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Stunt Casting
Jay: I'm pretty sure they cast Will.i.am because of his great acting abilities. He's just fantastic in that movie.
Mike: He had to change his name to "Will.i.act.after.this."

Hiring of a big-name actor to play a supporting role (or even a leading role, but usually the former). The idea is usually that the actor's fame will draw in viewers, as it normally would if you put them prominently on the advertising; but you don't have to pay them as much if they only have to do a few days work.

Sometimes it's a compromise, for when the studio heads wanted big stars playing the main characters. This can also work for documentaries with the casting of the narrator.

Compare Non-Actor Vehicle, One-Scene Wonder. If not done carefully, then may result in viewers crying What The Hell, Casting Agency?. See also Billing Displacement. If the Stunt Casting is done in service of a film or other one-off project, expect the big-name actor in question to be Billed Above The Title. This happens so often in animation that it has its own trope: Celebrity Voice Actor.

In theatre productions that are especially Long Runners, stunt casting is one way of keeping things fresh and interesting for potential audiences. The Broadway revival of Chicago has been especially egregious with this, cycling hundreds of celebrities of varying degrees of talent through the lead roles since it began its run in 1996. It's also standard operating procedure in the U.K.-specific style of theatre known as Pantomime.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Live Action Film 
  • The various Star Wars movies have played with Stunt Casting:
  • Fantasy Mission Force was advertised as "Starring Jacky Chan" despite the fact that Jackie Chan played a minor role. Jackie reportedly appeared in it only because he owed a favor to the lead actor, Jimmy Wang Chu (who was rumored to have ties to organized crime syndicates).
    • Jackie's done it more than once; he appeared in Stephen Chow's King of Comedy as a nameless stuntman, and in Sammo Hung's Martial Law as a perp, the latter done to return the favor for Hung playing the put-upon biker in Mr. Nice Guy.
  • Marlon Brando as Jor-El in the first Superman film. He actually got top billing (and a star's wages) on that movie for several scenes that barely totaled thirty minutes in an almost two-and-a-half hour movie. He was cast in the role specifically so they could have a big name actor headlining in order to draw the audience.
    • Indeed, the term "Brando Acceptibilty Yardstick" was coined by a reader as an entry in Roger Ebert's Little Movie Glossary in reference to this. Brando essentially made it okay for mega-stars to do comic book films - and like him, be paid extraordinarily well for it. Like him, they often don't play the lead roles (which are often given to up-and-comers); they usually play mentors (like Brando) or villains. The best known example of the latter might be Jack Nicholson being hired to play the Joker in 1989's Batman; he got top billing and a giant cut of the film's profits and merchandising revenue. The three sequels basically stunt cast all the major villains as a response to how well this worked, culminating in the disaster of Batman & Robin (Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy), while Batman himself was given The Other Darrin treatment.
  • Geoffrey Rush gets third billing in Intolerable Cruelty for a character seen a grand total of three times, for maybe two minutes of screen time, whom an audience member might easily mistake for three separate characters on the first viewing.
  • Much was made of Drew Barrymore appearing in the first Scream movie (top billing, appearing on the poster and other promotional materials) despite the fact that she is killed off in the first scene.
    • However, she was wanted for a larger role, but was unable to do so due to other movies she was starring in - so instead, they opted to give her the Psycho treatment.
  • The Crow: City of Angels features Iggy Pop as one of the thugs. He was originally asked to play Funboy in the first film, but had to decline due to scheduling issues.
  • Dead Man features a variety of celebrities in bit parts, including Robert Mitchum, Billy Bob Thorton, Iggy Pop and Alfred Molina.
  • Steven Seagal barely has two minutes of screen time in Executive Decision before dying with a heroic one liner.
  • One of the most bizarre examples: Sean Connery in Highlander. The Scottish actor plays an Egyptian/Spaniard mentor, while the French actor Christopher Lambert plays the heroic Scotsman. Lambert even explains some of the finer points of Scottish culture (i.e. haggis) to an astonished Connery.
  • The Meteor Man figures James Earl Jones, Bill Cosby (who has no lines), Marla Gibbs and Sinbad. Gibbs has the biggest role, as she plays the protagonist's mother. Also from the music industry, there's Luther Vandross (also no lines), Big Daddy Kane, Another Bad Creation, Cypress Hill, Naughty By Nature and jazz singer Nancy Wilson.
  • Fan Bingbing in Iron Man 3. Not only does she only appear in the Chinese cut of the movie, but she doesn't even get a name despite being featured in the Chinese trailers!
  • Bryan Cranston is heavily featured in the trailer for 2014's Godzilla despite the fact that his character is killed off about twenty minutes into the film. Gareth Edwards claims that Cranston was hired because of his ability to perform as a father, but the advertising seems to be heavily influenced by the popularity of his powerful performance in Breaking Bad.

