The Good Girl features Jennifer Aniston soon after Friends, taking the lead role as a young woman trapped in a dreary, depressing life in a small Texas town. Her attempts to escape the crushing tedium result in terrible consequences with which she must live. Critics refer to it as Aniston's finest hour.
Peter Falk is always a nice, quiet gentleman on screen - always kind and humorous, sometimes a bit rumpled and messy, very often a cop who combines all of the above... Always - except, of course, for his turn in Murder, Inc., where he rapes, murders, assaults, robs and threatens half of the cast, playing vicious mob killer Abraham Reles. To be fair, the real-life Reles was actually far worse.
Frank Sinatra played against type in Von Ryan's Express, where for the first time, he wasn't asked to sing a note. It established him as an actor not just a singer.
Brad Pitt is nothing but the same heartthrob in every role he plays, except perhaps for those ones where he's a charming lovable rogue... and that role in Kalifornia, where he suddenly becomes a violent psychopath, serial killer, rapist and thief in one, while managing to look - and, as the movie makes clear, smell - like a used floor mop.
Macaulay Culkin was so sick of being associated with Kevin and that goddamn cheek-slapping "AAAUGH!!!" that he decided to play a psychopathic boy who murdered his brother, shoots a dog for no reason, and tries to murder his cousin in The Good Son.
Ironically his costar in that movie Elijah Wood (See below) also fits this trope by playing a character named Kevin.
This is a plot point in S.O.B., in which an actress with a sugary-sweet reputation is asked to show her breasts in a soft-core film. The best part? The actress was played by Julie Andrews, whose actual film career had suffered after the one-two punch of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music typecast her. This was one of several films her husband Blake Edwards directed her in that broke her out of this mold in various ways. (Others included 10 and Victor/Victoria.)
Her role in "The Americanization of Emily" featured her as sexually active and America-hating. Further, her role in Star had her character perform a striptease onstage! Its assumed this role and its eye raising adults only status was the basis of the film S.O.B..
A different example of this is in the live-action Eloise movies, where she plays Nanny, a high-strung and over tired old woman who can't sing or dance. Rather a change from Maria and Mary Poppins.
Anne Hathaway similarly had to break away from such a reputation after coming to attention in films like the Princess Diaries duet, which (perhaps) coincidentally co-starred Julie Andrews. She not only pulled it off by way of Havoc and especially Brokeback Mountain, but came so far that when she hosted Saturday Night Live in October 2008, she spoofed Mary Poppins in a skit that reveals what "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" means - it's not pretty...
Rachel Getting Married, where she plays a recovering drug addict and a thorough pain in the ass, seems to be a deliberate choice "against the type" as well. She got an Oscar nomination for Best Actress out of it.
One of her latest roles is that of playing the White Queen in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland remake, distributed by Disney. Her character is sort of a creepy version of her earlier innocent characters.
Once Upon a Time in the West, Sergio Leone's second-to-last spaghetti western, features Henry Fonda as its bad guy, a child-murdering psychopath. The actor initially didn't want to be in the movie, due mostly to the script's muddled attempts to describe a highly visual film, but changed his mind when Mr. Leone gave him this description of his introductory scene:
The entire family lies dead except for a scared little boy with his toes pointed inward. The gang moves into view and the audience rises to see it's Henry Fonda.
An earlier marked departure from his usual type was in Fort Apache as the unsympathetic martinet Colonel Thursday.
For a Few Dollars More was itself playing against type for Van Cleef, who was notorious for playing villains in Westerns. The movie teases us by introducing his character as if he was a villain, and only revealing him as a good character about half way through; it also uses imagery from all the Westerns in which Van Cleef played a villain - having him hide his gun like his character from Gunfight At The OK Corral and have a pocket watch like in The Bravados (although for an entirely different reason).
Leone also liked to use Italian actors atypically. Aldo Giuffre, better-known as a comedian than actor, is the Union Captain in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; Romolo Valli, comic relief in several Visconti films, plays the tragic revolutionary Villega in Duck, You Sucker!. Gabriele Ferzetti playing a serious role in Once Upon a Time in the West is less against-type, but seeing the star of L'Avventura in a Western still feels odd.
