Took the Bad Film Seriously
Sir Alexander Dane: You're just going to have to figure out what it wants; What is its motivation?
Jason Nesmith: It's a rock monster! It DOESN'T HAVE motivation!!
Alexander: See, that's your problem, Jason: You were never serious about the craft!Despite their best wishes, every performer who is not John Cazale will end up acting in at least one bad movie in their career. Some are wise enough to notice this going in, and decide to have fun while getting paid for it (lucky bastards). Not this guy though. They act with sincerity and conviction for an overproduced, over-hyped, and shoddily written movie. The reasons for this vary: they may have extreme professionalism in every role they take to keep their reputation, they could be desperate to prove something (either a young actor who's still new or someone Playing Against Type desperate to show they're able to play multiple parts), or there was Executive Meddling afterwards that hurt the film, or they honestly couldn't tell from ground level that the movie wasn't True Art but a glorified B-Movie. The net effect is very Narmlike, with audiences becoming amused that this guy is putting so much effort into a flat role for a dud movie. This makes the actor/character stand out and seem out of place: they aren't like the other bad actors on set with their dull detachment, but they aren't hamming it up either. They may even seem to be overacting by comparison, because they're the only ones really acting. If enough of the cast do it, the movie itself may become So Bad, It's Good as it crosses the threshold from bad to surreal with actors giving Oscar grade performances for a throwaway summer Action Movie. On the other hand, this trope can very occasionally make the movie worth watching solely for the actor's performance, if it is good enough. He or she might even rescue the film from being So Bad, It's Horrible. This is the cousin of Ham and Cheese, which features a Large Ham in a bad movie. This trope, by contrast, has a serious performance in a bad movie.
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- The corny Heineken tie-in commercials created for Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace have this in spades. The making-of video for Royale's commercial shows everyone involved in the production treating it like a serious mini-movie, with production crew talking about injecting "high drama and wit", and Steven Gaghan (the director of Syriana) being hired to direct the clip. It seems a bit much in light of the corny subject material, which has... Vesper knock out a goofy-looking waiter and bring a Heineken to Bond's room. The Quantum commercial is even worse - the actors and crew are taking a commercial about a grocery store clerk who daydreams he's a spy absolutely serious, and lead actress Olga Kurylenko discusses at length how this commercial is so important for women. Notably, for the release of Skyfall, Heineken did away with the making-of completely and dropped the pretenses about the corny material.
Anime & Manga
- Takehito Koyasu and the rest of the Weiß Kreuz cast, likely because Koyasu created it as a way for himself and his cool voice actor friends to show off. This accounts for a good bit of the charm of the series.
- Toon Makers Sailor Moon, the infamous North American live-action adaptation of Sailor Moon often incorrectly called Saban Moon, was the handiwork of Toon Makers Incorporated. As noted by its presenter in the private showing, and as can be seen even through the distorted perspective of the camera that captured it all, the people doing the computer graphics special effects really do seem to have given it their best effort. (See especially Sailor Moon's live-action-to-animation transition near the end.) Added to that, many of the monsters seen are actually based on the Monster Of The Day villains from the original series. The writers evidently just didn't care and went with a horrific Totally Radical approach to the show and especially its opening theme. Much to the company's regret and everyone else's relief, as noted, the adaptation was scrapped in favor of just dubbing the original show. The video of it however, continues to circulate on the internet, much to the amusement of everyone who sees just how bad it was.
- The Transformers wiki suggests Garry Chalk and David Kaye as Optimus Prime and Megatron in Transformers Energon. Brad Swaile puts on a similar performance as Kicker Jones; and he later cited it as a key factor in disowning the role after he was cast as Light Yagami in Death Note, which made him a mainstream success.
- According to Nathan Shumate's review of Chatterbox: "Everyone involved gave their all to make a film that they must have thought was wonderful, witty, daring, provocative, and all those other good adjectives. They put the finishing touches on, stepped back, and suddenly realized:
“We just made an entire movie about a talking vagina.”
- A review of Deep Blue Sea said the film works because everyone isn't taking it seriously. Except Saffron Burrows, who "behaves as it was an art film" (and unlike most of the examples here, gives a bad performance).
- Sean Connery in Zardoz. The poor guy is trying his best, though he's clearly embarrassed by the costume.
- It's been said he did the movie to avoid being Typecast as James Bond. So it's possible he wasn't even considering the role itself so much as what it wasn't.
- It's also been said that at the time Connery was actually having trouble getting work because the historic pay check he cashed for Diamonds Are Forever made him too expensive for most filmmakers to want to hire him, so director John Boorman was actually able to get Connery on the cheap for what was a very low budget film. In fact, the budget was so low that Connery sacrificed most of the comforts an actor of his standing was supposed to get, such as having his own driver, in favor of just rooming with Boorman and hitching a ride to work with Boorman on the condition that they split the cost of gas.
- James Marsters didn't appear to take his role of Piccolo in Dragonball Evolution too seriously in practice; however, he did give several long winded speeches on the character's motivations, referencing William Shakespeare in one of them and treating the role as a Composite Character of Piccolo and Kami (who were technically the same being anyway). Still, he gives a downright subtle and restrained performance compared to most everyone else in the film.
Marsters: "He used to be a force of good, but he was imprisoned, making him very angry, and then he escapes... The cool thing is anybody who's seen Dragon Ball knows that Lord Piccolo transforms into THE Piccolo, and that is a whole other ball of wax; heroic wouldn't be the wrong term, but it's a long journey."
- Perhaps a better fit for this trope is Justin Chatwin as Goku. Holding back other considerations of how his character's motivation are changed from Anime to Film, his performance of Goku as an insecure teen is pretty good, even adding some character development as he becomes self confident to the point of gaining Heroic Willpower.
- Thora Birch in Dungeons & Dragons. (Unlike Jeremy Irons, who just had fun going over the top with his role.)
- Ed Speelers in the title role of Eragon. You can tell that he wants to act so badly, but his delivery combined with an atrocious script makes for Narm heaven.
- Jeremy Irons plays Brom in a genuinely convincing way despite the scriptwriters’ best efforts to the contrary (and there are also indications that he seems to have taken Ed Speelers under his wing). Tragically, all he really accomplishes is making everyone else look even worse in comparison.
