There are several talented actors in Hollywood, but many get pigeonholed into playing the same type of character over and over again, either because they’re so good at radiating a certain personality or because of their outstanding performance as one specific character.
Typecasting isn’t always a bad thing, but actors can frequently find themselves trapped playing essentially the same role multiple times simply because they killed it so hard with one memorable performance. How many of these actors do you forever associate with a specific role?
The first thing that likely popped into your head upon reading “Adam Sandler” was an incoherent mouth noise. The comedian has made an entire film career based on playing various grown-up children. Billy Madison, his breakthrough hit, was literally him as a grown man reliving his childhood school days!
Whether Sandler’s character is outlandish or shy, good-hearted or mean-spirited, you can bet on him to be immature and childish. Little Nicky is a meek manchild. The Waterboy is a good-hearted manchild with an aggressive trigger. He’s not even a grown up in a film titled Grown Ups. As long as audiences pay and he’s satisfied, he’ll go to the grave a 13-year-old man.
From 2001 through 2010, Daniel Radcliffe played the popular children’s literature character Harry Potter in eight films. But ever since Radcliffe played “The Boy Who Lived,” he’s had trouble getting the public to believe he’s really “The Actor That Could Be Something Else.”
While he’s had roles since the Potter movies, Radcliffe still has trouble shaking off his iconic role, possibly because audiences grew up alongside him since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It had to be a little therapeutic for him to portray a villain against magicians in Now You See Me 2, but the less said about that movie, the better.
While she had a wider variety of roles as a youth, for over 40 years Betty White has been America’s sweet grandmother that says outlandish things. Since 1985, she’s been Rose Nylund from the hit TV show The Golden Girls or some version of her in virtually every show or film she’s appeared in.
If her character isn’t crass due to her naivete, it’s crass due to the visual juxtaposition of this petite older woman being graphically outspoken about her high sex drive. Yet, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Please never die.
Ever since her breakout role in Girlfight, Michelle Rodriguez has been an easy go-to for Hollywood execs looking for a “tough chick.” When she’s not boxing, she’s street racing and kicking ass in the Fast and the Furious films or unleashing murder power in the Machete and Resident Evil movies. Often times her character is adverse to traditionally feminine interests, fashions, and attitudes.
Her typecasting doesn’t end with physical roles. Rodriguez has lent her voice to action-packed video games such as Halo 2, True Crime: Streets of LA, and Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Even when her appearance doesn’t affect her roles, she’s placed in a militant, hard-knuckled box.
Prior to his iconic role as the Caped Crusader, the late Adam West was a regular on shows such as Maverick and The Detectives. Yet ever since he donned the cape and cowl of Batman in 1966, he had a tough time getting it removed.
Long after the Batman TV show was canceled, West would voice the character in various animated series throughout the 70s and 80s, even portraying a fictionalized version of his own life in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “The Gray Ghost.” Aside from his mayor persona on Family Guy, West’s last project before his death was Batman vs. Two-Face, an animated home video release featuring West voicing his interpretation of the Dark Knight.
Ever since his titular role in Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch has been a favorite for socially-curt genius roles. The lanky Cumberbatch has a knack for delivering dialogue that is either a solid burn or a complex explanation of science, medicine, or, in the case of Doctor Strange, the mystic arts.
Even when presented roles of real life people such as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game or Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate, Cumberbatch is written and directed to act like a smug, snarky genius. Say what you will, but his characters have talked down to their superiors in English, American, and Australian accents.
For Anthony Perkins’ second film role in Friendly Persuasion, he won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination. In spite of that, most film buffs recognize him as Norman Bates from the acclaimed Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho.
Ever since that role, Perkins still got steady work in smaller roles and smaller movies, usually in the horror genre, but nothing that could shake the Bates shadow. He would eventually reprise his role as Norman Bates in three other Psycho sequels.
While she acted in a variety of roles since she was a teen, Angelina Jolie is likely slated to fulfill the role of the sexy spy, the sexy assassin, the sexy adventurer, the sexy insert-badass-job-here. If you need a leading lady that can shoot a gun while looking good doing it, Jolie is your go-to.
Jolie showed off her physique and her badassery in the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider franchise. She also makes gunfire look sexy in films like Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Salt, and Wanted. She even has PG versions as the butt-kicking Tigress in the Kung Fu Panda films and as the magical Maleficent.
It makes sense that Dennis Farina was always placed in a criminal or cop role as he served in the Chicago Police Department for 18 years! Many times he could pull his performances from his real life experience.
Farina got roles for characters on both sides of the law. He would lay in his Chicago-accent as a cop in shows such as Crime Story and Law & Order and films like Manhunter, Out of Sight, and The Mod Squad. He’d also flip it and play gangster-types in movies like Snatch, Get Shorty, and Midnight Run. Not a lot of range displayed, but a great career by any measure.
Before he broke through with The Hangover films, Zach Galifianakis was best known as an eccentric stand-up comedian that had occasional roles on TV. But his success as the pratfalling, socially awkward Alan in The Hangover led him to an onslaught of similar roles.
