Those of you, who heard my talk at the Actors Expo this year, will know I have a non-conventional view when it comes to the problem of being typecast. I totally understand that all actors, who can act, want to act in a variety of roles; to be challenged, stretched and to show their versatility. We fear being typecast, stuck forever playing the same role. Bear in mind though, that if you are in a position where this is a genuine concern, then you are getting paid work in a visible arena and so you are incredibly lucky! Many actors give up on acting having never been given the chance to share their gifts, so be grateful if that is not you. That doesn’t mean we can’t look at a strategy to manage the situation, but do start from a place of acknowledgement and thanks. This will help you keep perspective.
When it comes to typecasting there are three key points to consider here.
One is that there is a limit to what we can play, however much we deny it. As a middle-class, forty-year-old living in Surrey, I am not going to be cast in the sequel to 8-mile, however great my rapping is. And it is surprisingly good!
Two: the industry, especially TV and Film, is risk averse. If they want Welsh they will find Welsh. They won’t hire an actor to fake a Welsh accent anymore because there is an abundance of Welsh actors to choose from. You can replace Welsh with most other adjectives that define roles from accents, to size to class, and the same rule will apply.
There is however an exception to this and that is – high profile actors. Which are the same, whatever you call them – named actors, stars, household names, famous people – it doesn’t matter, what they have, that you don’t (yet…), is box office draw. Which brings me to point number three.
Three: we need to consider business before creativity. We think that if we are amazingly talented that the business (work and money) will follow. We need to reverse this thinking. Consider your acting career as a business that brings work and money in. THEN, when that is happening you can have the luxury of worrying about creative expression.
It sounds like selling out, but it is just a strategy to get leverage first. You do not need to do roles you loathe or that go against your values. It’s just about understanding that acting is a business. The bottom line is important to producers, so it needs to be important to you. Bringing work in means you not only have the chance to be creative and act, but you can build your own box office draw, which in turn gives you the power to get roles outside of your ‘type’.
Box Office Draw
If you can prove you will bring an audience with you (i.e. bring money in) you will be taught new accents, given time to slim down or fatten up AND play roles outside of your ‘brand’. Think Charlize Theron in Monster or Rene Zellwegger in Bridget Jones. When we have a name and a recognisable face, we have power. Power we can then use to turn down work we don’t want.
Let’s take the actor Hugh Laurie. He was fed up with the UK industry limiting his casting to bumbling, comedic buffoons so he went to LA. There, as we know, he booked the lead role in House, which broke his type completely. Since then he has returned to the UK and played roles that align more with his House character than Wooster, or his characters from Blackadder.
You might think this goes against my point. He was typecast. But look at the bigger picture. He got the lead on long running TV series expanding his casting, his creative expression, his audience and his bank balance. He managed this because he already had a substantial body of TV work and a high profile.
I am essentially asking you to think of the bigger, long-term picture. Take high quality work regardless of whether it continues to confirm a certain type or not and slowly build your power. Run your business successfully and this will free you up to be the creative genius you were born to be.
To read more advice on enhancing your acting career chances buy my book here Talent Isn’t Enough.