As a wee lad, I watched more than my fair share of Growing Pains episodes. Not a good show, but I was young and didn't know any better. In watching those episodes, I never would have pegged the guy who played the principal as a great actor--I probably wouldn't have estimated him as a much better actor than Alan Thicke, for example. He played the nerdy principal, the foil to Mike Seaver and his zany plans, well enough, but there were no glimpses of greatness, or real, impressive talent there.
What a difference good material can make.
On last night's very good episode of Lost, the focus turned to the island's resident sweet, older souls--Rose and Bernard, who were only reunited post-crash 10 or so episodes ago. Bernard is played by veteran character actor Sam Anderson, who also played Mike Sawyer's nemesis back in the 80s. And here's the thing. He was great. He needed to give us a man who loved his wife deeply and truly, a man completely devoted to this blessing of a woman whom he only met later in life, who nonetheless could be almost maniacal in his single-minded devotion to her and to making her safe. Watch that proposal scene--and see how he shows us his thought processes with only the subtlest movements of his eyes as the woman he is proposing to tells him she is dying, and as he realizes that that fact doesn't change his wanting to be her husband one bit.
Touching, smart, real, emotional without being goopy--this was a great performance in his highlight episode. Here's a very, very good actor who, however, needs good material to shine. Who can't punch through crap with sheer talent. But give him a real script, give him real meat to chew, and look out. This is true for many actors. True, the elite few great actors can be great even with crappy material. See much of Tom Hanks' early career for one example. Even in schlock, you could see the talent, the skills. But many a talented, deep actor needs good material to really show off their chops. Like Sam Anderson.