Is being type-cast a bad thing?

A lot of actors try their best to avid being type-cast. They go their whole careers being known for one particular type of role and then find it difficult to do anything else. Actors like Michael Cera, Vince Vaughn and Vin Diesel are all known for one type of role, playing one type of character and this is seen as a negative thing.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be the case though. What is the benefit of being able to play a varied amount of roles? Many actors can do it and do it very well but that doesn’t and shouldn’t make them any more credible or successful than their “type-cast” counterparts.

It didn’t hurt John Wayne’s career to be type-cast

There are some examples of actors who have made being “type-cast” a very positive element of their career. One example is John Wayne. Before being “type-cast” was really an issue, John Wayne was known for one type of movie role, the hard-man, rugged and usually a cowboy. This didn’t seem to hurt his career, in fact it actually helped build his star-power, as he was seen more of an elder-statesman, reliably adding weight to some of the biggest westerns (and movies) of all time.

Being “type-cast” didn’t seem to bother an actor like John Wayne and he isn’t the only one. Another mega-star of Hollywood is Samuel L Jackson. The actor has had a varied career, playing roles of many different types but it always seems to boil down to the same, cool, angry and fast but foul-mouthed character. This doesn’t turn people off his films though and there is certain element of people watching movies because of the actors that are involved, knowing what kind of movie they are going to get.

Liam Neeson’s career has been reinvigorated by his type-casting

The most recent case of this is Liam Neeson. Neeson wasn’t considered a type-cast actor before he did Taken in 2008. Since he told the unfortunate man down the phone that he has a particular set of skills, Neeson has been playing similar, driven and older action characters ever since. Even when the role was slightly less action and more dramatic, like A Walk among the Tombstones, it still featured the now customary phone call. This hasn’t hurt Neeson’s career. It has actually injected it, giving it a new drive and direction.

When actors try to do the opposite of being type-cast and extend their range of movies, or even try to change their image, the results don’t always work-out. For every Robin Williams and Jim Carrey, who took comedy talents and turned to serious or darker roles, you get a Seth Rogen, who tried his hand at superhero for Green Hornet but never convinced and now plays the frat-boy, man-child that made him famous.

People still prefer Carrey to be funny

As impressive as an actor playing “against-type” is, it becomes a novelty rather than a career injection. When Jim Carrey does a serious role, people still see it as a change rather than the normality. Audiences will commend Carrey for his acting credentials but will prefer to see the rubber-face antics rather than the dramatic ones.

Even the actors who are supposedly diverse and full of range eventually fall into the same type of role. Tom Hanks is a man who has played everyone from a Castaway to a WW2 soldier but people still want to see Hanks playing the charming, “guy-next-door.” Al Pacino has been behind some of the best roles in movie history but at some point in almost every film he will shout, be over-passionate and become “Al Pacino.”

Pacino will always pull this face eventually

These are not complaints but instead arguments for forgetting “type-casting” and thinking more about an actor’s personality. Casting is mainly a strategy of placing the best person in each role. If you need an aged hitman who can hold his own – cast Neeson. If you need a bedraggled detective at the end of his career, Morgan Freeman will be perfect. A sweet woman next door who appeals to every man and woman, Jennifer Aniston is that actress.

Overall, being “type-cast” is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact it helps Hollywood produce quality movies. Actors and actresses hone a craft and make a certain type of character and role theirs and it improves the movies they make. Samuel L Jackson, Jim Carrey and Liam Neeson will always be the same type of actor and character and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. 

You cast Jackson, you know what you’re getting
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6 comments

  1. Very interesting read. You’re right, typecasting isn’t always necessarily a bad thing. I really hope to see Jim Carrey do another serious role again though, I loved him in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is one my favourite films.

  2. Interesting perspective, although I would argue that typecasting can still have a negative impact too. For example, Jim Carrey seems like evidence against the positivity of typecasting. Many people consider Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to be an all-time classic, in a role where Carrey breaks from his traditional roles. Maybe that film wasn’t a huge financial success like his comedies, but seeing actors branch out of their comfort zone can provide an immensely gratifying and pleasantly surprising performance.

    Off the top of my head, Steve Carrell seems like a good example of an actor who successfully broke type. I’m sure he could very easily have stuck with his sweet/innocent comedic roles for the rest of his career, but now he’s had some incredible roles in films like Foxcatcher and The Big Short because he decided to play out of his typecasting.

    I definitely agree that typecasting doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but I’m also not sure I agree that its good. Having a specific role that you play can give a sense of comfort and a knowledge that you can succeed in that role, but it can also breed contentedness and stop an actor from reaching beyond where they have already been, in my opinion.

    • I understand that. Steve Carrell is a great example and it depends on where he continues to take his career. If he continues to make movies that don’t utilise his comedy then he may well have broken type but he still feels like he could comfortably return to the sort of roles that made him famous.

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