“I Thought I Was Done Acting” : Award Shows and Redemption Arcs

Photo by Kevin Schmid on Unsplash

With 2023 well underway and the Golden Globes long since concluded, a noticeable trend emerged both in the award show’s acceptance speeches, as well as in the larger context of television and movie casting. It has become more and more apparent that a redemptive narrative is becoming a pattern in Hollywood: one where a struggling, down-on-their-luck actor finds a role that relaunches their career to astronomical proportions. Whether it be a major hiatus stemming from medical concerns, typecasting, or a series of unfortunate events, many beloved figures from pop culture’s past have withdrawn from the limelight, yet now are returning in top form. While this article highlights four specific actors who have experienced this ‘redemptive’ storyline, it also hopes to speak on this pattern, in praise of it and the opportunities it provides. 

Jennifer Coolidge: 

Although this comedy icon should need no introduction, Jennifer Coolidge is an American actress, revered for her quick wit, distinctive voice, and a plethora of comedic roles. Coolidge dominated Hollywood throughout the 2000s, however, her career seemed to stall towards the latter half of the decade. In an interview with Variety Magazine, she recalls being asked to audition for a West End production of Legally Blonde, for the iconic role of Paulette, that so many associate Coolidge with. She felt like she was “going through a dead zone”, and it wasn’t until Ariana Grande impersonated Coolidge on The Jimmy Fallon Show, that a resurgence began for Coolidge, culminating in a plea from director and former Survivor contestant, Mike White to join his show, The White Lotus

Initially hesitant, Coolidge was eventually persuaded by White to join The White Lotus, and from this, television was introduced to the iconic Tanya McQuaid, and the Jennifer Coolidge renaissance of the 2020s was underway. Her unyielding charisma and impeccable comedic timing ultimately awarded the actress The Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series at the Golden Globes, for her portrayal of McQuaid. With a hilarious speech crediting White for reinstating her hope and giving her one more chance, Coolidge has only just begun what is shaping up to be another successful decade in comedy, and I, like many others, am thankful for this resurgence. 

Ke Huy Quan: 

Starring as the beloved “Short Round” in Indiana Jones and as “Data” in The Goonies, Ke Huy Quan was a beloved child star in the 90s, who seemingly had a promising career ahead of him. However, with Hollywood’s history of limiting the opportunities for Asian actors, Quan “found himself competing against a roomful of Asian actors for a no-name two-line part”. With limited opportunities, Quan retired from acting and transitioned into working behind the camera. However, after many years of retirement, Quan decided to take the chance again, reading his first script for the film “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” With the film’s astronomical success, and his profound portrayal of Waymond Wang, Quan relished in this second chance, inspiring his tremendous performance that won over critics and the general public, alike. In his Golden Globe acceptance speech, Quan stated: “For so many years, I was afraid I had nothing more to offer.” Yet, after an approximately twenty year long hiatus, motivated by increased Asian American opportunities, Quan proved himself as a capable film star.

Tyler James Williams: 

Although everybody may hate Chris, it is clear that Tyler James Williams’ performance as the titular lead in the comedy series was loved by many. Yet, despite the 2000’s sitcom being revered, after the show ended, Williams’ filmography started to diminish. Though the actor led the sitcom with charming charisma, most of his roles on television were as a guest character, except for a few short-lived crime dramas. The slow stagnation in his career seemed bizarre, yet behind the scenes, the actor was severely struggling with a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. 

After going undiagnosed for several years, Williams had to get six inches of his intestine removed in an intensive procedure. However, this procedure caused further complications, leading to a second emergency surgery to rescue Williams from septic shock. This harrowing tale has a happy ending, however, as we know now that Williams is shining in his role as “Gregory” on the hit sitcom, Abbott Elementary. With a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy under his belt, it is inspiring to see Williams return to television with that same comedic wit he had in the early 2000s, despite the medical maladies he faced.  

Brendan Fraser: 

Even outside of the scope of recent Golden Globes winners, the theme of redemption can be through examples of other actors. A Hollywood “Golden Boy,” Brendan Fraser was a mainstay of mainstream, box office hits, yet disappeared from the limelight around the mid-2010s, seemingly out of nowhere. Aside from serious health concerns due to the strenuous nature of the stunts Fraser performed, Fraser revealed that this career stagnation stemmed from the aftermath of a horrid tale of sexual assault by Philip Berk, the former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The combination of the physical and mental toil from this event severely impacted Fraser, yet through this darkness, Fraser was able to find inspiration. 

Headlining Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, Fraser garnered critical acclaim and award recognition. At the Critics Choice Awards, after winning the award for Best Actor, Fraser even stated, “I stated was in the wilderness, and I probably should have left a trail of breadcrumbs, but you’ve [Aronofsky] found me. And like all the best directors, you merely just showed me where to go to get to where I needed to be.” Although mainstream Hollywood success seemed like a thing of the past for Fraser, through Aronofsky, he was able to find hope after all. 


Through these poignant tales of career revivals presented in the context of various award shows, the pattern of redemptive casting is apparent. Hollywood seems to desire the production of a narrative in which new hope is given to actors who seemed to be facing the end of their respective careers. This trend of redemptive casting will very likely continue throughout the year. 

With stories such as Coolidge’s, Quan’s, Williams’, and Fraser’s, that embrace the rise and fall of the tumultuous nature of Hollywood, it seems likely that even more of these tales will appear in the speeches of the nominated actors. So if you ever find yourself wondering whatever happened to your favorite actor from a childhood sitcom or that person who played a hilarious character in a movie you loved, keep an eye out! They may appear on your screen soon enough. 

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