     Live Action TV 
  • Highlander is famous for this, particularly in casting musicians in roles as immortals. These include Joan Jett, Roger Daltrey of the Who, Roland Gift of Fine Young Cannibals, Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet and Sheena Easton. Also notable are Marc Singer, Roddy Piper, and Nia Peeples.
  • Sitcoms, such as Friends and Will and Grace, often cast famous actors to play the stars' parents.
  • Caprica has begun the step into this world with James Marsters being cast into "Know Thy Enemy" as a major player within the Soldiers of the One.
  • Star Trek has had this on its more modern series:
  • Scrubs went out of it's way to hire some incredible people such as Dick Van Dyke and Courtney Cox.
  • Doctor Who has always done this, but the revived series generally makes more publicity out of it. Stunt Cast actors in Doctor Who are not usually heavyweight actors, but are well-known soap actors, comedians, quiz show hosts and other more minor celebrities. Oh, and Sir Derek Jacobi.
    • Don't forget James Bond, evil mastermind of Hot Fuzz, and overall smug bastard actor Timothy Dalton.
    • When John Nathan-Turner was producer during the 1980s, Doctor Who had a habit of using this trope; however, whereas most of modern attempts to do this at least try to match the character to a vaguely appropriate character, many of the earlier efforts ended up being spectacularly miscast, resulting in some truly WTH Casting. For example, Beryl Reid as Ellen Ripley-esque space freighter captain in Earthshock, a role that was... not quite what you'd expect to see Beryl Reid playing
      • Another Nathan-Turner example; 1950-1960s Broadway star Dolores Gray shows up in the middle of Silver Nemesis as Mrs. Remington, a wealthy American lady. She's not exactly miscast; the WTH factor comes from the fact that there is literally no point whatsoever to her being there. She shows up, gives two of the characters a lift somewhere, and buggers off again. It's also a bit of a WTH moment in that it seems to have been intended as a Stunt Casting moment despite the fact that relatively few of the watching audience would actually have any idea who she even was.
      • Yet another Nathan-Turner example Warriors of the Deep which cast Hammer Horror veteran Ingrid Pitt as Doctor Solow. Her appearance in that story is mostly memorable due to her character's death scene being one of the shows most embarrassing moments?
    • They have been known to use big stars for the specials though, most notably Kylie Minogue crops up in Voyage of the Damned as a one-off companion!
    • Not to mention popular comedienne Catherine Tate as Donna Noble in The Runaway Bride, who later became a series regular.
    • Eric Roberts as The Master in the TV movie. This was actually a compromise, with the original idea being to stunt-cast The Doctor himself. Although Paul McGann was the first choice of producer Philip Segal and director Geoffrey Sax, executives at Fox wanted a well-known American actor in order to draw in ratings—with Tom Hanks, Harrison Ford, and Jim Carrey being among the names thrown around. Eventually, Fox agreed to cast McGann under the condition that a name actor play The Master instead.
    • Season Seven of the new show(possibly to tie in with the series' 50th anniversary) has had several notable faces, including Ben Browder from Farscape in A Town Called Mercy, Mark Williams from the Harry Potter movies in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and The Power of Three, Jemma Redgrave in "The Power of Three", David Warner in Cold War, Diana Rigg and her daughter Rachel Stirling in The Crimson Horror, Warwick Davis in Nightmare in Silver and John Hurt as a previously unknown regeneration of the Doctor in the 50th Anniversary special "Day of the Doctor".
