Playing with Character Type
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 and may lead the audience to ask "What The Hell, Casting Agency?
" (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
, Meta Casting
, Casting Gag
, Tom Hanks Syndrome
and Leslie Nielsen Syndrome
. In-universe, compare with Hidden Depths
, Character Development
, Flat Character
and Rounded Character
Unmarked spoilers below.
- 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 Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain, 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.
- And then Oblivion inverts the second type, playing an "evil" character who turns out not to be evil at all but to in fact be the "wise old man".
- Adam Sandler has played with his stereotypical persona more than once:
- In Punch Drunk Love, his character is, like always, antisocial, emotionally immature, and prone to uncontrollable fits of anger. Instead of that being a source of comedy, it leads to awkward, embarrassing situations, and the character leads a lonely, depressing life. Roger Ebert discussed this in his review of the film.
- His character in Click is predictably an angry Jerk Ass with very little patience, but as the film goes on the audience learns that this attitude makes him miss out on most of his life, leaving him a broken man.
- He also plays a broken character in Reign Over Me where the character's seemingly carefree attitude is actually just an escape mechanism so he doesn't have to acknowledge a terrible trauma in his life. Any attempts to disturb his escape from reality tactics are usually met with violent denial and outburst.
- 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, Alfred 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 Faux Affably Evil 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 (of A Nightmare on Elm Street fame) 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.
- In The Descendants, one of the main plot points is that the protagonist (played by George Clooney) has found out that his comatose and slowly dying wife has been cheating on him. Early on he and his daughter find a picture of the guy...and he's played by Matthew Lillard, to which he and his daughters react with "Seriously? THAT'S the guy?". While this could simply be a crack at his appearance (who would go from Clooney to Lillard?), audiences familiar with Lillard's typical "annoying jackass" roles will likely start figuring this is yet another one of those...then once they actually meet Lillard's character, you're blown away.
- The protagonist of The Perfect Host is a bank robber who is looking for a place to hide. So he manages to trick his way into the house of a guy played by David Hyde Pierce who seems to be the latter's usual milquetoast character a la Niles Crane. Then it turns out the wine the protagonist was drinking was drugged and he wakes up tied to a chair, with Pierce's character revealing himself to be an Ax-Crazy maniac who proceeds to torment him for most of the night.
- David Bowie started getting film offers almost as soon as he had his commercial breakthrough via his Alter Ego Acting persona of Ziggy Stardust, a flamboyant alien (or Touched by Vorlons) rock musician, Messianic Archetype, and Tragic Hero who succumbs to Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll, ego, and his own fans. But virtually all of the roles he was offered were Ziggy expies. Instead, his first major film role was that of Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Newton is also an alien Messianic Archetype Tragic Hero...but he's The Stoic and Moe before Moe was trendy, and his succumbing to Earthlings and their vices is the result of humanity proving infectious rather than success going to his head. Also, he can't sing.
- Mark Sheppard is very well known for playing slightly sinister, slimy sons-of... whom you can't help but admire even as they're stabbing your protagonists in the back. Then he appeared as one of the Regents on Warehouse13. When an episode was centered around Pete getting assigned by Mrs. Frederic to find out which Regent was The Mole, I Knew It was the immediate reaction when Sheppard's character quickly turned out to be an evil bastard making some kind of play for control of the warehouse. Then it turned out that Pete hallucinated the entire thing, and in a later episode Sheppard's character would even made a Heroic Sacrifice to save the main characters.
- 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.
- Nolan North's role in Spec Ops: The Line as Cpt. Martin Walker initially appears to be quite similar to North's usual type (specifically the "Drake" voice from Uncharted), but as the game wears on it turns into a savage deconstruction of the character type, with Walker becoming increasingly violent and unhinged as a consequence of the horrific actions he is forced (or believes himself to have been forced) to carry out. Curiously, this was apparently unintentional on the part of the development team.
- Then there was his role in The Last of Us as David, the leader of a group of survivors, who is kinda in a sense Nathan Drake if he was the leader of a group of survivors. But then you find out he's not only violently crazy, but he's also a cannibal and possibly a pedophile.
- Nick Frost in Ice Age: Continental Drift. He voices a Cloud Cuckoo Lander Ditz... who is one of the villains.
- Sarah Silverman often plays foul-mouthed, sarcastic jerks. It looked like her character in Wreck-It Ralph was just a more kid-friendly version of that. Of course, it wasn't nearly that simple.
- Tom Kenny as the Ice King in Adventure Time. At first, it's one of his many Cloud Cuckoolanders (who's also a Harmless Villain). Although once his backstory as Simon Petrikov is established, it fits his less-common more serious roles he doesn't play as often.