Aaron Paul in ‘Need for Speed,’ and how the movie star-to-TV stigma has flipped


Aaron Paul in a scene from “Need for Speed.” (DreamWorks II, Melinda Sue Gordon/AP)

We can all agree that any stigma about movie stars who “deign” to appear on television is long gone, from Matthew McConaughey in HBO’s “True Detective” to Halle Berry in CBS’s new space drama “Extant.” Or, just glance at the A-list-filled actor/actress in the Miniseries or TV movie categories at the Emmys. We’re repeatedly told that TV roles in modern dramas can be extremely appealing to actors, while lackluster options on the big screen don’t necessarily hold the same excitement anymore.

So now the stigma has flipped. Talented TV actors such as Emmy-winning “Breaking Bad” star Aaron Paul (who appears in the video game-based movie “Need for Speed” opening this weekend) are getting flack for letting some of their shiny Prestige Drama sheen fade by choosing to appear in big-budget action films.

No, it doesn’t help that “Need for Speed” isn’t exactly well-reviewed. The pans are pouring in, from The Post (“auto-collision pornography that weighs down its car-flip-and-massive-fireball money shots with a preposterous plot involving vehicular manslaughter vengeance”) to the New York Daily News (“so dumb for most of its running time, you walk away wishing there was less plot and pointless posing and more of the fuel-injected coolness”).

In several reviews, critics preemptively mourn Paul’s acting future, fearing that certain movie roles will tarnish his stellar reputation from AMC’s critically-beloved “Breaking Bad.” More bad news for those who fear the worst about the idolized small-screen actors: Paul’s even more lauded co-star, Bryan Cranston, stars in popcorn flick “Godzilla” this summer, which judging from the trailer, looks impossibly cheesy.

Other lauded TV actors taking the big-budget plunge include “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm, getting “Disney-fied” in new comedy “Million Dollar Arm,” while “Game of Thrones” actor Kit Harington headlines weakly-reviewed gladiator epic “Pompeii.”

It’s understandable that TV fans would worry about their favorite characters: Things haven’t worked out so well for acclaimed “Friday Night Lights” star Taylor Kitsch, whose attempt to leap into movies famously bombed with the botched “John Carter.” He’s still beloved by fans of the NBC drama, but his mainstream reputation hasn’t quite recovered. Hollywood is filled with talented TV actors who haven’t quite been able to make the jump.

On the other hand, what’s wrong if small screen actors are enticed by all a film career has to offer? No matter how prestigious their television career is, there’s just something about the glamour of movies that will always be appealing, no matter how tacky the film may be. Take this passage from actress/writer Mindy Kaling’s book, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns),” in which she talks about the thrill of getting a call from a movie studio asking her to pitch them some ideas while she was working on NBC’s “The Office”:

All television writers do is dream of one day writing movies. We long for the glitziness of the movie world. I’ll put it this way: at the Oscars, the most famous person in the room is like, Angelina Jolie. At the Emmys, the big exciting celebrity is Kelsey Grammer, or maybe Helen Hunt if she decided to play Emily Dickinson in an HBO miniseries. Look, Frasier Crane is awesome, but you get what I’m trying to say. It’s snobby and grossly aspirational, but it’s true. So, I left work with a “See ya, suckers!” attitude and headed to my destiny.

Obviously, Kaling was speaking from a writer’s perspective. But we suspect there’s a grain of truth for many TV stars in Hollywood.

No matter how many dismal movies roll out today, and no matter how long we’re in an amazing age of smart, fascinating television shows: actors can still be lured by the shine of the big screen (in addition to the bigger paycheck). And on some very basic, ego-based, human nature levels, maybe television can’t completely ever fully sustain an actor’s dreams.

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Emily Yahr covers pop culture and entertainment for the Post. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyYahr.
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