Isn't it funny how the entertainment world plays around with the calendar? The "official" television year ended last week, and the "official" summer movie season is in full bloom, so what better time to think about TV stars who should be in more movies? Last month we offered our picks for the gentlemen of the dramatic arts; now it's time to focus on the women.
Even though I just used the royal "we," let me hasten to add that the following picks reflect my own personal thinking. Thanks to a nifty new DVR, I watched more television shows over the past season than in the past, but I won't pretend this is a comprehensive list. These are the women that jumped off the screen.
That memorable image of her from the first season of Lost -- in her underwear, at the beach -- pretty much defined her, initially. Lilly had precious little acting experience before the series began, so she had to learn on the job. And she hasn't always been terribly convincing. But she's come into her own, and is now able to capture attention even without speaking, even with all her clothes on, even as part of that ridiculous love quadrangle. She's learned that less is more and cuts a strong figure as a loving, adoptive mother and a sexy, deadly criminal. She has a small part in The Hurt Locker, which finally opens next month, and could easily transition into supporting roles in just about any kind of movie now that Lost is nearing its finale.
2. Olivia Wilde
I was quite surprised when she showed up on House; I thought she was too big to be constrained by the small screen anymore. It's not the size of the medium, of course, it's the role, and as Thirteen, a brilliant doctor with a terrible illness, she's had ample opportunity to showcase her talents. She's stolen scenes in every show or movie she's appeared, though, whether it was playing a blonde who kissed Mischa Barton on The O.C., a raven-haired Bostonian in The Black Donnellys, or Emile Hirsch's sex-deprived girlfriend in Alpha Dog. She's poised to steal scenes again in Year One next month, and should shake up a few electrons in Tron 2.0.
3. Summer Glau
Talk about typecasting! First she plays the quiet, soft-spoken psychic River on Joss Whedon's Firefly and Serenity, and then she plays a quiet, soft-spoken cyborg ordered to protect the young John Connor. In both she moves with graceful precision, reflecting her background as a ballet dancer, and in both she restrains her emotions. Which makes me think she's a cauldron of emotions just waiting for the right part to explode. Now that Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has been canceled, I hope she'll get the chance to blow up big time.
4. Kaley Cuoco
The most groan-worthy aspect of the very first episode of The Big Bang Theory was the immediate (and inevitably unrequited) crush of sweet, nerdy physicist Leonard (Johnny Galecki) on new neighbor Penny (Cuoco), a waitress / aspiring actress / air-headed blonde. But series creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady were smart enough to play against stereotype by allowing the relationship to quickly implode once they dated and Penny's insecurities started to be revealed. The second season has been a series of triumphs for the young actress, as Penny became obsessed with online gaming, reached detente with Sheldon (Jim Parsons), and proved to herself that she has more resilience and depth than she realized. I'd love to see how she translates to the big screen.
5. Sarah Shahi
Let's forget about her Persian / Spanish heritage for a moment, which seems to have defined most of her roles so far, and look at what she did on Life as Detective Dani Reese. She's as tough and uncompromising as they come, by the book yet not stupid, so she can't ignore the unique abilities of Charlie Crews (the great Damian Lewis) forever. Even then, her approval is begrudging. As an actress, Shahi had to deal with some bizarre twists as the show vainly tampered with a very good formula to try and improve ratings: an unlikely romance with Tidwell, seemingly inserted solely for the fleeting sight of the actress in her underwear, and her bizarre banishment when Gabrielle Union was brought in to shake things up. Whatever. [UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Ryan for pointing out that Shahi's pregnancy may have been responsible for the change.] Shahi has proven that she can play sexy (The L Word) and buttoned-up (Life) equally well. With Life given the death sentence, how about a comedy?
6. Anna Torv
She sprang out of nowhere (actually, Australian TV shows) to play the capable, questioning, determined, fragile Agent Olivia Dunham in Fringe. The character is an ad hoc mix of Mulder and Scully from The X Files, with an extra dollop of urgent desperation added for good measure. The show has improved throughout its first season, with the interplay between the characters becoming better defined, and Agent Dunham's aching loneliness and search for the truth -- about the great conspiracy and about herself -- driving things forward. When researching this article, I was surprised to find negative comments about the actress' appearance and acting ability. Isn't there a place for a woman who radiates intelligence, someone whose inner beauty shines through, a character who is a strong, decisive leader, albeit with personal issues?
7. Dania Ramirez
True, she's not yet a had a leading role on TV, and yes, I may be prejudiced because I love women from the Dominican Republic, but there was a scene in The Sopranos that nailed it for me. As Blanca, A.J.'s first great love, she's eating dinner in the mob family's grand New Jersey home and she sees ... something, something that tells her either that she'll never belong or that she doesn't want to belong, and in the very next scene she breaks up with A.J. without telling him why. The script is great, yes, but you could see Blanca thinking, contemplating, and then making up her mind, and that's all because the actress pulled it off. So of course, Ramirez ends up playing a role on Heroes which revolves around her eyes (among other things) yet doesn't take advantage of her ability to allow the viewer to see into her soul through those very same eyes. She had a small part in Quarantine and has the indies Brooklyn to Manhattan and Ball Don't Lie upcoming.