Best known for memorable roles in recent comedies like Let’s Go to Prison, actor Dax Shepard is taking a dramatic turn in the new film Freebie, which opens Sept. 17 in New York, according to IFC. The independent film is a low-budget drama centering around a married couple who agree to cheat on each other for one night. The film’s intimate focus on actor-driven tension and emotional repercussions might make one scratch their head at the choice of Shepard as the husband.
Chances are you’ve seen at least one movie with Dax Shepard, even if you haven’t seen them all. The reliable funnyman has made the rounds on the comedy movie circuit for the better part of the last decade. Arguably one of Hollywood’s best go-to guys for laughs, Shepard has had memorable roles in films like Employee of the Month, a movie better known for its star Dane Cook, and Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, which has quickly become a cult classic on TV and video despite its lackluster box office.
As odd a choice as he may be in Freebie, he isn’t the first comedic actor to transition to more serious films. While it remains to be seen whether or not audiences will buy Shepard in this new dramatic role, audiences have a track-record of accepting, if not embracing, some of Hollywood’s best-known funnymen.
Given some of the films in which he’s starred since the 1990s, Robin Williams might arguably be better known as a versatile, dramatic actor rather than an off-the-wall comedian. With starring roles in movies like Insomnia, What Dreams May Come, and Awakenings, younger audiences might be forgiven for not knowing that Williams got his start as a funny alien on TV’s Mork and Mindy.
Anyone who’s seen his hyperactive stand-up routine has to be impressed by the ease with which Williams constantly switches between comedy and drama. For every Night at the Museum, appearing in a role crafted to his standup persona, there’s a film like What Dreams May Come, in which he plays a man struggling with the deaths of his children and his wife’s mental illness.
Much like Williams, Jim Carrey’s first impression on the world was as a goofy stand-up comedian and fan favorite on the 1990s TV show In Living Color. Often mentioned in the same breath as Williams, Carrey’s persona was arguably an even bolder level of silly. His first major film role as the titular Ace Ventura: Pet Detective left many critics gagging at the actor’s ridiculous antics, but the film became a surprise hit, making Carrey a star. As Carrey began to take on dramatic roles later on his career, critics ironically became some of his biggest fans. Films like The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind were hits with critics and audiences alike, according to Rotten Tomatoes.
Saturday Night Live alum Bill Murray is another actor who has come a long way from his roots, his first major film roles in comedy classics Meatballs and Caddyshack. Murray’s role as a dim-witted greenskeeper in Caddyshack, perhaps his best-known at the time, isn’t too far from Dax Shepard’s similarly dumb sidekick role in Idiocracy. Yet Murray made waves in the 2003 independent film Lost in Translation, a critical success and arguably his best performance in years.
If the success of these actors is any indication, Dax Shepard shouldn’t have a hard time convincing audiences to buy his new role in Freebie. Whether Shepard pursues more dramatic roles in the future, however, remains to be seen.