and Sarah Paulson.

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And there will be a plentiful future for TV series featuring celebrity actors — people viewers may never have expected to see on the small screen.

Dwayne Johnson is heading over to HBO with the half-hour series “Ballers,” which follows the lives of retired and current football players. Johnson will star in the series and serve as executive producer with “Pain and Gain” co-star Mark Wahlberg.

French actress Eva Green has made a name for herself as a femme fatale and now she is bringing that to the small screen with “Penny Dreadful,” a gothic horror saga that takes place in England at the turn of the 20th century.

Tom Hardy has signed on to a BBC drama series produced by famed movie director Ridley Scott called “Taboo,” with Hardy playing a rogue adventurer in the 19th century who builds a trading and shipping empire in competition with the vicious and scandalous East India Company.

Having all of these film celebrities appear on television really does blur the line between the two screen mediums. It was once a negative criticism to refer to someone as a “TV actor,” but that insult is quickly becoming outdated.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 10 print edition. Zack Grullon is a staff writer. Email him at [email protected]

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