- Timothy Dalton in Flash Gordon, especially considering the film also starred BRIAN BLESSED. Dalton's performance actually does work to the benefit of the film, though, since it's not so much a bad movie as a very silly one.
- Max von Sydow gives a fairly restrained and subtle performance as Ming the Merciless, a character you'd expect the actor to chew the scenery for, and it works extremely well. Or perhaps von Sydow just succeeds in the rare art of playing a character over the top (you can hear the sheer enjoyment of what he is doing whenever he speaks) WITHOUT having to pick bits of the scenery out of his teeth.
- Anything Ed Wood's ever done. Glen or Glenda?, especially.
- Bella Lugosi, in Wood's Bride of the Monster, despite being, well, an Ed Wood film, plays his role with utter conviction, particularly Dr. Vornoff's lamentation, "Home? I have no home!"
- Everyone in In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale takes it seriously, even the hammy villain. You have to wonder if the all-star cast noticed that their director was Uwe Boll. Regardless, everyone makes a fine effort... we even get to see John Rhys-Davis as a wizard! And Mathew Lillard try to be a menacing corrupt royal.
- Roger Ebert noted that in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Pete Postlethwaite was the only cast member who seemed "convinced that he is on an island with dinosaurs, and not merely in a special-effects movie about them." Unsurprisingly, his character is the most memorable. After working with Postlethwaite, Steven Spielberg called him "the best actor in the world".
- Several of the cast members in Showgirls take their roles seriously, which contributed greatly to its cheesy reputation in the intervening years.
- Gina Gershon comes close to salvaging the film. She's clearly trying her hardest to be emotionally sincere during the hospital scene at the end, and gives the closest thing the film has to a Tear Jerker.
- Elizabeth Berkley could be said to have taken Showgirls too seriously. This is why she received the majority of the backlash from it. At least everyone else gave the impression that they were trying to distance themselves from it.
- Kyle MacLachlan was rumored to have stormed out of a screening because he was told by Paul Verhoeven that they were making a serious art film and not... well, Showgirls. MacLachlan himself claims no such event took place.
- If you watch the "Making Of" featurette included in the DVD, it seems like EVERYONE involved the film took it way too seriously. It's downright surreal, hearing people go on about "complex emotional bonds" and making serious attempts at character interpretation for a movie that turned out to be... Showgirls. Meanwhile, Robert Davi is camping it up for all he's worth as the sleazy owner of the Alligator Club, clearly aware that the material couldn't rise beyond its narrow aspirations.
- Speaking of Kyle MacLachlan, this seems to be true of most of the cast of Dune, which featured convincing performances from him, Patrick Stewart, Max von Sydow, Dean Stockwell, and a few others. It's rather telling that in spite of the film's failure, Stockwell's career was revitalized by it and McLachlan, who had never appeared in a movie before, was not instantly banished from Hollywood forever, making enough of an impression that he would star in several later projects for the director. This is a big part of why the movie's cult fandom enjoy Dune for the things it gets right, and not for the things it gets wrong. On the other hand, there's Sting's performance.
- If anybody's watched the documentary "Best Worst Movie", then they know that Claudio Fergasso of Troll 2 infamy takes his film VERY seriously.
- John Carradine in practically anything. The man made a career out of this trope, in fact.
- Everyone not named "Michael Clarke Duncan" in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.
- Sienna Gullory tried her damnedest as the role of Jill Valentine in Resident Evil: Apocalypse, even going so far as watching game footage to get her movements right. Given that the film's director Paul W.S. Anderson turned its heroine, Alice, into his pet, having her take over the scenes that Jill could've been epic in, it's no wonder that Gullory didn't come back for the third film. This hits further when you listen to the movie commentary; Milla Jovovich (Alice) and Oded Fehr (Carlos Olivera) were cracking jokes and being good-spirited throughout, while Gullory was deadpan serious the entire time.
- Roger Ebert's review suggests Guy Pearce in The Time Machine
- Everyone in X-Men Origins: Wolverine did this, with Ryan Reynolds and Danny Huston being possible exceptions.
- In the opinion of Richard Roeper and A.O. Scott, Denzel Washington in Déjà Vu.
- Due to its extremely dysfunctional production and many competing explanations for what went wrong, we may never know exactly why Peter Sellers underplayed the role of Evelyn Tremble in James Bond spoof Casino Royale (1967), but his work (while funny) certainly clashes with that of the hammy stars brought in to make up for his being fired from it. The Life and Death of Peter Sellers suggests he underplayed it deliberately so he could be taken seriously.
- Later Sellers top-lined the 1979 comic version of The Prisoner of Zenda. According to biographer Alexander Walker, it was upon reading the completed script that Sellers desperately tried to get out of it, but couldn't because his only-recently revived career and his plans to finally make his dream project could not withstand the legal morass it would result in. In the finished film he does a fine (though not hilarious) job with the roles of hero Syd and goofier Prince Rudolf, again in contrast to some hammier supporting actors, but there's an air of defeat hanging about him throughout; one can tell he knew he couldn't save the movie no matter what he did on- or off-screen. (He got to do that dream project next, and thankfully, it worked out much better for everyone involved.)
- Laurence Luckinbill (Sybok) is unique among the Star Trek V: The Final Frontier cast in that he's seemingly the only one doing his darnedest to do an earnest acting job. Well, De Forest Kelley, an old-school character actor, carries on as he always did (the scene about deciding to end his dying father's pain is considered a high point for McCoy's character as a whole), and Shatner also takes it seriously, in his own way. Most of the rest of the cast are clearly enjoying their Ham and Cheese, with the notable exception of Leonard Nimoy, whose groans you can see and eyerolls you can hear.
- Hounddog has the following critical consensus (by and large): Dakota Fanning's acting - excellent. Other children's acting - very good. Adult acting - good (from most) to average. Script, directing, editing and post-production - horrible.
- Skin Walkers (2007) a now all but forgotten werewolf film notable for only two things. 1) The Gun-Toting Werewolf Granny. 2) The entire cast and crew play the extremely silly plot and spout off the absolutely atrocious lines dead-set-seriously. In the entire film, there's only one intentional joke, but it's nowhere near as funny as the hilarious stuff played absolutely straight elsewhere. (Even the Gun-Toting Werewolf Granny is meant to be taken seriously!)
