Christopher Meloni turned 50 in April. One month later, he decided to leave Law & Order: SVU after twelve years. So it’s fair to say that the actor has arrived at something of a career crossroads. He spent his time on SVU as one of the highest-paid actors on television, so it’s not as if he necessarily has to do anything, and it’s a fair bet that he won’t be returning to the weekly TV grind anytime soon. Still, news of his first major post-SVU project is a bit surprising: Over the weekend, Meloni told Vulture that he was taking a supporting role in next year’s Superman reboot, Man of Steel, playing some sort of military man. Meloni’s reps and Warner Bros. both had no comment about the casting scoop; could be Meloni jumped the gun, or it could be that they still have to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on the actor’s contract. Still, since Meloni already voiced his excitement for the role, it’s worth asking: Is this the route you want to see Meloni taking with his career?
Meloni has a classic hardass look: broad shoulders, penetrating blue eyes, proudly in-your-face male pattern baldness. He could very easily take supporting roles in action films for decades. That’d be fine. But it would also be a waste of comedic talent. Meloni’s better known as a drama guy — investigating child murder-rape for twelve years will do that, and that’s not even counting his three seasons on Oz. But he had hilarious tiny roles in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in both Harold and Kumar films, and most famously in Wet Hot American Summer. Wet Hot is the most telling performance: Meloni played Gene, a Vietnam vet-turned-summer camp cook, and the role played hilariously off the actor’s imposing nature.
To me, the way forward for Meloni would be following a trail blazed by Leslie Nielsen in Airplane!, Joe Pesci in Home Alone, and Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black. In all three situations, the actors were basically trotting out their personalities from other, more serious projects: Nielsen starred in a whole host of straight-faced B-films, Pesci was fresh off his wack-job performance in Goodfellas, and Jones looked as mournfully serious as he does in every movie on his resume not titled Batman Forever. But with a slight shift in context, their behavior all turned out to be hilarious.
Meloni clearly realizes his own comedic potential — remember his hilarious cameo as the anti-Cooties spokeman on Wonder Showzen? — and I’d love to see him take on more comedic roles. What do you think, PopWatchers? Would you like to see Christopher Meloni become the new Michael Ironside? Or does his future lie in comedy?
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