Shaking the Hollywood typecast

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Actors seemingly enjoy trying to break role typecasting, but just how easy is it to shake?

Typecasting is a mainstream actor’s bread and butter. Few, if any of them could argue that it hasn’t aided their career in some way. Even the best have typecasting to thank for their success – Robert De Niro, for example, can hardly deny that being Hollywood’s hard-ass hasn’t helped him out to some extent. Of course it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be regarded as ‘the charming Brit’ (that’s you Colin Firth) or the ‘smarmy oddball’ (and you Steve Buscemi), but it’s hardly surprising that a lot of actors exert a great deal of energy in an attempt to shake off the Hollywood typecast.

It’s a wonder that actors like Adam Sandler and Arnold Schwarzenegger bother trying to balance finance and reputation

With actors – and here I use the term lightly – like Adam Sandler and Arnold Schwarzenegger easily raking in upwards of $20 million on their major releases, it’s a wonder that some actually bother trying to balance finance and reputation. And yet, Sandler has gone out of his way to accrue some worthwhile credits in the form of films like Reign Over Me and Punch-Drunk Love, despite the paltry pay. Sandler really hasn’t reversed his reputation as a comedy actor (and not a particularly great one at that), but in straying from the genre, he did show that there was more to him than films like Click would let on. Of course, Arnie has yet to break his typecast at all, though I very much doubt his acting talent, or lack thereof, would permit him to.

After a decade of being known almost exclusively as Harry Potter, it’s not surprising that Daniel Radcliffe has done everything in his power to escape that role in the short time that he’s been free from it. A nude theatre scene aside, Radcliffe has managed to cram a number of TV appearances as well as four feature film credits into his downtime. More impressive is that he’s shied away from large blockbusters, choosing more subtle productions like Kill Your Darlings and Horns instead.

daniel radcliffe kill your darlings

For Radcliffe, quite unlike Sandler, the question of breaking the typecast is more about his future than his legacy. The hard work approach is already proving its value for Radcliffe, who has picked up a couple of minor awards outside of his multiple Potter related accolades, but given the success of those films, he still has a long way to go before he’ll be considered as a star outside of Hogwarts.

Provided the talent exists, an actor can take just about any career path they choose – look at Anne Hathaway

When you consider how much of a transformation Anne Hathaway has made, it’s clear that, provided the talent exists, an actor can take just about any career path they choose. Hathaway started her career as Disney’s vision of excellence in such titles as The Princess Diaries, The Princess Diaries II: Royal Engagement and the quintessential Ella Enchanted, before turning up in Rachel Getting Married to shock everyone not only because she could act, but also because she played a recovering drug addict. Hathaway deserved much more credit for her sublime performance (thanks to the sexist structure of the film industry, she never got it), but the role set her apart from the idyllic ‘princess’ image that had previously shaped her career.

rachel getting married anne hathaway

Of course, some are more successful than others in their attempts to be taken seriously. Take Samuel L. Jackson, Hollywood’s go-to ‘badass motherfucker.’ We’re all aware of Jackson’s acting ability – he was incredible in Django Unchained, Black Snake Moan and The Caveman’s Valentine (all roles that defy his typecast), but we’ll always remember him as a lead in films like Snakes on a Plane and Die Hard: With a Vengeance. For Jackson, it seems breaking the typecast simply isn’t a concern, so much so that he’s more than happy to actively promote it through the roles he accepts.

The lasting impression of an actor won’t be changed by a half-hearted foray into a different genre, and nor should it

Jackson’s example is applicable to a lot of actors who, despite being thought of as ‘one-trick ponies,’ are actually very capable performers. It appears that for those actors, the question is whether or not they want to break away from their typecast. Jim Carrey appeared to have gone ‘serious’ for a short while, Robin Williams tried his hand at drama and Morgan Freeman has defied the ‘wise old sage’ image to play the odd cartoonish villain, but none of them have truly broken free. Whether it’s an ego trip or a genuine want to do something different, the lasting impression of an actor won’t be changed by a half-hearted foray into a different genre, and nor should it.


Featured image: New Line Cinema

Inset images: Sony Pictures Classics

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