When an actor completely nails a role, and perfectly disappears into it, it’s hard to see them as people again.
Take Sir Ian McKellen. If we see him in another film, the first words out of our mouths are “HEY! That’s Gandalf!” Likewise Daniel Radcliffe (a.k.a. Harry Potter). Their massively successful characters have, in the eye of the public, overwhelmed any other roles they will ever play. And there’s the serious risk that they will continue forever. It’s a really hard thing, to escape typecasting.
You’re probably thinking: “Pfft, why do I care? That’s the risk they take.” Yes. But when you cast your next production, you’d better think beyond easy typecasts. Actors play a spectrum of roles, and you’ll get stronger performances by pushing them outside their comfort zones.
These guys both ran the risk of getting sucked into permanent “types.” But they fought back and got out.
Leo DiCaprio: The Sensitive Yet Manly Dude
He was every girls’ dream date back in the nineties. In a split second I blossomed from a pre-pubescent teen obsessed with Polly Pockets to a full-fledged woman with true feelings of love the moment Leo appeared with a cig perched from his lips perfectly, and when he died…well I cried myself to sleep that night. Literally. How could he possibly expand from such an epic role? He was instantly Jack to all us teens.
Well, Leo did it. He cut out heartthrob roles entirely, becoming an old-school brigand in Gangs of New York and a con man in Catch Me if You Can. He deliberately took on challenging roles to cancel out the tenderness in Titanic. He probably missed out on a bunch of fat paychecks, too. But in the long term, he established himself as an actor with range and courage, and will probably continue getting roles forever.
Harrison Ford: The Wry Yet Vulnerable Cowboy
Harrison Ford is a man who avoided two typecasts. Hans Solo? Indiana Jones? Two of the most epic series in film history… and somehow he has managed to remain an actor who can play several types of roles. Good guy, bad guy (What Lies Beneath) he can play it all. Yeah, it’s true when we think of Indiana Jones, we think of Harrison Ford…but when we hear Harrison Ford, we don’t automatically associate him with the movie. Therefore, mission accomplished. He has avoided typecasting.
It’s Easy to Give In
Unfortunately, these guys are kinda the minority. There are hundreds of actors who always play the exact same character.
Michele Rodriguez (The Badass Girl)
Jim Carrey and Wil Ferrell (The Funny Guy)
Michael Cera (The Awkward Geek)
Drew Barrymore (The Girl Next Door)
…the list goes on and on and on.
Don’t just lean on their established strengths. Their performances might be solid, but they won’t have that spark of energy. And your movie will likewise be flat and routine.
Don’t give in. Demand the best out of your actors, and they (and your audiences) will thank you.