The price of notoriety: the more notable you are at something, the less you'll be trusted to do anything else
Every Harry Potter fan knows about the
Killing, Babbling, and Conjunctivitis Curses.
However, they may not be aware of a more insidious
curse, one that really exists, called the Typecasting Curse.
I can't count the
number of times I've heard actors discuss being struck by
An actor appears in a role in a successful series.
When the show is finally cancelled, the actor either
he can't get further work because the public can only see
him or her in that one role or
the only work s/he can get is playing an almost identical
role in a usually inferior vehicle
It's almost a joke to recite examples,
there're so many of them.
Jason Alexander wows audiences as the neurotic and
self-loathing George Costanza in Seinfeld for 9 years.
Afterwards, the Costanza character is recycled in other
forms for Alexander in two extremely mediocre shows, Bob
Patterson and Listen Up.
Neither made it beyond a single season.
Alexander's cast mate, Michael Richards, goes from
playing Kramer in a winner to playing Vic Nardozza in a loser,
The Michael Richards Show.
Ken Osmond, Eddie Haskell on Leave It To Beaver
from 1957 to 1963, is forced to become a Los Angeles
motorcycle cop after the show is cancelled.
Few casting directors could see him play anyone but
Petersen plays clean-cut Jeff Stone on The Donna Reed Show
up until 1966 and becomes stereotyped for this all-American teen
role when the era of drugs, love-ins, and protests takes root in
the late Sixties.
The result is the end of his acting career.
Any actor or actress so closely associated
with a particular role will find it difficult, maybe impossible,
to escape from it unless years have passed and a new generation
of viewers don't remember the actor in his hallmark role.
From a producer's perspective, it makes perfect sense to
cast actors in modified versions of their previous successful
television series are designed around them, shows which have to
play to their known strengths.
Producers would consider those strengths in light of what
each person brought to their prior series.
Could Jason Alexander play a very different
role, say, a professional athlete or a rapist?
Alexander is a talented performer, so I'd bet he could.
I'd further bet that few in the viewing public would
accept him for the leap.
Michael Richards, Ken Osmond, and Paul Peterson, I'm
sure, could also play other roles beyond the ones which made
them famous. That
isn't the point. A
casting director's objective isn't to expand the acting range of
already known actors.
It's to find someone who best fits the role.
If the actor is too closely associated with an earlier
role too dissimilar to the current one being cast, it's easier
for the casting director to hire someone who comes in with no
If the new role is a retread of something done previously, it's
simpler to ask only actors who've played roles like this in the
past to audition.
When the creators of Three's Company were trying to think
of someone to fill the new landlord role after Norman Fell and
Audra Lindley left for their own spin-off, their idea was to
cast someone like Don Knotts, which eventually turned into
casting Don Knotts himself.
committed to one-character prison
There's little reason for actors to curse
can't be typecast unless you're already known.
Says Professor Ezra Zuckerman of the MIT Sloan School of
"Typecasting provides a route into the [television and film]
industry by conferring the minimum level of recognition
necessary to continue to obtain work, even if this recognition
involves the adoption of a generic identity."
Compare the typecast actor to the vast majority of actors
who never get cast in anything notable to get to the stage where
they could ever be typecast.
As an actor, which position would you prefer to be in:
regularly employed but doing variations of the same thing
or interminably unemployed?
No one well known defies categorization.
Even actors with great range, such as Gary Oldman and
Daniel Day-Lewis, are typecast -- as actors with wide ranges.
Day-Lewis, in particular, brings legitimacy and Academy
Award potential to a film by being in it.
Another way of looking at it is that he would only
consider appearing in a certain kind of film, the type which
could be up for major awards.
You're not likely to see Day-Lewis cheapen himself by
appearing in a teen comedy or science fiction flick, even if he
were paid a king's ransom.
Typecasting is everywhere in our society.
Pretend you're a respected chef in a well known Chinese
restaurant. One day
you wish to expand your artistic expression and become a chef in
a renowned French restaurant.
Although cooking delicious French food and delicious
Chinese food both involve culinary expertise, just as playing
both the role of a psychopath and a scientist effectively
requires legitimate acting talent, do you think it'll be
easy to make a smooth transition?
Plenty of respected French cuisine chefs would be in the
queue ahead of you and present less of a risk to the employer.
It doesn't matter if you can whip up amazing coq au vin
and foie gras in your home kitchen.
The public sees you as a Chinese cuisine chef.
That is how you've been 'typecast,'
only outside the film
and television industry we call it specialization.