Whether it was Ray in HBO’s Bored to Death, Therman in Dinner for Schmucks, Ethan in Due Date, Chip in Baskets, or even The Joker in The Lego Batman Movie, Galifianakis typically plays a misanthropic character with his social nervousness, naivete, or lack of connection to reality getting in the way of his desire to connect with other people.
Sure, she’s shown that she can act a little less like a jerk in earlier roles in Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars, but most audiences know Krysten Ritter as a tough, rude b– um, we mean, jerk. With an eyeroll and a smirk, Ritter has performed as that type of character in many other shows aside from Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23.
Her role on Breaking Bad was a wiseass, but what arguably cemented this identity for Ritter is her role as the whiskey-swigging Jessica Jones in Marvel’s Jessica Jones and Defenders series on Netflix. Needless to say, Ritter has nailed the perfect “I’m tired of you” expression.
You know Jason Alexander from his recurring TV roles in Hercules and The Grinder. If not that, certainly his film appearances in Shallow Hal, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle— no, of course not, you know him from Seinfeld.
While Alexander certainly has a wider range than most, even performing in musicals, he’s remembered as the short-tempered, scheming George Costanza. Even hearing his voiceover roles in Dilbert and Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man make viewers think “Oh, that’s George as a cat/duck.”
If you need a female lead that can pull off staying cool under pressure and remain a stoic pro, Jodie Foster has been the go-to performer for over 20 years. Ever since her role as Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, Foster has been mostly offered the role of the capable, intelligent one that focuses on the task at hand.
Whether it is hunting down her missing daughter in Flightplan, flexing as a power broker in Inside Man, or firmly overseeing a futuristic colony in Elysium, Jodie Foster plays characters that are able to curb or manipulate their emotions in order to get the job done. Her characters are typically all about focus and willpower.
When Mark Hamill landed the part of Luke Skywalker in the pop culture juggernaut known as Star Wars, no one seemed to separate him from that iconic character. Aside from roles in films like The Guyver and some TV appearances, he didn’t get much acting work in front of the camera due to his close association with The Force.
While he didn’t do much in front of the camera, Hamill has an extremely successful career in front of a microphone. Hamill has been a prominent voice actor for several cartoon series over the past 30-plus years, most notably voicing The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series.
Helena Bonham Carter
Whether you need an actor that can be slightly off to downright odd, Helena Bonham Carter is the person to call. Carter is a versatile actor, but most audiences and casting directors bring her ability to play dark, quirky characters to the light.
Whether it’s the offbeat kleptomaniac Marla Singer in Fight Club, the delusional Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, or the cackling Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter franchise, Carter is Hollywood’s go-to performer if you need an attractive weirdo.
Sure, Morgan Freeman and his deep voice have been called upon multiple times to act as a leader, a president, and even God. However, in those roles and others, he’s more often than not a guide to some white protagonist in a film.
In Seven, he played the veteran detective to the newly-moved-in Brad Pitt. The majority of his Oscar nominations were for characters who helped guide white leads through their conflicts such as in The Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby, and Driving Miss Daisy. Even when plays God in Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty, it is to offer wisdom, lessons, and power to Jim Carrey and Steve Carell. He’s not typically recognized as a lead unto himself.
Many women have been pigeonholed as “The Rebellious One” but Keira Knightly has cornered a very specific version of this type. In several movies, Knightley is often the playful or outright driven rebellious woman in a film that requires her to wear a corset – that is, period pieces.
Aside from the “unladylike” lady roles in the Pirates of the Carribean franchise, Knightly has been the woman who navigates through an overt male power structure in films like Anna Karenina, Pride & Prejudice, and even King Arthur. It’s not often that she’s in a film set in present day America.
From his breakout role as Hans Gruber in Die Hard and beyond, Alan Rickman’s deep tone and specific dictation opened him up to several roles. The vast majority of those roles, hero or villain, are of deceitful characters.
Rickman plays a number of liars such as Gruber, Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd, and the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Even his character in Love Actually cheats on his wife. Most notably, his defining role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films had Rickman play a shadowy man who deceived the villains by pretending to betray the heroes as a double-agent potion master. Rickman was a master at playing a master of deception.
Aside from a recurring role on Eight Is Enough (which let’s be honest, you didn’t know about until you read this sentence), Ralph Macchio’s biggest claim to fame is portraying Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid films.
While his career is peppered with various guest roles on television, Macchio seems to be forever seen as the Karate Kid all grown up. Thirty-four years after Daniel’s first Crane Kick, Macchio reprised his role in the digital series Cobra Kai.
Ever since Guy Richie cast him in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, Jason Statham’s characters have typically been street-level criminals and/or bare-knuckle brawlers. With his real-life past as a black market salesman and martial arts skills, it’s not hard to see why casting directors would fill him into those roles.
From the Crank series, to the Transporter franchise, to the Fast and the Furious films, time and again, Statham has played the gravelly-voiced criminal that’d headbutt you in the mouth then go have a pint. The roles in which he isn’t a criminal or an assassin usually try to play off the fact that Statham doesn’t typically play those kinds of characters.
