×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Landscape Paves Way for Second Chances

Actors like Mike O'Malley and Ron Eldard use guest roles to fuel their latest comeback

Mike O’Malley might well be the poster boy for how roles come to define actors — for better or for worse.

O’Malley found his work slammed by critics in his ill-fated sitcom “The Mike O’Malley Show” and the long-running comedy “Yes, Dear.” Yet when he was offered a guest role by Ryan Murphy, who believed the actor would make the perfect blue-collar dad for gay teen Curt in “Glee,” it turned his career around.

Call it bad juju or good actors stuck in bad circumstances, but many talented actors have found themselves jinxed in their TV careers. But giving a good performance as a guest actor can often switch that luck.

This season, O’Malley scored another strong guest gig as mobster Nicky Augustine on the critically acclaimed FX drama “Justified.”

“So many people have to say yes to you before you get an opportunity to do a ‘Glee’ or a ‘Justified,’” O’Malley says. “I’ve been lucky that there have been people at every network who have given me opportunities to get better so when these guest roles come up, I can execute them with confidence.”

In 2010, O’Malley earned an Emmy nom for guest actor as Burt on “Glee” before being named a series regular.

“It’s the intersection of role and timing,” O’Malley says. “All actors want great material so they are able to shine. In terms of Burt, there’s this emotional weight of the scenes. This journey of Curt is so powerful it just hit the audience in the solar plexus.”

The role of Nicky was supposed to just be a one-shot deal, O’Malley says. But the “Justified” producers decided to expand it into a six-episode run.

“There was a lightness about this character that underscored his menace,” O’Malley says. “Ultimately, he had no respect for people. The challenge was

how to convey that weight in a short time.”

O’Malley says if it wasn’t for “Glee,” there would not have been a “Justified” shot. And without both of those roles, he believes he would not be starring in his fall NBC series “Welcome to the Family.”

This year he’s a strong guest contender for “Justified,” along with another “Justified” guest star, Ron Eldard.

Eldard gained considerable attention in the ’90s with roles on “ER,” HBO’s “Bastard Out of Carolina,” the lead on “Blind Justice” and a trio of short-lived sitcoms. His guest role as Colt on “Justified” had Eldard showing amazing complexity as an Afghan war vet turned hit man.

Eldard says playing guest slots allows actors to be seen in a variety of roles, opening the door for more opportunities to be cast in more parts.

“I tend to lean toward the weird,” Eldard says. “I’ve played tons of dark guys, but also comedy. They can forget that I do comedy until they see that. If they have only seen me do comedy, then they don’t know how dark I can go.”

It wasn’t just a man’s world when it came to great guest opportunities. Amanda Peet, who starred in the snake-bit “Studio 60” on the Sunset Strip, reminded everyone she had considerable acting chops on “The Good Wife.” Carla Gugino, who starred in the critically acclaimed but ratings-challenged “Karen Sisco” and the quickly canceled “Threshold,” showcased just how good she was at comedy in her guest role on “New Girl.”

Zuleikha Robinson, who had hit TV with much fanfare in The X-Files spinoff series “The Lone Gunmen,” turned up in a strong guest role on “Homeland.”

“’Lone Gunmen’ was my first job and I got a little cocky, thinking I’m brilliant and don’t have to work that hard because it comes so naturally,” Robinson says candidly. “It took a lot of time to find my stride and it was really humbling.”

Robinson guest starred as journalist Roya, Brody’s handler for Abu Nazir. Her fate was left up in the air at the conclusion of “Homeland.”

“Only twice have I really had a hard time leaving a character,” says Robinson. “The first was my character in ‘Rome’ and then in ‘Homeland.’ I hope I get to come back and play with her some more.”

More TV

  • Ryan Tedder Hitmakers

    Ryan Tedder on the Secrets of Leading Pop Fans Into Songland

    Despite his band’s name, Ryan Tedder is a man of many, many republics. He’s the songwriter of the year in Variety‘s Hitmakers issue largely for his work as a producer-writer in ensuring, with “Sucker,” that the Jonas Brothers had the smoothest possible runway for their comeback to make a safe landing. But eclipsing even that [...]

  • Karen McDougal

    Karen McDougal Sues Fox News Over 'Extortion' Claim

    Karen McDougal, the former model who was paid $150,000 to stay quiet about her affair with President Donald Trump, sued Fox News on Thursday, alleging that host Tucker Carlson falsely accused her of extortion. The slander lawsuit, filed in state court in New York, concerns a segment that aired in December 2018 in which Carlson [...]

  • 'Watchmen,' 'Succession' Among 20202 Writers Guild

    Writers Guild Unveils 2020 TV Award Nominees

    “The Simpsons” is leading the way with three Writers Guild of America nominations, followed by two each for “Bob’s Burgers,” “The Crown,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Pen15,” “Russian Doll,” “Succession,” “Veep” and “Watchmen.” Fox’s “The Simpsons,” which began airing in 1989, scored noms in the animated category for the “Go Big or Go Homer,” “Livin’ [...]

  • Lena Dunham

    HBO Max Orders Lena Dunham-Produced High School Dramedy 'Generation' to Series

    HBO Max has given out a series order to the half-hour high school dramedy “Generation.” The project had been ordered to pilot at the nascent streamer earlier this year, meaning this is the first HBO Max pilot to get picked up to series. The ten-episode series follows a group of high school students whose exploration [...]

  • British Writer Nick Stoller Arrives For

    'Neighbors' Director Nick Stoller Sets 'Florida Man' Put Pilot at Fox

    A one-hour rom-com procedural set in the Florida Panhandle is in the works at Fox. The network has issued a put pilot commitment to “Florida Man,” which hails from “Neighbors” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” director Nick Stoller, and “Bones” producer Carla Kettner. “Florida Man” centers around the loquacious, eccentric Bell Prescott, who hasn’t left the [...]

  • Consumer Reporter Jeff Rossen Joins Hearst

    Consumer Reporter Jeff Rossen Joins Hearst Television

     Jeff Rossen, a TV journalist who became a fixture on NBC’s “Today” with reports about consumer tips and avoiding scams, is taking up a new role at Hearst Television. Rossen will become the company’s chief national consumer correspondent, a new role, and will continue to deliver his “Rossen Reports” that help people analyze how to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content