- Street Fighter suffered from this...though oddly enough, it wasn't because of the actors (especially Raul Julia, who made Ham and Cheese a gourmet delicacy with his portrayal of General M. Bison); it was because of the director, Stephen E. De Souza, who directed it as a super-serious action movie instead of the campy Movie Of The Game it was supposed to be. This is in fact, what made Mortal Kombat successful where Street Fighter failed.
- Starship Troopers: It is not necessarily a bad movie, but most of the main cast doesn't seem to realize that it is actually a parodic take on military jingoism. In fact, Michael Ironside and Clancy Brown seem to be the only people who know what kind of movie they're in. Neil Patrick Harris might also have realized. This probably helped a lot in making the movie such a very successful Stealth Parody that pretty much everyone at the time thought to be just a bad attempt at an ultra-patriotic action movie.
- An example of making the film better: Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove played his role absolutely straight as he thought it was a dramatic film. This is due to Enforced Method Acting — Stanley Kubrick only gave him his parts of the script and told him it was serious.
- George C. Scott also took his character seriously ... not that you'd know it. Kubrick had Scott do rehearsal takes where he was told to go as over-the-top as possible in order to loosen up before shooting the real take. The finished cut of the movie had almost exclusively the "rehearsal" takes where Scott had pieces of scenery stuck between his teeth.
- Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey in Edison don't phone in their performances. As a result, any scenes featuring them (and lacking Justin Timberlake and Dylan McDermott) are much more suspenseful than the rest of the film.
- Hilary Swank in The Core, especially in contrast to the screaming Ham and Cheese provided by co-star Stanley Tucci and the visible amusement of Delroy Lindo. Aaron Eckhart is a borderline case in that his performance is fairly straight-faced, but he recounted in a later interview that he and Tucci nearly peed themselves laughing during certain scenes because the movie was SO ridiculous.
- Wild Things isn't necessarily a bad movie. While the film seems to be trying to be a Stealth Parody of the erotic thriller genre, the cast doesn't seem to agree on how seriously to take the script. As a result, many see it as unintentionally hilarious.
- From a review of the terrible low-budget Mockbuster Nazis in the Centre of the Earth:
"The star of the movie is Christopher K. Johnson's Dr. Mengele. It's as if he's in some other far more sophisticated, far better film (perhaps with Sir Ian McKellen?) and his scenes have been cut and pasted into this Asylum movie. It's like watching a person who is taking this seriously and has actively made the decision that he's going to pretend he's in Marathon Man no matter how horrible the movie is turning out. This is a professional. This is some Patrick Stewart shit going on right there."
- According to Mel Brooks' commentary on Blazing Saddles, this occurred with Frankie Laine when he recorded the title song. He simply didn't realize the film he was singing for was a parody, and Mel didn't have the heart to tell him after he recorded this gem.
- Daniel Day-Lewis in Nine. The film was considered by many to be a catastrophe, but the man, who's a notorious method actor, delved into his character just as much as he has in any other character he's ever played. Many critics wondered if it would hurt his mostly unblemished career at all.
- According to this review by Charlie Jane Anders, Shaun Toub plays General Iroh this way in The Last Airbender. Dev Patel also plays Zuko seriously for the most part, though he does indulge in a slice or two of ham occasionally. Asif Mandvi as Zhao as well, since the few hammy bits are frankly part of the Smug Snake he was playing.
- Reviews of Reign of Fire mentioned that this movie about dragons conquering the earth would have been greatly improved if the director had realized he was dealing with a Camp story, not a dark story that should be set in a serious Crapsack World. (Rob Bowman later directed Elektra, a film which somehow managed to make the idea of a Painted-On Pants-wearing sai-twirling assassin played by Jennifer Garner seem tedious.)
- Morgan Freeman's sheer presence and awesomeness is the only interesting thing in the otherwise entirely unremarkable Along Came a Spider.
- Jackson Rathbone is actually an awesome actor. His role as a split-personality unsub in the Criminal Minds episode "Conflicted" put this beyond doubt. Unfortunately he got the role as Jasper in Twilight.
- The Last Airbender, when he played Sokka as Jasper with a boomerang, was worse in this regard.
- In addition to Rathbone, the Twilight series is full of examples of this trope.
Rosalie: Say it - Baby! It's just a little baby!
- Dakota Fanning gives the best performance of anyone in the whole Twilight series. Kristen Stewart, who is critically acclaimed in anything that's not Twilight, tries for a serious performance as well. Her interviews indicate as much, but ultimately she just makes Bella come off as wooden. Much like Tina Louise below, Stewart also seems to the cast member most resentful of her Twilight fame.
- Billy Burke consistently gives an emotionally honest performance in the role of Bella's concerned father Charlie. If Fanning's performance isn't the best in the series, then his is without a doubt.
- Nikki Reed hardly gets much screen time in the films. But when she does, she manages to deliver shockingly good performances. Her scene in Eclipse where she tells Bella about her life, or in Breaking Dawn when the Cullens discover Bella's pregnant.
- Armand Assante in Judge Dredd. He looks like he's actually about to cry when he gets to the "That's your family! I'm your family! I'm the only family you ever HAD!" Careers are built on less sincere performances.
- Everyone in Battlefield Earth plays it straight. Even the Psychlos, who come from a World of Ham, seem to be taking their ham very seriously. Only Forrest Whittaker seems to be having fun with his role, and he stated that the only reason he did the role was Money, Dear Boy, and even later came to regret that.
- Michael Goughnote was literally the only actor in Batman & Robin who wasn't given horrid one-liners for dialogue or forced to act like a ham-crazed clown. Consequently, his scenes end up being the closest thing to sincerity that the film has.
- The Expendables is essentially a knowingly-cheesy pastiche of every action film made in the 80's, to the point of exaggerated gunfights, ridiculous contrivances and Ham and Cheese acting by all the main cast...except Mickey Rourke, who seemed to think he was in a totally different film and gave a nuanced performance as an ex-member of the team who waxes poetic about their past missions. He also gives the best speech in the film (about how he felt dead inside after doing that job for so long). It's totally at odds with the subject matter, but his performance works brilliantly.
