Big stars, small screen

As Chevy Chase adds TV to his CV in new comedy Community, here are more big-name movie actors who thrive on the small screen

Pierce Hawthorne (second from right)
Pierce Hawthorne (second from right)
Alec Baldwin
Alec Baldwin
Glenn Close
Glenn Close
Kiefer Sutherland
Kiefer Sutherland
Holly Hunter
Holly Hunter
Martin Sheen
Martin Sheen
1/6
Chevy Chase

You know him as: Clark Griswold, the hapless patriarch of the National Lampoon’s Vacation films.
But on TV he’s: Moist towelette tycoon Pierce Hawthorne, who joins Community’s adult college to find friendship.
The first of many comedians (including John Belushi and Bill Murray) to graduate from Saturday Night Live, Chase was one of the most popular funnymen of the ’80s. His name sold not just the much-loved National Lampoon’s Vacation films, but also the comedy/crime series Fletch and a number of one-off hits. But in the ’90s he slipped into relative obscurity; it wasn’t until his starring role in Community, a new series about a bunch of misfit adults attending community college, that he’s been back
in the spotlight.

Alec Baldwin

You know him as: CIA analyst Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October.
But on TV he’s: Jack Donaghy, slick VP of East Coast television and microwave oven programming in celebrated sitcom 30 Rock.
Baldwin’s career has had more ups and downs than a manic-depressive rollercoaster, from Hollywood leading man in the early ’90s to has-been later in the decade and back to Oscar-nominated success with 2003’s The Cooler. His career looked to be diving again until he joined acclaimed comedy 30 Rock as charismatic businessman Jack Donaghy, a move that revitalised his film career.

Glenn Close

You know her as: Bunny-boiling barmpot Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction.
But on TV she’s: Hard-nosed, utterly ruthless defence lawyer Patty Hewes in Damages.
It was Close’s turn as a knife-wielding stalker in Fatal Attraction that made her name, but she’s garnered massive critical acclaim and four Oscar nominations in various film roles. Unlike Baldwin and Chase, Close never slipped out of Hollywood’s favour (though her role in the live-action 101 Dalmatians was an odd choice). But she decided to give TV a try with a one-season spin as a police captain in TV thriller The Shield. Both Close and network FX were so pleased with the result that she took up her own show, razor-sharp legal drama Damages.

Kiefer Sutherland

You know him as: David, leader of the vampire gang in ’80s classic The Lost Boys.
But on TV he’s: Indestructible, unstoppable killing machine Jack Bauer in real-time drama 24.
After hits such as The Lost Boys, A Few Good Men and Young Guns, it seemed as though Sutherland couldn’t miss. But the ’90s proved to be a fallow period; he even quit acting for a while to work in rodeo shows. In 2000 he signed up for a high-concept real-time series that many predicted would fail. They couldn’t have been more wrong: eight seasons on, Sutherland’s terrorist-smashing alter-ego, Jack Bauer, is still on screens.

Holly Hunter

You know her as: Ada McGrath, mute pianist in Oscar-winning drama The Piano.
But on TV she’s: Grace Hanadarko, an alcoholic cop who’s trying to get on the right track with help from a tobacco-chewing angel in Saving Grace.
While Baldwin, Sutherland and Chase have all used TV to revitalise flagging careers, Hunter had been appearing in critically appreciated films pretty much non-stop between 1987 and 2005. But she eventually decided to make the switch to TV and set up her own production vehicle to create a telly vehicle for herself. Cue Saving Grace, which combines police procedural action with religious overtones.

Martin Sheen

You know him as: Apocalypse Now’s emotionally wrecked antihero, Captain Willard.
But on TV he’s: The West Wing’s Josiah Bartlet, probably the most gosh-darn decent US president ever to grace the White House. Along with Kiefer Sutherland’s role as Jack Bauer, Sheen’s work on The West Wing is probably one of the main reasons why TV is no longer viewed with such contempt by Hollywood actors. It helped that the writing was so consistently on the button.

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