Ability Over Appearance
aka: Race Blind Casting
"If you have a chance to have a great actor in the part, everything else is irrelevant. "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. But sometimes, an actor who is completely different from the physical description shows up for the audition and nails the role. The casting directors throw the description out the window and hire this actor because of their performance. This may lead to tropes such as Race Lift, Adaptational Attractiveness, Hollywood Homely, and Hollywood Pudgy. In rare cases, can even trump a character's original gender. Used to be used frequently as a justification for Blackface, and still to this day is the usual excuse given for whitewashing of ethnic characters in adaptations. Compare Colorblind Casting for when appearance isn't a factor in casting at all. Note that it isn't an example of the trope if the actor works hard to resemble the physical description of the character.
open/close all folders
Real Life Examples:
- In Alien, all of the characters are known by their last names and were written as unisex. Ultimately Ripley and Lambert were cast with female actors. Hardly any lines were rewritten, and it's since been repeatedly hailed as a masterpiece of female character writing.
- 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, Paul Newman, 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. Which had the added effect of making the line - "Why do they call you 'Red'?" [beat] "Maybe it's cause I'm Irish." - hilarious.
- In the novella, the character is only named Red. It's changed in the film to "Ellis Redding," to explain the name.
- The producers of The Lord of the Rings 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. A marginal case, seeing as Wood speaks The Queen's Latin with very few slips. Sean Astin's North Country take on Sam Gamgee has also received generally good notices.
- Invoked by the filmmakers of The Last Airbender for the main cast members of the Water Nation. In the original cartoon, the nation has tan skin, dark hair and blue eyes, serving as a Fantasy Counterpart Culture for Inuits. The film cast Caucasian actors for the lead roles and Asians or Inuits as the silent extras-in-distress. The film's very poor reception and in particular critiques of the very wooden acting from the leads did not bear out the filmmaker's excuse for the Race Lift.
- Ben in ´Night of the Living Dead (1968) was not written to be black. At the time, it was quite unusual for a black man to get a lead film role. George Romero has always maintained that he only cast Duane Jones because he gave the best audition, not to make a point or be controversial.
- Harry Potter:
- The films frequently cast actors this way. Horace Slughorn, Dolores Umbridge and Gilderoy Lockhart are all played by actors who don't quite match the physical description of their book counterparts (for instance, Slughorn is meant to be short and stout with a walrus mustache, but Jim Broadbent is clean-shaven and over six feet), but who captured their attitudes perfectly.
- Umbridge is an even more noticeable case, as her appearance is constantly described as toadlike in the books, and the illustrations bear it out. Imelda Staunton doesn't look anything like this, and they did nothing to make her even remotely unpleasant looking. However, this actually works in the films' favor, due to the heightened contrast between her sweet, grandmotherly appearance and her brutal, secret-police style rule over the school (and infuriating behavior).
- In The Mighty Thor comics, Heimdall is pretty covered up, but still visibly Caucasian. For the film, Kenneth Branagh chose to cast Idris Elba. Fan controversy over his choice led to the page quote. His performance was then raved about. As Movie Bob put it: "To everyone who pitched a fit about Idris Elba playing Heimdall; Every scene he's in may as well be subtitled THAT'S WHY."
- Likewise, in his screen adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, Branagh cast the African-American Denzel Washington to play the Spanish Don Pedro of Aragon.
- Daniel Craig got a bit of controversy when he was cast as James Bond in Casino Royale (2006) because he looked very different from the past Bonds, being derisively referred to as "James Blond." 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. Sean Connery got this in Dr. No as well, especially from Ian Fleming who insisted that Bond was English. After he saw Sean Connery, he instantly added some Scottish roots into the books as well.
- Casting Quoyle of The 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.
- To many, Rosie O'Donnell wasn't exactly what came to mind as an ideal choice to play the cute, slender Betty Rubble in the 1994 live-action film adaptation of The Flintstones, but among other things she nailed Betty's chuckle down pat. Next thing you know she's in the blue dress with the short-black hairdo.
- 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.
- Likewise, Alpha Bitch Chris Hargensen is described as dark haired and olive skinned but has been portrayed by blonde actresses Nancy Allen and Emilie De Ravin who absolutely nail the bitchy attitude. Finally averted with the 2013 remake which cast the brunette Portia Doubleday.
- The Chronicles of Narnia:
- The 80s BBC Production cast four children who were nothing like the descriptions - Peter (Richard Dempsey) looked too young, Lucy (Sophie Wilcox) was much older and chubbier, Susan (Sophie Cook) was blonde instead of brunette, and Edmund (Jonathan R. Scott) looked older than Peter - but they all gelled well together in their auditions.
- Same thing with the Walden Films versions. Lucy has auburn hair, rather than blonde, but Georgie Henley was unanimously praised in the role (and Word of God says in interview that the change was allowed to go through because Henley's audition was just that good). Edmund doesn't have an official hair color (although he's described as a fair-haired/bearded adult, and as a child the illustrations are indeterminate), but black-haired Skandar Keynes is a fan favorite as Edmund. Peter is supposed to be dark-haired, but played by blond William Moseley. Susan is the only character whose actress fits the description, being played by brunette Anna Popplewell. All four actors worked very well together.
