The opposite of hex

Road to the Emmys: The Actor

If Johnny Galecki wins an Emmy for his book-smart character on “The Big Bang Theory,” it won’t be because he’s a rocket scientist in real life.

“Growing up, math was my least favorite subject,” says the actor who will be competing against his co-star and last year’s winner, Jim Parsons, in the category of lead actor in a comedy. “I can’t even spell physics.”

But having little in common with Leonard Hofstadter is just fine with Galecki. In fact, it’s ideal. Like most actors, Galecki got into the business to be someone else.

“The more a character is like myself, the more uncomfortable I am,” says Galecki, who is actually playing himself on the final season of “Entourage.” “You want to be able to hide behind the mask.”

Idris Elba, nominated for his part as a hot-headed detective in BBC America’s “Luther,” says playing someone far from your own personality is a challenge every serious actor should crave.

“It’s a bit more fun when you take on a role that’s not written for someone like me or for someone who looks like me,” he says. “I can understand why some actors gravitate to roles close to them, but the further away the role is, the more I get to act. There’s a school of thought that you should get a quirky actor to play a quirky part, but why not get a guy who isn’t quirky at all and acts his butt off?”

Emmy voters seem to drawn to that philosophy.

This year’s nominees in leading male categories include Michael C. Hall as a serial killer in “Dexter,” Hugh Laurie as an acerbic doctor on “House” and Alec Baldwin as a die-hard conservative in “30 Rock.” As far as we know, Baldwin is still a card-carrying liberal, Laurie rarely snaps at his peers and Hall has never been charged with murder.

But actors who do create signature roles face the problem of being typecast in the future.

It took Ted Danson, recently cast on “CSI,” nearly a decade to escape the notion that he could succeed with characters who weren’t skirt-chasing bartenders. Kelsey Grammer, who portrays a ruthless Chicago mayor in Starz’s upcoming series “Boss,” remains Frasier Crane to many of his fans and Matthew Perry still struggles to separate himself from Chandler Bing.

Eric Deggans, media critic for the St. Petersburg Times, says actors best known for the small screen sometimes have a tougher task of being accepted in wide range of roles.

“TV brings actors into your home, as if they are your friends,” he says. “If you bond with a Jennifer Aniston or a Ray Romano, you don’t want them to change.”

Elba has been able to take on various roles because none of his previous TV work, which includes “The Wire” and “The Office,” has made him a household name. That may all come to an end if he gets an Emmy for “Luther,” although Elba is determined not to get typecast.

“If it becomes easy for me, I’ll start giving the same performances,” he said. “I want a challenge.”

Actors look to play characters unlike themselves
Comedy | Drama | Miniseries & Movies