- The same goes for Mel Gibson and Antonio Banderas in The Expendables 3. While most of the new additions to the cast are clearly aware what the franchise was going for (a traditional passing-the-torch tale), Gibson has an odd look of defeat about him - caused by media backlash over the intervening years - and plays everything either ultra-serious or in full-on Riggs mode, while Banderas oscillates from Ham and Cheese to the most sincere and serious moment the film has when he tells Barney (Sylvester Stallone) about the reasons why he couldn't work with a team for a long time.
- Christopher Reeve had to have known that the Superman film franchise was on its last legs when he signed up (with stipulations) for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. To note, Reeve would only take the film if several conditions were met, one of them being a strict anti-nuclear message. While other members of the cast understand how bad the script is (Gene Hackman was there for a check and Jon Cryer was camping it up), Reeve gives it his all and delivers the only emotionally honest performance in the film, which is especially evident in the scenes where he prepares to sell the Kent family farm, and the sequence where he delivers a stirring speech to the United Nations. It's enough to make the viewer wish that the film wasn't screwed over with (among other things) the most ridiculous villain ever seen in a comic book film (Nuclear Man).
- Superman III wasn't exactly a brilliant film either, with villains who were arguably even lamer than Nuclear Man (or even Hackman's Lex), but damn it all Reeve gave a valiant effort in that one too, as did his one time leading lady (and future Ma Kent of Smallville) Annette O'Toole.
- From the same franchise and era, Helen Slater actually gave a very likable performance as the title character in Supergirl - sadly, her sincerity got lost in a story that made no damn sense.
- Ryan O'Neal in An Alan Smithee Movie: Burn Hollywood Burn.
- In The Seeker, the only actor who seems to be taking it at all seriously is Alexander Ludwig, who plays the protagonist, Will. He's so earnest and such an awful actor that it's hilarious when it's not cringeworthy. Going by Vikings he seems to have gotten better, like Ed Speelers.
- And of course, in the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker series of film comedies, this is done on purpose. If it weren't, the "stories" (such as they are) simply wouldn't be as funny.
- Joan Crawford started to act like this towards the end of her career. After What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Crawford starred in a string of B-horror films that included Strait Jacket (playing a psycho ex-wife), Berserk (as a circus ring-mistress accused of murder), TV anthology shows and her final film Trog, which had Crawford playing a researcher who discovers a man (running around in a ratty ape suit) that's supposed to be the missing link between man and ape - reportedly, she only did this final film as a favor to a director friend. However, she still acts as though she's doing Mildred Pierce or The Women, and indeed, eyewitnesses remember her promoting Trog as a piece exploring humanity towards nature. She would later admit how awful her horror films were.
- In the same vein, Faye Dunaway's performance as Crawford in the adaptation of Mommie Dearest. She genuinely believed the script and film would be hard-hitting, provocative and would win an Academy Award. Unfortunately, most of the unintentional humor is mined from her overwrought, ridiculously serious performance that borders on campiness - the rest of the cast seemed to be in on the joke and hammed up their performances. The production studio turned its back on Dunaway and starting promoting the film in daily papers as a comedy once word got out about her performance.
- Honor Blackman in the original Jason and the Argonauts promptly steals the show in a movie that has stop motion skeletons fighting Greek soldiers and mermen holding clashing rocks apart, mainly because she's the only one with well written lines that don't sound forced or hammed up in the delivery.
- Similar case with the original Clash of the Titans; you feel like you're watching a different movie when you see the scenes with the deities on Olympus. Not surprising given they're played by Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith. And in the remake, everyone not named Ralph Fiennes.
- Non-actor example: Alan Menken is a celebrated living accolade of Disney, having done the music for over half the movies of the Renaissance era, so many people consider the songs and music of Home on the Range to be the only saving grace of the film. In a behind-the-scenes interview, he talks about how 9/11 happened during the film's production, and the song, "Will the Sun Ever Shine Again?" was meant to aid the embalmed and go out to the people who suffered.
- Kirsten Storms in Zenon: Girl of the Twenty-First Century and sequels. For that matter, most of the actors; the films wouldn't have worked if the actors had betrayed even a hint of irony or self-awareness. (Though Phillip Rhys going for Ham and Cheese didn't hurt.)
- Paul Giamatti in Lady in the Water. Despite the film's general badness, Giamatti is good enough to make his climactic monologue a legitimately emotional moment.
- Many people, fans, critics and regular movie-watchers alike, agree that the only saving grace that the A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) remake has is Jackie Earle Haley's awesome portrayal as Freddy Krueger. While the movie has a lazily-written story and dull characters and overall is just seen as a cheap attempt of the company to get some extra cash, Haley does his hardest to make his Freddy as menacing, as dark, as so no-nonsense and as evil as he can. This gives us an an extremely horrifying and monstrous Freddy that perhaps even surpass Robert Englund's Freddy in the question of sheer evilness (not in acting though), and so is the only thing that makes the movie tolerable to watch.
- Peter Cushing has said of his Hammer Horror career that, no matter how cheesy the script was, he would treat it with as much dignity as he would Hamlet.
- Late composer Elmer Bernstein made a living during his later years by scoring comedies. By suggestion of Animal House director John Landis, the comedy would be much more effective if the music sounded dead-serious. For example, the theme for the ZAZ parody Airplane! features a main theme that sounds as if it belonged to an actual thriller.
- Catherine Tate in her almost cameo appearance in the Jack Black film Gulliver's Travels. She gets very little to work with as the Queen, but she does her best to make it funny. Compare with Billy Connolly, who's practically sleepwalking through the movie.
- TRON Legacy isn't bad but it is a film Starring Special Effects with less of an story and acting emphasis. However, Olivia Wilde gives a rather touching Skilled, but Naïve portrayal of her character Quorra, who could have easily ended up just another Satellite Love Interest. Additionally, Jeff Bridges puts quite a lot of work into making CLU a menacing and interesting villain since the script doesn't give him much help, and he's believably weary but likable as Kevin Flynn. Finally, Bruce Boxleitner doesn't get to replay Alan for long, but he does quite a good job in his brief scenes.
- Most everyone in Race to Witch Mountain but especially Ciarán Hinds, who is trying hard to hold it together as the evil federal agent after the children.
