With Emmy Award season in full swing (the show airs Aug. 25), we look at three Emmy nominees who came up in Hollywood and are enjoying a career boost from their work in television. These days it's possible to move more fluidly than ever before between movies and TV (the late great James Garner was a rare example of a star who could swing both ways). The Third Golden Age of Television --easily viewed on multi-platforms by a wide range of viewers--has proved a boon for these movie actors.
This Career Watch focuses on three drama series acting nominees who are taking advantage of the boom in fresh outlets: Jon Voight, Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey.
Jon Voight, 75, supporting actor in Showtime’s “Ray Donovan”:
Signature line: “Uh, well, sir, I ain't a f'real cowboy. But I am one helluva stud!” – as wannabe male hustler Joe Buck in 1969’s “Midnight Cowboy.”
Before “Ray Donovan”: After starring in a trio of era-defining classics – besides “Midnight Cowboy,” the first and only best-picture Oscar winner to bear an X rating, they include 1972’s survival saga “Deliverance” and 1978’s Vietnam War drama “Coming Home” – Voight has barely taken a breath after his hardened crook in 1985’s “The Runaway Train” put him back on track after a slight slump. As he ages, Voight has evolved from leading man to reliable supporting player whose mere presence often lends credence to a project, including 1996’s “Mission: Impossible” as Jim Phelps and 2001’s “Ali” as Howard Cosell. Not that he doesn’t stray into less-esteemed territory fairly regularly: see the “Baby Geniuses” franchise.
Awards attention: He won a best actor Oscar for “Coming Home” and was nominated for” Midnight Cowboy,” “Deliverance” and “Runaway Train.” He also has four Golden Globe trophies-- including one for “Ray Donovan.”
Biggest asset: Voight is a time-tested survivor who has earned his showbiz stripes as well as a multi-generational following. At this point, he can pick up a paycheck for something like “Bratz: The Movie” without of fear of scorn or reprisal.
Biggest drawback: After appearing in a number of liberal-leaning films early on, Voight has turned conservative later in life and has been a vocal critic of President Obama and the Democratic party – which may attract as many fans as it repels. Statements about his up-and-down relationship with once-estranged daughter Angelina Jolie proved a distraction until they reconciled in 2007.
Career advice: Just keep on trucking. It would be great if Voight found a juicy lead in a feature film again while in his golden years, similar to what his “Midnight Cowboy” pal Dustin Hoffman or Robert Redford occasionally do. But if he continues to add his special brand of finesse to TV projects that allow him to shape a character with depth, few will complain.
Robin Wright, 48, lead actress in a drama in Netflix’s “House of Cards”:
Signature line: “You’re his daddy, Forrest” – as Jenny, a maid of constant sorrow and our hero’s true love, in 1994’s “Forrest Gump.”
Before “House of Cards”: A demure and dewy Wright, whose big break came during her run on the daytime soap “Santa Barbara,” was perfection as Princess Buttercup in 1987’s “The Princess Bride,” whose rep has grown considerably over the years. Too bad she hasn’t been given a chance to be that light-hearted since. While the actress benefitted from the massive success of “Forrest Gump,” she hasn’t found enough meaty film roles to showcase her flair for the dramatic. As good as she was in a rare lead in the 1996 literary adaptation “Moll Flanders” and while co-starring opposite then-husband Sean Penn in 1997’s “She’s So Lovely,” both proved to be too much of a downer to attract crowds.
After “House of Cards”: Wright had supporting parts in a pair of notable 2011 releases, “Moneyball” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” But her fortunes turned around considerably after taking a risk on a Web-only series as conniving Lady Macbeth to Kevin Spacey’s maliciously ambitious politico. Her role as Claire Underwood perfectly capitalizes on her sharp and sophisticated attitude while a knockout wardrobe and becoming short hairstyle bring out her sexy side. Don’t think her success on the series didn’t play some part in her being a member of the top-notch cast assembled for next year’s big-screen thriller “Everest.”
Awards attention. She won a Golden Globe this year and was nominated for an Emmy last year for the first season of “House of Cards.”
Biggest asset: Wright has come into her own while in her late ‘40s and it’s beautiful to watch. As a sort of anti-Sandra Bullock, she was never destined to be America’s sweetheart. Now, thanks to the binge-watching hordes who signed up for Netflix because of her show, she is finally getting her due as a serious though wonderfully sly actress.
Biggest drawback: Basically, it used to be her tempestuous relationship with the notoriously volatile though brilliant Penn. As she raised their two kids while shielding them from the prying eyes of the gossip press and settled for secondary roles, he won Oscars for “Mystic River” (2003) and “Milk” (2008). After their drawn-out divorce that was finalized in 2010, it is now Wright’s turn to bask in the applause.
Career advice: Strike while the Emmy nomination is hot and actively seek out your dream roles now, even if the third season of series keeps you tied up. Wright, who revealed a knack for directing when she went behind the camera for episode 23 of “House of Cards,” also should consider becoming a producer and procuring her own projects.
Kevin Spacey, 54, lead actor for a drama series in “House of Cards”:
Signature line: “I feel like I've been in a coma for the past twenty years. And I'm just now waking up.” – as the about-to-be-reborn suburbanite Lester Burnham in 1999’s “American Beauty.”
Before “House of Cards”: Spacey owned the year 1995 in a pair of memorable supporting parts: As serial killer John Doe in the creepy thriller “Seven” and as disabled con man Verbal Kint in the twisty “The Usual Suspects” -- which brought him his first Oscar. Doors were opened and work in quality releases like 1997’s “L.A. Confidential” followed. But his second Academy Award as the lead in “American Beauty” might have been the worst thing to happen to Spacey. After being a standout in smaller quirky roles, he was suddenly promoted to being a star attraction in a series of ill-fitting movies including 2001’s “The Shipping News” and 2003’s “The Life of David Gale.” His standing was somewhat restored after his stellar performance as part of the ensemble of HBO’s “Recount,” about the botched 2000 presidential election.
After “House of Cards”: The Internet proved an even happier medium for Spacey when he was cast in the Netflix series as Frank Underwood, a ruthless Democrat from South Carolina and House majority whip whose ambition to rise to greater seats of power knows no bounds. The role capitalized on all of the actor’s strengths – his wit, his wiles, his way of making villains charming and his well-honed Shakespearean prowess from his stage work (he runs UK's renowned Old Vic). When he appeared on this year’s Oscar telecast as a presenter, Spacey brought down the house by speaking in Frank’s seductive Southern cadence.
Awards attention: Besides his two Oscar wins, he’s been nominated for seven Golden Globes, including his role on “House of Cards,” and he was up for a lead Emmy for “Recount."