NEW YORK — The old days of a thesp risking a film career by stooping to take on a TV role is a relic of the past. Network and cable production values are soaring, while at the same time film budgets and stars’ salaries are under scrutiny at the major studios.
With the advent of pay cablers’ influential original series — from HBO’s “The Sopranos” and “Entourage” to Showtime’s “The L Word” — as well as a raft of popular upmarket network sitcoms and dramas, taking a job in TV does not necessarily mean the end to an actor’s film career, or a second-class pigeonhole, as it did for so long.
Just ask Annette Bening and Alec Baldwin.
Casting directors are having a field day.
“There is not that television stigma that used to be in place,” says casting director Denise Chamain, whose credits include “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “Saving Private Ryan.” “I think, if anything, television enhances an actor’s career. It’s like a springboard. It brings you popularity and visibility.”
“You sort of feel a little bit like a kid in a candy store these days,” adds Fox Broadcasting casting exec VP Marcia Shulman. “When I first started in TV, the response was, ‘Stars are not going to do television.’ But everybody wants to do television now, and that includes writers and directors. Do I expect Tom Cruise to come to television? No, but there are other people who I used to be afraid to approach or thought it was a waste of time to, and I don’t feel that way anymore.”
Quentin Tarantino’s follow-up to his second edgy “Kill Bill” pic wasn’t “Grindhouse” but rather directing two episodes of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” for CBS.
And action moviemeister Jerry Bruckheimer has become one of TV’s top names as producer behind the “CSI” phenomenon.
Avy Kaufman, the casting director on such pics as “Capote” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” says she doesn’t hesitate to show thesps’ TV clips to helmers when she’s trying to land them in a role.
“I showed (director Ang Lee) a lot of tape,” Kaufman says, recalling when she put up one-time “Dawson’s Creek” Michelle Williams for the ultimately Oscar-bound “Brokeback Mountain.” “Most of (her) tape was television, and it didn’t hurt her at all.”
But a host of bigscreen thesps have found themselves among the top tier of wanted actors on TV’s quality shows.
The careers of Patrick Dempsey, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeremy Piven and Teri Hatcher took off after their TV series hit the ratings jackpots. All are primed to step up in films on a bigger stage than before.
“If you are on a show that is not just popular but critically acclaimed like ‘Weeds,’ I think that an actor like Mary-Louise Parker, for instance, will have an opportunity to have a film career again because of the show,” says Chamain.
When Hatcher garnered an Emmy nod and the 2005 Golden Globe for her perf in “Desperate Housewives,” she famously thanked ABC for “giving me that second chance at a career when I couldn’t have been a bigger has-been.”
“If you have had a string of movies that, let’s say, have not been successful at the box office, and you spent a few years after that continuing to try and get movie roles and you don’t, then it makes perfect sense to do something good in television,” Chamain explains.
“You can look at somebody like Skeet Ulrich, who was doing movies for a while and had some unsuccessful ones, and now he is doing television, where he is gaining more notoriety and popularity,” she adds. “I don’t think George Clooney would have had the movie career he has had if it weren’t for ‘ER.'”