  • Sir David Jason was cast as Death's manservant Albert in the Made-for-TV Movie of the Literature/Discworld novel "Hogfather". In the UK, this resulted in the film being promoted as though he were the main character, rather than the mostly-unknown actress playing the heroine.
  • Britney Spears in How I Met Your Mother is a prime example. For two episodes, no less. The show does this a LOT, though, and Britney just got the most hype about it. Her appearance drew in such good ratings, it may have saved the show from cancellation in its third season.
    • Since Neil Patrick Harris publicly frowned on the practice, it's become much less common though.
      • Ironically, NPH was himself stuntcasted on an episode of Glee.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer attempted to cast Britney Spears as Warren's android girlfriend April in "I Was Made To Love You."
    • Much later, they attempted to cast Miss Spears in a one-off villain role for Season 7. The part eventually went to Ashanti.
  • Both 60s spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and its Spin-Off The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. were given to stunt casting; e.g. Sonny and Cher (in "The Hot Number Affair"), Nancy Sinatra (in "The Take Me To Your Leader Affair") and Elsa Lanchester (in "The Brain Killer Affair") in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Boris Karloff (in "The Mother Muffin Affair") in The Girl from U.N.C.L.E..
  • Snow White and the Three Stooges. After realising their figure-skating lead Carol Heiss couldn't carry the film, the producers brought in The Three Stooges.
  • SCTV, against their wishes, had special guest actors Sir John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. In his book on the series (titled, appropriately enough, SCTV), Dave Thomas said they were both extremely difficult to work with and did not understand their brand of comedy. Later on, they welcomed Bill Murray to guest star, who was an active booster of the show. Notable musical guests, who also acted on the show, ranged from Hall And Oates, Dr. John, Wendy O. Williams & the Plasmatics, The Boomtown Rats, Tony Bennett, Roy Orbison, Talking Heads, Jimmy Buffett, John Mellencamp (when he was still John Cougar), America, Joe Walsh, Dave's brother Ian Thomas (who was semi-successful in the late '70s with his song "Painted Ladies", and would go on to play Dougie Franklin on The Red Green Show, on which Dave guest-starred as his brother Ben Franklin), and classical violinist Eugene Fodor.
  • Leonard Nimoy as William Bell in the season 1 finale of Fringe
  • NBC's Chuck started doing this heavily in season 2, though season 1 had its moments. Some, like Scott Bakula and Jordana Brewster appeared in multiple episodes, while others, like Robert Picardo and Fred Savage, were only in one. Granted some NBC shows have been known to do this, but Chuck also tends to lampshade it with the actors referencing their famous roles, such as Bakula uttering, "Oh boy."
  • Criminal Minds sometimes casts unsubs with this method. Most, however, are either unrecognizable (James Van Der Beek, Jamie Kennedy) or so creepy that the Hey, It's That Guy! factor is the last thing on the viewer's mind (Keith Carradine, Jason Alexander).
    • Often, the recognition of the unsubs (generally played by supremely benign actors, when this trope is in play) only serves to make the roles creepier, or more tragic. James Van Der Beek's character is a good example of that, as is Frankie Muniz's.
    • In general, Stunt Casting in a legal or cop drama always brings Narrowed It Down to the Guy I Recognize into play (whether straight or subverted). CM usually averts this by having the unsub commit his crimes onscreen in full view of the audience. "Paradise", in turn is an exception to this rule, where we don't see the unsub actually commit a crime until after they find out who it is...thus playing Narrowed straight (Wil Wheaton played the unsub in the ep.)