- Julie Taymor altered William Shakespeare's The Tempest to have Helen Mirren play the lead in her 2010 film adaptation.
- The Vampire Chronicles film adaptations:
- Anne Rice openly protested against Tom Cruise being cast as Lestat in Interview with the Vampire. Her choice was Rutger Hauer. After she saw the film, she issued an apology and praised his performance. Though she did insist that Lestat's hair remain blond in the film.
- She was also against Stuart Townsend being cast as Lestat in Queen of the Damned until she met him. The actor remained dark-haired for the role, though, likely to play up the "goth rock superstar" image they cultivated for Lestat.
- In the Daredevil movie, the Kingpin was played by Michael Clarke Duncan. There were men who looked the part better, but few of them were actually actors. He was the best actor with the size that they could find, and even then, he had to gain some weight for the role. Ironically, the Kingpin was originally supposed to be black in the comics, but an editor thought it would be racist to have a black villain. Incidentally, the mid-90s Spider-Man cartoon could be a subversion of this. Kingpin was drawn as a white man, and voiced by Roscoe Lee Brown.
- The Mean Girls producers thought Lizzy Caplan was too pretty for "art freak" Janis, but eventually cast her for considering her the best actress that auditioned.
- Hailee Steinfeld did an amazing job as Mattie in the 2010 film of True Grit, which didn't drop a single line of dialogue about how ugly she was. Similarly, all dialogue about Rooster being fat and out of shape was kept, even though Jeff Bridges barely had a visible belly.
- Winona Ryder in Little Women is much too petite to play Jo, who in the book is described as being "like a colt" with "long limbs and big shoulders and hands". That being said it's hard to imagine another actress who can capture Jo's spirit, clumsiness and generally loud attitude as well as she can.
- Robert Downey, Jr. is almost the exact opposite of Sherlock Holmes in appearance, being a handsome man of middling height and muscular build. Holmes is described as tall, slender, hawk-nosed and not particularly good looking. His performance in the Sherlock Holmes film, however, was generally well received.
- Michael Keaton in the original Batman movie. Tim Burton even defended his casting decision by claiming that he didn't need a beefy action star to play Batman; he needed someone who could actually act their way out of paper bag. The infamous molded abs were added to the Batsuit precisely to make Keaton look physically intimidating.
- Per Word of God: It's not about casting Batman; it's about casting Bruce Wayne.
- Peter Ustinov played Agatha Christie's Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in six films, despite being completely different in appearance. According to the other wiki, Christie's daughter allegedly said "That's not Poirot! He isn't at all like that!," to which Ustinov replied, "He is now."
- Magneto is very muscular in the comics, but the slender Ian McKellen was cast because he's one of the finest actors on the planet.
- In the comics, Wolverine is supposed to be about 5'3". Hugh Jackman is a full foot taller. In the '90s, they even considered Glenn Danzig for the role. The role was originally supposed to go to Dougray Scott (6' even), but he had to opt out when the filming for Mission: Impossible II went over schedule.
- Also, average-sized (5'6") Halle Berry as Storm, who in the comics is a Statuesque Stunner.
- James McAvoy—who is well-known for his Pretty Boy looks and his thick, wavy brown hair—doesn't physically resemble Patrick Stewart (and Professor X in the comics was blond before he went bald), but the "Band of Brothers" featurette on the X-Men: First Class Blu-Ray/DVD makes it clear that the filmmakers' first choice for the role was McAvoy because he's a very talented thespian.
Matthew Vaughn: James was the first actor we cast. I've always been a fan of James, I think he's a tremendous actor.Simon Kinberg: When initially somebody said, "What about James McAvoy for Charles?", I said, "That is the greatest idea I've ever heard, he'll never do it. Why would he take on somebody else's role which he is only going to be compared to Patrick Stewart?"Lauren Shuler Donner: James McAvoy, one of the world's best actors, he's just incredible.
- In the comic books, Bolivar Trask is a taller fellow while Peter Dinklage, who portrays him in X-Men: Days of Future Past, has dwarfism. He's an Emmy-winning actor whose performances are frequently met with critical acclaim, and since his appearance has very little bearing on the character, nobody has made anything of it. Peter Dinklage often falls into this; he seems to be one of the few dwarfs in show business who can net a role that didn't call for one. SF Debris noted in its review of Threshold that nobody ever mentions his character's condition.
- This is partly due to the fact that Dinklage has been consciously aiming for this trope in his choice of roles; he's always turned down stereotypical dwarf roles that would milk his physical appearance for cheap laughs. This is easy to do now that his acting abilities are universally praised, but it was a severe hardship in his earlier years.
