- assign (an actor or actress) repeatedly to the same type of role, as a result of the appropriateness of their appearance or previous success in such roles. “he tends to be typecast as the caring, intelligent male”
While technically correct, the above definition doesn’t quite encapsulate the terror many actors feel at the prospect of being typecast into a certain role. It talks of ‘previous success’ and ‘appropriateness’, before giving a very positive example of a role that most actors would be happy to be recognized for…
… in reality, we usually use the word in a negative light; being endlessly cast as a clueless blonde or an emotionless hitman, for instance, and the difficulties of finding work outside of such roles.
But worry not. Whether you’re still in acting training or already getting paid work out in the field, there are some good ways to ensure you avoid this pitfall further down the line (or, alternatively, climb out of it).
The first thing to bear in mind is…
Typecasting is a Symptom of Good Work
Consider such luminaries as Anthony Hopkins. He’s one of the most accomplished and talented actors ever to have graced the screen, and has had an almost countless number of vastly varying roles throughout his five-decade career.
That all said, the chances are high that this was the first one that came to your mind:
It’s something of a shame that Hopkins’ filmography is typified by this one role, but there’s a reason for this: his performance was so enduring and so clinically perfect that audiences have a lot of difficulty disassociating Hopkins with Lecter.
If you find your own work precedes you as an actor – in a positive way – it’s the result of a terrific acting job well executed (even if the subsequent typecasting becomes a nasty side effect).
Solving the Typecast Problem
Diversify Your Resume: To demonstrate the power of this tip, let’s start with a thought experiment: firstly, describe Mark Hamill in one sentence to someone who hasn’t heard of him. Then do the same with Ricky Gervais.
For Hamill, it’s fairly easy: he’s best known for playing Luke Skywalker and has done a lot of voice acting work since then. For Gervais – who very nearly got typecast as his David Brent character from The Office – it gets more tricky to sum up his entire resume in a single sentence. You could just as easily start off with his subsequent podcasting, stand up, feature films, Golden Globe hosting or any of his shows post The Office before you got to mentioning his breakout role as David Brent.
Note we’re not comparing the two and their respective talents here, just demonstrating how useful branching into other media can be assuming you want to move on from previous work. Having a number of strings to your bow allows you (or your agent) to begin conversations your way when someone asks “What type of acting do you do?”
Don’t Totally Rebel Against the Typecast: Bearing the above tip in mind, it might sound logical to assume a good idea is to try and land gigs that are totally the opposite of the acting jobs which put you in the typecast camp to start with.
Be cautious here.
If you have been typecast for always being the bookish, nerdy girl who generally serves as the sidekick to the female lead, it might seem like a good move to try your hand at being a femme fatale with your next role. But your excitement may cloud your judgement, and if you sign up for a terrible script that doesn’t allow you to deliver your best, you can expect people lining up around the block to tell you that you should have kept up the bookworm schtick.
In a nutshell, without discretion and extreme acting training, you could end up making the problem even worse.
Get Out of Your Shell: If you’re lucky enough to have your face precede your resume but unlucky enough to have it limit what roles people are willing to give, consider shaking things up with some ‘faceless’ work.
Voice acting for animations is a great way to chisel away at the typecast prison walls, as are roles which require heavy costuming or even prosthetics – the horror market is well worth looking at for this, since jobs are plentiful and often require some weird and wonderful disguises. Nobody cares what you look like with these types of work, merely how well you can put your acting training to good use.
Reach Out to Others: Acting is a discipline which doesn’t happen in a vacuum. During your career, you’ll have to work with many other people in the industry and they can help you grow in the direction you’d like. Mention to some of the other talent on set that you’d love to do more drama rather than comedy, for instance, and someone might be able to pull some strings when they go off to do other projects (just make sure you return the favor). Same goes for directors and producers.
And above all, make sure you let your agent know what you’re looking for and have a sit-down discussion with her about what’s realistic and achievable. A good acting agent worth her salt will be able to guide your career in the right direction.