Jamel Debbouze, a renowned French-Moroccan comedian, played a major role in French war drama Indigènes (released in the US as Days of Glory), even getting several crowners throughout the film.
In the same film, Samy Nacéri, virtually unrecognisable from his better known role in the action comedy franchise Taxi.
Mary Tyler Moore played a manipulative mother who plotted with her son to murder a rich old woman in the TV movie Like Mother Like Son: The Strange Story of Sante and Kenny Kimes. Also, she played a somewhat sympathetic Evil Matriarch in Ordinary People.
Also opposite one-time TV husband Dick Van Dyke in The Gin Game on PBS.
His character in Maniac seems to make the above's Kevin look tame by comparison
To a lesser degree, his character in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Not a cannibal serial killer, but stealing an unconscious woman's underwear and seducing her with her own erased memories aren't the activities of a man of sterling character.
Robert Englund played both bumbling-but-harmless Willie in the original V and supernatural psycho Freddy Krueger in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. The latter seems to have caused Englund to now be typecast as horror-film weirdos and psychos.
Rodney Dangerfield, best known as a boorish underdog who gets no respect, played an abusive father in Natural Born Killers. Even though he retained much of his trademark schtick, it's still a little jarring to watch.
This could count as a twofer because Dangerfield, despite being Jewish, was portraying the head of a redneckish and vaguely Southern trailer-park family - a role that's about as goyish as you can get.
Despite mainly being known for his physique and accent, Arnold has always had a gift for comedic timing (just watch Commando if you don't believe this). So starring in a comedy isn't too much of a stretch for the Austrian action film icon.
There's a much more obvious example of Arnie playing against type: The Terminator, which is his only dramatic villainous role. As the ruthless cyborg of the title, he has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and is portrayed as an eerie, unnatural, terrifyingly cold and calculating monster, a being of pure evil. Arnold deliberately avoided playing villains after Terminator in order to fit his heroic everyman image.
Kurt Russell doesn't appear to be Playing Against Type in Grindhouse: Death Proof until it's revealed that his character has a VERY low tolerance for any non-self-inflicted pain.
Before he became established as an action hero he was in comedies usually playing the nerdy hero or best friend.
A much clearer case of playing against the type would be in Vanilla Sky where he's... a psychiatrist?
Earlier on in Die Hard With A Vengeance, Jackson was a bespectacled locksmith who didn't know how to handle a gun, but he became progressively more badass throughout the film.
Even earlier in "Jurassic Park" he's playing a control room engineer with pretty much zero "street cred." Also of note was his turn as the incredibly uptight Roger Murtaugh parody Luger in "Loaded Weapon 1."
Bruce Willis has played against type on a few occasions, to the point that his "type" completely changed. Before Die Hard, Willis was a comedic actor known for his wisecracking role in Moonlighting. His appearance in such a big budget actioner was met with a great deal of initial skepticism, but its success turned him into a bona fide action star. Willis went against his new action star type with a role in Death Becomes Her, in which he played a weak-willed and neurotic doctor. As he has aged, his type has broadened to include characters from a wide range of backgrounds, from daffy to dour, weak to badass. Willis also did the same in the erotic thriller Color of Night, where he played a psychologist haunted by the suicide of a patient, and who has a love affair with a mysterious young girl.
It should be noted that at the time he made Die Hard, Willis' smartalecky Moonlighting persona was already considered yesterday's news, and Die Hard resurrected his career. Then the public tired of him as an action hero, and he required a second comeback, successfully transitioning into dramatic roles with Pulp Fiction.
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.
Before that era, there was always Harry Tuttle inBrazil, the quirky imaginary friend of the protagonist.
Jessica Lange, normally so sweet and honest, plays an absolutely monstrous character in Julie Taymor's version of Titus. Her equally evil and far creepier sons are played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Matthew Rhys, both of whom are normally cast as nice guys, Rhys in particular. Perhaps the greatest example of Playing Against Type in the film, however, is when Anthony Hopkins bakes both of them into a pie and doesn't eat any himself.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers played Henry VIII in The Tudors and Elvis Presley, winning a Golden Globe for the latter.
He also played Steerpike in Gormenghast. That's multi-layered creepy right there.
