Type Casting

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.

  1. #1 by Chris Jacobs on August 8, 2011 - 10:56 am

    Roth also played Josef K in a film adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial which showed an even greater depth to his abilities.
    Nearly a hundred years ago, Meyerhold addressed the same issue by saying…

    “It is not true that the modern director has no need to take account of the actor’s emploi. The question is what use he makes of it. Here’s the paradox for you: I need to know who is the juvenile lead in my theatre so as never to cast him as a juvenile lead. I have often noticed that an actor blossoms out quite unexpectedly in a part where he has to struggle to subdue his natural characteristics. They are still there, but they act as a kind of accompaniment to the character he has created. There is nothing more tedious than a provincial heroine playing Katerina (in Ostrovsky’s Storm). The fascination of Komissarzhevskaya lay in her playing of heroines without being at all the heroine type. Unfortunately, the nature of actors is such that when they are typecast they usually stop working and assume that their voice and appearance will see them through. In order to spur an actor into action you sometimes need to set him a paradoxical task which he can manage only by discarding his normal criteria. In my experience this method of casting nearly always justifies itself….”

    I have come to find a great deal of truth in this philosophy and will always try to cast against type wherever possible. In those instances where I have been forced to cast to type, it has been less than satisfactory. (understatement intended.) But then perhaps it’s a question of priorities… is one concerned more with fiscal or the artistic success.

    • #2 by completeactorstraining on April 17, 2012 - 1:59 pm

      Hi Chris – sorry to take so incredibly long to discover these comments. I hope to get back to the blog very soon. Great quote and idea from Meyerhold, and worthy of more discussion. Makes me want to reactivate or revamp my yahoo discussion group for a continued exchange on these kinds of topics. For now I’ll say that I think that there is value in both understanding your type as an actor, or range of roles that you might be easily cast for, and also going beyond it. To start from what is comfortable is sometimes a good thing so that an actor, particularly a young actor can find his/her center and gain confidence. But then, from a place of some security, its important to stretch and find other capabilities for which one might not be immediately thought of, and go beyond the ostensible type. I agree with you that in the challenge of doing a role that is more difficult and that requires transformational work there is a much deeper growth process, but I also would caution actors to build a foundation that allows them to stretch with skill. I remember vaguely that Pavorotti did a major role when he was young and his voice was not yet developed enough to carry this role, and he blew out his voice, almost destroyed it, and had to take eight months or so without singing. One has to also be aware of that kind of egoic drive to go too far too fast.

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