Video gallery: Can British comedians ever make it in Hollywood?
With Russell Brand all set to break in to the Hollywood mainstream with roles in 'Get Him To The Greek' and a remake of 'Arthur', Adam Lee Davies looks at some other British comedians who have gone Stateside in their search for fame and fortune...
Dudley MooreDagenham Dud escaped his increasingly noxious partnership with Peter Cook by making for the Hollywood Hills and becoming – for a brief period, at least – the hottest box-office draw on the planet. The Sex Thimble scored massive success with softcore schmaltz ‘10’ and the uncorked hilarity of ‘Arthur’ before slipping into a dispiriting cycle of undistinguished – and indistinguishable – fare such as ‘Lovesick’, ‘Unfaithfully Yours’ and ‘Romantic Comedy’, while reportedly turning down the likes of ‘Splash’, ‘Beetlejuice’, ‘Trading Places’ and the role of Q in the Timothy Dalton Bond films. Oh, Dud!
Rik MayallBamboozling kids and adults in equal measure with its not-entirely-successful blend of violence, snot-flicking, repeated ‘upskirt’ shots and extreme childhood trauma, Mayall’s US calling card ‘Drop Dead Fred’ – in which he played Phoebe Cates’s anarchic imaginary friend – still proved a moderate hit. The suspicion remains that Mayall might well have built a solid US career if he had not returned to Blighty for the Beckettian ultraviolence of ‘Bottom’, but Hollywood’s loss would be pan-fighting’s gain…
Lenny HenryHenry’s one big tilt at Tinseltown came with oft-maligned pigmentation-swap comedy ‘True Identity’. Adapted from a superior Eddie Murphy Saturday Night Live sketch , it’s a thin, patchy affair that proceeds from a hideously contrived set-up that insists Lenny ‘white-up’ and hotfoot it from Mob entanglements in a variety of wacky disguises. Henry is actually quite winning, but the material is thoroughly feeble and the make-up, while quite impressive, makes for a slightly queasy viewing experience. Note: All video evidence of ‘True Identity’ has been expunged from the net, so no video, sadly.
Peter SerafinowiczJust as with his TV work, you feel all the big Scouse funnyman needs is a hook to get his Stateside career up and running. Voicing Tandoori-tinged Sith goon Darth Maul in ‘The Phantom Menace’ was a promising start, but it would be a decade before he cashed in with a role as a Guitar Hero-worshipping resort manager in the godawful ‘Couples Retreat’. Voicing Paul McCartney in the upcoming ‘Yellow Submarine’ remake will hopefully lead to better things…
Marty FeldmanA huge hit on US TV, comedian, writer, actor and all round talent Marty Feldman had mixed fortunes on America’s silver screens. His woggle-eyed, gurning visage and a combination of sly wit and bonecrushing slapstick endurance made him a perfect fit for Mel Brooks’s rotating rep company, with whom he starred in ‘Young Frankenstein’ and ‘Silent Movie’. He fared less well with his own projects, however, with ‘The Last Remake of Beau Geste’ being cut to ribbons by the studio and the would-be blasphemous ‘In God We Tru$t’ – which co-starred Andy Kaufman as a character named Armageddon T. Thunderbird – was offensive in every way but the intended.
Peter SellersAt first glance, ex-Goon Sellers would seem to have enjoyed the consummate Hollywood career. His astonishing run of Ealing/British Lion films led to ‘Lolita’, ‘Strangelove’ and Clouseau, which cemented his place in the celluloid firmament. After Sellers hit it big Pond-side, however, his filmography reads as if he were more interested in amusing himself than entertaining the rest of us. But there was still plenty to enjoy about his turns in ‘The Party’, ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ and his mournful swansong, ‘Being There’.
Billy ConnollyConsidering his stature as a comedian both here and in the US, it’s ironic that The Big Yin has forged his big screen persona on roles as fearsome hardmen (‘The Boondock Saints’) delusional paedophiliac priests (that ‘X-Files’ film) or gruff, eighteenth- century Scottish-American Japanese Army Commanders (‘The Last Samurai’). All of which is perfectly balanced with UK TV shows in which he dyes his beard Tartan and runs starkers around the Arctic.
Hugh LaurieIt’s always the quiet ones. While former comedy partner Stephen Fry was busy becoming a National Institution, Laurie was off building a US career that led him from superior kiddy-fare ‘101 Dalmatians’ and ‘Stuart Little’ and mid-budget misfires like ‘Flight of the Phoenix’ and ‘Street Kings’ to become the most famous person in America thanks to his role as dubiously-accented medico Dr. Gregory House.
Lee EvansRubberised West Country prank-monkey Evans made a surprisingly successful transition from turbocharged stage turn to Hollywood oddball-du-jour. The dark streak that ran through his showing in ‘Funny Bones’ was continued in the dank, troubling, highly suggestive Dreamworks kid-flick ‘Mousehunt’ opposite Nathan Lane and followed up with a role in worrisome stalker-com ‘There’s Something About Mary’. Subsequent parts in grim SNL no-no ‘The Ladies Man’ and so-so Jackie Chan workout ‘The Medallion’ suggest Evans’s Tinseltown race is run.
It might not be a career, but it pays the bills, ducky!While they might not have found a sustained career in the big leagues, many British comics have caught the eye in megabucks productions. Alexei Sayle made for a mightily believable sultan in the third Indy film, while rambling polymath John Sessions did sterling stuff in ‘Gangs of New York’ and ‘The Good Shepherd’. The ‘Nine O’ Clock News’ trio of Rowan Atkinson, Mel Smith and Pamela Stephenson lent their respective talents to ‘The Lion King’, ‘The Princess Bride’ and ‘Superman III’, but last word goes to perennial nearly-man Kevin Eldon for his unforgettable portrayal of ‘Man With Dog’ in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. Well played, Sir.
Author: Adam Lee Davies
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