In Woody Allen's Match Point, he played a sadistic cult-leader in Octane, a cruel, bitter murderer in Alexander, a petulant Manipulative Bastard in the Lion in Winter (tv version), and a cold, selfish borderline-megalomaniac in Velvet Goldmine. Admittedly, he has played quite a variety of 'nice guy' roles also, a number of which were pretty high profile...but whether the (admittedly insane) part of Chiron can truly be considered playing against type is debatable.
Jessica Lange also took a turn as the highly controlling, dominatrix Evil Matriarch in Hush.
Christopher Walken played way against type in the musical version of the movie Hairspray, wherein he portrayed milquetoast gag peddler Wilbur Turnblad. He even did a Fred-and-Gingeresque song and dance with his loving wife, ably played by John Travolta. Ironically, Walken's dancing gained a fair amount of fame in the 90's due to SNL sketches and a Fatboy Slim video.
And let's not forget his role as Puss in the live action musical adventure "Puss in Boots" from 1988. That man can really dance!
Most people don't know he spent most of his college career as a dancer in musicals.
And Patrick Stewart is a well-respected classical actor - at the time he took the role of Picard, that was seen as playing against type.
Or try Patrick Stewart as the flaaaaaaaamingly Camp Gay interior decorator Sterling in Jeffrey, which came out about a year after The Next Generation ended. He made the line "We're the Pink Panthers!" as convincing as his "I will make them PAY!!!" rant in First Contact. And he looked adorable in a pink beret and short shorts.
That wasn't even the only time, he was also a charmingly gay theatre director in Frasier who was in love with the title character himself. "Is there anything this man can't do?"
A Christmas Carol 2009 does a great job of highlighting both Carrey's comedic and dramatic strong points. Carrey takes Scrooge very seriously, and it doesn't come off as a caricature. Scrooge comes off as Dickens intended: a stingy curmudgeon.
In The Number 23, he plays a guy (a dad, no less) that is actually a psychotic killer who wrote a book about himself being obsessed with the number 23. It was refreshingly not funny at all.
In the original Evil Dead, Bruce Campbell's character is a Final Guy who screams a lot and spends surprising amount of time getting caught under bookcases. Ironically, it's the same character that took over his career, meaning that he ended up typecast as a character who started out as the exact opposite of his normal reputation.
Caine averted playing against type as Alfred the butler in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Saga trilogy by making it his type, keeping his Cockney accent. Then again, he's a butler with an interesting past.
Speaking of Airplane!, there's also Barbara "June Cleaver" Billingsley as the jive talking old lady.
A double example in Leslie Nielsen: he played the darkly humorous villain Richard in the "Something To Tide Your Over" segment of the horror movie Creepshow. It's one of the only roles as a villain Nielsen's ever played.
Before Airplane!, Neilson played a one-shot colonel on Mash, who is convinced by Hawkeye and Trapper to go on medical leave for battle fatigue. Technically a comedic role, he plays the Only Sane Man and is gaslit into taking leave.
When Tim Burton cast Michael Keaton as Batman, audiences were dubious because Keaton was best known for his comedic roles. Burton already had a working relationship with Keaton and thought he would fit as the somewhat out-of-sync and antisocial Bruce Wayne that the script called for. Since that time, Keaton has played other menacing and even villainous characters.
Johnny Depp was perceived as merely a teen idol - then he played Edward Scissorhands, an almost textbook example of The Grotesque, for Tim Burton. This is regarded as the turning point of Depp's career, so much so that eccentrics are his type whenever he works with Tim Burton. Also, Anthony Michael Hall was cast against type in that film as the brutish Jim; he was best known at the time for his nerdy roles. And a threefer in the young actors was Winona Ryder who had previously been known for moody adolescent roles in Beetlejuice and Heathers so the Girl Next Door role as Kim was something quite different for her.
In Anatomy of a Murder, he plays a lawyer, who is likable enough, but there is an unsettling scene where he meets his client in jail, tells him that he has no defense other than insanity, and then leaves him alone to think about "how crazy he was."
His George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life starts out as a typical nice-guy role, then gradually morphs into an embittered, desperate near-suicide before snapping back for the happy ending.