- Iron Man:
- Done retroactively in Iron Man 2: Sam Rockwell had auditioned to play Tony Stark in the original film but lost the part to Robert Downey, Jr.. However, Jon Favreau was still impressed so in the sequel he called Rockwell to give him the part of Justin Hammer... despite Hammer being an elderly British guy in the original comics.
- And of course, the comics Tony Stark is 6' 1" (185 cm)). Robert Downey, Jr.. is 5' 7" (1m70), forcing high heels in certain scenes — specially in The Avengers, as both Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans, and even Gwyneth Paltrow are really tall.
- Pepper Potts as played by Gwyneth Paltrow differs quite a way from her comic book counterpart, who starts out in her early-to-mid twenties and is correspondingly immature at times; the original plan for the movie more or less followed this, with Pepper implied to drop out as a potential love interest after the first movie due to her inability to cope with Tony's new lifestyle. Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper is at least ten years older than her comic book counterpart and is shown to be mature, capable and loyal due to her greater experience and longer stint as Tony's PA; and it's probably no coincidence that she's become one of the most popular love interests in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- The eponymous role of Salt was for Tom Cruise, but when he dropped out Angelina Jolie talked her way into an audition. The rest is history.
- During the beginning stages of making the movie The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams made only one request regarding the casting; that Arthur Dent be played by a British actor. Other parts could be cast as the producers saw fit. In the final product, Martin Freeman was cast as Arthur, with American actors Zooey Deschanel and Sam Rockwell as Trillian and Zaphod respectively, and American rapper Mos Def as Ford Prefect.
- John Travolta's performance in The General's Daughter so impressed the author of the original book, despite being almost the complete opposite of the book's description of Warrant Officer Paul Bremmer.
- Ferris Bueller's Day Off: Cameron Frye was originally envisioned as being chunky and "homely in a lovable way". John Candy auditioned for the role, despite not looking like anything resembling a high-school student. Emilio Estevez, who also somewhat matched the description, was offered the role, but turned it down. John Hughes then remembered the tall, thin, very attractive (29-year-old!) Alan Ruck from the Breakfast Club auditions (he didn't make the cut that time), and cast him based on that performance. What followed was what is considered to be one of the most soulful, enduring portrayals in Hughes' oeuvre.
- Very white, very British Benedict Cumberbatch was cast as a specifically-ethnic character, the Sikh-descended Magnificent Bastard Khan Noonien Singh, in Star Trek Into Darkness. It was criticized at the time as a case of Race Lift. After the film came out, however, his performance was acclaimed; in fact, it's one of the few areas of the film that the vast majority, including Trekkies who grew up with a non-white version of the character, agree on as spectacular. Additionally, a couple Authors' Saving Throws have come out: one a tie-in prequel which made the Race Lift in-universe canon to hide his identity, the other Word of God about how, given the character's acts of terroristic violence within the film, casting someone of the proper ethnicity might have invoked all manner of Unfortunate Implications. (It's also worth noting that the original actor approached for the role was Benicio Del Toro.)
- Believe it or not, Christopher Reeve as Superman. Richard Donner commented that during auditions and screen testing (which was revealed when the Donner cut of Superman II came out) Reeve was skinny and his hair was kind of blonde, but took interest because of his talent. Some shoe polish to darken his hair and a few months training with David Prowse (Darth Vader) to bulk up and he dominated the screen.
- A really impressive example in PJ Hogan's Peter Pan. Tinkerbell was originally going to be entirely CGI. But actress Ludivine Sagnier lobbied for the role and impressed Hogan enough to cast her.
- Gollum from The Lord of the Rings was meant to be an animatronic, but Andy Serkis's performance impressed the filmmakers so much that they decided to use CGI and motion capture (trope-naming Serkis Folk), plus having him physically acting on the set. That also allowed them to have the flashback scene at the start of Return of the King where a live-action hobbit-Sméagol played by Serkis transforms into Gollum. Today, Serkis' acting talents are so well-regarded, even through the prism of CGI, that one of CinemaSins' Running Gags is, "Andy Serkis isn't winning an Oscar in this scene."
- Cillian Murphy's casting as Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow in The Dark Knight Saga gained some ire from Batman fans due to his youthful good looks, but his performance has generally been well praised.
- Tom Hanks bears very little physical resemblance to Michael O'Sullivan, the protagonist of Max Allan Collins' graphic novel Road to Perdition, but he was still praised for his performance in Sam Mendes' film adaptation. Notably, the casting choice represents a rare inversion of Adaptational Attractiveness, as Hanks is a far cry from the graphic novel's classically◊ handsome◊ "Angel of Death".
- For My Week With Marilyn we can safely assume that this is what they were going for when casting Michelle Williams, who doesn't look all that much like Marilyn Monroe.
- Jamie Foxx as Electro/Max Dillon, who is white in the comics, in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Given that he's blue as Electro, race is a relatively minor point.
- Jack Reacher in the novels is 6'3" and muscular. Tom Cruise is 5'7" and slender, but utterly nailed the role in Jack Reacher, to the approval of author Lee Child.
