Some people are on a TV show because they clearly have presence- you can tell within seconds of watching ER that George Clooney should be a movie star. Others are on the show because they had previously broken through in some big way, Zooey Deschanel on New Girl. It felt like a challenge to think of actors who were flew under the radar and overcame obstacles to become a star.
5. Seth Rogen, Freaks & Geeks > Blockbuster Movie Star
Freaks & Geeks turned out to be chockablock with future movie stars (James Franco and Jason Segal), touchstone character actors (Linda Cardellini, Martin Starr, Busy Philipps) and even a blockbuster screenwriter (John Francis Daley). And then there’s Seth Rogen. In Freaks, he’s so young and fresh-faced, he’s practically cherubic, even with his trademark laugh and matching smirk. He’s perfectly cast as “that guy I went to high school with”, a purebred, pubescent smart-ass. If I had to choose, I would’ve guessed that it’d be Jason Segal to emerge as our generation’s Young Tom Hanks (sorry Colin Hanks), our everyman comedic voice. Instead, with Judd Apatow’s help, it turned out to be Rogen.
4. Neil Patrick Harris, Doogie Howser M.D. > Broadway/TV Star
Okay, presence. The kid’s got it. No one is denying that. He’s also a child actor, gawkish and a minor pop culture icon as TV’s “I can’t believe this was actually a show” Doogie Howser M.D. – all ingredients that ordinarily would add up to Neil Patrick Harris becoming a sweet little footnote in television history. Instead… years later, NPH would successfully reinvent himself multiple times, propelled by his careening musical talents on Broadway and his ability to skewer his own image for huge, scene-stealing laughs. Then he came out and was quietly embraced for it, showing few battle scars in the process. Then, in a post Will & Grace world when people still (ugh) wonder if a gay man can “believably pretend to be straight”, flipped his critics off by portraying womanizing Barney on How I Met Your Mother which… wait for it… ran for nine seasons. THEN, he hosted the Tony’s, scored a Tony award for Hedwig & The Angry Inch (a notoriously brutal role), started to rule Instagram with the world’s most adorable family, and basically showed the world that NPH, as we know him, is just getting started.
3. Clark Gregg, New Adventures of Old Christine > Marvel Hero
The TV world is very kind to character actors these days. But you have to admit, Clark Gregg’s unfolding career story has been fun to watch. In the catalog of Julia Louis Dreyfus’ hit shows, The New Adventures of Old Christine is low on the list and that’s a shame because there’s so much to love. Not least of all is Gregg’s role as ex-husband Richard, equal parts imp and oaf. He’s got comedic timing in spades which makes him a perfect fit for… the Marvel universe? Gregg was first seen as SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson in Iron Man in 2008. He would go on to play the character in three more huge Marvel movies and proved to be so popular as a character that Joss Whedon would bring him back to life (for real) to star in his own TV show based on the character. Maybe it’s not so surprising though- Whedon might be a big time name in film these days but he was born and bred in TV (Buffy, Angel, Firefly and literally- his father wrote for Golden Girls). He knows the goods when he sees it.
2. Connie Britton, Spin City > National Treasure
Before Friday Night Lights and Nashville, Connie Britton was part of Spin City’s killer workplace sitcom ensemble. The competition for screen-stealing time in those days was rough – Michael Boatman, Alan Ruck, Barry Bostwick, Richard Kind, and Jennifer Esposito, not to mention Michael J. Fox in a full charm offensive. Britton is beautiful and she has something, you can see it when rewatching the show, but she’s clearly not built for a traditional sitcom and against the rest of the cast, usually ends up fading into the background. It makes it even more satisfying to see her break big in Friday Night Lights as Tami Taylor and then follow it up with soapy brilliance in Nashville, more than holding her own and getting to chew through some scenery herself for a goddamn change.
1. Michelle Williams, Dawson’s Creek > Broadway/Movie Star
The high-brow world of “film” is notoriously dismissive of three things: comedy, science-fiction and teenage dramas. Which is a shame because some of our biggest stars in recent years have detoured through the small screen as teenage stars, like Shailene Woodley, Evan Rachel Wood (what’s with all the woods, she just noticed) etc. When it comes to Dawson’s Creek, Katie Holmes draws the most, immediate notice. She’s considered an A+ list star these days, largely because of her extremely public relationship with Tom Cruise in the early 2000s and the decade and a half of gossip that followed it. Sift through her acting credits, though and it’s hard to find a sturdy roster of acting accomplishments, other than Batman Begins, a Kennedy mini-series or two (?) and a few episodes of Ray Donovan. Tabloid fodder aside, the star you should immediately be thinking of is Michelle Williams, indie film darling of the free world, our Mia Farrow complete with tragic love story, perennial Oscar favorite for movies everyone will pretend they actually saw. Michelle Williams, our little Jen Lindley with her kind-of bow-legged strut, has somehow managed to choose challenging roles and hold onto an element of mystery and allure in her private life. And, unlike Holmes (sorry Joey) she’s got the talent to back it up. She’s a bonafide movie star.