- Peter Fonda provides a heart-wrenching dramatic performance in, of all things, the Thomas the Tank Engine movie, Thomas and the Magic Railroad. It's not that his acting was bad, it was just out of place. Like he really thought this movie would win an Oscar. This is to contrast Alec Baldwin's obnoxiously happy not-at-all-serious character and a teenage Mara Wilson's lazy acting.
- Some people consider The Matrix (particularly the second and third installments) to be a glitzy B-movie (not to mention a geek's biggest fantasy - you can do anything as long as you have the Internet). Hugo Weaving seems to be one of the few people who recognizes this, as he injects a large amount of development for an ostensibly one-note character in Agent Smith, with a large side of Ham and Cheese.
- In the same vein, Keanu Reeves never succumbs to the ridiculousness of the plot, even as the twists get more and more ridiculous, and other characters start cracking jokes (some in the script, some improvised). He somehow manages to pull off intensity and pathos in the scene where (while blind) he talks to a literal Deus ex Machina (it's even called such in the script) who uses the face of a baby to convey anger.
- Anna Nicole Smith attempted this trope in To the Limit (her first "serious" film), but she was such a bad actress here that her Faux Action Girl secret agent character edges closer to Ham and Cheese. Actually, every actor in this movie is giving an inappropriately dead earnest performance in a T&A-and-violence-glutted B-grade action thriller that is woefully short of the winking irony that might have made it a pretty good film, but only Anna Nicole is inept enough to make her character truly funny. "Best" line? It's an angry "I don't have to explain myself to yew!" (Yes, pronounced exactly that way, in Anna's lazy Texas hick accent, even though her character is supposed to be a sophisticated woman of the world.)
- The Rock turned down an opportunity to guest host Monday Night Raw because he was too busy promoting one of his films. The film in question? The Tooth Fairy. Although with good marketing, even bad films can make money—which means more roles— so this may be more taking 'making nice for the studio/people that employ you' seriously, than taking the film seriously.
- The Return Of Godzilla is another example where it's not a bad film, but not the kind most actors would go to the mat for. When the film was getting ready to be Americanized as Godzilla 1985, Raymond Burr was brought back to reprise his role from the Americanization of the first Godzilla film. He was told that they were trying to add a lighter tone to the dark, gothic film and that the writers had given him lots of funny lines. He turned them down cold, saying he took Godzilla's Japanese nuclear subtext very seriously, as it was portrayed in both the original and this film, and that he would only perform in a serious role. He likewise refused to help with any of the Dr. Pepper product placement in the film, and in the final product gives a deep, thoughtful performance.
- The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra deliberately evokes this as part of the Affectionate Parody. According to the commentary, the cast was given imaginary backstories for the "actors" portraying their characters. Andrew Parks played the role of Kro-Bar as if it was literally the greatest role the actor ever had, and thus took it much more seriously than anyone else.
- According to The Room's script supervisor (and possible ghost director) Sandy Schklair, everyone knew full well what kind of movie they were making. Well, everyone except Tommy Wiseau.
- And Dan Janjigian as Chris-R, a role he took as a favour to his roommate. His ended up the most believable performance in the film.
- The consensus about the 2011 Adam Sandler vehicle Jack and Jill is that Al Pacino actually had a good performance in what was otherwise a trainwreck of a movie.
- In a more obscure example, every actor who was in Nocturnal Afterhours knew the movie would be bad-except for the director.
- Out of all the cast members, Charlie Sheen, surprisingly enough, is the only one who comes off as trying to take Foodfight seriously (though the movie is supposed to be a comedy but even the non-comic characters ham it up).
- In the Left Behind movies, both Kirk Cameron and Brad Johnson take it seriously in different ways. Johnson takes his role seriously, despite the generally atrocious script, and does his best to make the most of it. Cameron takes the message seriously, since he subscribes to the same theology as the series' authors, and generally looks like he's about break character and rattle out something about calling now to pick up your free information pack. (Gordon Currie, meanwhile, gulps down Ham and Cheese and goes back for seconds as The Antichrist.)
- This is a pretty common issue with the movies that WWE Films makes. The WWE Superstars that end up performing in them will frequently be taking them very seriously (since they're aware that wrestlers have a short shelf life and are often trying to prove themselves in case they decide to explore acting after retiring). The actual actors, however, realize they shouldn't expect much from films made by a professional wrestling company, and decide to merely have fun. Take The Marine, where you have John Cena taking it dead seriously, compared to Robert Patrick, who is picking the scenery out of his teeth.
- Liam Neeson in Battleship gives a very noble performance as a naval captain; yet he doesn't seem to be aware that he's a naval captain fighting off an alien invasion in a movie based on a board game. Contrast with Rihanna, who's clearly having fun with her role; and Taylor Kitsch trying to hold his own.
- In An American Werewolf in Paris, we have Julie Delpy as the lupine love interest.
- The Celebrity Voice Actor cast of the Roberto Benigni version of Pinocchio, perhaps owing to the fact that it was a Hong Kong Dub that may have been Christmas Rushed (it opened in North America less than 3 months after the Italian release), has the whole spectrum of approaches to voice acting in a curious movie — a faction of large hams (led up by Breckin Meyer as the title character, who has the excuse of dubbing Benigni himself), a faction of actors who just can't get their tongues and emotions around the alternately floral and flat dialogue (led up by Glenn Close as the Fairy), and a faction of actors who can and fall under this trope instead (led up by, as it happens, two members of Monty Python — John Cleese as the Cricket and Eric Idle as Medoro).
- A singing variation in All Dogs Go to Heaven 2—the songs are all twee uninspired kids' fluff, and this includes villain Red's "It Feels So Good To Be Bad." But it's still the best song in the movie, thanks to George Hearn's magnificent performance.
- As bad as Michael Bay's Transformers films can be, there's no denying Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime is probably the best part of all of them.
- Leonard Nimoy's performance as Sentinel Prime manages to make him one of the most complex characters in any of the films. Nimoy manages to give a great performance as both the wise mentor of Optimus, as well as the true villain of the story.
- Liam Neeson again in A Million Ways to Die in the West. Compared to the rest of the cast, he takes his role so seriously that it almost feels like he wandered in from the set of a much better film.
