Speaking of Mike Nichols‘ Silkwood, I recently read a story about Cher going to see the film’s trailer at a theatre in Westwood (which would have been sometime in the fall of ’83) and feeling crushed when the audience laughed upon realizing that she was a costar. She called up Nichols in tears and he said “don’t sweat it, hang in there…it’ll all change when they see the film.” And it did. Two years later she did Mask, and then she won her Oscar for Moonstruck in ’87.
I’m trying to think of another professional slumper or go-alonger who was looking to boot things up, and who got lucky by landing a role in an above-average film, and then turned in an acclaimed performance. Right now I can only think of only two — Frank Sinatra and Greg Kinnear.
Sinatra’s turn as Pvt. Maggio in From Here to Eternity saved his life. His singing career had been dwindling since the late ’40s, and by the time he made Eternity in ’52 he was regarded as being all but over. Kinnear was been a lightweight actor who was mainly known for hosting E’s Talk Soup (’91 to ’95) and NBC’s Later (’95 to ’96). He finally broke into the serious-actor ranks by playing “Simon the fag” (i.e., in the parlance of Jack Nicholson ‘s character) in James L. Brooks‘ As Good As It Gets (’97).
I guess Steve Carell‘s hailed performance as a morose gay uncle in Little Miss Sunshine qualifies. His comedy career had been going great guns since he broke through in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (’04) but Sunshine gave him serious-actor cred and the option to go the Adam Sandler route — i.e., make one smalish quality-level film every three or four years while mostly cranking out audience-friendly crap. But since Sunshine Carell has done only one other smallish good film — Dan in Real Life.