Glenn Close tells the story of how discouraging it was for her, early on, to only be hired for typecast roles. She wanted more! And she got more; not by breaking the rules but by making them work for her. You can, too. Her story in a sec.
I hit the same obstacle when I came back to acting after a 23-year distraction working as a TV news anchorman. I met with agents in NYC and sought their advice. One of them told me: “You’ve been a TV reporter for so long partly because you play that well. In acting, you will need to mine the same vein. We call it ‘Going Where The Heat Is’. Your heat is doing the TV reporter thing. Go there.”
Disappointing, because I could do so much more. I didn’t want to be…ugh…Typecast! No one does, right? But as I’ve learned working with actors at ActorIntro, there’s a more fundamental road block that we must get past first, in order to beat the typecasting trap.
Ask an actor “What’s your type?” – I do it almost every day. Chances are, you’ll be met with a quizzical stare or uncomfortable pause. It’s amazing to me how few of us can easily, purposefully respond.
Maybe you have an answer that you just don’t feel comfortable saying out loud. “My type is Glamorous-Sexy-Seducer!” If that is, in fact, how you see your type you must be able to own up to it as well as deliver it.
But often, the non-responses I get reveal a true lack of understanding of what their type is, and maybe even of what a type is at all. In the Acting-for-Money biz, you must know these things and make them work for you.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something our acting schools spend much time addressing. In educational theatre, knowing your type isn’t nearly as valued as honing your skills. You are encouraged to tackle off-type roles in an educational setting; you can stretch as far as you want. Exercises that enable us to explore (Be a tree!) are geared toward developing those qualities of acting that go beyond playing a character who is exactly your type. And it’s important to do that. Get out of your skin. Take on a reality that is nowhere evident in yourself. Do this until the cows come home!
Or, until you want to get paid to act.
The term “typecasting” is often said with a snarl on the lips. How boring. How unimaginative. How not-risky.
Yes. How not-risky. But think about that. The first job a casting director has to fulfill is to bring actors to the project who can believably play the roles. Seeing dozens of actors for every specific role, usually for a few minutes each, what will they look for first? Someone who doesn’t look the part, but seems very talented? “Yeah, she’s brunette and short and we need a tall blonde, but her résumé is sick and she really nailed the reading. Maybe she’ll dye her hair and have limb lengthening surgery.” No. (Of course the short brunette wouldn’t be called in to read for the tall blonde role, but let’s just say this is an open call.)
Casting directors can’t, and don’t want to, bank on the promising talent that you show in your audition to overcome your physical disconnect with the role they are trying to fill. And they don’t have to. There are other actors, maybe none with your precise talent, but plenty with enough talent to go with their perfect-type-ness for the role, which makes them far more attractive when it comes to booking the job.
It may seem unsettling at first that your best strategy to become successful in an acting career depends so much on your innate type. It’s kind of insulting to all those years of training and even performances in roles where you played a character 180-degrees opposite of your perceived type. But there’s good news! Once you have booked enough work playing your type, and have achieved some recognition for your talent, your interests in playing against type will be taken more seriously.
That brings me back to Glenn Close. What she wanted to play, literally, was a Killer-Seductress. Early in her career she couldn’t get anyone to see her as one. But, once she had shown enough people her chops in typecast roles, she got the part of the killer seductress in Fatal Attraction. (Netflix that… but not if you have a soft spot for bunny rabbits.) Close was the fourth actor offered the role, but she played it so well she received an Academy Award nomination for it.
Since I learned to embrace my own industry niche, I’ve done lots of roles as The TV Reporter on several Law & Orders, other TV dramas, and major motion pictures. And currently, I play the oblivious morning show host Jim Haggerty on The Onion News Network’s web and TV episodes of Today NOW!, which is, truth be told, a perfect combination of drawing on my TV chops and playing a character not exactly like me.
Yes, I have played other, non-TV guy roles. But the booking ratio is far lower for those auditions than for the ones where my temperature suits the role right out of the box. I’m still waiting be given the chance to boil a bunny.
Bottom line: you must know what your type is. You must know how to emphasize that type in your acting, especially in presenting yourself at an audition. In other words: go where the heat is and avoid getting frozen out!