Created By: blueranger on September 12, 2011 Last Edited By: blueranger on September 16, 2011

Ability Over Appearance

Casting an actor unlike the character\\\'s physical description based on performance

Name Space:
Page Type:
Do We Have This One?

Casting agents usually have a very specific appearance in mind when casting actors to play their characters. When holding auditions there will usually be descriptions noting what the character should look like, for example blonde hair, frail frame, not too tall etc. This is also the case when casting actors in adaptations of books and video games. However, sometimes an actor who is completely different from the physical description shows up for the audition and they completely nail it. The casting directors throw the description out the window and hire this actor because of their performance. This sometimes leads to other tropes such as Race Lift, Adaptational Attractiveness and often Hollywood Homely and Hollywood Pudgy if the character was meant to be ugly but references to this weren't removed when an attractive actor was cast.

Real Life Examples:

  • In an unintentional case, Jeanette Goldstein mistook Aliens for a film about Mexican border crossers and turned up for the audition dressed as a prostitute. She ended up getting the part of tomboy Vasquez anyway.
    • For the first film, while all the characters were written to be gender-neutral, Ripley was always thought of as male but of course Sigourney Weaver ended up getting the role.
  • When casting Red for The Shawshank Redemption the description was for a middle-aged Irish man with greying red hair and actors such as Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford and Robert Redford were considered. Morgan Freeman wound up getting the part because the director "couldn't see anyone else as Red" after his audition.
  • A twofer case in the film of The Last Airbender - Zuko was Asian in the original cartoon and director M Night Shyamalan considered white Jesse McCartney for the role but Anglo-Indian Dev Patel ended up getting the part from his audition tape.
  • Lord of the Rings producers intended to cast only British actors as the Hobbits as Tolkien had imagined the Shire as a form of England but American Elijah Wood sent in a strong audition tape and was cast as Frodo.
  • Ben in Night of the Living Dead was not written to be black and Romero claims he only cast Duane Jones because he gave the best audition, rather than to make a point or be controversial.
  • The Harry Potter films frequently cast actors this way. Horace Slughorn, Dolores Umbridge and Gilderoy Lockhart were all played by actors who didn't quite match the physical description of their book counterparts, but who had the attitude of them perfectly.
  • In the Thor comics, Heimdall is pretty covered up, but still visibly white. For the film, Kenneth Branagh chose to cast Idris Elba. Fan controversy over his choice led to this quote:
    "If you have a chance to have a great actor in the part, everything else is irrelevant. "
  • Daniel Craig got a bit of controversy when he was cast as James Bond in Casino Royale because he looked very different from the past Bonds. This of course all went away once the film came out and he got rave reviews. He may have invoked the trope since he refused to dye his hair black for the role.
  • Casting Quoyle of Shipping News based on appearance would require a lot of excessive prosthetics so instead Kevin Spacey sells the role on the strength of his performance.
  • Philip Pullman had something of a reaction like this when Nicole Kidman was cast as Mrs Coulter in The Golden Compass. The character has black hair in the books (Kidman being blonde) and Pullman said "I was wrong, she has to be blonde", Kidman having been his personal choice for the role.
  • Sissy Spacek was widely thought to be too pretty to play Carrie White, the character in the book being described as chunky, mousy-haired and covered in pimples with Spacek being a tall thin redhead with clear skin. But Spacek's Oscar nomination speaks for itself. The character was then rewritten slightly saying that she would be pretty if she made an effort to tidy herself up a bit.

Live Action TV
  • The character of Lisa in Saved by the Bell was written as a Jewish princess with the auditions calling for white females only. Lark Voorhees (African-American) got the part based on the strength of her audition.
  • Producers were reluctant to cast Amber Benson as Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer because she was too voluptuous for the supposedly plain girl but she won them over with her awkwardness.
  • When casting Julia in Party of Five producers wanted a relatively young actress (the character was 15 at the time) but ended up casting the 19-year-old Neve Campbell due to her strong attitude during the audition.
  • The 80s BBC Production of The Chronicles of Narnia cast four children who were nothing like the descriptions - Peter looked too young, Lucy was much older and chubbier, Susan was blonde and Edmund looked older than Peter - but they all gelled well together in their auditions.
  • Shelly of Northern Exposure was written to be Native-American but Caucasian Cynthia Geary ended up getting the part.

In-Universe Examples:

  • When holding cheerleader auditions in Bring It On the cheerleading squad wants a girl who fits the typical cheerleader image. When tomboy Missy gives the best tryout they are reluctant to let her on the squad but she gets on anyway.
  • A strange case with Bridget in 8 Simple Rules when she ends up getting the part of Anne Frank in the school play despite looking nothing like her. She reads the book and ends up giving a fantastic performance.
Community Feedback Replies: 11
  • September 12, 2011
    I was about to say this is going to turn into a "complaining about actors you don't like" but the I realized I had read the title backwords. I like this, and the examples are interesting. I'm afraid I don't have any examples myself though.
  • September 12, 2011
    The Harry Potter films frequently cast actors this way. Jim Broadbent looks nothing like Professor Slughorn is meant to, casting Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart is a definite case of Informed Attractiveness, and Imelda Staunton doesn't exactly look like a human toad, but you can't argue with the performances they deliver.
  • September 12, 2011
    Tyrion Lannister from Game Of Thrones is described as ugly and grotesque, but the actor who plays him (Peter Dinklage) is considered attractive by most.
  • September 12, 2011
    ^ There's still an obvious respect in which physical resemblance played a part in Dinklage getting the role, though. Now, if they'd cast a tall person because his performance was just that good...
  • September 12, 2011
    In the Thor comics, Heimdall is pretty covered up, but still visibly white. For the film, Kenneth Branagh chose to cast Idris Elba. Fan controversy over his choice led to this quote:
    "If you have a chance to have a great actor in the part, everything else is irrelevant. "
  • September 12, 2011
    Northern Exposure: the character of Shelly was written as a Native American until Cynthia Geary got the part.
  • September 13, 2011
    I can't remember the exact one, but one Hercule Poirot movie has Poirot as a tall, heavyset, white-haired man with a large mustache. In the books, Poirot is small, black-haired (dyeing it in later years) and has a neatly-trimmed mustache.

    The first Sherlock Holmes movie apparently had as main character a guy who looked extraordinarily like Holmes, but had no acting talent whatsoever.
  • September 13, 2011
    kevin Spacey looks nothing like the description of Quoyle, the protagonist of The Shipping News. However, it would have been impossible to find any actor who looked anything the Quoyle without requiring them to spend hours having protheses applied. Spacey sells the role on the strength of his performance.
  • September 13, 2011
    Initially there was some controversy over casting Daniel Craig as James Bond, because he does look nothing like all the Bonds before: Blond instead of dark hair, and a more rough face than the others. But considering how successful Casino Royale was, it apparently worked quite well.
  • September 13, 2011
  • September 15, 2011
    Adaptational Attractiveness is a character written as ugly in the source material but played by an attractive actor in the adaptation. This is when a character is written specifically to look a certain way, either in the source material or casting description, but is cast by an actor who does not match that description but plays the part really well. So it could go the other way of a character written to be attractive but casting a plain or ugly actor playing them. Some of these examples do kind of veer towards Adaptational Attractiveness