What’s the difference between a TV star and a movie star? Walton Goggins feels, to me, like a TV star. It’s not just, as others have pointed out, it’s great to see him every week; his whole approach to acting feels like it just works better on TV than in films. He completely inhabits his characters, so that the longer we spend time with them, the more we pick up on subtle details. Shane Vendrell goes big and emotional, but there are so many clear gradients of emotion he goes through, gradients that become clear because we have seven seasons with him. Lee Russell is a ridiculous, bombastic weirdo, and the longer Goggins gets to play with him, the more subtle and yet obvious the control he has over his body becomes, so that Gamby and Russell’s fight is one of the funniest fucking things on live-action television, as every action Russell takes is an expression of his character. Bryan Cranston is similar – it’s not that any of his film roles have been bad, but none of them have felt as subtle or as powerful as Walter White. They feel like caricatures in comparison to Walt, possibly mainly because none of them have his long journey, shaving off traits and adding new ones.
Are there actors who work much better on film than in television? I haven’t seen Brad Pitt’s Netflix show War Machine (though I have heard it’s terrible and he’s terrible in it), but it’s so weird to think of him on television; I can’t see how TV could hold his energy. Even now, after the Golden Age of Television has blown all our minds, I think of television as working-class; seeing Pitt on television would be like seeing him at the pub I work at. My gut reaction is that I expect film stars to have limited ranges (fairly or otherwise – Pitt has a pretty wide range), and that their roles play off my expectations of their range, while I expect television actors to be able to jump from one role to another pretty easily.
Perhaps it’s a simple matter that television acting is more obvious in some ways; perhaps it’s that, when allowed to go long enough, a TV show exposes an actor’s full emotional depth, and someone like Goggins who combines that with a shockingly wide range shows the full potential of acting within the medium.