Join or Sign In

Sign in to customize your TV listings

Continue with Facebook Continue with email

By joining TV Guide, you agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

10 actors who ditched their famous on-screen personas and delivered shocking guest-star turns

Shaun Harrison
guest-stars-fox1.jpg
1 of 11 David M. Russell/CBS

guest-stars-fox1

Best known as clean-cut son Alex P. Keaton and underdog Marty McFly, Michael J. Fox appears on The Good Wife this week, playing a big pharmaceutical company lawyer who manipulates his illness for the jury. In anticipation, we look back at some performers who surprised us by breaking away from their usual pop culture personas.
2 of 11 Michael Becker/FX

Rosie O'Donnell, Nip/Tuck

Before her time on The View, the longtime Queen of Nice appeared in six episodes of the FX drama as rags-to-riches lottery winner Dawn Budge. Her character went under the knife for multiple procedures, but it was O'Donnell's scenes between the sheets with Julian McMahon that really turned heads.
3 of 11 NBC

Chevy Chase, Law & Order

A ripped-from-the-headlines send-off of Mel Gibson's 2006 anti-Semitic tirade seemed a natural fit for Law & Order. But comedian Chevy Chase as fictional actor Mitch Carroll was a big curve ball. Although only a part of the actual Gibson rant made it to air, Chase’s temper was pitch-perfect.
4 of 11 Danny Feld/ABC Archive/Getty Images

Laurie Metcalf, Desperate Housewives

Many remember Metcalf best as Jackie, the needy and warm sister of Roseanne on the sitcom of the same name. Although her character, Carolyn Bigsby, seemed like just another housewife when she first appeared on Wistera Lane, Carolyn’s crazed grocery store shoot-out still stands as one of the most suspenseful episodes.
5 of 11 Saeed Adjani/20th Century Fox Film Corp./Everett Collection

John Ritter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The longtime Three's Company star went from comedic to creepy as Ted, the new boyfriend of Buffy’s mom on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Despite seeming like the perfect boyfriend in public, Ted slaps Buffy and is revealed to be a robot who has killed all four of his previous wives.
6 of 11 HBO

Kate Winslet, Extras

Actors at least pretend not to covet awards, saying "It's an honor just to be nominated." Playing a fictionalized version of herself on Extras, Kate Winslet admitted she was doing a Holocaust film just to win an Oscar. Winslet of course won for a Holocaust film, The Reader.
7 of 11 Craig Blankenhorn/FX

Martin Short, Damages

After years playing for laughs on SCTV, Saturday Night Live and Primetime Glick, Short took on the role of two-faced lawyer Leonard Winstone. Although Winstone seemed to be most trust-worthy ally, he was revealed to be a scrappy con artist who only had eyes for the family fortune.
8 of 11 Warner Bros./Everett Collection

Kathleen Turner, Friends

Turner parodied her femme fatale roles in films like Body Heat and Romancing the Stone when she played Chandler Bing’s transsexual father (yes, father) on Friends. As drag queen Helena Handbasket, Turner even performed songs like "It's Raining Men" in her character’s fictional burlesque show "Viva Las Gaygas."
9 of 11 NBC

Stephen Colbert, Law & Order: Criminal Intent

Colbert made his living as a faux version of Bill O'Reilly on his parody of conservative cable news shows. But before he introduced the world to "truthiness" on The Colbert Report, he guest-starred as a man who had committed forgery of Christian documents for years, and who murdered to get revenge against the church.
10 of 11 ABC Archive/Getty Images

Julianna Margulies, Scrubs

As stoic, lovesick nurse Carol Hathaway on ER, she saved countless lives. When Margulies was admitted to Sacred Heart Hospital on Scrubs, however, she earned laughs instead of tears as cold-hearted and manipulative malpractice lawyer Neena Broderick.
11 of 11 Ron Tom/ABC Archive/Getty Images

Betty White, Boston Legal

White avoided typecasting throughout her career, going from guy-crazy Sue Ann on The Mary Tyler Moore Show to the innocent Rose on Golden Girls, and her recurring role on Boston Legal was no exception. As Alan’s former assistant Catherine Piper, White took to the role of a black-mailing and nosy woman who got away with murder.