Top 5 Dramatic Performances by SNL Actors

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Since its premiere in 1975, “Saturday Night Live” has shone the spotlight on a wide range of comic actors. Some have gone on to mainstream comic success, while others disappeared from show business after just a season or two on the show. The rarest of all are SNL alumni who went on to perform dramatic roles. Of those who did, several dramatic performances stand out as surprisingly authentic.

5 Will Ferrell in “Everything Must Go” (2010)

Will Ferrell is one of SNL’s biggest success stories. His feature film career began before leaving the show, and includes more than a few mega-hits. In 2010, between filming comedies, Farrell found time to act in director Dan Rush’s “Everything Must Go.” Based on a short story by Raymond Carver, Farrell plays Nick Halsey, an alcoholic whose relationship suddenly falls apart. Farrell’s character spends the movie reflecting on how he ever got so low, and wondering what comes next. A small number of funny moments keep it from being too depressing, but seeing Farrell in a role as dramatic as this creates a strong contrast to his other work.

4 Anthony Michael Hall in “The Breakfast Club” (1985)

Anthony Michael Hall’s short stint on “SNL” in the mid-’80s was enough to establish him as a reliably funny performer. In 1985’s “The Breakfast Club,” though, Hall plays Brian, the archetypal nerd who spends a day in detention with an assortment of other high school types. By the end of the movie, Brian’s dramatic revelations about pressure and social expectations have moved the story from just another John Hughes high school flick to a serious study of teenage social life.

3 Robert Downey Jr. in “Less Than Zero” (1987)

Robert Downey Jr. might be better known as Iron Man than an SNL cast member, but in fact he was a featured comic for the 1979-80 season and returned as an SNL regular in 1985, for one year only. After leaving SNL, Robert Downey Jr. played Julian in “Less Than Zero.” Directed by Marek Kanievska, the movie was a highly anticipated adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis’s novel about the culture of wealthy, teenage drug users in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Downey’s Julian is a tragic figure, but also a memorable emblem of the times, succumbing to excess and artificiality while yearning for a real connection with his friends.

2 Adam Sandler in “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002)

Adam Sandler led a new style of comedy to the forefront of SNL in the early ’90s. Leaving the cast in 1995 to focus on movies. Sandler waited almost a decade before taking on a dramatic role, but when he did it was worth the wait. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson‘s character Barry Egan might seem like the most unlikely role for Sandler; Egan is painfully shy, prone to shocking violent outbursts and obsesses over details. Adam Sandler leaves all of his comic tricks behind in making this character likable and intriguing as falling in love transforms his life.

1 Bill Murray in “Lost in Translation” (2003)

Bill Murray is one of the biggest stars to come out of SNL’s early years. Joining the cast after the first season, he remained there until 1980. After a decade of comic films, and then a decade of relative obscurity, Murray began dabbling in dramatic roles. In 2003 he played Bob Harris in Sofia Coppola’s dreamy drama “Lost in Translation.” Murray’s Harris is an aging American movie star, spending a depressing week in Japan to film a commercial. There he meets Charlotte, played by Scarlett Johansson, another lonely soul wandering Tokyo. The mismatched pair form an unexpected relationship that challenges Hollywood’s conventional take on friendship, romance and human connection.

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