It still might be possible to make such a
shift. A much
lesser known French restaurant might be willing to give you a
chance, borrowing off your stellar chef reputation to enhance
the lesser reputation of their business.
This would probably involve you taking a pay cut to be
given a chance to stretch your cooking muscles.
Hollywood celebrities, particularly television celebs, do
They'll work for cheap in a low budget film to play a role
completely unlike the one they're famous for, all in the hopes
that if the movie becomes ultra successful, it'll be documented
evidence to other producers that they're legitimate actors with
range. This option
is the downward shift.
Another option, much more common,
is the lateral shift --
one makes a move within his own organization.
Say a television actor has aspirations of becoming a
director. There's a
fat chance any major film set would be the first to
test him, but there's a very good chance his own television
series will let him sit in the director's chair for a few
General Electric has a
practice of moving managers across industries.
In the hotel
business, one can move across directorship roles.
An employer who personally knows the work ethic and
innate talent of an employee is in a better position to test
that person in different positions than the labor market at
Division of labor became part of the
lexicon of modern society long ago, and as societies have become
more impersonal and fragmented, the marketing of personal skills
comes down to essentially typecasting oneself.
If you were a typical human resources manager looking to
hire a new market analyst, would you hire the man who'd worked
as a kiteboarding instructor, cell phone salesman, day trader,
tour guide, and analyst over the last decade or would you hire
the person who'd worked exclusively as a market analyst for the
same time period?
Actually, the person who'd held a variety of jobs could
well make the better analyst, bringing a much broader
prospective to the position, but the person more likely to be
hired is the one who exclusively specialized.
It's not just individuals who are typecast.
Companies are, too.
We have a term for it:
company can spend millions of dollars building its brand.
The objective is that the customer will strongly
associate that company with an image related to the company's
product or service offering.
With Disney, you think family entertainment, cartoons,
kids' movies, theme parks.
With Microsoft, software monopolies like Windows, DOS,
Word, Excel. With
Hershey, chocolate and other confectionary.
With Hyatt, upper tier hotel properties.
A company wants its brand narrowly defined.
That's the whole idea.
It's quite possible Hershey could get into software
development if it really wanted to, Microsoft into hotels, and
Disney into chocolate manufacturing.
There's a term for this, too:
Each company has the financial muscle to go beyond its
'typecasting,' but why would it want to?
Even if there are supposed synergies, most of the time
Financial markets typically condemn diversification
moves, and if the company is a public one, hammer that company's
stock price for the foolhardy play.
eBay's purchase of Skype in 2005 was one such mediocre
Using Skype regularly to call auctioneers when e-mail
would suffice made no more sense after eBay's purchase than it
did before, and eBay has since sold 70% of their stake.
When a company does want to broaden its
markets, it doesn't fight typecasting.
It works within it.
The Coca Cola Company started out manufacturing a
carbonated sugar beverage.
Now they also sell other beverages like water and fruit
These ventures aren't a big stretch from Coca Cola's traditional
'typecasting,' and yet Coca Cola still put some distance between
these products and its core ones by launching the juices under
the Minute Maid label and the water under Dasani.
Disney wanted to branch out from kiddie films, so they
launched another film division, Touchstone, and later bought the
independent film production company Miramax. Touchstone and
Miramax weren't tremendous leaps for Disney.
Hershey didn't branch out into software, a completely
It branched out into artisan chocolates by purchasing specialist
chocolate manufacturers like Scharffen Berger and Dagoba.
Typecasting is a fact of life for everyone
Faced with a staggering amount of choices,
typecasting/branding/specialization helps us narrow the field
quickly. Can you
imagine a casting director having to audition hundreds of
candidates for a one-off role as a gangster on a television
series? It's a lot
quicker to cast an actor already typecast as a gangster.
Everyone already knows the actor can do the job somewhat
competently and believably.
If you need to satisfy a quick chicken nugget urge,
you could spend time on the internet researching the best places
in town for nuggets -- or you could, like most people, visit
Kentucky Fried Chicken.
This is how most of us make our decisions.
We live in typecasting societies.
We don't want or can't invest the time and energy to
research all the options.
During a pitch session in Hollywood, one is
expected to distill the essence of an idea into one sentence
anyone can comprehend.
To make it even easier, projects are described as
"previously successful project A meets previously successful
project B." In the
world we live in, we're expected to distill ourselves down to
one word, the word that describes what we can provide to
do you do?" we're typically asked upon meeting a new
that's who you become to society at large -- the doctor, the
lawyer, or the gangster or sidekick actor.
Welcome, my pigeonholed, to the world of