film reporter

Move from living room to theaters is chancy

New Line Cinema's "Code Name: The Cleaner" failed to crack the top 10 at the boxoffice this past weekend. Expectations aren't high for Buena Vista's "Primeval," which arrives today. As it happens, both movies star hot actors from hot TV shows: Nicollette Sheridan of "Desperate Housewives" is in "Cleaner," and "Primeval" stars Dominic Purcell from "Prison Break."

Both films demonstrate how hard it is for TV actors to transition to features when they take on film projects during their hiatus.

When actors finally reach their hiatus, the vacation period between television seasons, they are usually beat from the long hours. "You're exhausted," one manager says. "You have run a marathon for the last nine months, and your professional people are saying, 'Go do a movie.' But all you want is some sort of life with your family and a vacation."

But many opt to do a movie. Some have feature ambitions, and the hiatus is a chance to lay the groundwork for a postseries career. Some want the extra pay, and others just want to try out a new character.

Certainly, actors don't set out to make a bad movie, but that sometimes happens. A key factor is the availability of projects. "The 'Dreamgirls' and the 'Babels' aren't being made when these actors are on hiatus," says another veteran manager, who has guided one actress between TV and features.

"You're hamstrung by your vacation," agrees an agent. "They have no time to shoot something better."

Today's global movie business poses another obstacle. "If you want to get a part in a movie in L.A. and your series is in L.A., you could make it work," the agent says. "Where you're really fucked is if the movie is in Vancouver or Toronto."

"House" star Hugh Laurie had booked the role of Perry White in Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns," which shot in Australia, but had to give it up when schedules clashed.

That's not saying it can't be done. Clint Eastwood began doing his classic spaghetti Westerns while starring in "Rawhide," Bruce Willis found action-star success in "Die Hard" while moonlighting from "Moonlighting," Will Smith appeared in "Bad Boys" and "Six Degrees of Separation" while also starring in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," and George Clooney appeared in "Out of Sight" and "Three Kings" while saving lives on "ER." But while Jennifer Aniston eventually broke through, the rest of the gang on "Friends," one of the biggest shows in television history, famously found the transition to features more difficult. Matt LeBlanc and "Ed," anyone?

More recently, TV actors have had mixed success. Eva Longoria and Kiefer Sutherland both thought they had found a quality movie by starring with Michael Douglas in "The Sentinel." ("On paper, it looked good," one agent says.) On the other hand, Zach Braff of "Scrubs" made the critically hailed "Garden State," though he then stumbled with "The Last Kiss." The jury is still out on Patrick Dempsey of "Grey's Anatomy," who like Sutherland started in movies in the '80s, and now has a small part as Hilary Swank's husband in the current "Freedom Writers." He also has signed on to star in Sony Pictures' "Made of Honor."

"Everything has to align in terms of timing, scheduling, material, location," the first manager says. "That's why so many people like doing HBO or FX or Showtime. The seasons there are usually 13 episodes, so you have more time for movie or theater work."

And sometimes the best move is not to make a move at all. Wentworth Miller and Jennifer Love Hewitt are some of the actors who simply say no to projects, choosing to wait for a movie they are passionate about.

Or maybe they just want to really enjoy their vacations.