- In Sky One's adaptation of Going Postal, Lord Vetnari is played by Charles Dance. In the books, Vetinari is tall, lathe-thin, dark haired and with a beak of nose. His costume is described (and drawn by official artist Paul Kidby) to closely resemble the look of the Black Princes of Venice. Charles Dance is certainly tall, but he is also sandy-blonde, broadly strapping, has a straight nose and his costume is far more late Victorian-early than Renaissance. He also arguably seems on the oldish side for Vetinari. However, you will not find a fan with a bad word to say about the casting; his Vetinari seems to be definitive.
- David Jason as Rincewind in The Colourof Magic. Jason was 35 years older than Rincewind was in the book, as well as being shorter and stouter than the description, but Jason's passion and dedication to the role makes up for it.
- Jennifer Lawrence does not match the description of Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games books. Katniss is thin due to near-starvation, olive skinned and dark haired. Lawrence has a normal build, fair skin and blonde hair. This caused some initial fan outrage, to which Lawrence responded that hair can change color and she refuses to starve herself for a role. Her acting performance has been almost universally praised.
- However, the casting call for the character asked specifically for white actresses, despite her Ambiguously Brown appearance in the books, which has caused some to take issue with the casting even if they were pleased with the final decision.
- Similarly Josh Hutcherson got (and still gets) a lot of complaints for not matching the book description of Peeta Mellark. Peeta in the books is taller than Katniss and has curly blond hair and blue eyes. Hutcherson is shorter than Lawrence and has dark hair and dark eyes. He dyes his hair blond for the films but there are still a lot of complaints about his height, the fact that he doesn't wear blue contacts and how he's not deemed attractive enough for the role (even though Peeta is never described as being gorgeous and Hutcherson is quite easy on the eyes). However he was chosen for the role by Suzanne Collins (author of the books) who felt he perfectly captured the essence of the character and has stated that she can't see anyone else playing the part.
- When Francis Ford Coppola was casting for Apocalypse Now, he intended Col. Kilgore to be a Large and in Charge type, but Robert Duvall, who did not fit that description, eventually convinced Coppola to give him the part. It worked, as Duvall was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and Kilgore has become an icon of film.
- Harold Russell lost both of his hands in World War II. After receiving hooks, and training on them, he was chosen to make an Army training film called "Diary Of A Sergeant". William Wyler saw the film and decided to cast him in The Best Years of Our Lives, for which role Russel eventually receive 2 Oscars.
- Jack Nicholson as, well, anything, but One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in particular. In the novel, the character was, as with The Shawshank Redemption above, a crazy, red-headed Irishman.
- Jason Momoa was cast as Aquaman for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Momoa is exceptionally tall and of noticeable Polynesian ancestry with dark hair and tan skin, whereas (even at his strongest) Aquaman is more of an average height, blonde, pale, viking barbarian look. If anything, this was embraced as perfect casting considering Aquaman's public impression despite all sorts of attempts in other media to have him be more badass. Momoa's roles in Stargate Atlantis, Conan the Barbarian (2011) and Game of Thrones earned him a legion of fans for his incredible physical presence, which should easily overshadow any "Aquaman is a weakling" memes.
- Japanese model/actress Tao Okamoto plays Mercy Graves, who was a white blonde woman in the comics (Pre-New 52) and Superman: The Animated Series. Word of God is that Zack Snyder really wanted to work with Okamoto after being impressed with her performance in The Wolverine, and cast her in the part despite her lack of resemblance to the comic character.
- James McAvoy was cast in Trance and Filth despite the directors initially believing he looked wrong for the role.
"What's strange is that both those movies, the director thought I wasn't right for it, thought I was too young to do it, didn't have enough darkness," the actor reflected on the two roles. "And yet, for some reason, when I went in and auditioned for Danny [Boyle] and then had a conversation with [Filth director] Jon S. Baird, they seemed to change their mind."
- In the book Holes, protagonist Stanley is overweight; his actor for the movie adaptation was the slimmer Shia LaBeouf, who initially tried to gain weight but stopped when Sachar himself told him that it was more important that he focus on depicting the character's diffidence. Film-makers also said it would had been difficult to have an overweight 14-year-old actor gradually losing weight like his character did in the book due to the digging.
- Both Anthony Hopkins and Frank Langella earned Oscar nominations for portraying Richard Nixon (for Nixon and Frost/Nixon, respectively) despite bearing little resemblance to the real man.
- Michael Fassbender looks nothing like Steve Jobs (compare him to Christian Bale, the first actor approached for the part), but his performance in Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin's biopic has been universally acclaimed
- Saved by the Bell:
- The character of Lisa 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.
- Another example is that Mr. Belding was originally conceived as being black and over 50yrs old. Dennis Haskins won the part despite being neither.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- Producers were reluctant to cast Amber Benson as Tara because they wanted someone with the same slender build as Alyson Hannigan. Specifically, they needed someone to take Willow's place as The Woobie, since Willow was becoming too powerful to convincingly put in any real danger. However, Benson quickly won them over with her ability to play awkward and vulnerable.
