7 comedy stars who nailed the darkest movie roles
One Hour Photo robin williams

With Steve Carell receiving rave reviews for his performance in tense character drama Foxcatcher, we look at seven other famous comedians who have mastered dark and disturbing subject-matter on screen.

Read our review of Foxcatcher from the Cannes Film Festival

One Hour Photo robin williams

Robin Williams

The live-wire comic had already proven his considerable acting chops in 1997’s Good Will Hunting, winning an Oscar no less, but it was five years later that he truly stunned cinema-goers by swapping eminent likability for chilling menace.

In Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia he went up against Al Pacino’s haunted cop as a slimy, manipulative author embroiled in a shocking murder. Even better, however, was his turn in the unforgettable One Hour Photo.

As sad loner Sy, a softly-spoken photo technician who becomes obsessed with a young family, Williams does a remarkable job of inhabiting a character who is both sympathetic and sinister – resulting in an unsettling yet poignant experience.

Oh, and if you haven’t already seen it, we urge you to check out World’s Greatest Dad: a criminally-overlooked and rather twisted dark comedy that takes in autoerotic asphyxiation, faked suicide letters and biting small-town satire.

Jim Carrey

The Truman Show established Carrey as a serious actor to be reckoned with, and he was nothing short of heartbreaking in the brilliant Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. But people forget that the Mask and Dumb and Dumber star took a turn to the dark side as early as 1996.

Pitch black comedy The Cable Guy repelled audiences and divided critics, but this often ignored and misunderstood flick gave early insight into Carrey’s hidden depths. He’s deliciously unhinged and unsettling as a man who becomes increasingly fixated on Matthew Broderick’s meek protagonist, ultimately resorting to stalker-like tendencies and even acts of full-blown violence.

For a more recent example, while it may not be a completely successful movie, The Number 23 is an intriguing thriller that really channels Carrey’s range: his performance is a rich array of anger, confusion, fear, aggression and madness.

Marlon Wayans

Now best-known for his puerile spoofs and elastic-faced gurning, it’s easy to forget that the Scary Movie star turned in one of the most hard-hitting and tragic supporting turns of the last decade.

Requiem For A Dream plunges its characters, and the horrified viewer, into a full-on descent of hopelessness, misery and despair. Darren Aronofsky’s bleak drama follows the lives of an interconnected group of characters in Brooklyn and Coney Island, with Wayans’ drug-user and dealer attempting some very risky business with Jared Leto’s naive and optimistic friend.

While Ellen Burstyn’s soul-destroying performance understandably takes most of the plaudits, Wayans is nothing short of incredible as he reacts with shock, terror and ultimately harrowing, child-like sorrow, as Tyrone’s reality becomes a living nightmare.

Billy Connolly

Scotland’s beloved stand-up son is someone you typically picture ranting about “wee beige jobbies” or singing Village People parodies – not viciously stabbing and brutalising people in the dingy backstreets of Edinburgh.

In the remarkable but far from easy to watch Debt Collector, Connolly plays a reformed, recently-released enforcer who finds himself locked in an escalating battle of bloody, visceral tit-for-tat with Ken Stott’s disgusted, unforgiving policeman.

It’s shocking and uncompromising stuff, and Connolly more than holds his own in the gritty role. Elsewhere, he’s also played an ex-con in crime thriller The Boondock Saints, and a paedophile priest in X-Files: I Want To Believe.

Rodney Dangerfield

The late, great funnyman stole the show in Caddyshack (“hey, everybody – we’re all gonna get laid!”) and was rightly renowned as a seemingly infinite source of hilarious quips and bubbling comic energy.

And then Natural Born Killers came along.

It’s inspired casting – particularly considering the disturbing way in which Mallory’s grim backstory unfolds as a cheesy, light-hearted sitcom. Playing the part of her bullying, abusive and altogether vile father, the subversion of Dangerfield’s natural charisma into an aggressive, dominating onslaught really chills the blood.

Mallory’s dad torments his wife and kid, and revolting revelations about his actions come to the fore – all the while accompanied by hooting canned-laughter.

Lee Evans

Famed throughout the UK for his anarchic, suit-ruining stage shows and best-known in Hollywood for goofy turns in the likes of Mouse Trap and There’s Something About Mary, few people have probably heard of the stand-up’s foray into psychological thriller territory with the compelling Freeze Frame. And that’s a real pity.

Evans serves up a consumate exercise in paranoia throughout the film, which sees his character shave his entire body and document his every move on camera when he becomes convinced the police are trying to set him up for a crime he did not commit.

The complicated web of intrigue that unfolds takes in plenty of twists and turns. It’s an inventive and engaging low-budget neo-noir: and Evans is mesmerising in it.


The established stand-up and sitcom star stunned audiences and critics alike with her raw, powerful performance in moving drama Precious – which won her an Oscar among countless other accolades.

Physically and emotionally abusive to her obese, downtrodden daughter, to the most awful extent, it is in a poignant head-to-head with Mariah Carey’s social worker that every one of her character’s complex, tortured emotions come to the fore.

In that one scene alone, Mo’Nique channels more trauma, guilt and despair than a thousand inferior melodramas combined. It’s an astonishing piece of acting, and incredible to think that someone so adept at making people laugh can also be so effective at moving them to tears.

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