Let's face it, some characters are just strange! When I think of the many performances that have won Oscars, Emmys and Tonys over the years, I see that there is a wide array of characters from the very rich (Colin Firth in The King's Speech or Gwynneth Paltrow in Shakespeare In Love) to the working class (the casts of All In the Family or Cheers) to the struggling to survive (Nikki James in The Book of Mormon or Frances Ruffelle in Les Miserables). But there have been several characters that have won these awards that would fall under the category of "strange." Now when I say "strange," I am not referring to the circumstances surrounding the actor or actress' win (like when Marisa Tomei won for My Cousin Vinny!). I am also not referring to characters who have a disability or are diagnosed as mentally ill/psychotic (sorry Hannibal Lecter!). I am referring to characters whose eccentricities are a part of who they are and make the character that much more memorable. So this week's 10 FAVORITES is devoted to...
THE 10 STRANGEST AWARD-WINNING CHARACTERS
Guido Orefice, Life Is Beautiful
Roberto Benigni - Oscar for Best Actor, 1999
This is partly because the actor who won the award came off to the public as very very very strange. He wrote and directed himself to an Oscar as a poor Italian man who woos a wealthy woman (whom he calls "Principesa") and goes on to have a son with her. His clowning antics come in handy when he tries to shield his beloved son from the dangers and horrors of a Nazi Concentration Camp.
Mary Poppins, Mary Poppins
Julie Andrews - Oscar for Best Actress, 1965
Who says a strange character can't be one of the most beloved from my childhood? Yes, we delight in her "practically perfect" eccentricity. But on face value, two kids brought up in strict Edwardian ways see a woman literally fly to their doorway and slide up the banister to greet them...I think eccentric is the "nice" way to put it.
John (or Jean), Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros
Zero Mostel - Tony for Best Actor in a Play, 1961
Comic actor Zero Mostel played a man turning into a Rhinoceros in one of Ionesco's most unusual plays ('Nuff Said!). He repeated that Tony-winning performance 13 years later in a film alongside his Producers co-star Gene Wilder.
Truman Capote, Tru and Capote
Robert Morse - Tony for Best Actor in a Play, 1990 and Emmy for Best Actor in a TV Movie, 1993
Phillip Seymour Hoffman - Oscar for Best Actor, 2006
As a writer myself, I have to admit that we all are a little bit eccentric. But genius author Truman Capote took eccentricity to a whole new level. Just his very personality put some people ill-at-ease. Robert Morse won both a Tony and an Emmy for Jay Presson Allen's play about the legendary writer (Tru) and almost 15 years later Phillip Seymour Hoffman wowed critics with his performance in Capote (the dark film about Capote's research for his infamous novel In Cold Blood).
Dr. Dick Solomon, 3rd Rock From the Sun
John Lithgow - Emmy for Best Actor in a Comedy Series, 1996, 1997 & 1999
One of the best dramatic character actors (Terms of Endearment, Footloose) channeled his friend John Cleese when he took the part of an Alien assuming human form and studying our life habits. John Lithgow won 3 Emmys for his stellar work as quite frankly one of the strangest college professors anyone has ever met (and judging by the average college professor, that is saying something!).
Howard Beale, Network
Peter Finch - Oscar for Best Actor, 1977
We all know the catchphrase: He's "mad as hell, and he's not going to take it anymore!" With that phrase Peter Finch's dynamic and all-over-the-map performance of a news anchor who goes from beleagured to god-like won almost every award of the season. Finch, unfortunately, passed away before he could obtain that elusive Oscar.
Cosmo Kramer, Seinfeld
Michael Richards - Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, 1993, 1994 & 1997
When it comes to strange characters, Kramer has to make the list. It helps in this case that Michael Richards won 3 Emmys for his work during Seinfeld's 9 year run.
Dr. Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory
Jim Parsons - Emmy for Best Actor in a Comedy Series, 2010 & 2011
Bazinga! With his back-to-back Emmy wins, Jim Parsons' performance as Sheldon Cooper is one of the reasons for this list (he was one of the first ones I thought of when I devised the category!). His anal-retentive nature and his constant need to be right all the time makes it very hard for his friends to be around him and also makes him one of the funniest characters on Television today. Just remember, don't sit in his spot!
Edith Bouvier Beale & Little Edie Beale, Grey Gardens
Christine Ebersole - Tony for Best Actress in a Musical, 2007
Mary Louise Wilson - Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, 2007
Jessica Lange - Emmy for Best Actress in a TV Movie, 2009
The documentary about the mother and daughter (related to Jackie Kennedy!) and their dilapidated East Hampton home has been beloved by many fans of underground cinema. Their fascinating life story has been turned into a critically-acclaimed musical (which won Tonys for its leading ladies!) and a critically-acclaimed HBO TV Movie (which won Jessica Lange an Emmy and co-star/producer Drew Barrymore a Golden Globe!).
The Master of Ceremonies, Cabaret
Joel Grey - Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, 1967 & Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, 1973
Alan Cumming - Tony for Best Actor in a Musical, 1998
When it comes to strange, I don't believe anyone can touch the oddity that is the Emcee from John Kander and Fred Ebb's most enduring musical. Joel Grey enlivened this character to full effect (both on Broadway and on film) and the metaphor for Hitler and the Nazi party is quite prominent. At times the character can be very over-the-top with his excessive garishness, but that's how he's supposed to be (just ask Alan Cumming, who winningly played him in the darker and more disturbing revival in the late 1990s).