Type-casting is an important issue and has two main aspects:
1. To be aware of your characteristics and how you come across, and what you may be most easily cast for. To some extent you should orient yourself towards your “type” and go out for roles for which you are castable.
2. Type casting, however, can be a box that restricts the range of your roles, if Casting Directors become accustomed to seeing you a certain way and no other. You should have a balanced approach to your roles, keeping in mind that you should not resist what you are naturally cast for, but use it as an asset, as long as it doesn’t become too restrictive.
If you seem to have the natural characteristics of a certain kind of character, you may be cast for this type consistently, and Directors and others may not get to see what else you can do.
So, to what extent should you go for your expected type, or try to stretch your boundaries and go out for things you would not be expected to play?
I would personally do a mix of both. I would play to my casting strengths, but also do some material that is less expected. You might make the ratio something like 2:1 or 3:1, and go out for some projects that you do not expect to get, but that interest you and stretch your character boundaries. Meanwhile you should play to your strengths and get work.
For monologues, have a main set that is tuned to your typology, and have a few that are outside that box in order to go out for “stretch” projects. You can do the same with headshots, with a main headshot or two that have mainstream looks for you, and another that represents a more “outside” look that represents other interests. You may also represent several character types in a composite head shot.
Type casting is a convenience for producers. They know they have an actor that has the right look and in audition they find out whether you can do the role. It’s up to you to show casting directors that you are capable of playing the roles that interest you if you want to have the opportunity to do more extensive character work. The lead in Pretty Woman could have been cast for someone with a more traditional look than Julia Roberts, but she brought her own look, charm and personality to the part and won the role. Dustin Hoffman convinced Mike Nichols that he would make The Graduate into a more interesting statement than the original plan to cast a more collegiate type in the lead role. One of my favorite actors, Tim Roth, was type-cast as a number of thugs and other tough guys over the years, but wound up with a great and very different project in the TV show Lie to Me.
It’s interesting to watch these patterns and also to look at the difference between someone who plays the same type from year to year and those who break out into other kinds of roles, and what affect this has on their careers. For Roberts and Hoffman, doing something they might not have been expected to play launched their careers. For Roth, I think Lie to Me will open a number of eyes to the potential of casting him in other kinds of roles.
In any case it is a good issue to be aware of as you continue to make decisions about how to shape your career.