Playing with Character Type YKTTW Discussion

Playing with Character Type
Looks like they're conforming to type - but with a twist
(permanent link) added: 2012-08-20 19:50:11 sponsor: Folamh3 (last reply: 2012-09-07 18:32:40)

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So we have Type Casting, which is cases in which an actor is known only for playing certain kinds of roles (in its most extreme form, I Am Not Spock, when the actor is only known for a particular role). Then we have Playing Against Type, which is when an actor deliberately plays a role extremely different from their established type.

Then there's this trope, a sub-trope of Playing Against Type, in which an actor plays against type in such a way as to specifically play with, subvert or outright deconstruct their previously established character type.

Supposing, for example, Bob is best-known for playing charming, funny Nice Guys. In this trope, Bob takes on a role superficially quite similar to his established character type - only for the film to reveal that Bob's character is only capable of being charming and funny while drunk, and that he is driven to alcoholism by his history of social awkwardness and depression.

Note that this trope is not limited to comedic character types being Played for Drama; it's entirely possible to do this by playing dramatic character types for laughs (e.g.: Bob is best-known for playing tough-as-nails gangsters, and then plays a wannabe gangster who acts tough but is in fact easily frightened and can barely hold a gun, let alone fire one), or exploring facets of a dramatic or comedic character type previously left unexamined.

When successfully executed, this trope can cast an actor's earlier roles in an entirely new light and lead members of the audience to cry, "He Really Can Act!" When done poorly, it can seem jarring and awkward (especially if the actor in question is insufficiently skilled to pull it off).

Compare I Am Not Spock, I Am Not Leonard Nimoy, Adam Westing, Self-Parody, Meta Casting, Casting Gag, Tom Hanks Syndrome and Leslie Nielsen Syndrome. In-universe, compare with Hidden Depths, Character Development, Flat Character and Rounded Character.


Live-Action Actors

  • Robin Williams is best known for playing cheery, funny and manically upbeat characters, but in One Hour Photo he plays a character whose outward cheerfulness masks the fact that he is a Stepford Smiler Stalker with a Crush.
  • Similar to the above, Jim Carrey subverted his reputation for upbeat, funny, over-the-top characters in The Cable Guy, playing a character whose demented zaniness is indicative of his Stalker with a Crush tendencies, and in The Truman Show, in which his character's superficial friendliness and whacky charm hides his inner loneliness and yearning to escape his dreary life.
  • Audrey Tautou is most well-known (especially in the English-speaking world) for her role in Amélie, in which she plays a sweet, innocent, hopelessly romantic young woman. For the first half of He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not, she appears to be playing a similar type of character, only for the film to reveal that she is in fact a violent, insane Yandere, whose innocent romantic spirit is symptomatic of her complete and utter detachment from reality. As Mick LaSalle put it:
    "Tautou has made several movies, but in America she is known for only one, Amélie, in which she played a wide-eyed innocent. Here she is just as wide-eyed, but if she's innocent it's only by reason of insanity. He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not has its own charms, but part of its wicked kick is that it's the anti-Amélie, presenting romantic fixation, not as noble and sweet, but objectively, as something selfish and volatile..."
  • As part of Unforgiven's Genre Deconstruction of Westerns as a whole, Clint Eastwood's role in the film is a deconstruction of his earlier Western character(s), namely those from the Dollars Trilogy.
  • In what has actually become a sort of type casting itself, Morgan Freeman, who is known for playing "wise old man" characters, sometimes plays "wise old man characters... who turn out to be evil", with Wanted being a good example of this.
  • Adam Sandler has played with his stereotypical persona more than once:
  • A One-Scene Wonder example in Natural Born Killers, with Rodney Dangerfield - replete with Laugh Track and his "I don't get no respect" shtick - playing Mallory's violent, sexually abusive father. Makes for very uncomfortable viewing indeed.
  • Robert De Niro has made a career for the past ten or more years out of subverting, parodying, or deconstructing the tough-guy cred he had accumulated over a long and illustrious career. Examples include Analyze This and Stardust.
  • Leslie Nielsen's goofy role in Airplane! was a play on his previous roles of the studly, stoic hero; one critic quipped that what was needed of him in his dramatic roles and his comedic roles was exactly the same - the ability to recite patently absurd dialogue while keeping a perfectly straight face. This was so successful that he's now better-known as a comedic actor than a dramatic one.
  • Anthony Perkins in Psycho. Thitherto this, Perkins had been known for playing likeable, affable, somewhat socially awkward supporting roles. When adapting the film from Robert Bloch's book of the same name, Hitchcock was unimpressed with the original characterization of Norman Bates, a grouchy, overweight alcoholic with much more overt problems with women and sex (directly based upon the inspiration for Bates, Ed Gein). He instead decided to change the characterization to superficially match Perkins's earlier roles, largely because Perkins looked, in Hitchcock's own words, "like a boy scout". This made Bates's character more sympathetic, the Decoy Protagonist element easier to swallow and the Twist Ending much more shocking. Alas, this gambit was so successful that Perkins ended up being typecast as Bates for the rest of his career.
  • John Travolta has a natural screen presence that can be described as a complete embodiment of the Nice Guy in TV shows and movies like Welcome Back, Kotter, Phenomenon, and Look Who's Talking. On the other hand, he seems to LOVE subverting that niceness by playing Affably Evil or Evilly Affable characters in movies like Broken Arrow and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. His role in the movie Face/Off zigzags this trope, where he starts out as a Nice Guy FBI agent who has to swap faces with evil terrorist Nicolas Cage. This allowed Travolta (and Cage) to play both sides of their personas in the same movie.
  • My Name Is Earl: In the episode "Made a Lady Think I Was God," Roseanne Barr guest stars as a character with her usual insulting personality, until Earl inadvertently turns her into a kindly nun.
  • In an episode of Bones Robert Englund guest-stars as a creepy janitor who hangs out in the basement of the school - who, in a subversion of Narrowed It Down to the Guy I Recognize, isn't the perp.

Voice Actors

  • The voice actress Rie Kugimiya almost always voices heroic characters (typically those with a tsundere personality), which allowed for an effective Bait the Dog with Nena Trinity in Gundam00. Nena initially comes off as a standard cute and quirky character and then sort of out of nowhere, she decides to use her mech slaughter a wedding party because they were having a good time and she wasn't. Then her actual character is established. Asura's Wrath is a much straighter example, as her characters (Mithra and the villager who looks like her) are almost complete opposites to her established typecasting.

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