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In television, film, 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 him or her to find work playing other characters.
Alternatively, a director may choose to cast an actor "against type" (i.e., in a role that would be unusual for that actor, to create a dramatic or comedic effect).
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Actors are selected for their roles either by a casting director, typically found in small productions, or, in larger productions such as motion pictures, through casting agencies. Extras and stand-ins are often drawn from the company Central Casting, a company so influential since its 1925 start, that some people refer to all cast as coming from "central casting". The concept of "central" casting was also widespread during the studio-dominated era (from the 1920s through the 1940s) when each studio had a larger number of actors on contract who were assigned to whatever films were being made at the time by that studio. Such centralized casting was made more efficient by placing an actor in subsequent similar character roles after his or her first success, especially if an actor was particularly well received in that role by the audience or by critics.
Typecasting happens to actors of both great and modest ability: an actor may become typecast either because of a strong identification with a particular role or because he or she lacks the versatility or talent to move on to other roles. Some actors welcome the steady work that typecasting brings[by whom?], but in general it is seen as undesirable for actors in leading roles.[by whom?]
With character actors
An actor is sometimes so strongly identified with a role as to make it difficult for him or her to find work playing other characters. It is especially common among leading actors in popular TV series and films.
An often-cited example is the cast of the original Star Trek. During Star Trek 's original run from 1966 to 1969, William Shatner was the highest paid cast member at $5,000 per episode ($36,000 today), with Leonard Nimoy and the other actors paid much less.:166–167,297 The press predicted that Nimoy would be a star after the show ended, however, and James Doohan expected that appearing on an NBC series would help his post-Star Trek career. The show so typecast the actors, however—as early as March 1970, Nichelle Nichols complained of Star Trek having "defined [her] so narrowly as an actress"—that only Shatner and Nimoy continued working steadily during the 1970s, and even their work received little attention unless it was Star Trek-related. The others' income came mostly from personal appearances at Star Trek conventions attended by Trekkies; by 1978 DeForest Kelley, for example, earned up to $50,000 ($181,000 today) annually. Their residuals from the show ended in 1971 but in 1979, the first of six films starring the cast appeared; Kelley earned $1 million for the final film, Star Trek VI (1991).:297 Being identified so closely with one role left the show's cast with mixed emotions; Shatner called it "awesome and irksome", and Walter Koenig called it "bittersweet" but admitted that there was "a certain immortality in being associated with Star Trek".
Some of the Next Generation actors also became typecast. Patrick Stewart's most prominent non-Star Trek film or television role, Professor X of the X-Men film series, shares similarities to his Star Trek character 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. The Next Generation had one of the largest budgets of its time, however, and the cast became very wealthy. Jonathan Frakes stated that "it’s better to be type-cast than not to be cast at all." 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!"
The movie Galaxy Quest depicts a group of former actors on a Star Trek-like television show who now make publicity appearances, such as opening stores and malls, in character. Except for the captain (Tim Allen), who was comfortably retired, the cast members constantly complain about how they cannot find serious and appropriate roles because of typecasting.
John Larroquette said that after winning four Emmys in a row, "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". During his years on the comedy Married... with Children, Ed O'Neill's scenes were cut from the film drama Flight of the Intruder after a test audience laughed when he was on the screen. 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.
Adam West as Batman in the 1966 show of the same name is another prominent example. Clayton Moore and George Reeves, who played The Lone Ranger and Superman, respectively, in the Golden Age of Television, were also victims of typecasting. Reeves' typecasting was so pervasive that an urban legend grew around his role in From Here to Eternity, which claimed that his major role was practically removed from the film after test audiences shouted "There's Superman!" whenever he appeared. (In reality, there were no test screenings, and no scenes from Reeves' minor role were cut from the final version. The article on Hollywoodland, a fictionalized account of Reeves' death, discusses this issue.)
