The 4 Key Elements to Determining Type

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Conventional wisdom teaches us that mastering all manner of performance styles and offering the widest possible range of characters are how to be read as versatile. And while that’s certainly true, the fact remains that the most consistent direction you’re likely to hear, regardless of the genre or medium, is “just be yourself.”

Well, after years of training and “losing ourselves” in our roles, as we’ve been encouraged to do from all of our very best training, that’s a terrific contradiction. You’ve been conditioned to “become someone else.” Exactly who the heck do they expect you to be?

Let’s face it: This is a horrible prospect for an actor. Didn’t we become actors because, in large part, we wanted to become someone else? This is a dramatic departure from everything we’ve been taught.

Yet, simply “being yourself” is precisely what we’re asked to do at nearly every audition and on every session or shoot. Make peace with this notion by developing an honest, natural persona that is a true extension of yourself, that you can comfortably play through. This realistic performance persona will allow you to meet the casting demands, while satisfying your own aesthetic sensibilities. It’s an extension of you, yet not necessarily you, per se.

To further thicken the soup, and while it may seem somewhat counterintuitive, playing great departures from yourself ultimately leads to truly finding your most natural, most honest persona that is an easy, realistic extension of yourself—you simply “being you.”

So, who are you then? How are you perceived? What roles you are most likely to play? Well, let’s keep it simple.

For instance, are you any of the following?

  • The Romantic Lead
  • The Youthful Romantic Lead (The Ingénue)
  • The Comedic Sidekick
  • The Villain
  • The Trusted Authority/Expert
  • The Hero/Heroine
  • The Action Hero
  • The Untrustworthy Authority Figure
  • The Leading Man or Woman
  • The Character Lead
  • The Best Friend

There could be more, but for now—even with this small handful of types—it’s likely you see yourself in one or more of them.

Type determines what you become known for and how others identify you at face value. It’s determined by your look, your sound, and your attitude. In fact, how you read speaks volumes before you even utter a sound. Your build and your face already have an entire performance built into them. And your presence, whether you realize it or care to admit it or not, speaks volumes. Hopefully, they’re saying what you intend them to say. (Now there’s the rub.)

There are four key elements to consider when determining type:

1. Hero or villain. Is the character a good guy or bad?

2. Stature/class. To the Manor born, or from the streets? Are you the authority or the apprentice? Knowledgeable or dimwitted? Catalyst or cattle?

3. Is this character likable, or not? Endearing or off-putting? Magnetic or repellent?

4. Dualities and contradictions. Are you playing “against type”? For instance, “the hooker with the heart of gold” or “the crooked cop.” (This is where the fun really begins.)

Some of the greatest roles in history are full of dualities and contradictions. And for good reason—they give the character depth and believability. Nothing is all one note. Dualities and contradictions allude to backstory and to life prior to the action in the production.

For example, consider the role of Tony Soprano from the hit HBO series “The Sopranos.” James Gandolfini played a sociopathic mob boss, but we loved the guy and wanted to see him succeed, even though his motives were never clean. This character was riddled with contradictions. It was delicious!

In short, determining your type is far less complicated than most of us make it.

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Kate McClanaghan
Kate McClanaghan is a casting director, producer, and founder of both Big House Casting & Audio (Chicago and Los Angeles) and Actors’ Sound Advice. She’s a seasoned industry veteran and actor who has trained actors and produced demos for more than 5,000 performers over her 30 years in the business.
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