- Alyson Hannigan also bagged the role of Willow precisely because she was the only actress that didn't portray the character as a stereotypical Hollywood Nerd.
- 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.
- Shelly of Northern Exposure was written to be Native-American but Caucasian Cynthia Geary ended up getting the part.
- Given the time-period and the fact that Guinevere means "white" or "fair one", there were some raised eyebrows over mixed-race Angel Coulby getting the part of the future queen on Merlin. The producers said that they had looked at hundreds of potential Guineveres, but Angel Coulby was the only one that could nail the quirky, clumsy servant girl, but also "bring the queen" when the occasion called for it.
- Series author Elizabeth George was openly displeased about the casting choice for Barbara Havers of The Inspector Lynley Mysteries - The BBC cast the lovely Sharon Small in the role, whereas Barbara is distinctly unattractive. Then George saw Small's performance in the pilot, in which Sharon absolutely nailed Barbara Havers in all her awkward, bitter, broken glory, and changed her mind. To this day Small's performance is lauded as one of the best aspects of the series.
- Once Upon a Time:
- Creators invoked this when they chose to cast Merrin Dungey to play Ursula. They requested her specifically after seeing her in Alias. Ursula is famous for being overweight and purple-skinned with short white hair. Dungey is slim, African-American and went blonde for the role.
- Joanna Garcia is a full eighteen years older than Disney's Ariel, who is more recognisable as a rebellious teenager. However it's hard to imagine an actress who could better capture Ariel's quirky attitude.
- Princess Aurora is known as a blonde, but is played by brunette Sarah Bolger. Additionally Aurora's voice actress Mary Costa used a British accent, while Bolger (who is Irish) uses an American one. Either way her casting and performance was well-received.
- Lancelot was given a Race Lift to become black, and the character was very well-received. To the point where there were a lot of positive reactions when he was advertised for the fifth season.
- Happened twice in Criminal Minds. Garcia was originally written as a middle-aged Mexican man, but when the white, blonde and very female Kirsten Vangsness was introduced to the producers they had to have her and changed the part. (Her last name was later explained as coming from a stepfather, even though South America is full of people with European ancestry and Spanish surnames.) Aaron Hotchner was supposed to be a blonde Mormon from Utah, but the part eventually went to the dark-haired Virginian Thomas Gibson.
- The creators of Elementary have said the part of Joan Watson was race-neutral, and it went to Lucy Liu because she was the best woman for the part. Which makes the claims about the decision stemming from a desire to pander to minorities even more ridiculous.
- Grey's Anatomy has always been known for Colorblind Casting (leading to one of the most diverse casts on television), but that doesn't mean that they didn't have a general idea of who to cast. Miranda Bailey (nicknamed "The Nazi"!) was intended to be a blond, white woman until Chandra Wilson got a hold of the part.
- Kaylee from Firefly was originally intended to be Asian, but Jewel Staite's audition impressed Joss Whedon enough that he decided to give her the part anyway. This did have the awkward side effect of having no Asians on the starring cast of a show whose milieu is heavily influenced by Chinese culture, which Whedon has acknowledged, but he's also asked if any Browncoats would care to give up any of the actors who were cast. The answer has always been a resounding No.
- The Suite Life of Zack and Cody:
- Originally the parts of Maddie and London were inverted, with the blond Ashley Tisdale playing the obvious Paris Hilton expy London Tipton, and Brenda Song playing Maddie. However, when it was revealed that Brenda Song has a natural affinity for playing The Ditz, the roles were reversed.
- They had fun with this in one episode during an alternate universe where Maddie and London's roles were reversed.
- Chase was originally intended to be British, but Jesse Spencer gave such a brilliant audition that he was made Australian instead.
- Director Bryan Singer put a ban on non-American actors for the title role after hearing so many badly-done Fake American accents in auditions. So how did Hugh Laurie get the role? His flawless Boston accent convinced Singer that he must be American.
- When Pauline McLynn first auditioned for Mrs. Doyle on Father Ted, she was rejected for being too young and pretty (McLynn was in her early thirties; Mrs. Doyle was a middle-aged widow). She supposedly showed up for another audition with a bad cold - and got the part.
- Nickelodeon had a show planned in the mid-1990s to be titled "The Mystery Files of Shelby Wink" about a teenage white girl who solves crimes, but Asian American Irene Ng impressed them so much with her audition that they re-named the show "...Shelby Woo" and altered the premise accordingly.
- Fonzie of Happy Days was originally envisioned as a tall Italian man, based on a friend of the show's creator. While he is of Italian descent, at 5'8 Henry Winkler is notably much shorter than series lead Ron Howard, but he performed the role so flawlessly they knew they had to have him.
