Will Smith shocked Fresh Prince fans by taking on the dramatic role of a gay hustler in his first film as a leading man, 1994′s Six Degrees of Separation. Critics however, praised his bravery.
Sidney Poitier became a film icon in the 1960s with a series of noble, heroic roles. So it was fun to see him cut loose with Bill Cosby in a series of wacky 70s comedies starting with 1972′s classic Uptown Saturday Night.
Richard Pryor holds his own alongside heavyweights Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto in the underrated, gritty 1978 drama Blue Collar. This film, as well as 1972′s Lady Sings the Blues should have earned the late comedian Oscar nominations.
Speaking of Oscars, comedy legend Eddie Murphy was robbed for his role in the hit 2007 musical Dreamgirls. Murphy gave depth, soul and sadness to a part that could have been just a silly James Brown caricature.
Jamie Foxx has been an A-list star for over a decade now but a lot of audiences forget that he got his start in cheap comedies like Booty Call. It was 1999′s football drama Any Given Sunday which showed the Foxx had real acting chops.
Fans of Mo’Nique’s stand-up comedy career could never have anticipated her unforgettable and terrifying Academy Award winning performance as the mother from hell in 2009′s Precious.
The late Michael Clarke Duncan became famous for his sentimental role in The Green Mile, but you can tell he had great fun goofing off alongside Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby.
Kim Wayans kept us cracking up with her myriad of eccentric comic characters on In Living Color, but she showed a complexity and emotional power with her serious role in 2011′s Pariah.
With his booming voice and imposing stature, James Earl Jones has been a formidable dramatic force on stage and film for decades. In 1988′s classic Coming to America he plays off his persona brilliantly and gets some memorable punchlines in the process. Sow your royal oats!
Nobody and we mean, nobody, saw this one coming. Big screen tough guy Wesley Snipes took a huge left turn with the 1995 cross-dressing comedy Too Wong Foo. While Snipes won laughs with the part, he didn’t make for the prettiest female.
Alonzo Harris is one of Denzel Washington’s most unforgettable roles. The Training Day (2001) villain was equal turns chilling and charismatic and Washington’s out-of-character performance won him a well-deserved best actor Academy Award.
Morgan Freeman won an Oscar nomination for his breakout role as a ruthless street pimp named Fast Black in the 1987 thriller Street Smart. This is not cuddly Freeman who narrated March of the Penquins, that’s for sure.
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Tyler Perry is attempting his first turn as an action hero this weekend in the new thriller Alex Cross. Whether or not he has successfully branched out from his Madea persona is up for debate, but he is far from the first black actor to make the leap out of their comfort zone.
We’ve seen noble actors like Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington excel at playing ruthless villains, while comic stars like Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy have shown a flair for drama.
Check out some of theGrio’s favorite role reversals of all time in the slideshow above.