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In film, television, and theatre, typecasting is the process by which a particular actor becomes strongly identified with a specific character, one or more particular roles, or characters having the same traits or coming from the same social or ethnic groups. There have been instances in which an actor has been so strongly identified with a role as to make it difficult for them to find work playing other characters.

Character actors[edit]

Actors are sometimes so strongly identified with a role as to make it difficult for them to find work playing other characters. It is especially common among leading actors in popular television series and films.

Star Trek[edit]

One example of typecasting occurred with the cast of the original Star Trek series. During Star Trek's original run from 1966 to 1969, William Shatner was the highest-paid cast member at $5,000 per episode ($47,000 today), with Leonard Nimoy and the other actors being paid much less.[1] The press predicted that Nimoy would be a star after the series ended,[2] and James Doohan expected that appearing on an NBC series would help his post-Star Trek career.[3] The series so typecast the actors, however—as early as March 1970, Nichelle Nichols complained of Star Trek having "defined [her] so narrowly as an actress",[4] and Doohan said in 1976 that even producers he worked for before Star Trek now told his agent "I don't want a Scotsman"[5]—that only Shatner and Nimoy continued working steadily throughout the 1970s, and even their work received little attention unless it was Star Trek-related.[6]

Walter Koenig in 1976 noted the disparity between the adulation from Trekkies at Star Trek conventions and his obscurity in Hollywood.[5] Residuals from the series ended in 1971;[5][7] Koenig, Doohan, and DeForest Kelley discussed the paradox of starring in what Kelley described as "the most popular series in the world" because of reruns, but "not getting paid for it".[5] Cast members' income came mostly from personal appearances at conventions; by 1978 Kelley, for example, earned up to $50,000 ($234,000 today) annually.[6] In 1979, the first of six films starring the cast appeared; Kelley earned $1 million for the final film, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991).[1]

Parade stated of the cast, "They are 'stars' only in the world of Star Trek ... [They] lost control of their destinies the minute they stepped on the bridge of the make-believe Enterprise in 1966",[6] and The New York Times observed in 1991 that "For most of the actors in the original "Star Trek" series, Starfleet has never been far off the professional horizons." Being identified so closely with one role[8] left the series' cast with mixed emotions; Shatner called it "awesome and irksome". Koenig called it "bittersweet ... People are interested in Chekov, not me", but admitted that there was "a certain immortality in being associated with Star Trek".[6] Doohan said that being part of a "classic" was "beautiful. Your great-grandchildren will still be seeing Star Trek".[5]

Some of the Next Generation actors also became typecast. Patrick Stewart recalled that a "distinguished Hollywood director I wanted to work for said to me 'Why would I want Captain Picard in my movie?' That was painful".[9] His most prominent non-Star Trek film or television role, Professor X in the X-Men film series, shares similarities to Jean-Luc Picard. Stewart has stated "I don't have a film career. I have a franchise career"; he continues to work on stage as a Shakespearean actor.[10] The Next Generation had one of the largest budgets of its time,[11] and the cast became very wealthy.[10][12] Jonathan Frakes stated that "it's better to be type-cast than not to be cast at all."[13] Michael Dorn said in 1991, "If what happened to the first cast is called being typecast, then I want to be typecast. Of course, they didn't get the jobs after 'Trek.' But they are making their sixth movie. Name me someone else in television who has made six movies!"[14]

Other examples[edit]

John Larroquette said that after winning four consecutive Emmy Awards, "it was 10 years after Night Court ended before I got a role as a dad. Because Dan Fielding was such a bizarre character, he had made such an impression, that typecasting does happen. Every role was some sleazy lawyer or some sleazy this or some sleazy that."[15] During his years on the comedy Married... with Children, Ed O'Neill's scenes were cut from the film drama Flight of the Intruder (1991) after a test audience laughed when he was on the screen.[16]

Jon Hamm stated that after the success of Mad Men, he received "about 40 scripts that were all set in the 60s, or had me playing advertising guys" like his character Don Draper.[17]

Clayton Moore, who played the Lone Ranger in the Golden Age of Television, embraced his typecasting, stating that he had "fallen in love" with the character of Lone Ranger, and regularly appeared in public in character, to the point that Jack Wrather, who owned the character, issued a cease and desist order to Moore in 1979. The dispute was dropped in 1984 and Moore resumed his appearances.[18] In a similar case, Alan Hale Jr. parlayed his fame as Skipper Jonas Grumby on Gilligan's Island into a seafood restaurant and a travel agency that offered three-hour boat tours.[19]

Jonathan Frakes' sentiments about typecasting were echoed by Ben McKenzie, who became a star in the role of Ryan Atwood in The O.C. at age 24, after two years of seeking acting work in New York City and Los Angeles. Eleven years later, after starring in two more television series playing what The New York Times described as a "quiet, guarded leading man", McKenzie said that "if you are being stereotyped, that means you have something to stereotype. So they're casting you. That is an amazing thing. That is a gift. Worry about being pigeonholed in your 50s."[20]

Daniel Radcliffe was cast as Harry Potter at age eleven, playing the character over ten years in an eight-film franchise. Radcliffe was thus faced with two transitions: moving from child actor to adult star and moving from being typecast as Potter to playing other roles. His career following the Harry Potter franchise has included appearing on stage, as in Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan; in independent films such as Kill Your Darlings, in which he played Allen Ginsberg; and major studio films like Victor Frankenstein, in which he played the hunchback Igor, and romantic comedies like What If. [21]

Peter Robbins largely left acting after aging out of his most famous role, the voice of Charlie Brown. He retained a strong affection for the role throughout his life, including having a tattoo of the character.[22]

Historical-real characters[edit]

Soviet actor Mikheil Gelovani depicted Joseph Stalin in 12 films made during the leader's lifetime, which reflected his cult of personality. Among them were The Great Dawn (1938), Lenin in 1918 (1939), The Vow (1946), The Fall of Berlin (1950) and The Unforgettable Year 1919 (1952). These films were either banned or had the scenes featuring Stalin removed after the 1956 Secret Speech. Following Stalin's death, Gelovani was denied new roles since he was so closely identified with Stalin.[23] According to The Guinness Book of Movie Facts and Feats, Gelovani had probably portrayed the same historical figure more than any other actor.[24] Die Zeit columnist Andreas Kilb wrote that he ended his life "a pitiful Kagemusha" of Stalin's image.[25]

Playing against type[edit]

Some actors attempt to avoid or escape typecasting by taking on roles that are opposite the types of roles that they are known for.[26][27]

See also[edit]


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