Typecasting

BY CAM VELLACOTT

Typecasting in Hollywood is an ongoing issue, perpetually thrust upon the world of the silver screen. It’s a lazy habit, seemingly unshakeable. Its firm grip wraps the studios, who continuously pump money into safe films with actors who have made a career out of playing the same role over and over. It is something like a tide, rolling in and out of theatres. You can count on something typecast coming around every movie season.

It is most notable when trying to describe a movie you can’t quite remember in detail, but you know the lead actors name. For example,“I watched a really good movie on Netflix on the weekend with Hugh Grant in it.”

“Oh, what was it called?”

“I can’t remember, it was about him falling in love with a girl who he wouldn’t normally fall in love with, but does.”

“Oh, which one?”

Hugh Grant is a classic example, and it doesn’t stop there. Liam Neeson, Julia Roberts, Michael Cera, Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman, as well as so many more, are actors who seem to select films to star in which showcase their dramatic abilities in a way seen numerous times in previous films. They are typecast.

Samuel L. Jackson in  Pulp Fiction  - Image sourced  Herald Sun

Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction - Image sourced Herald Sun

But is it really the actors fault they play the same roles? Well, kind of. They could reject these films, but it’s a nice superannuation for them I suppose (not that they need it). Much of the responsibility is on a system which doesn’t promote higher risk, higher reward films. Films that would be unprecedented.

While not every film can be completely unique, the current nature of creating and casting films seems lazy on all fronts. South Park marvellously pokes fun at this in Season 8, Episode 5 ‘AWESOM-O’ which if you haven’t seen, is worth the 22 minutes of your time. Why make something potentially great, that no one has seen before, when you can just make another Adam Sandler film?

It’s easy to spot the problem, but difficult to fix. The two degree principle could help mend the issue: incremental change over a sustained period will eventually have outstanding effects. It has been proven possible not to typecast. Heath Ledger did it, as did James Dean. Each of Ledger’s characters were different, and he hopped across numerous genres. He specifically accepted different roles not for financial benefit, but to inspire and leave an outstanding legacy. He was always moving forward. James Dean’s career was mighty short however he also lead a similar path, playing Jett Rink in ‘Giant’ to avoid the teen angst typecast. It seems Dean and Ledger’s initiative is lost in many actors and executives.

Heath Ledger in  Lords of Dogtown  - Image sourced  E! Online

Heath Ledger in Lords of Dogtown - Image sourced E! Online

Wouldn’t it be nice to go into a Liam Neeson film just once and it not be a grumpy old man finding some sort of conflict. Or maybe a Morgan Freeman film where he isn’t so wise, or something where Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t have to yell ‘Mother Fucker!’ at somebody.

It’s strange that it is a unique thing to the art form of filmmaking. If an artist were to paint something twice, it isn’t nearly worth as much. Its exclusivity is tarnished. If a musician released an album the same as their last and just changed the title, do you think people would accept it?

Audiences should try to push for something a little different. Birdman’s success both at the box office and at the Academy Awards is a fine example of why more films should take the leap and do it a little different, as well as the rewards audiences could gain. Hopefully films such as Birdman have fascinated people enough to want to continue pushing the boat out a little and seeing something different. If these unconventional films are being watched, more will be made. Let’s diversify what we see.


Cam is a columnist for Maidenhair Press. He frequently writes about the film and music industry which are his main interests. He is currently a university student at QUT studying Media and Communications.