In comments, “KatGirl” makes a good point about David Boreanaz after I mentioned how well he’s done with only two facial expressions (which in itself was a big improvement over his original arsenal of one facial expression):
Have you guys seen anything David has done lately? David’s Angel had 2 expressions, I will grant you, (both were insanely hot) but his Booth on Bones is a massive improvement. I’d say he’s got a nice repertoire of 8-10 expressions now :
I still think Boreanaz’s work on Bones primarily consists of the two expressions, maybe three because he sometimes smiles now. But he has become a good TV actor. And if in 1997 you had asked me, or anyone, who would be the biggest star among Buffy alumni, I don’t think you would have gotten “David Boreanaz” as an answer. Even after he got his own spinoff, when it was clear that he had improved as an actor (and the character was less of an annoying wuss than he was on the parent show; I guess proximity to Sarah Michelle Gellar is deadly for any male character), he was good in the context of a very uneven cast on a very uneven show, and still getting by on minimal expressiveness and fanboy goodwill. But instead of fading away or spending the rest of his career in low-budget horror movies, he got to star in another show, not a huge hit but a solid show that attracts more viewers than Buffy or Angel did. He’s still not an actor with a huge amount of range or expressiveness, but to be a TV star an actor doesn’t need range — in fact, too much range can work against an actor, since it prevents him from developing a persona that the audience can love. What a TV actor needs is the ability to work within certain limits to create a character that appeals to the viewer at home and allows his co-star to develop an equally appealing persona.
Boreanaz has spent the last ten years using his generic Hollywood Hunk appearance to his advantage: because he looks like The Hero, he can spend a lot of his time being petulant or goofy or just being mocked and taken down a peg by other characters. It’s Jack Benny principle: a star who’s secure enough to let himself be made fun of is an effective star. David Duchovny, another inexpressive, stone-faced actor (he’s more technically adept, obviously, but his monotone voice and blank expression weren’t invented by Chris Carter; that’s just the way he acts) has become a durable star in the same way, by playing up the comedy value of his stoic hero act and picking roles where other, livelier people can sometimes take him down a peg.
This is something that works best on TV, because being a TV star is all about likability — do audiences like you enough to let you into their homes every week. If an actor is good-looking and has a sense of humour about himself, a willingness to let others get the best of him, that makes him a likable friend who can come over. Movie stars, except in actual outright comedies, have to be take-charge people who project a sense of authority, so that we can get completely involved in their story for two hours.