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Practical Tips for the Typecast Actor
Anthony Hopkins is one of modern cinema’s best assets. He’s been nominated for – and won – more awards than most of us have had hot dinners, and his fifty-year filmography contains some of the finest movies ever committed to film.
But when you hear his name, which of the following immediately springs to mind before any of the above?
Somewhat unfortunately, despite having over a hundred films under his belt the vast majority of people cannot help but associate Hopkins with his famous portrayal of Hannibal Lecter. Indeed, the association is so strong that even Martha Stewart had to end her brief relationship with him because she couldn’t distinguish between the serial killer and her date in her mind’s eye.
So, how do you avoid being typecast? Can it even be a boon to your career?
Typecast for a Reason
Firstly, we need to recognize that if you find yourself as a ‘victim’ of typecasting, it’s usually a sign that you’re doing a great job. If audiences associate you with a particular role so strongly that they find it very difficult to shake that perception of you, then congratulations! You’ve left a lasting impression and that’s one of the major works of a good piece of acting.
Doesn’t particularly help when trying to show your versatility, though. Here are our top practical tips to avoid being typecast:
DON’T necessarily do opposite roles: And by that, we mean don’t take on any and every role which is the antithesis of what you’re typecast for. This may sound counter intuitive and most other sources recommend doing so, but stick with us.
Let’s say you’re typecast as a gangster-style heavy and desperately want to break out of that cage. An opportunity comes up in which you’d get to play a kind, warm-hearted, gentle giant who runs a puppy sanctuary. Surely that’s a perfect opportunity to show your acting chops?
Not necessarily. If you take on a real stinker of a script purely out of desperation, or find yourself not giving a great performance if it’s too out of your range. Subsequently – and through no real fault of your own – you’ll have critics and viewers lining up to say ‘they should have stuck with the gangster thing’. In essence, you’ve just compounded the initial problem.
Choose your break-out piece wisely, don’t act in desperation and keep things realistic.
Do Other Media: If you had to write just one sentence to describe Harrison Ford to a friend who hadn't heard of him, we’d bet you would refer to his roguish adventures in Star Wars first and maybe mention his archaeological action at the end if you have space. You probably wouldn't open with “he was that sinister murderer in What Lies Beneath.”
But what if we try the same exercise with Arnold Schwarzenegger? Again assuming the recipient hadn't heard of him, the sentence would sweepingly say something like “he’s an Austrian wrestler turned actor, turned politician (and back to acting).” In no way is there even room to typecast a resume like that; summing up Schwarznegger as “the dude who did Terminator” just doesn't cover it.
Now, we’re not saying you need to run California alongside your acting, but it can be as simple as “I’m an actor who also dabbles in animation and lectures part-time at film schools.” From there, the conversation opens your way. “What kind of acting? Why, I was in that gangster flick and also that movie where I ran the puppy orphanage…”
You get the picture. On a similar note…
Remove Your Face: This isn’t another Hannibal Lecter reference! What we’re referring to here is that typecasting usually involves the association between your face and a particular role. Some actors have avoided this problem by disguising themselves heavily with makeup and outfits – Johnny Depp being the obvious example here – or with the extreme use of prosthetics such as Gary Oldman in… er, Hannibal?
The horror and comedy genres are a rather good pick if you’re looking to get involved in such things, but another (often overlooked) area to get into is voice acting. Not only is it rather well paid, but getting a faceless voice out there certainly helps blur the lines when it comes to risking being typecast.
Speak to Your Agent: Something surprisingly few people forget to do when it comes to branching out, and cries of “my agent’s good but I just wish she’d stop sending me thriller scripts” are puzzlingly common. Your agent isn’t going to know you want to do a WWII biopic unless you tell her, and although you can only work with what you’ve got, having a measured chat about where you want things to go is a big step in the right direction.
Use It To Your Advantage: Of course, typecasting is a slippery slope but if getting paid on a regular basis is more preferable to you than landing varied work, consider becoming the best of your niche.
Consider Michelle Rodriguez, for example:
Rodriguez is known solely for her ‘tough girl’ characters who usually work alongside butch men. She couldn't care less about the perceived lack of variance in her filmography however, stating: “I'm here to entertain people… people can call it typecast, but I pigeonholed myself and I put myself in that box for saying no to everything else that came on my plate.”
And it works for her, too. When James Cameron needed a tough girl for Avatar, Rodriguez was almost certainly at the top of the list… and who would pass up the opportunity to have a large role in the first ever film to gross $2bn?
This article is contributed by New York Film Academy. NYFA degree programs are offered at the Los Angeles Campus.
The M.F.A. in Filmmaking enables students to pursue hands-on filmmaking in directing, cinematography, editing or sound design.
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