Important questions actors should ask themselves are: What is my type? What are the parts for which I would readily be cast? Am I the girl next door? An action hero? A leading lady? A law enforcement officer? Can I play a villain?
In the studio days, there was a list of actors that would always play the same parts: the doctors, the inspectors, the bad guys, the lawyers, and the workers. To understand how it works and to get a little bit of history, a great documentary to watch is “Casting By.”
Does typecasting exist today? The reality is yes. An actor that portrays an FBI agent on a popular TV show might play another variation of that character in a movie. You will see an actor play a criminal in guest-starring role only to see her play another one on a different show. There is always a perception of what you can play.
It’s crucial that an actor knows the roles they would be cast in and would excel at, and knows the parts that they would not readily be cast in, but that they know deep down they can play. Actors can break the glass ceiling—we see it all the time. I, for one, am more interested in seeing casting that is off-kilter than right on the nose. I like casting against type. Every professional actor wants to ask themselves: What part have I not played that I would be passionate about playing? And also be realistic about what those parts can be.
So, what can you do to break free from typecasting?
1. Audition for indie films, web series, shorts, series, and plays that have different roles. Take chances! Challenge yourself! You would have never thought that Brie Larson, only having played supporting parts like the sister in “Trainwreck” would win an Oscar as the leading lady in “Room.” You would’ve never known that she had those dramatic chops, but she showed us her range.
2. Work on both comedy and drama. Recently an actor sent me a headshot and résumé and described herself as a good actor who can only play drama. She didn’t mention comedy.
An actor wants to be able to do both comedy and drama. It’s true, some people are born to be funny. They just have that comedic timing. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t play something else. Just recently, Sarah Silverman, best known for comedy, earned rave reviews for her dramatic turn in the movie “I Smile Back.”
3. Shoot a different kind of headshot. Shoot an edgier headshot, a friendlier one, or a sexier one. It will give your agent, casting directors, and the industry ideas about different characters that you could morph into.
4. Create a scene in your reel that shows you playing a character you’ve never done before. Steve Carell did it with “Foxcatcher,” as did Charlize Theron in “Monster.” They showed a different side of their talent and it wasn’t just physical.
5. The most important way to not be typecast is to be known as a really good actor that has range. If you stay stuck playing the same thing over and over again as many actors do, you also stop growing as an artist.
By doing the above you will feel confident that you are an actor that can flex your muscles in different directions and never worry about being typecast.
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