      • The fans have become critical of this method of casting guest stars as unsubs, even when they are good, because it had been used too often during a weak seventh season. They feel that guest-star unsubs are showcased to the expense of the original cast and story suspense (by showing the unsubs's from the very beginning of the episode, rather than keeping them obscured). By giving more time to the unsubs and their evil deeds, it makes the profiler characters look like stupid slow-pokes, and possibly glorifying the serial killers (which is NOT the point of the show).
  • Legend of the Seeker pulled in Charisma Carpenter of Angel fame, put her in skintight red leather and shouted it from the rooftops. They also got Star Trek: Enterprise's Jolene Blalock to play a semi-major character.
  • The re-imagining of Hawaii Five-0 has been playing with this, with recent appearances by Dane Cook, Sean Combs and Nick Lachey. Not forgetting semi-regular Jean Smart.
  • Subverted in Homicide: Life on the Street. When famous actors such as Robin Williams, Vincent D'Onofrio and Steve Buscemi appeared, they were given real acting challenges to work with. Williams' performance as a man whose wife has just been murdered stands as the first major subversion of his persona and a real glimpse of dramatic depth.
  • Big Brother 13 brings back three "Dynamic duos". It becomes pretty obvious that they just set it up so that one of the six returnees would win, given how, when it was reduced to two, a mysterious stroke of luck bailed them out.
  • When the 60s' Batman took off, all of a sudden many big name actors who normally wouldn't do television wanted a chance to play a Bat-villain. The second season especially is loaded with this, name actors playing one-shot villians created just for them, with the network playing up the guest-villian bit. Among these performers were Shelley Winters, Van Johnson, Liberace, Michael Rennie, Tallulah Bankhead, Zsa Zsa Gabor... and many more.
    • This is one reason the series has not been released on DVD—the rights and clearances department would have to track down zillions of performers, representatives, or estates. It would also likely be darned expensive.
  • Most Game Shows tend to do this in the form of "Celebrity Editions" in their waning years in a last-ditch effort to round up some bonus viewers before they inevitably sink into the drain. Most notable are Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and The Weakest Link, whose final primetime seasons were almost nothing but celebrity editions.
  • The casting of Shirley MacLaine as the Grande Dame Martha Levinson in Downton Abbey is this done for the right reasons: what other American actress could engage in Dame-to-Dame Combat with Dame Maggie Smith?
  • Averted: When Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch in Wizard of Oz) played Morticia's mother in the 1960s Addams Family series, the network did not exploit the connection—appropriate though it was.
  • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation occasionally seemed to do this, but for the most part their "stunt casting" was the result of a working character actor who had some notoriety at the time (like Alan Tudyk or Wil Wheaton) just happening to landing a role on the series. The one time they did intentionally Stunt-Cast, it worked spectacularly as the legendary Ned Beatty was cast as the kindly pediatric dentist Doctor Dave... who was also a creepifyingly kind serial killer.
  • Castle usually stunt casts with real life cameos (such as Castle's poker game with James Patterson, Dennis Lehane, and Stephen J. Cannell), all of whom are portrayed as acquaintances that Castle has befriended as a successful author.