- There is an absolutely terrible Canadian made-for-TV movie called To Catch A Yeti. The only bright spot in the entire film is that they cast Meat Loaf as the villain, Big Jake, and he's incredibly serious about his performance. Many viewers walk away from the film wishing that the movie had focused on Big Jake instead, as Meat Loaf imbues the character with a palpable sense of menace.
- The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is frequently perceived as a step down compared to its predecessor, with an overly convoluted plot, and over-the-top villains, but both Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy give the same conviction to their characters that they did in the previous film. Many have called their scenes the best part of the film, and as such are unhopeful for a third film due to this film killing off Gwen Stacy. A significant amount of fans that want Spidey in the Marvel Cinematic Universe also ask that Andrew Garfield remain as Spider-Man, and even that TASM 2 is retconned so Gwen/Emma Stone can return.
- Ocean's Twelve: Generally seen as not being quite as good as its predecessor or successor, in large part because everyone involved has admitted they just wanted to get paid to party at George Clooney's villa. Everyone, that is, except one: Brad Pitt said he thought it was funny that Catherine Zeta-Jones "thought we were making a movie." Her performance stands out in the film, although that's not necessarily a good thing.
- Everyone in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is well aware they're in a fantasy film Starring Special Effects and play their roles with copious Dull Surprise and Parent Service. Except for Tom Baker as Koura, who goes out of his way to play his generic evil wizard as a Shakespearean Tragic Hero with an inner world, going along with the Fridge Logic (that the character is probably a teenager who merely appears older due to his Cast from Lifespan magic powers) and going against the script in places to make his character come across as noble and fascinating rather than the Card-Carrying Villain he was written as. He's a strong enough character that when he finally accomplishes his evil plan at the end and has to be killed, it's actually upsetting because of how sympathetic he was. He even ramps up the sexuality to upstage all of the pretty people without shirts that he's cast against, moaning magic prayers orgasmically and smouldering. Since it was this role that the producers of the BBC saw him in to check he could act before casting him in that role he defined, it is probably for the best.
- While almost every other cast member in Little Fockers not called Owen Wilson or Dustin Hoffman phones it in, Jessica Alba gives the role of a perky pharmaceutical rep character her all and basically comes off as the only person on screen who actually seems to have motivations other than dollar signs.
- Kate Winslet in A Kid in King Arthur's Court, as one of the two princesses and the Black Knight.
The Nostalgia Critic: Don't try to class up this movie, lady, it's not worth it.
Live Action TV
- In-universe, Gary Oldman's character on Friends, the one that was in Joey's overbudget (and nonexistent budget) World War I epic.
- Additionally, in a first season episode, Joey was supposed to play Al Pacino's butt, but was fired for acting too much.
- There's also the episode where Joey was going to work in a film with the basic "driver meets a hitchhiker, gives her a ride, she disappears, then he's told that she was Dead All Along" as its whole plot, which he insists will be his big break.
Chandler: It doesn't even sound like a real movie!
- Robert Reed of The Brady Bunch did this as long as he could, before finally snapping and firing off an angry memo to producer Sherwood Schwartz when the show finally became too silly for him.
- Reed refused to appear in the final episode of the fifth season and wound up being fired, because everyone else involved was simply tired of dealing with him. The series' cancellation a few months later meant that they never had to find a replacement.
- The entire cast of Robin Hood in the third season, bless them. What had been a silly, campy show for its first two seasons (and which somehow managed to pull it off, thanks to the dignity of the actors) was now asking to be taken deadly seriously...whilst still including ridiculous scenarios such as a lion so old that it couldn't even walk in a straight line and Robin hang-gliding from the castle parapets. In fact, Allan-a-Dale's WTF reaction to the hang-gliding is clearly the moment when the actor decided he was quitting.
- In the DVD commentary for the Farscape episode "Jeremiah Crichton" (subtitled "When Bad Things Happen to Good Shows"), the four people commenting (two actors and two producers(?)) generally agree that too many people involved took an ultimately goofy episode too seriously, which contributed to its epic badness.
- The Star Wars Holiday Special: Bea Arthur and Art Carney. They may not have belonged in a Star Wars related work but they were the only ones turning in nuanced and engaging performances (Arthur more so than Carney as Carney was expected to do schtick to fill long stretches of the special.) That was probably because Bea Arthur had no clue she was doing the Holiday Special. Several times afterwards, she said she had no clue she was doing anything related to Star Wars, and just thought she was singing to people with funny looking heads. She probably just did what any professional would do, give it her best effort, and didn't realize it would become what it was.
- Tina Louise, who played Ginger, on Gilligan's Island. Not by the standards of any other show, mind you, but she's still downright kosher compared to her castmates. This may be part of the reason that she became so resentful of it in her later years.
- Francia Raisa on The Secret Life of the American Teenager especially after her character Adrian loses her baby. Her more dramatic scenes are quite jarring compared to everything else on the show.
- Patrick Stewart personifies this trope so completely that it's been called his greatest strength as an actor: he can deliver bad dialogue with utter conviction. Sometimes this allows him to elevate the material above what it could have been otherwise, but not always.
- Even during the weakest seasons and episodes of 24, Kiefer Sutherland was constantly praised for delivering great performances and making Jack Bauer a sympathetic, well-rounded character (no mean feat, considering that Jack is a Memetic Badass Torture Technician).
Ken Tucker: [reviewing the series finale] Lead actors in good TV dramas have to pace themselves, knowing that a season has a shape, and that it’s a smart idea to avoid keeping the same tone or intensity hour after hour. But the very nature of 24 didn’t give Sutherland that artistic option... [he] probably portrayed intensity with more shades and variations than any TV actor. He rarely went overboard; he never succumbed to melodrama. The plots around him may have, but not Jack.
- Similar comments were directed at Cherry Jones for her consistantly brilliant performance as President Allison Taylor during seasons 7 and 8.
- Lorne Greene in Galactica 1980. As one of the few members of the main cast that came back at all, and the only one who agreed to still BE in the main cast, armed with a genial new santa beard, he tries hard to convince the audience they're still watching the same show, but...
- Neil Hamilton really didn't have much fun portraying Commissioner Gordon on the 1966-1968 Batman TV series, primarily because of this trope. He believed that the pseudo-serious performances actually were supposed to be serious, and he would get angry when other cast members were caught snickering at the inanity of the dialogue between takes, believing they were being disrespectful. Even so, Adam West has admitted that Hamilton was one of the most accomplished actors on that show.
