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Seth MacFarlane: Renaissance man

By Lisa Respers France, CNN
updated 4:29 PM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
Seth MacFarlane has his first starring role as an actor in the film "A Million Ways to Die in the West," a film he also directed and co-wrote with "Family Guy" alums Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild. Seth MacFarlane has his first starring role as an actor in the film "A Million Ways to Die in the West," a film he also directed and co-wrote with "Family Guy" alums Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild.
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Seth MacFarlane: Renaissance man
Seth MacFarlane: Renaissance man
Seth MacFarlane: Renaissance man
Seth MacFarlane: Renaissance man
Seth MacFarlane: Renaissance man
Seth MacFarlane: Renaissance man
Seth MacFarlane: Renaissance man
Seth MacFarlane: Renaissance man
Seth MacFarlane: Renaissance man
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Seth MacFarlane has a long, diverse resume
  • His first lead live-action role is on "A Million Ways to Die in the West"
  • MacFarlane said he enjoyed the challenge

Editor's note: "CNN Spotlight: Seth MacFarlane" focuses on the comedian's remarkable career and airs Friday at 10 p.m. EST.

(CNN) -- Seriously, is there anything Seth MacFarlane doesn't do?

Writer, actor, director, singer, producer, voice of beloved animated characters and awards show host. The world is about to see if leading man is yet another title MacFarlane can add to his already extensive Hollywood resume. MacFarlane's film "A Million Ways to Die in the West" opens this weekend, and it is first time he's heading up a cast as a real live actor.

The film spoofs old-fashioned Westerns. MacFarlane plays Albert Stark, a sheep farmer who is far from enthused about living in the West.

Of course, it's not his first movie.

CNN Spotlight: Seth MacFarlane

MacFarlane wrote and directed the 2012 film "Ted" as well as voiced the foul-mouthed, stuffed bear around which the plot revolves. But this is the first time MacFarlane himself has stepped into the spotlight, which begs an obvious question.

"Does 'A Million Ways to Die in the West' certify Mr. MacFarlane as a bona fide movie star," asks The New York Times' Stephen Holden. "It's too soon to tell. He demonstrates enough confidence to emerge relatively unscathed from the movie, which he produced, directed and wrote (with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild), but he is far from imperial. At the same time, you wonder if someone else (maybe Jim Carrey) could have given Albert a stronger personality."

MacFarlane's career began at a fairly young age. He told Bill Maher during a CNN interview that he began drawing as a toddler.

"I would watch 'Woody Woodpecker' and Fred Flintstone and whatnot, and I would -- my parents saved sketches that I did that are crude but oddly recognizable," MacFarlane said.

It was while he was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design that he began developing what would ultimately become the hit Fox animated series "Family Guy." He went on to develop more animated shows: "American Dad!" and "The Cleveland Show."

MacFarlane told Rolling Stone in 2012 that he believed "Family Guy" was often unfairly dismissed as "frat boy humor," though he admitted that there is plenty of that.

"But we try to include an equal amount of intelligent humor," he told the magazine. "If it makes you laugh, what's wrong with that? There's room for both highbrow and lowbrow."

The success of his critically acclaimed 2011 jazz album, "Music Is Better Than Words" (it was nominated for two Grammys) has led to a deal for a reported forthcoming Christmas album. And he is one of the producers of the rebooted "Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey" television series.

That's not to say that everything MacFarlane has touched has been golden.

His live-action Fox comedy "Dads" starring another Seth (Green) and Giovanni Ribisi was panned by critics from the onset and was recently canceled. And his stint as the host of the 2013 Academy Awards telecast left viewers divided.

His "Million Ways to Die in the West" co-star Charlize Theron praised his versatility.

"He's fantastic," she said. "He wears every single hat which was about 150 that he wore in this move really well like just a seasoned pro. I mean there was nothing about him that said to me he was a first-time actor or a -- I think we were all very impressed by just how effortlessly he did all of it."

As for MacFarlane, he said he had a very simple reason for stepping in front of the camera.

"I like a challenge," he said. "I like taking a risk, something I haven't done before."

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