Television Without Pity

Opposites Attract: How Actors Break Away By Breaking Bad

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These actors found a second life after TV stardom

It's always a challenge for an actor to play a well-known part on TV and then to start over on a new show as someone entirely different. Audiences will always be tempted to see them as that first character, leading to typecasting and premature cancellations of new projects.

However, actors like Ray Romano have recently turned this theory on its head. After nine seasons on "Everybody Loves Raymond," he's deftly crafted a new persona on "Men of a Certain Age" that, for all intents and purposes, is the anti-Ray Barone. As the second season comes to a close this week on TNT (and as we count down to the return of "Breaking Bad"), we take a look at other performers this summer who moved from a career-defining role to successfully portraying its polar opposite.

Ray Romano

Take 1: The title character on "Everybody Loves Raymond." Raymond was easygoing and unwilling to take his family or his kids seriously. They were annoyances as he tried to avoid responsibility at all costs. Though his wife was neurotic, Raymond was the passive everyman.

Take 2: Joe, the divorced dad of two on "Men of a Certain Age." Joe is sensitive, still not over his ex-wife and reluctant to date, dealing with a gambling problem and his desire to get back on the pro golf circuit. It's a sweet, nuanced performance from Romano, entirely different from his laughtrack sitcom role what seems like all those years ago.

Connection: Both are generally awkward people, but other than that, nothing really. Romano is the prime example of a real TV transformation.

Bryan Cranston

Take 1: Hal, the good-cop dad to Jane Kaczmarek's bad-cop mom on "Malcolm in the Middle." Hal was more like one of the kids than a father figure. He played Legos with the kids and set up strange domino contraptions in the kitchen. His strength was his ability to engage with the kids in his completely un-smooth way than it was to discipline them.

Take 2: Walter White, "Breaking Bad's" meth-cooking science teacher with terminal cancer. Like Romano, Cranston couldn't have chosen a more different show and different character than his first hit. Walt is a real absentee father, prone to flashes of anger and inconveniently missing important family events (the birth of his daughter). In fact, parenting is really the last thing Walt ever does, even though he claims he's cooking meth to make money for his family.

Connection: Tighty-whities.

Get a sneak peek at the new season of "Breaking Bad" right here:

Aaron Paul

Take 1: Scott Quittman, Amy's boyfriend and eventual husband on "Big Love." Yes, he was ten years older than her — not exactly a dream suitor — but he turned out to not only be caring, faithful and earnest, but he helped Amy escape the life she so despised. Theirs was a TV happily-ever-after.

Take 2: Jesse Pinkman, Walter White's meth-making partner on "Breaking Bad." Not only does Jesse cook and deal meth, his trademark baggy clothes and tattoos are the opposite of the gentle do-gooder Scott Quittman. Jesse has nothing — his family doesn't trust him, he doesn't really have friends — he's broken. As he told Walt, he's come to accept that he is the bad guy, and he's willing to play that role.

Connection: They both like complicated women. (Jesse dated the doomed heroin addict Jane in Season 2.) But in all seriousness, Jesse comes closer and closer to Scott Quittman territory as Walt makes his way to the dark side. If there was ever a sign that Jesse has always had some kind of inner Scott-like goodness, it was that last shot of Season 3.

[Photos: Check Out All-New Photos of the 'Breaking Bad' Cast]

Justin Kirk

Take 1: The dramatic, drag-clad, AIDS-ridden Prior in HBO's "Angels in America" miniseries. Prior's boyfriend Louis leaves him when he finds out Prior is sick; while Prior has friends, it's suggested he doesn't see his family often, so he is pretty much left to die on his own. Another thing: Prior is inherently serious, and spends much of his time crying or being spoken to by angels.

Take 2: Uncle Andy on "Weeds." Andy is fun, and everything he does is for fun; his shenanigans are the reason we keep watching, because they successfully distract us from Nancy's stupid, idiotic, no good, very bad decisions. But although he's not always vocal about it, family is the most important part of his life — he has become a father figure to Silas and Shane (and, let's face it, Doug, too).

Connection: Falling in love with people that ruin lives. (Prior with Louis; Andy with Nancy.)

[Video: Watch Clips and Full Episodes of 'Weeds']

Mary-Louise Parker

Take 1: Also an "Angels in America" vet. Yes, we know MLP's been famous for a while, but she had one big TV stint apart from "Weeds" — she played the crazed, Mormon, pill-popping Harper Pitt in "Angels." Harper stays inside all day, takes Valium until she hallucinates, lies about being pregnant, and accuses her husband of being homosexual while refusing to leave him. She's certainly the saddest character in the series: helpless, desperate, and lost.

Take 2: Drug-dealing mommy Nancy Botwin on "Weeds." First of all, Nancy is the epitome of control. Every move she makes is to maintain control over her life, her family, and her income. And what did she do in this season's premiere? Break out of her halfway house as soon as she could. Nancy takes charge. And it's not because she's crazy like Harper; she's just selfish. Oh, and another thing: She may deal drugs, but she doesn't use 'em.

Connection: Nancy and her coffee = Harper and her pills. They're also both whiny and annoying, but that's more MLP's acting style than anything else.

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