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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 them 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). Typecasting also occurs in other performing arts. An opera singer who has a great deal of success in one role, such as Denyce Graves as Carmen, may become typecast in that role.
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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.
Some actors welcome the steady work that typecasting brings them, but in general it is seen as undesirable for actors in leading roles.
With character actors
An actor is 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.
An example is 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 ($38,000 today), with Leonard Nimoy and the other actors paid much less. However, the press predicted that Nimoy would be a star after the series ended, and James Doohan expected that appearing on an NBC series would help his post-Star Trek career.
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"—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 ($188,000 today) annually. Residuals from the series 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: The Undiscovered Country (1991).
Parade stated of the cast in 1978 that "[They] lost control of their destinies the minute they stepped on the bridge of the make-believe Enterprise in 1966", 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 left the series' 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 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". His most prominent non-Star Trek film or television role, Professor X of 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. However, The Next Generation had one of the largest budgets of its time, 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 series who now make publicity appearances in character, such as opening stores and malls. 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 Emmy Awards 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 (1991) 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 series 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.)
Ben 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 television 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 series 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 Moore show, Knight had a successful career as a non-Ted Baxter comedic character such as in Caddyshack and Too Close for Comfort.
Leslie Nielsen was twice typecast in his career. Through the 1970s, he had earned a reputation as a stern leading man in films such as Forbidden Planet (1956) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972). In 1980, he was cast against type in the spoof film Airplane! for his ability to deadpan as a straight man. Nielsen embraced his career as a comic actor for the rest of his life.
Daniel Radcliffe has been typecasted as Harry Potter, he played the role of the main protagonist in all eight movies of the franchise. Radcliffe was faced with two transitions, that of moving from child actor to adult star and from being typecast as Harry Potter to playing other roles.
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 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 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, Steven Seagal, Vin Diesel, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger) and comedies (Charlie Chaplin, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Julia Roberts) 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".
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:
- Fred MacMurray, known for starring in romantic comedies, played a serious role as an insurance salesman conspiring with another person's wife to murder her husband in Double Indemnity (1944).
- Charlie Chaplin, famed for his endearing 'Little Tramp' character, portrayed a bigamous serial killer in the darkly-themed movie Monsieur Verdoux (1947).
- Sergio Leone casting Henry Fonda, best known for playing morally upright, everyman heroes, as a sadistic villain in the Western Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).
- Tim Burton casting Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the dark action-drama Batman (1989), when Keaton had previously starred primarily in successful feel-good comedies.
- Ronny Cox and Kurtwood Smith were cast as the main bad guys in Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop (1987), where they had previously been known for playing "fatherly" "nice guy" and "more intellectual" roles, respectively.
- Matthew McConaughey, who, after making several romantic comedies, sought other, more dramatic film roles. He appeared in a supporting role in The Wolf of Wall Street and starred in Interstellar and Dallas Buyers Club, receiving critical acclaim in all three films and winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for the latter. This change in the direction of his career is now called The "McConaissance", and is considered by many to be amongst the greatest career turnarounds.
- Michael Mann cast Tom Cruise, typically known for playing heroes, as an amoral hitman in Collateral (2004).
- While Matt Damon was at first best known for his dramatic performance skills, as seen in Good Will Hunting (1997), he was cast against type as an action movie hero in the Jason Bourne films.
- While Jimmy Stewart was known for his "affable" "everyman" roles, such as a businessman and father in It's a Wonderful Life, in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958), he was cast against type as a "...troubling or unsettling" character whose "...mind unravels" until he attains a "...cold, chilling air of sexual paranoia and control."
- Adam Sandler is best known for his comedy roles, in which he typically plays an "aggressive man-child". However, director Paul Thomas Anderson cast Sandler against type in Punch-Drunk Love (2002), as a man facing psychosis who goes "...from understated sorrow to rage and back again." He again returned to serious work in The Meyerowitz Stories (2017), with Variety writing of his role: "with no shtick to fall back on, Sandler is forced to act, and it’s a glorious thing to watch."
- Robin Williams was a successful comedian and situation comedy actor. He was cast against type in Insomnia and One Hour Photo (both 2002), two movies in which he depicted "...spine-chilling psychosis" and insanity. He also portrayed a manipulative man who imitated the 1961 Milgram experiment in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
- Tony Curtis was known as "...Hollywood's most handsome matinee idol"; as such, he was cast against type when he played "...serial killer Albert DeSalvo" in The Boston Strangler. (1968)
- Jamie Lee Curtis is a former scream queen who was cast in horror films including Halloween (1978) and The Fog (1980). She was cast against type in comedies and dramas starting with Trading Places (1983).
- Jack Black was best known for comedy roles, but took the lead role of Carl Denham in the remake of King Kong (2005).
- Kajol was best known for playing Bollywood heroines. She took the role of playing an obsessive lover and killer in the movie Gupt: The Hidden Truth (1997). She became the first woman to receive the Filmfare Award for Best Performance in a Negative Role.
- Tyler Perry is a comedian that was best known for creating and portraying Madea, a tough elderly black woman. He went against-type when he was cast as Tanner Bolt, a lawyer that specialized in defending men accused of killing their wives, in Gone Girl (2014).
- Jackie Chan was known to star in light kung fu action films until he took the lead role in the movie The Foreigner (2017) as a character who travelled to Ireland to seek vengeance for his daughter’s murder in a bombing. Pierce Brosnan is cast alongside Chan and deviates from his usual performances as a former member of a terrorist organization to being a part of the Northern Irish government with a bad temper and inability to harm or kill those he interrogates.
- Robert Pattinson, best known for his work on the Twilight series of fantasy romance films, was cast against type in the Safdie brothers’ crime thriller Good Time (2017), playing a bank robber. Pattinson received critical acclaim for the role.
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 since the 1950s before appearing in the successful comedy film Airplane! (1980) specifically due to the gravitas he could bring to the satire. The last half of his career thus saw him mostly in comedic roles over the next 30 years.
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