- Lecy Goranson's too-serious Becky Conner in Roseanne. It was okay at first when the sitcom was a good show that slightly resembled the real world, she seemed more and more out of place when the show became super cheesy and kitsch during its final moments, leaving Lecy to be the only real thing left in the show.
- Doctor Who:
- "Tomb of the Cybermen", despite its Nightmare Fuel visual setpieces and Gothic Horror vibe, has a nonsensical Idiot Plot, leaves Jamie and Victoria standing around with nothing to do for most of the plot, and is incredibly racist even by 1967 standards, and the under-rehearsed cast veers between Large Ham and Dull Surprise. It's also the episode where Matt Smith fell head-over-heels in love with Patrick Troughton's masterful performance and called up Steven Moffat to gush about how brilliant it was, insisting on using that version of the character as the basis of his own take on it. The scene where the Doctor gives a speech to Victoria about how 'no-one else in the universe can do what we're doing' is performed beautifully by him despite being a last-minute Padding scene added when the episode underran, and is one of the Second Doctor's best scenes because of it.
- Even Patrick Troughton doesn't bother putting in much of an effort in atrocious, fascist nonsense "The Dominators" (the second least-popular Troughton story), but Ronald Allen as Navigator Rago, in a giant foam collar and eyeliner, plays his part with such Creepy Monotone conviction he almost saves it.
- In "The Space Pirates" - a story voted the least popular Troughton story in the 2014 DWM poll, a story rushed out during a period of Troubled Production when the show was almost cancelled, and a story where the Doctor is mostly playing Pinball Protagonist and has very little screentime while various more dynamic guest characters carry the plot - Troughton's performance of the scene where he realises he's made a mistake and has trapped himself and his companions on board a fragment of space debris with rapidly depleting oxygen and hundreds of miles of open space between it and the TARDIS is absolutely heartwrenching, and a rare example of the Second Doctor ever being completely serious.
- "The Ark in Space". Faced with glaringly bright sets, a new Doctor who, while good, hadn't quite found his feet in the role yet, a very plasticy alien and a Body Horror Virus made out of packaging material, Kenton Moore as Noah plays his role so passionately and convincingly that he turns a cliffhanger of him taking his hand out of his pocket to reveal it's wrapped in green bubble wrap from Narm to the sofa-chewing Nightmare Fuel of a man enduring a slow and excruciating transformation into a creeping wasp monster. Tom Baker's performance of a Patrick Stewart Speech in the first episode is also very strong and does a lot to show what the then-new Doctor can do.
- "The Power of Kroll", a story with lots of Special Effect Failure written by a burned-out writer who hated working on it so much that he ended his association with the show for six years afterwards, casts Philip Madoc in a minor role as the character Fenner. Madoc thought he was getting cast as the Big Bad Thawn, which would have suited him better, and was so outraged with his minor role that he also ended his association with the show. Not that this stops him giving his all - he has clearly decided he's going to do the best damn thing in the story despite what boring part they put him in, and plays him with a charisma and repressed, seething anger that's bizarre to see coming from a generic Doctor Who Mook Lieutenant Bit Character.
- Even though "Meglos" is usually considered a boring fluff piece with tone problems due to a Genre Shift mid-development, Tom Baker actually does some of the best acting of his whole tenure in it, and in a season often criticised for Baker's lack of enthusiasm to boot. This is probably because he has something interesting to do - he has to play the Doctor, the Doctor's Criminal Doppelgänger Evil Twin, and each one pretending to be the other - so Baker had more room to show off range and subtlety than he usually got. (The fact that he'd spent the last few seasons mugging for the sake of it makes this even more striking.) In the review book About Time, Tat Wood observes that Baker "is having fun finding ways of suggesting he's a mad cactus". Jacqueline Hill, who played the companion Barbara Wright back in the First Doctor days, also returns here playing a completely unrelated character and imbues her with infinitely more dignity and interiority than the script gave her.
- One of the more common opinions about the 1996 TV movie in the fandom is that, while the movie is generally cheesy and nonsensical, Paul McGann gives a charming and believable performance as the Eighth Doctor which is about the only thing worth watching in it. Sylvester McCoy also delivers a likeable and moving performance despite being in a film that, according to him, shouldn't even have had him in it.
- In Comrades of Summer, the first Soviet Olympic baseball team play an exhibition game against the world-champion New York Yankees. Russia had no tradition of baseball, and their team was made up of athletes drafted from other sports (hockey, track, tennis, swimming, and so on); they had only one "real" baseball player, and he learned the game playing little league while living in the US with his ambassador father. Going into the game against the Yankees, everyone but the Russians knew that the game was going to be a crushing defeat for the Russians. Except no one told the Russians, who went in and played their hearts out. As a result, while the Yankees still won the game, they held the world champion New York Yankees to only a one-run lead.
- It would seem that every version of Star Trek has somebody who does this.
- Star Trek's De Forest Kelley was well-known for giving every single episode his all, even if he and everyone else on set knew it was a turkey. Best shown in "Spock's Brain", where he's displaying profound conviction even though nobody else in the series was able to see a script where space bimbos steal, well, Spock's brain and react without sniggering.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation greatly benefitted from Patrick Stewart, especially in the early years, with his well-known talent for delivering even bad dialogue with utter conviction.
- Variation in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: instead of an actor, it was the director, Alexander Siddig, who did this in the notoriously bad "Profit and Lace", viewing an admittedly bad farce as instead a dramatic piece. As a result, even the bits that could have worked ended up not working.
- Star Trek: Voyager is often held up as a case of They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: The show had a compelling premise and an interesting cast, but for several reasons (namely Executive Meddling and producers deciding to play it safe instead of take risks,) it didn't live up to its potential. That didn't stop Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway) from throwing every bit of talent she had into the stories, even as she grew as frustrated as the fans about Janeway's wildly inconsistent characterization.
- Star Trek: Enterprise: Dominic Keating put a lot of effort into fleshing out the character of Malcolm Reed, viewing him as a lonely man who disproportionately magnifies the few emotional connections he's able to make, only to spend most of the first two seasons as "that stuffy British guy who gets Worfed all the time".