- LOST took this trope to its logical extent, by not only amending characters to get the best actors on the show, but flat-out creating new characters for the same reason. The role of Sun-Hwa Kwon, for instance, was written specifically for Yunjin Kim after her audition as Kate. Similarly, the character of Hugo "Hurley" Reyes was created when producers loved Jorge Garcia but didn't think he fit his auditioned role of Sawyer.
- Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation was originally conceived as a Latina character, with Marina Sirtis cast in the role. When Denise Crosby was cast, the character's name was changed to fit the actress' appearance.
- Enid Nightshade of The Worst Witch is a Huge Schoolgirl with dark blonde hair. The TV series cast Jessica Fox who is petite and brunette, but captures Enid's mischievous nature and spunk perfectly.
- Maud in the books is also frequently referred to as plump, to the degree where her parents put her on a diet in between books 2 and 3. She's played by the very slender Emma Brown, who does a good job with Maud's caring nature - and shares very good chemistry with Georgina Sherrington, who plays her on-screen best friend.
- Wizards of Waverly Place was conceived as a show about an Irish-American family. However Selena Gomez gave the best audition as Alex, and the entire family was rewritten to be Mexican-Italian as a result.
- The creators of Red Dwarf originally imagined Lister as 41 years old and white: in their words, like an "English version of Christopher Lloyd as Reverend Jim on Taxi." When they sent the script to Craig Charles (23 years old at the time and mixed-race), asking if he thought the part of the Cat was racist, he said it wasn't and also asked to audition for Lister. He got the part.
- Tess from Beauty and the Beast was initially written as a firey Irish-American cop, but Nina Lisandrello's performance impressed the producers enough that she was changed to a Latina instead.
- Joss Whedon initially conceived Melinda May from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a white woman named "Althea Rice", but the role was changed after going to Chinese-American actress Ming-Na Wen.
- The casting directors for The Brady Bunch wanted three brown-haired boys to play Mike Brady's sons, but chose the red-haired Mike Lookinland to play Bobby after being impressed by his audition. For the first few years of the series, Mike had his hair dyed dark brown to compensate.
- Slade Wilson is American in the original DC comics. However, for Arrow, Manu Bennet so impressed the creators that the character was changed to be an Awesome Aussie.
- The TV adaptation of The Dresden Files had a Hispanic actress playing the part of Lt. Murphy, who's blonde in the books, and a blonde actress playing the part of Susan Rodriguez. The Powers That Be said that they were originally brought in for the roles they more resembled but were much better at each other's roles and so the two characters get a Race Lift. Karrin Murphy becomes Connie Murphy, presumably short for Consuela. Susan... just doesn't look much like a Rodriguez.
- The casters for Hustle had intended for Michael Stone to be white, like the rest of the main cast, but Adrian Lester's preformance impressed them.
- On The X-Files, network executives wanted someone "taller, leggier, blonder and breastier" to play the role of Scully, but series creator Chris Carter lobbied for the then-unknown petite, redhead (albeit natural blonde) Gillian Anderson due to her acting ability.
- In Sharpe, the title character is played by 5'9" blond Yorkshireman Sean Bean whereas in the novels he's described as over six feet tall, dark haired and a Londoner. However Bean owned the role so thoroughly the book author retconned the character as having spent a large part of his teenage years in Yorkshire to explain his accent.
- When the highly successful Radio Drama Dragnet was first being brought to television in 1951, Jack Webb argued that his face was not suitable for the screen and suggested Lloyd Nolan be cast as Joe Friday in his place. Fortunately, neither NBC nor Liggett & Myers (owners of Fatima, and sponsors of the show) would accept any substitute.
- In Inspector Morse, Morse has an Old Cop, Young Cop relationship with Sergeant Lewis, a Geordie. In the original novels, Lewis is an elderly man and is Welsh Kevin Whately, who plays Lewis, initially didn't think he'd be cast when he learned of the description of the book character. Colin Dexter, the author of the novels, not only praised Whately's performance as Lewis, but also commented that if he could start the series over, he'd write a Lewis who was like his TV counterpart.
- There are two occasions in Doctor Who history where the producer had been looking for an elderly actor to play the next Doctor and ended up instead casting the youngest ever Doctor at that time due to being impressed by the actor - Tom Baker, and Matt Smith. In the case of Tom Baker, he'd even had a companion added to his first season on the grounds that the elderly man they cast wouldn't be able to do action scenes, who had nothing to do as a result. While Baker went in a different direction, Matt Smith did retain a lot more of the 'old man' concept than one would expect for an actor in his mid-twenties, with his performance having a lot of old-man-in-a-young-man's-body elements that are one of the more beloved parts about his character (Colin Baker even praising Matt Smith the 'oldest one of us all' in the 50th Anniversary panel).
