Some of the best actors are known for being ‘chameleons’, they can adapt to any role and portrayal it fantastically. Actors and actresses like the late Robin Williams, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Dame Judy Dench, (the list goes on) are modern examples of performers who can play virtually any role at any time! But for every great chameleon working in the film industry today, there are masses of actors and actresses who are pigeonholed into one type of role for the rest of their career. Sometimes, they might even try to branch out try something new… but this usually doesn’t go too well with the critics. or audiences alike.
Typecast actors recycle and reuse their performances over and over and over again, and while some might archive success doing this, (AKA: BIG BUCKS! Johnny Depp made $650 million from the Pirates of the Caribbean films before his extravagant spending habits got the best of him.)
There’s a look at some of my favourite type actors who have solidify their legacy by recycling the same role (again and again.)
Elly Savva Coyle on Bill Nighy
Bill Nighy has filled the niche position of ‘quirky but endearing Englishman dressed in a bespoke suit’ particularly well. Typically found in a Richard Curtis film, set against a backdrop of British summer talking about how wonderful love really is – Nighy’s character makes the perfect addition of warmth to any feel-good film. Although being typecast is something that many actors’ fear, Nighy admitted that he actually longed for it. In an interview with the Guardian, he was quoted saying that he couldn’t wait for it to happen to him. In his own words:
“…My big secret was that I couldn’t wait to get typecast. You know, the idea of going to work every day and doing the same thing … man! Wow! That’s like the greatest thing that could happen to me. I have no problem with that. And if there is a thing that people have come to expect from me, I’m very, very happy about that.”
However, Nighy is not a one-trick pony. He possesses the talent and versatility for a wide range of roles, which he has demonstrated throughout his lengthy career on screen. In the film Pride he played a closeted gay Welsh miner, whilst in the Pirates of The Caribbean series he played Davy Jones, the sinister villain in the form of a squid-like creature. Although Nighy has slipped easily into a typecast role, he doesn’t have to be confined to this label and still has the capacity to surprise. What is so enjoyable about watching Bill Nighy is the humour, charm, and enjoyment that he radiates on screen. You can always rely on his character to add wit, whilst maybe bringing a tear or two to your eyes later on down the line. At a time when there is so much bad news – with our politics in disarray and the climate crisis looming, Nighy’s typecast form serves as the perfect antidote to chaos by providing us with real laughter and warmth.
Jon Akala on Emma Roberts
Known for her roles as a rich and often manipulative teenager, Emma Roberts’ bitchy persona has made it onto multiple films and TV shows, marking these characters as the most notable of her filmography, and leaving her typecast as somewhat of a bitch – especially looking at her roles on the anthology series American Horror Story (AHS).
One of her first major film roles blessed our screens in 2008, with her iconic performance as Poppy in Wild Child. And it was clear that the chick-flick genre, ruled by Rachel McAdams’ Regina George and Clueless heroine Cher Horowitz, had found another talented actress who made an otherwise unlikable, stuck-in-her-upper-class-bubble character incredibly entertaining. Perhaps this role, amongst several teenagers we see Roberts play in other projects, sparked interest in the writer and director Ryan Murphy, who was quick to cast her in multiple seasons of AHS.
With AHS being an anthology series, it is expected that actors will reappear playing different characters in future seasons, and the beauty of anthology series is the opportunity for actors to showcase their talent in playing a variety of roles. Therefore, it’s quite disappointing that in 3/4 of the seasons Roberts has been cast in thus far, the characters she portrays fit into her typecast, bitchy persona – they even have her repeat the role of Madison, responsible for the heavily meme’d quote: “Surprise, Bitch! Bet you thought you’d seen the last of me”, in two different seasons! To top it all off, Ryan Murphy has also cast Roberts in another of his anthology series Scream Queens, where her character is almost a carbon-copy of Madison!
So, why is Ryan Murphy so obsessed with Emma Roberts playing campy characters, when her roles in indie films such as I Am Michael and Palo Alto clearly show that she is capable of playing mature, multi-faceted characters? Maybe it’s her physical appearance – often having her hair blonde and shown to have flawless skin – being that of a stereotypical, bitchy teenage girl. Or possibly, Roberts has some sort of say as to which characters she wants to play on the show; off-screen, she may be the complete opposite to these characters, making these roles fun for her to play. Regardless, these characters year after year continue being the fan favourites, and with a new season of AHS airing mid-September, I am curious to see if the trend continues.
David Tennant is most famous for his role as the 10th Doctor in the new Doctor Who series, which aired between 2005 and 2010. His character, The Doctor, is a quirky timelord, an alien who with the help of a Tardis travels through time. Throughout the many seasons of this show, The Doctor must save earth from various alien and/or very human threats. Tennant perfectly portrays the sorrow experienced by the doctor due to the previous war which wiped his planet off the face of the universe, whilst still being humorously weird and above all, kind.
Even though the acclaimed actor is known for several other roles, such as playing DI Alec Hardy in the series Broadchurch, or Giacomo Casanova, in the BBC comedy Casanova, his recent spike in popularity is due to his role as the demon Crowley, in the Amazon prime and BBC TV adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens.
The character Crowley has been cast from heaven and has been living the last 6000 years spreading evil in the world. However, the Antichrists birth in 2007 sets into motion the battle between good and evil, heaven and hell, and the beginning of the end of the world. Crowley, who has become fond of his life on earth, works together with the angel Aziraphale to stop said Armageddon.
Whilst David Tennant isn’t strictly a typical typecast actor, these two roles do bear tremendous similarities. Apart from the humour of both The Doctor and Crowley, and the fact that neither of them are human, both characters have serious issues with authority. Throughout Doctor Who, the doctor repeatedly has conflicts with what could be considered his god; time. As Crowley, Tennant clearly voices his discontent with god, being a fallen angel even, and ultimately also goes against the authority of hell and his devilish lord. Furthermore, both characters have a bond with their vehicles, or at least modes of transport, as the Bentley and especially the Tardis can be argued to have their own personalities. Both roles also comprise a deep fascination and admiration for humanity, and therefore the effort to save humanity from threats, be it aliens, or heaven and hell.
Lastly, Tennant, as both characters formidably portrays a sometimes hidden, yet very deep kindness, which makes both shows even more worth watching.