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Typecasting (acting)

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Typecasting (acting)

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).

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.


  • Actor selection 1
  • With character actors 2
    • Star Trek 2.1
    • Other examples 2.2
    • Historical characters 2.3
  • Playing against type 3
  • Playing within type 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6

Actor selection

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, 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 him or her to find work playing other characters. It is especially common among leading actors in popular TV series and films.

Star Trek

An 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.[1]:166–167,297 The press predicted that Nimoy would be a star after the show ended,[2] however, and James Doohan expected that appearing on an NBC series would help his post-Star Trek career.[3]

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"[4]—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.[5] Residuals from the show ended in 1971[6] but in 1979, the first of six films starring the cast appeared; Kelley earned $1 million for the final film, Star Trek VI (1991).[7]:297

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",[5] 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 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".[5]

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 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.[9] The Next Generation had one of the largest budgets of its time, however,[10] and the cast became very wealthy.[11][9] Jonathan Frakes stated that "it’s better to be type-cast than not to be cast at all."[12] 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!"[13]

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.

Other examples

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".[14] 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.[15] 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.[16]

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."[17] 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.

John Wayne Himself in Western movies.

Historical characters

Soviet actor 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.[18] According to the The Guinness Book of Movie Facts and Feats, Gelovani had probably portrayed the same historical figure more than any other actor.[19] Die Zeit columnist Andreas Kilb wrote that he ended his life "a pitiful Kagemusha" of Stalin's image.[20]

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:

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.

In opera, especially in German-speaking countries, the fach system is used to categorize singers based on their voice type to aid in the casting process.

See also


  1. ^ Rioux, Terry Lee (2005). From Sawdust to Stardust: The Biography of DeForest Kelley, Star Trek's Dr. McCoy. Simon and Schuster.  
  2. ^ Kleiner, Dick (1967-12-04). "Mr. Spock's Trek To Stardom". Warsaw Times-Union (Warsaw, Indiana). Newspaper Enterprise Association. p. 7. Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
  3. ^ Star Trek' Ace Is Former Pilot"'". Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pennsylvania). United Press International. 1969-04-21. pp. B12. Retrieved May 6, 2011. 
  4. ^ Leney, Peter (1970-03-13). "Star Trek Player Nichelle Nichols Performing Here Tonight, Saturday". Calgary Herald. p. 28. Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c Michaels, Marguerite (1978-12-10). "A Visit to Star Trek's Movie Launch". Parade. Retrieved May 2, 2011. 
  6. ^ Wigler, Stephen (1985-06-06). Trekkers' keeping TV series out of this World"'". Boca Raton News. pp. 4B. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  7. ^ Rioux, Terry Lee (2005). From sawdust to stardust: the biography of DeForest Kelley, Star trek's Dr. McCoy. Simon and Schuster. p. 297.  
  8. ^ Marriott, Michael (1991-09-15). "TV VIEW; THE 'STAR TREK' CURSE: A LIFETIME STARFLEET COMMISSION". The New York Times. Retrieved May 3, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b Appleyard, Bryan (2007-11-04). "'"Patrick Stewart: Keep on Trekkin. The Sunday Times (News Corp.). Archived from the original on 2008-05-11. Retrieved April 27, 2011. 
  10. ^ Vogel, Harold L. (2007). Entertainment Industry Economics: A Guide for Financial Analysis. Cambridge University Press. p. 222.  
  11. ^ Brady, James (1992-04-05). "In Step With: Patrick Stewart". Parade. p. 21. Retrieved April 28, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Jonathan Frakes - The Next Generation's Number One, Will Riker, and Trek director". BBC. Archived from the original on 2001-11-15. Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
  13. ^ Teitelbaum, Sheldon (1991-05-05). "How Gene Roddenberry and his Brain Trust Have Boldly Taken 'Star Trek' Where No TV Series Has Gone Before : Trekking to the Top". Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company). p. 16. Archived from the original on 2011-05-11. Retrieved April 27, 2011. 
  14. ^ Rabin, Nathan (2008-06-05). "Random Roles: John Larroquette". A.V. Club. Retrieved September 25, 2012. 
  15. ^ Porter, Donald (July 1995). "Ed O'Neill, July 1995". Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah). Retrieved March 25, 2013. 
  16. ^ Brooks, Xan (September 9, 2010). "Mad Men's Jon Hamm is the talk of The Town". The Guardian (UK). Retrieved September 14, 2010. 
  17. ^ Hale, Mike (2014-11-23). "Sometimes, Old-Fashioned Pays Off". The New York Times. pp. AR19. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  18. ^ A. Bernstein (September 1989). "Mikhail Gelovani: One-Role Actor". Soviet Film 9: 16–17.  
  19. ^ Patrick Robertson (1991). The Guinness Book of Movie Facts & Feats. Abbeville Press.  . Page 105.
  20. ^ Andreas Kilb (20 September 1991). "Die Meister des Abgesangs" [The Masters of the Swan Song]. (in German).  
  21. ^ Mark Salisbury;  
  22. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (2014-06-04). "EMMYS Q&A: Matthew McConaughey On Following Oscar With The Game-Changing HBO Series ‘ Detective’". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 4 June 2014. 
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