- In the manga of Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, Odagiri is of average height and has short hair. Asuka is taller and has very long hair. In the live-action series, Odagiri is the tall one with long hair, while Asuka is shorter and short-haired. Still, Asuka's actress plays her well enough. There are also other examples (other than different hair colors): Itou is short-haired in the manga, but has long hair in a sidetail in the live-action series. Ushio has long bangs and glasses, but here he wears no glasses and has middle-parted hair.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire Robert Baratheon is described as being well over six feet tall. In Game of Thrones Robert is played by Mark Addy, who isn't particularly tall. However, Addy's portrayl was so excellent and true to the character that it doesn't matter.
- From Daredevil, while Vincent D'Onofrio passed pretty well, he's still not nearly as big as The Kingpin is usually depicted as, and didn't fit the physique as much as the late Michael Clarke Duncan. But his performance was so complex and layered, and brought such a fresh interpretation of the character into both a terrifying and surprisingly sympathetic villain, that critics and audiences didn't mind at all.
- Band of Brothers:
- The real Dick Winters and Don Malarkey were blondes and portrayed by redheads Damian Lewis and Scott Grimes. It's widely accepted that these choices were spot-on, and they received the Approval of God from the real guys.
- Buck Compton and Bull Randleman were in their mid twenties during the war, while Neal McDonough and Michael Cudlitz were both a full ten years older than their characters. On the flip side Joe Liebgott was around thirty during the war, and Ross Mc Call was twenty four during filming. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't agree that they were the right men for the roles.
- Frank John Hughes is described as this by other cast members, saying he didn't resemble Bill Guarnere - but was able to become him through sheer ability. He was known for his intense Method Acting, to the point where he wouldn't talk to any of the actors playing people the real Guarnere hadn't liked and carved the name of Guarnere's wife into his prop rifle. Additionally the man was his mid-twenties during the war, and Hughes played him at thirty three.
- While the prototype of a modern pro wrestler is still that of a huge guy with bulky muscles, quite a few who fail the "eye test" have been wildly successful thanks to their tremendous abilities in the ring and on the mic.
- CM Punk is relatively short, not particularly bulky, and covered in tattoos yet still set the record for the longest WWE title reign of the past 25 years.
- Shawn Michaels had a Hall of Fame career despite being a full head shorter than most of his opponents thanks to his tremendous ability in all aspects of being a great wrestler.
- The 5'4, 175lb Rey Mysterio has held multiple titles in his career and is probably the most famous luchador-style wrestler in America.
- Chris Jericho isn't particularly muscular or tall but he's WWE first Undisptued champion and has held the most intercontinental champion reigns.
- Daniel Bryan is the latest example — short by wrestling standards, with a slender (but still athletic) build, but talented beyond all measure and so ridiculously popular that the fans basically forced WWE to insert him into the main event for WrestleMania XXX.
- One important thing to remember is that this “eye test” is really only enforced by a select few people at the top of the chain: namely Vince McMahon, who seems to have a definite fascination with big, muscular guys. Vince is believed to be the reason “body guys” such as Ultimate Warrior are pushed far beyond their skill set, and why Hulk Hogan wasn't allowed to do any of the moves that made him a success in Japan and was forced to wrestle a more generic “big man” wrestling style. With the exception of Shawn Michaels, most of the wrestlers who have achieved any kind of lasting success in WWE did so after achieving success elsewhere and generating enough Popularity Power that it would be downright impossible for Vince to ignore them, such as WCW (Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio) or on the independent circuit (CM Punk, Daniel Bryan.) Notice that guys that Vince is trying to make stars himself are still overwhelmingly big guys (John Cena, Sheamus, Ryback.)
- Despite fears that Triple H (who is married to Vince's daughter and, by all appearances, heir to the WWE empire) would be just as bad about the “big guys and eye-candy Divas” problem, seeming to share Vince's bodybuilding fascination (to the point where Stephanie got him framed photos of all Mr. Olympia winners for Christmas) and himself being a prototypical “big man” wrestler, he definitely seems to be adhering to this trope even more. Two of his first major acquisitions were Mistico (a luchador, who are traditionally more slender guys) and Brawn Hilda Kia Stevens (also known as Amazing/Awesome Kong.)
- Jim Cornette caused a little spat in the locker room of Ring of Honor, a company based on work rate, for telling the beer bellied Kevin Steen he could be world champion if he took time off to lose weight. Steen took the time and came back fatter but was still allowed to be World Champion because it was evident his work rate had not decreased. Steen's also seen his fair share of success in Pro Wrestling Guerilla, a company based primarily on "Rule of Cool". He had to lose weight (and comb his hair) to get a job with WWE, but was still fat.
- Former WWE Diva Ivory said that in her opinion, it's far easier to find a female wrestler with good ability and then give her all the Fail Polish required for the 'WWE look' - than to find someone with the right look and try and teach them the ability.
- Patrick Stewart, Michael Gambon and Anthony Hopkins have all played Othello, the Moor of Venice. Gambon and Hopkins played the role in blackface. Hopkins played Othello in 1965, when blacking-up was still acceptable; Gambon played Othello in 1990, and his blacking-up was a deliberate artistic choice. In Stewart's case, the entire play was cross-cast (Othello's white, everyone else's black), making an interesting social experiment.