    Animation 

    Documentaries 
  • Leonard Nimoy narrating on the History Channel.
  • The documentary series, Through the Wormhole: With Morgan Freeman.
  • Interesting point about Sir David Attenborough's documentaries. In the UK he is nearly synonymous with good quality and he has been producing, commissioning and writing for natural history documentaries for decades and is widely knowledgable about his subject and a driving force on all his projects (and was knighted for it). Outside the UK, maybe Canada, not so much thus his replacement narrators in other territories tend to be big entertainment names.
    • Life got narration by Oprah Winfrey in the US.
    • Sigourney Weaver, as a more familiar face of conservation work, was brought in on Planet Earth
  • The BBC documentary Frozen Earth got John Hurt.

    Theatre 
  • When a Broadway show becomes a Long Runner, it's likely to fall victim to a revolving door of Stunt Casting. The stage version of Chicago is a notorious example, having cast well-known actors and actresses in all three of its principal roles.
  • The Nineties revival of Grease was also notorious for this. (Seriously, Rosie O'Donnell as Rizzo?) And it's rare to see a professional production of the show that doesn't stunt cast the One-Scene Wonder Teen Angel, who sings "Beauty School Dropout". Taylor Hicks was one of the more recent performers in that role on tour.
  • The 2007 Las Vegas staging of The Producers cast David Hasselhoff as Roger De Bris, the Flamboyant Gay director, and gave him top billing. At the same time, this particular production was Recut to only 90 minutes, so to maximize Hasselhoff's stage time, most of the romantic subplot involving Leo and Ulla was cut...which made his betrayal of Max harder to swallow. Later in the run, Tony Danza came in to play Max (he was previously one of Nathan Lane's replacements in the New York production).
    • Hasselhoff had previously become a bit infamous for playing the title roles in the musical Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway, and one performance was filmed and released on video and DVD. That production frequently stunt cast the lead role; Sebastian Bach played him for a while as well.
  • Toward the end of its run, the Toronto production of The Phantom of the Opera cast Paul Stanley as the Phantom. He was generally well-received and even got some KISS fans interested in musical theatre. While Phantom has generally avoided this, it did bring back Michael Crawford to the role for a brief time on Broadway, Robert Guillame was the first-ever black Phantom in the national touring company, and equally well-known Norm Lewis became the first black actor to play the title role in the Broadway production in 2014.
  • As it's Broadway run wound down, Miss Saigon brought back Lea Salonga, the first actress to play Kim.
  • During its final year on Broadway, Aida cast well known R&B stars in the title role, such as Toni Braxton, Deborah Cox and Michelle Williams. While this usually paid off in singing ability, the acting sometimes left a lot to be desired.
  • Both Groucho Marx and Eric Idle have been cast in the roll of Ko-Ko in The Mikado, and handled the role quite well. It certainly helped that both were accomplished Deadpan Snarkers.
  • An English-language recording of the Richard Strauss opera Ariadne on Naxos features Stephen Fry in the speaking part of the Major-Domo.
  • The Broadway adaptation of Disney's Beauty and the Beast initially featured Tom Bosley as Maurice. (While best known for Happy Days and, late in life, infomercials, Bosley was also a Tony winner for Fiorello! in The Fifties.) Later in the run, replacement Belles included Debbie Gibson, Toni Braxton, Andrea McArdle (the original Broadway Annie), Jamie-Lynn Sigler, and Christy Carlson Romano. And Donny Osmond did some Playing Against Type as Gaston for a while.
  • Seussical was something of a Troubled Production, and over its brief 198-performance run on Broadway did this several times in a desperate attempt to drum up business — both Rosie O'Donnell and Cathy Rigby (a highly-regarded stage Peter Pan) played The Cat in the Hat (even though that's a male character), and country music child star Billy Gillman played Jojo for a time.
  • A 1997 Madison Square Garden production of The Wizard of Oz featured Roseanne Barr as the Wicked Witch of the West! A restaging and subsequent tour the following year featured Eartha Kitt, and later Jo Anne Worley, as the Wicked Witch and Mickey Rooney as the Wizard. When Andrew Lloyd Webber did a new stage adaptation of the film in 2011, Michael Crawford played the Wizard.
  • Theatre critic Mark Shenton praised the 2013 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical in the West End for avoiding this trope with regards to the showy role of Willy Wonka thus far. Instead, the role was originated by Douglas Hodge and after a year, handed off to Alex Jennings — both are highly-regarded English stage actors, but subject to Pop-Culture Isolation by the world at large.
  • The 2013 Broadway adaptation of Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella did this in 2014 when it brought in "Call Me Maybe" songstress Carly Rae Jepsen to play the title character and Fran Drescher to play the evil stepmother.
  • Forbidden Broadway loves to mock this concept, most recently in its 2014 edition by bringing up the aforementioned Cinderella recasting.
  • Sometimes happens with La Cage aux folles with regard to the role of Albin/Zaza — talk show host Graham Norton was a replacement in the 2008 West End revival. After it transferred to Broadway the show's book writer, Harvey Fierstein, played the role for a time (both actors took over from Douglas Hodge). For the follow-up U.S. tour, Fierstein was approached to play Georges, which would have made him the rare actor to have played both lead roles, but he was too busy with other projects.

    Video Games 
  • Exaggerated with the PlayStation game Apocalypse by Activision. The original concept was that Bruce Willis would've voiced an A.I.-controlled partner who assists the player throughout the game. The developers decided to ditch the original protagonist and simply turned Willis' character into the player character with the rationale "why would anyone want to be Bruce Willis' sidekick when they can be the man himself."

    Western Animation 

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