Benjamin McKenzie agreed with Frakes about typecasting. He 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 and Los Angeles. Eleven years later, after starring in two more TV series playing what The New York Times described as a "quiet, guarded leading man", McKenzie said "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." Typecasting was a greater threat to an actor's long-term financial security prior to the 1970s when television actors were generally paid less and did not receive residuals from television shows being repeated in syndication. While the careers of actors in such series such as Star Trek and Gilligan's Island suffered from overexposure due to their previous series being aired ubiquitously they were no longer being paid while at the same time being unable to find new acting jobs.
Ted Knight nearly considered leaving The Mary Tyler Moore Show because of the dopey character of Ted Baxter; in fact after the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Knight had a successful career as a non Ted Baxter comedic character such as in Caddyshack and Too Close for Comfort.
Soviet actor Mikheil Gelovani depicted Joseph Stalin in 12 films made during the leader's lifetime - among them The Great Dawn (1938), Lenin in 1918 (1939), The Vow (1946), The Fall of Berlin (1950) and The Unforgettable Year 1919 (1952) - which reflected his cult of personality; those 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 identified with the dead premier. According to the The Guinness Book of Movie Facts and Feats, Gelovani had probably portrayed the same historical figure more than any other actor. Die Zeit columnist Andreas Kilb wrote that he ended his life "a pitiful Kagemusha" of Stalin's image.
Playing against type
Some actors attempt to escape typecasting by choosing roles that are opposite the types of roles that they are known for; alternatively, a director may choose to cast an actor in a role that would be unusual for them to create a dramatic or comedic effect. This is called "playing against type" or "casting against type". Notable examples include:
- Sergio Leone casting Henry Fonda, best known for playing morally upright, everyman heroes, as a sadistic villain in the 1968 western Once Upon a Time in the West;
- Tim Burton casting Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the dark action-drama Batman, when Keaton had previously starred in successful comedies;
- Patty Jenkins casting glamorous Charlize Theron as a deranged serial killer in Monster;
- Matthew McConaughey who, after making several romantic comedies, sought other film roles.
- John Carpenter casting Kurt Russell in the gritty science-fiction/action film Escape from New York (1981), after Russell had been the star of successful family-friendly comedies for Disney in the 1960s and '70s.
- Michael Mann cast the normally hero-playing Tom Cruise as an amoral hitman in Collateral (2004).
- David Schwimmer was renown in his role for Dr. Ross Gellar, the morose and luckless in love paleontologist on Friends and played similar roles, but broke typecast as an alpha-male man's-man womanizing sportscaster for WGN in the 1998 romantic-comedy Kissing A Fool (movie).
- Emma Watson is best known as a prodigious sorceress-in-training in the young people's Harry Potter movies; she was cast against type as a criminal in The Bling Ring (2013).
- Jim Carrey is best known for his wacky hyperactive flamboyant comedic roles, but in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he is cast against type as an emotionally withdrawn man
- Julie Andrews who had herself cemented playing the ideal nanny in Mary Poppins (movie) and Sound of Music (movie) took on the role in the comedy S.O.B. (movie) to dispel the idea of her being impossibly wholesome.
- Adam Sandler is mostly known for silly and even inane comedic roles; he played against type as a depressed man in the art film Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
- Jonah Hill became famous for his roles in Judd Apatow comedies; he was cast against type as an Ivy League-educated man in the drama Moneyball
In a few cases, an initial casting against type may lead to being typecast in a different style altogether. For instance, Leslie Nielsen had an established career as a dramatic actor before appearing in the successful comedy film Airplane! (1981) specifically due to the gravitas he could bring to the satire. Nielsen was subsequently typecast as a deadpan comic the rest of his life, and embraced the career change. Lloyd Bridges and Robert Stack were also known as dramatic actors before playing against type in Airplane! and performed many more comedic roles for the remainder of their careers.
Playing within type
Some actors embrace typecasting. Fans often expect a particular actor to play a "type", and roles which deviate from what is expected can be commercial failures. This beneficial typecasting is particularly common in action movies (e.g., Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Jean-Claude Van Damme) and comedies (Charlie Chaplin, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock) but much less common in drama, although many B-list and C-list character actors make careers out of playing a particular dramatic type, and it is often suggested to would-be actors that they audition for roles that fit their type.
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