Most actors have a desire to be versatile. You want to play the ingenue and the femme fatale. You long to play the action star and the sensitive leading man. Although you may have the goal of playing all of the great roles, it sometimes works against you when you try to seem too versatile. You may think that your headshot shows that you’re versatile,but more often than not, a”versatile” headshot reads as generic and boring. Also, some people in the industry lack the imagination to see you in a role if you don’t resemble the actor who played it previously or if you don’t fit every aspect of the character description. I know that sucks, but instead of moaning about it, find a way to use it to your advantage.
Know Your Type
What types of roles do you usually take on? Comedic or dramatic? Neurotic housewives or conniving criminals? Do you have a baby face or are you wise beyond your years? All of these factors contribute to your type, which is simply the way that you are most often perceived. Some actors (Gary Oldman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington) have carved out careers that span many different types. They are the exception. Most actors stay within a certain “type range”. This is not reflective of skill level; this is mostly about perception and what we call “type casting”. So what is type casting? It’s when an actor is cast in accordance with his own perceived personality or persona or when an actor is cast based on previous roles he/ she has played.
Take an actor like Liam Neeson. He’s had roles in a considerable number of high profile commercial and artistic films. Earlier in his career, he had the opportunity to star in critically acclaimed features like Schindler’s List and Michael Collins. He has also had supporting roles in several franchises including the Star Wars films and Batman Begins. Recently, he has homed in on his type, and as a result he has become a more marketable and commercial Hollywood leading man in action films. In Taken, Unknown, and The Grey he plays strong but damaged men who live by their own code. Look at the posters for his last three starring vehicles. In each successive poster his face is more identifiable, and it can be concluded that as Neeson’s brand has become more established audiences just need to know that he is in the film in order to decide whether to see it. Now Neeson is prepping a Taken sequel.
I suggest that up and coming actors follow Neeson’s path by taking lead roles in artistic projects as well as supporting roles in more commercial fare. Then work to establish your brand by seeking out roles that fit firmly within your type range. Next time, we’ll talk about the benefits and pitfalls of being cast against type. Now, I’d love to hear your thought and questions about type casting. Has it helped you or hurt you? Do you need help figuring out your type and establishing your brand? Let me know.