Be honest, when you hear “James T. Kirk,” the first image that pops into your head isn’t Chris Pine. Even since he first sat in the captain’s chair in Star Trek, William Shatner was forever forged as Captain Kirk. His velour yellow shirt, buttered-toast hair, and bizarre delivery are inseparable from both the character and the actor himself.
While Shatner has been acting professionally for over 60 years, he has never been more identified by any other character he portrayed. Yes, even T.J. Hooker. Sci-fi fans will forever associate Shatner’s cadence, inflection, and gravitas with the leader of the Enterprise.
While as a little kid his first big break was a recurring role on Silver Spoons, Alfonso Ribeiro will always be Carlton Banks to us. As Will Smith’s dorky, uptight cousin on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Ribeiro’s Tom Jones-loving character ingrained himself into the hearts and minds of 90s kids.
After Fresh Prince ended, Ribeiro steadily worked in various TV roles and as a host of America’s Funniest Home Videos, but most folks still have trouble not calling him “Carlton” over his real name. He should be proud of his legacy. Without him we wouldn’t have the Carlton Dance on Fortnite!
Ever since 2003, Michael Cera has played some form of his awkward George-Michael Bluth character from Arrested Development. Cera spent most his twenties playing a socially stumbling, anxious young man.
Cera has played this type in several coming-of-age movies within different genres such as Juno, Superbad, Youth in Revolt, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Cera takes in stride, saying in a Salon interview that being typecast is just “part of being an actor.”
Whether it is of the “manic pixie” or “girl next door” varieties, Zooey Deschanel is usually cast as some form of quirky woman. People quickly point out her performances in 500 Days of Summer and in TV’s The New Girl, but it’s more than just her most recognizable roles.
Even before those two roles, Deschanel was the recurring eccentric Kat on Weeds and the wide-eyed dreamer DG in the Tin Man mini-series. If you need an attractive lead that can skew odd, give her a call.
With bit roles and a recurring guest role on Judging Amy, Jim Parsons was your typical Los Angeles working TV actor. Yet when he was cast as Sheldon Cooper on the hit comedy The Big Bang Theory, he became a household name.
Parsons is so closely identified with the Sheldon character that he hasn’t really done much else aside from it. This is partially due to The Big Bang Theory’s schedule and partially because it is hard for many to separate Parsons from Sheldon. Luckily, Parsons has been able to stealthily work as a voice actor in other roles.
From the 1980s up to the early 2000s, Meg Ryan was in one out of every five romantic comedies. Even as she matured, Ryan still had that cute “woman-next-door” charm that could easily fit next to nearly any male lead.
She cemented herself in When Harry Met Sally, one of the most lauded rom-coms of all time and it just spilled over from there. From Kate & Leopold, to IQ, to French Kiss, the list goes on. She even did three different romantic comedies with Tom Hanks alone: Sleepless in Seattle, Joe Versus the Volcano, and You’ve Got Mail!
With his ageless, boyish face and comedic delivery ability, Paul Rudd has been a favorite for casting directors to bring in for a role that requires handsomeness with a little bit of stupidity. He’s always attractive, it’s just a question on how endearingly dim the director wants him to be.
In the Marvel movies as Ant-Man and in Judd Apatow films, Rudd makes several charming verbal faux pas and massive screw-ups that he tries to amend. On TV shows, he can be mildly dumb as Mike Hannigan on Friends or an outright idiot as Bobby Newport on Parks and Recreation. The last time he hasn’t been depicted as clueless was when he was in… well, Clueless.
While he got an early start in his career on Freaks and Geeks, Seth Rogen was virtually unknown to most until he skyrocketed in the hit comedy Knocked Up. He was a lazy yet goodhearted schlub then and he hasn’t really left that niche since, doing a similar schtick in films like Pineapple Express and The Guilt Trip.
Other than Knocked Up, Rogen portrayed other “Him? Really?” characters paired up with attractive costars in movies such as Zach and Miri Make a Porno, Neighbors, and The Long Shot. Thirty more years and he’ll start to age into the weird father-in-law roles.
Dame Maggie Smith has a long, lauded career filled with several kinds of roles since 1955. Yet most modern audiences know her as the older woman of authority who just thinks all of this foolishness is incredibly inappropriate.
She typically plays the role of the wise and stern person of authority, whether it is as a villain in The Secret Garden or in kinder roles as Mother Superior in Sister Act and Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter films. If that wasn’t enough, her countess roles in both Gosford Park and Downton Abbey cement her into the stuffy authoritarian hall of fame.
On some occasions you need a grizzled, sun-baked badass, and for that Hollywood turns to Danny Trejo. Throughout his career, Trejo has been some form of henchman, criminal, fighter, or general tough guy in virtually every project he has a part of.
Trejo got the majority of these roles due to a combination of his past as a convict, his tattooed muscular body, and scarred face (which was mostly scarred due to cystic acne, not violence… mostly). This look got him various small roles in movies like Con Air, Heat, and Anaconda then venturing out to meatier parts as legendary Machete. While Trejo would like to expand his range, he seems content with the way things have turned out in his career.
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