- Many reviews of the short-lived GSN game show How Much Is Enough?, which was literally 30 minutes of contestants hitting buttons to stop a money clock, noted that the show's only saving grace was Corbin Bernsen's charismatic hosting.
- By their own admission, neither Robert Vaughn nor David McCallum had much emotional investment in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. towards the end of its run... and it shows. Fortunately, not everyone who appeared during the final season shared this approach - witness guest star Leslie Nielsen in the two-part Series Finale "The Seven Wonders Of The World Affair" as a renegade general involved in a plan to use a docility gas on the world's population and take over. Thanks to his committed turn, you actually feel sympathy for him when he gets trapped in the gas-emitting device and goes from a power-hungry military man to a quiet individual who won't do anything, including come out of the device, unless someone tells him to do it.
- Soul music great James Carr sang the Narmy lyrics of "A Man Needs a Woman" with the same sincerity and conviction as his other songs. The lyrics go from "Just like a vampire needs blood/Like a dead dog need them bugs" to the utterly hilarious "I need a little love/Like the soldier needs a gun/Like a hamburger needs a bun".
- Songs in the Sonic the Hedgehog series are known to have cheesy lyrics, but Johnny Gioeli from Crush40 sure knows how to take the cheesiest of lyrics and make them sound sincere and epic.
- Nina Gordon (of Veruca Salt fame) had trouble producing what was intended to be her second solo album in 2005, and in lieu of that, she started performing Narm-filled cover versions of songs that were outside her genre while at a Los Angeles nightclub. One of these, a cover of N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton" is performed as a "coffeehouse" version that's just as serious and melodic as her previous works, with lines like "My AK-47 is a tool, don't make me act like a motherfucking fool" played entirely straight.
- Richard Harris manages to sing the ridiculous lyrics of MacArthur Park with sincere passion and conviction. The result is one of the most infamous Narm performances in music. Many fans of it today adore it as Narm Charm.
- One documentary says that Harris picked the song especially because Jimmy Webb told him it was ridiculous, implying that Harris sang it all that way knowing how narmish it would be but loving every minute of it.
- Before she went into acting Sissy Spacek tried a music career, and in 1969 was talked into recording a song meant to cash in on the John and Yoko Two Virgins controversy, called "John, You Went Too Far This Time", credited under the name Rainbo. The song itself is pretty hokey, with lots of lyrical and musical references to The Beatles (mostly Paul songs, ironically). But her impassioned vocal and the elaborate arrangement make it oddly compelling.
- Reportedly Leiber and Stoller write Jailhouse Rock as deliberately silly, tongue-in-cheek narrative goof in terms of lyrics. Elvis Presley, however, took it and performed it as straightforward rock and roll, missed all the deliberate humour and innuendo in the lyrics and gave the soloist an intro cry so intense the take nearly broke down.
- Professional Wrestling gimmicks are so known for this that fans have to suspend their disbelief. During the decline of WCW, many found it difficult because the writing was so bad (covered in the book The Death Of WCW).
- The Fight: Lights Out is a near launch Playstation Move fighting game that had a very negative reception, mostly due to bad controls, lousy hit detection and boring gameplay. The highlight of the game is the tutorial which features FMV of Danny Trejo doing his best "tough-as-nails" act as your trainer. However, he also does this incredibly intense performance while clutching the rather silly looking Move controllers and at one point equally intensely warns the player to not move his feet because otherwise the game breaks. It's so ridiculous it becomes awesome.
- Lacey Chabert in Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) gave the most emotion to her character in the game. Her performance doesn't stop her storyline as coming across as a Romantic Plot Tumor.
- Ultra Fast Pony: Happens In-Universe in "Stranger than Fan Fiction". The show's usual writers are indisposed, so everyone else just uses a fan's script for the episode. It turns out to be a Self-Insert Fic riddled with mistakes. Most of the cast break character to comment on the script or just phone in their performance. However, Blue Twilight and Spike stay in-character the whole episode, and they're the only ones to really sell their roles (as the villain and the hero's sidekick, respectively).
- As many prospects or fringe players often don't get much playing time except in "garbage minutes" (e.g. after a game is so lopsided the result is beyond doubt), they will often put in a top effort even when the rest of the team has checked out. For instance, it is not uncommon to see a backup goaltender in hockey play exceptionally well after the starter has been pulled and the game has become a blowout.
- The captain of a bad team tends to do this, especially if they're also the leading scorer. A few historical examples:
- Barry Sanders, of American Football's hapless 1990s Detroit Lions, was the workhorse and only good thing on a team that roundly sucked. He managed to be one of football's top running backs despite being on a team considered lucky to ever post a winning season, let alone get a playoff berth. He eventually grew so frustrated that he quit football instead of persist in this exercise in futility.
- Walter Johnson, star pitcher for Baseball's Washington Senators from 1907 to 1927, was widely recognized as one of the great pitches of his era, with a then-thundering 91 mph fastball that struck out large numbers of the greatest batters in the American League. However, Johnson, being a pitcher, couldn't be in every game, and even when he was, the Senators sometimes failed to produce enough runs to win. His Senators only ever went to the World Series twice: in 1924, when they won, and 1925, when they lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Otherwise, being a Senators fan was better known as "an exercise in futility" for his entire tenure.
- Also from baseball, the late 1990s-early 2000s San Francisco Giants could never...quite...get...enough...wins to make it all the way—despite Barry Bonds' massive exertions. As one Bay Area sportswriter put it, Bonds was one of several "compensations" for never having a World Series (along with Bonds' father Bobby and godfather Willie Mays)...until the Giants won in 2012, five years after Bonds retired.
- December 23, 1982: the top ranked team in college basketball, the University of Virginia Cavaliers, had just played in a tournament in Japan and on the way back home scheduled a game in Hawaii against the Silverswords of Chaminade University (which had a total enrollment of around 800 at the time). The game was supposed to be an easy win for Virginia after spending the day hanging out on the beach. Chaminade was supposed to be in awe of their guests and happy to just have the chance to be on the same court as national Player of The Year Ralph Sampson. But Chaminade had suffered their first loss of the season a few days before, to a team with a losing record, and they were looking for redemption. They came into the game intensely focused, and won 77-72 in what is usually considered the biggest upset in the history of American college sports.