There was a time when television was cinema’s poor cousin. An actor began their career in some sitcom or drama, hoping to draw the attention of Hollywood and then graduate to the big screen.
Sometimes those transitions were surprising. Who would have predicted that Bruce Willis – already a household name for his comic turn in Moonlighting – would overnight become an action star with Die Hard? Woody Harrelson was known to TV viewers as loveably dim-witted barman Woody Boyd in Cheers before headlining as a serial killer in the controversial Natural Born Killers.
To work in film and then return to television was seen as a sign of career back step – think of Robert Downey Jr’s guest appearances on Ally McBeal in the late 90s.
Perhaps the star to break the trend was Kiefer Sutherland, when he took the lead in 2001 TV thriller 24. The show was a massive success and now Sutherland’s name is synonymous with his character Jack Bauer. At a similar time, Martin Sheen began his role as President Bartlet in acclaimed series The West Wing.
Since then, big screen actors have increasingly divided their time between cinema and television. Last year Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon headlined Big Little Lies, which promises to add Meryl Streep to its cast this year. Fargo has had an impressive cast of big names including Ewan McGregor and Kirsten Dunst – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Often actors cite the longer format of a television series as the reason for its draw, with the opportunity to play a character for more than the couple of hours a feature film allows. Now companies like Netflix provide budgets to rival Hollywood movies, tv series often have the production values to compete with anything seen on the big screen.
It feels like a welcome change for everyone; filmmakers and actors get to work on more adventurous projects that wouldn’t necessarily be funded for cinema, and audiences get to enjoy some wonderful television.
Catch Woody Harrelson in the opening film of our new season, The Glass Castle on Tuesday 1st May at 7.30pm
By Tom Brookes
From our weekly column in the Oswestry Advertizer, published on 10th April 2018.