What you can learn from Liam Neeson

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.

4 thoughts on “What you can learn from Liam Neeson

  1. Melvin Mandich says:

    Totally right on type casting, from an actor’s perspective.
    Over and over I watch seasoned and famous actors and I remember they played the same role years earlier. They get called over and over because the first type was a success. A clear example is Peter Falk. He was a success as a funny detective early in his career. He played a goof-ball assistant in Mad Mad Mad World, and came back in Columbo to play a detective with a goof-ball personality.
    Al Pacino was so fixed as a gangster, that he collected a massive following for seeing him again that way.
    Over and over I see famous actors who really do not act much on screen: they just do themselves. They act the same way on and off screen. That is life.
    In fact it annoyed me when a casting director wanted a pic of me that was so bland it suggests nothing, so I am not type cast. I did what she asked, but it makes me wonder if I will only be considered now for autistic roles.

  2. syacmentor says:

    Reblogged this on Start Your Acting Career and commented:
    As new actors, we love to think that we can be all things to all people. In fact, I was no different. I set my intentions on becoming the first “Meryl Streep” for all the people of color. But along the way, I realized that unless people know where you “fit,” you will not get a foot in the door. This article talks about “type-casting” and why it’s so important to start figuring that out. Liam Neeson is such a great example, because he works in both commercial and artistic projects. Even if you don’t “get it right,” the attempt will move you closer to an answer.

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