Guest stars who play against type

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Emmy-worthy guest performers deliver under pressure

ALAN CUMMING

Song-and-dance man Cumming showed a different side playing ruthless political operative Eli Gold on CBS' "The Good Wife."

"When I was asked to do it, I thought, 'I don't know this person.' But it was a good lesson to be reminded of what acting is about. I've played the pope and I've played the devil, and I am neither of those people, but I can make them convincing. I guess I'm caught up in other people's perceptions of me. When you get to it, it's all just acting. The same way you use your instinct with the characters, you use (it when working) with the other actors, and I really loved that, especially with Julianna (Margulies) and how willing to play she is. I love that her character is so stoic. It's quite nice, the battle of minds between those two characters."

 
WALTON GOGGINS

Goggins went from playing one of the less-savvy crooked cops on "The Shield" to the brilliant white supremacist Boyd Crowder on FX's "Justified."

"Boyd is a showman. He is a man who doesn't necessarily believe in all that he espouses, but takes great pleasure in the theatrics and exploring his world view, which is forever changing and malleable. He's not a learned man through any institutional way. The one thing I wanted him to have was a love for words. The ability to expand the stereotypes of Southern people and infuse them with this love of language, I hadn't seen that done before. For me to go from a cop on the streets of Los Angeles in the form of Shane (in 'The Shield') to this backwoods Svengali who is a lover of any knowledge was something that blew me away."

KATHY GRIFFIN

Ribald stand-up comedian and reality show Emmy winner Griffin played a very serious lesbian political activist on NBC's "Law & Order: SVU."

"I started doing the 'Law & Order' episode about two days after I did New Year's Eve with Anderson Cooper on CNN. I was really focused on New Year's and I thought, 'I really have to buckle down on "Law & Order." ' So I basically cold called Liza Minnelli. I don't know her that well and I just kind of took a chance. I said, 'Look, I'm really nervous, I have this part which for me is a pretty serious, dramatic part. Would you be willing to let me come over for an hour and run lines?' She said absolutely, no problem. I sent her the script ahead of time, and I got what I call a master class. We just sat there in her room, and she ran lines with me. She helped me so much. It was like, I'm sitting there with freakin' Sally Bowles!"

 
ORLANDO JONES

The usually affable and very together Jones took a turn as Omar Epps' ex-con, former drug addict brother on Fox's "House."

"Putting me with Dr. House was off-putting for Eric (Omar Epps' character). Every time Eric walked into a room it was a question of, what have I told this guy with whom he already has a fairly contentious relationship? I know Hugh Laurie from his other shows, so to me, Dr. Gregory House is already against his type. We saw eye-to-eye on that very quickly. It was interesting to find myself playing against someone who had such a huge comedy background. And just the way we were approaching the work -- comedically you break it down to the most fundamental elements and then you find what's the most naturally comedic thing that is occurring in it."



JUSTIN KIRK
Kirk transformed from underachieving pothead Andy on Showtime's "Weeds" to an eccentric millionaire on ABC's "Modern Family."

"I was very excited when they called me to do it, because I watch the show. We shot at (executive producer) Steve Levitan's sister's place in Malibu, which was sitting in for my mansion. I remember I wanted to be really tan. This thing was supposed to start off with me coming to the door wearing a wet suit that was supposed to be hanging half off, so we went into rehearsal and I was covered in body makeup. They immediately said, 'put it on,' and at first I was very upset, but they said, 'no, no it looks like you're naked when you walk to the door.' I got to keep the face (makeup) on, though. I thought a little color did me good because I'm normally a fairly pasty gentleman."

 
JOHN LITHGOW

A three-time Emmy winner for his role as a lovably loopy alien on "3rd Rock From the Sun," Lithgow morphed into a sadistic serial killer on Showtime's "Dexter."

"The first dialogue scene I shot was the first time you see the Trinity Killer actually kill, the bathtub scene that begins the entire 12-episode arc. God knows it was jumping in the deep end. It's a very strange experience to meet a young woman and then about three minutes later play a scene where you're both stark naked. But I've been through it before. Nudity is an old friend of mine. My biggest challenge was putting her at ease. It was a horrific scene but we all knew that was our job. Of course, the next time you see the Trinity Killer, he's this nice man walking the dog. That appearance has to be just as horrific, because you know what his secret is."

TIM BLAKE NELSON

Primarily known for his work in films as varied as "Syriana" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Nelson went from playing larger-than-life characters to taking on a timid cubicle drone-turned-murderer on CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation"

"Usually I play these dim-witted gargoyles who have tenuous mastery of the English language. This guy was very smart, and also didn't have a goofball accent. To play a character who was somewhat invisible was something I was quite excited to do. I guess what I've tried to do is humanize outlandish characters in my career, and this character was markedly not outlandish. I was excited to humanize a character that was almost invisible. On episodic television, everybody already knows it works, and there's a lot of confidence what you're going to do is going to work. That's why it was such a wonderful surprise to find the atmosphere was really no different (from film) and I was going to be afforded the room it takes to have a great acting experience."

 
MICHAEL SHEEN

His serious portrayals of real-life figures like Tony Blair have won him critical dramatic acclaim, but on NBC's "30 Rock," Sheen opted to go more silly as Liz Lemon's "future husband" Wesley

"On the last day of the last episode we went back to the canteen, which is shared by '30 Rock' and 'Gossip Girl,' and someone had arranged for a Beatles tribute band to play while we had lunch. They were no ordinary Beatles tribute band. It was sort of like the Polyphonic Spree.There were three Asian people and one guy who was so old he couldn't stand up. The Lennon and McCartney players were a middle-aged couple. It was like Christmas had come early. That was typical of the atmosphere on the set."

LILY TOMLIN

The veteran comedienne is known for her quirky characters, but on FX's "Damages" Tomlin played up the tragedy as the once-privileged wife of a disgraced financier

"I ran into one of the producers during the first season and I was probably so expansive about the show, that's why he thought of me for the third season. The writing and the momentum is influenced by the actors week-to-week. It's really exciting. I was forever saying to them, 'Please don't let Marilyn just be a longsuffering wife and mother who didn't know anything.' I didn't know what she was going to do. I thought of two or three different scenarios that might happen to her. Did I see Marilyn's suicide coming? No, but that's what's so dynamic about it. I didn't know until the very end who was going to control who."
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