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13 Times Sitcom Stars Played Villains - And Nailed It

Updated September 2, 2021 1.5k votes 272 voters 54.2k views13 items

List RulesVote up the funny actors who showed off a surprising evil streak.

Sitcom stars achieve popularity by making us laugh week after week. Sometimes, those same stars like to stretch their acting muscles, as these comedians who played villains prove. Entertaining people through humor is great, but few actors want to get stuck in a rut. They usually thrive on challenging themselves. There's also the matter of not wanting to get pigeonholed.

The following performers all broke out in sitcoms, then went on to successfully play villains. How they went about it is different in each case. Some found characters diametrically opposed to the ones that made them famous. Others found bad-guy roles that were just a shade off from the people they played on their sitcoms, allowing them to demonstrate the thin line that sometimes exists between funny and menacing. No matter how they did it, all of them gave audiences a pleasant surprise by embracing an evil side on-screen.

Which of these sitcom stars most nailed a villain role? Vote up your favorites. 

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  • On That '70s Show, Kurtwood Smith played Red Foreman, a conservative father known for insulting his son Eric. Despite that quality, he showed a softer, more sympathetic side at times. Smith earned consistent laughs playing up Red's old-school values, which often clashed with those of his children.

    A little over a decade before joining the cast of that hit program, he played Clarence Boddicker in RoboCop. Clarence is a Detroit crime lord and gang leader. He's in cahoots with Dick Jones, the senior president of Omni Consumer Products, the evil corporation manufacturing robotic law enforcement officers. He and his group are the ones who shoot officer Alex Murphy, paving the way for him to be turned into the title character. Smith expertly conveys Clarence's harsh nature, making him a villain viewers can't wait to see get his comeuppance. And he does, when RoboCop fatally stabs him in the neck. 

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  • On Cheers, Woody Harrelson played Woody Boyd, the extremely dim-witted - but inherently lovable - bartender at the titular establishment. His skill was in making Woody's lack of intelligence seem charming rather than annoying. And the way he delivered wacky dialogue as though it was the most natural thing in the world was side-splittingly funny.

    Director Oliver Stone has said that he saw "darkness" in Harrelson. He was right, having cast him to great effect in his 1994 film, Natural Born Killers. Harrelson plays Mickey, a guy who goes on a cross-country crime spree with his girlfriend, leaving a trail of casualties in their wake. The performance works because he completely sheds everything that would remind viewers of Woody Boyd and dives headfirst into the immorality that defines Mickey. He transforms himself, both physically and vocally.

    Harrelson's turn in NBK redefined his career, opening the door to more dramatic roles and showing what a tremendous range he has. 

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  • If there was a hall of fame for sitcom stars, Betty White would have her own room. She was a regular on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, had a recurring role on Mama's Family, and was one of the main stars of Hot in Cleveland. Of course, she also spent years as a member of the central quartet on The Golden Girls. Her work on these programs has elevated her to the level of national treasure.

    In the movie Lake Placid, White was tasked with going completely against her kindly image. She took on the role of Dolores Bickerman, a crotchety old lady who has been feeding the giant crocodile that's terrorizing a small community. Despite being well aware that the beast is eating innocent people, she continues to harbor it, even lying to the police about her activities. White magnificently conveys the defiant attitude of Mrs. Bickerman, while giving pitch-perfect delivery of the profane insults the character is prone to dropping. Without her, Lake Placid would have been just an average, ordinary B movie. 

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  • John du Pont is not a villain in the traditional sense. The real-life figure was a multimillionaire who came from a family that owned a chemical company. An eccentric and mercurial person, he was convicted of murdering an Olympic wrestler.

    Steve Carell was probably the least likely person to play someone like this, but he proved to be astonishing in Foxcatcher. Carell solidified his fame as Michael Scott, the bungling, desperate-for-approval boss on The Office. There, he made a specialty of earning laughs from Michael's neediness and ineptitude. Rarely has a comic actor so perfectly embodied a character.

    For Foxcatcher, Carell put on a prosthetic nose and toned down the silliness in favor of a dark, brooding quality. His du Pont is hard to get a read on, which is precisely the point. There's something unnerving about the blankness of his personality. In fact, du Pont could not be more opposite from Michael Scott. The role earned Carell an Oscar nomination. 

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