- Although Hamlet is a young college student, his constant change of emotion makes him one of the most challenging roles an actor can play. Because of this, he is almost always played by a much older, more experienced actor.
- Jafar of Aladdin is, in animation, a Lean and Mean villain. He is voiced by Jonathan Freeman, who is slightly chubby but got so much into the spirit of the character that his expressions and gestures were worked into the animated role. When the work came to live theater, they just cast Freeman in the part of Jafar as is.
- Similar to the Hamlet example, a lot of Opera roles are usually subject to this, most notably Madame Butterfly (supposedly 15-17 but with a voice most singers don't perfect until at least 30). Salome is another such role.
- There is a film version of Wagner's Die Walkure where a black woman and white man are cast as twin siblings. Their voices work for the roles, though, so no one cares.
- Similarly, Wagner's tenor roles are mostly supposed to be teenage boys (or at least early twenties), but most men can't sing these demanding roles until they're in their forties.
- The 2008 concert performance of the musical Chess had Mexican-American David Bedella performing the role of a Russian, Molokov.
- Community and school theaters as a rule tend to do this, since good actors (or actors, period) are often quite limited.
- Rather rare in videogames, but Heavy Rain made an effort to stick entirely to Ink-Suit Actor. As such the casting interview for Scott Shelby is rather interesting, as after Sam Douglas gives his audition there is quite a lot of whispering from behind the camera. When Sam Douglas asks what's wrong, the director tells him that his performance was very different from what they imagined for the character. Sam Douglas' face naturally falls as he realizes he obviously hasn't got the part... but as he did get it in the end they clearly liked him so much that they rewrote the role for him. Scott Shelby's very heavyset and sleepy eyed appearence actually makes the characters One-Man Army and Serial Killer nature all the more striking, proving their decision the correct one.
- When doing the casting for the role of Hades, the villain of Hercules, Disney wanted someone who was similar to Jafar, who was a villain with a deep voice and spoke with a sophisticated tone. When James Woods auditioned, the character was changed completely solely because James Woods was so good at the role. He even played the role in the video game series Kingdom Hearts, and is on record as saying it's a role he will always play when given the chance.
- Producers wanted a Celebrity Voice Actor to play Melody in The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, and brought professional voice actress Tara Strong in just to read a template for the role. Strong's performance impressed them so much they cast her as Melody anyway. She's said that it's the favourite role she's ever played, as she was a massive fan of the original film.
- Bring It On:
- When the squad is holding tryouts to find a new member, they initially want a girl who fits the (stereo)typical cheerleader image. When tomboy-Missy (who proves to be an excellent cheerleader), tries out and gives the best performance out of everyone who's trying out, they let her join the team (albeit very reluctantly). Physically, Missy does fit the stereotypical cheerleader image—she's thin, athletic and hot. It was only her attitude and tomboyish nature that turned them off.
- This was the intention between the decision to cast Jamie, the younger sister of one of the current cheerleaders—despite her being several years younger than the other girls. Of course this is only from the perspective of her older sister, as Jamie turns in a decidedly average tryout—and the above mentioned Missy gives a way, way better audition.
- Played depressingly straight in both the film and comic of 300 involving the deformed Spartan that is rejected by Leonidas: while the Spartan king admires his fierce loyalty despite being cast aside as an infant, and admits he's got a strong arm, his inability to fit properly into a Phalanx line makes him a liability to the necessary tactics. If only he was facially malformed but could stand up straight...
- The picture book Amazing Grace by Marry Hoffman is about a black girl auditioning for the role of Peter Pan. It plays out exactly how you'd expect it to.
- 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.
- In Nashville, Juliette is cast as Patsy Cline in a biopic about her, even though Juliette is blonde (as well as not being an actress) and Patsy was brunette.
- In an episode Big Time Rush, where James pursues a side career as an actor, he quickly learns that there's more to becoming an actor than simply having a nice physical appearance—and he also comes to the realization that he's not the only "pretty face" out there.
- John Scalzi's Agent to the Stars has the titular agent represent a young starlet, Michelle Beck, who wants the lead in a Holocaust drama. Despite his serious reluctance to help get her the role, and with a little help from a space alien, Michelle ends up giving an Oscar-worthy performance that silences even her harshest critics:
I set down my own fork and massaged the bridge of my nose. "Michelle," I said. "if you had brown hair, you still wouldn't look a 40-year-old Eastern European Jew. You'd look like a 25-year-old Californian Aryan with hair dyed brown. Look at yourself, Michelle. You're blonde. Naturally. You have Newman Blue eyes. And you have a body shape that wasn't even invented until the 1980s."
- One episode of Futurama deals with Langdon Cobb, an actor who always wears a paper bag over his face. Despite wearing the bag, he's considered one of the best actors in the known universe and the only way a rival could conceive to try to best Cobb was by actually committing suicide during a re-enactment of Romeo & Juliet. Cobb is just that good.