An earlier (and milder) example is his casting as hard-bitten reporter Mike Connor in The Philadelphia Story. Mike is much more cynical and worldly than typical Jimmy Stewart characters of the time. However, he turns out to be a romantic at heart, and as the movie progresses he displays more and more of Stewart's boyish charm. It became Stewart's only Oscar-winning performance.
Another early role was in After The Thin Man, in which he seems to be a typical Stewart character, but at the end is revealed to be a psychotic scheming murderer.
Cary Grant as the villain in Hitchcock's Suspicion.
Or Grant, known for roles in romantic comedies, being cast also by Hitchcock in espionage thrillers like Notorious and North by Northwest.
Karen in From Here to Eternity is a brokenhearted unfaithful wife with relationship issues who engages in a rather torrid embrace on a beach. She's played by Deborah Kerr of The King and I and An Affair to Remember.
In that same movie, the prostitute girlfriend of Montgomery Clift who ends up delusional is played by none other than Donna Reed. Yes, that Donna Reed.
Richard Briers playing the evil master of Lonsdale College in Inspector Morse.
Eve Plumb, better known as Jan on The Brady Bunch, played a teen prostitute in the film Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway.
Action icon/sex symbol Sean Connery is best known for playing badass characters with a lot of grit to them. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, however, he plays Indiana's father as a bumbling, somewhat aloof, academic pacifist who survives with creativity rather than action skills. Interestingly, he got named "sexiest man alive" the same year Last Crusade was released.
He plays the title role in The Boston Strangler a decade later!
He also had a notorious reputation for starring in comedies, which didn't stop him from having a major supporting role in Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus.
Before M, Peter Lorre was best known for his comedic roles. That must have been a jarring transition.
While speaking about his career, Lorre once noted that he filmed a comedy around the time of M (he may have specifically mentioned Die Koffer des Herrn O.F.), and that M just happened to be released first. He speculated that, had the release dates been reversed, he would have had a career as a comedian instead of a villain.
After the Amélie, a film overflowing with sweetness and cuteness, Audrey Tautou starred in He Loves Me He Loves Me Not as a violent erotomaniac. The first half of the film mirrors Amélie; the second half...
While it isn't a huge change, as the film is still pretty creepy, Vincent Price somewhat played against type in Edward Scissorhands, given that while his reputation is for Large Ham villains, in that movie he was a kindly scientist.
See also The Whales of August, where he plays a kindly (if mooching) old man and love interest to Lillian Gish.
Seth Rogen got known playing wise-cracking characters who are often stoners. In Donnie Darko, however, he plays the school bully (though this was before his type was established), and in Observe and Report he plays a darkly unbalanced, bi-polar security guard. He is also The Green Hornet.
And in Pineapple Express, while Rogen still plays a stoner, James Franco winds up as a bigger stoner than him.
Pretty much the career of Anthony Perkins. Prior to Psycho he was known for playing sensitive young men and was an almost teen idol. After Psycho, him not playing a creepy psychopath was considered him playing against type.
Like a nerdy scientist in Disney's The Black Hole. He gets eviscerated in a surprisingly horrific scene.
Between Swingers and Made, Vince Vaughn dabbled in dramatic works such as The Cell and villainous creepy roles such as the evil stepfather in Domestic Disturbance and the role of Norman Bates himself in the 1998 Gus Van Sant remake of Psycho. During the phase, Roger Ebert once said of Vaughn, "[He] plays a creep better than just about anybody else."
James Cromwell, the go-to guy for militant, ball-busting characters (he's the tall, intimidating evil exec of any movie that needs it), can soften up on occasion, from his signature role as the stern but human farmer in Babe to the eccentric, rock-and-roll loving scientist in Star Trek: First Contact.
Armand Assante in Fatal Instinct. Normally he plays serious, even grim characters. In this comedy spoof he played his role absolutely straight and was hilarious.
Mex Urtizberea was cast in the deadly serious movie Valentin after doing comedy for years in the sketch show Magazine For Fai.
After doing nothing but comedy for his entire career, Alfredo Casero starred in the drama Todas Las Azafatas Van al Cielo.
Will Ferrell has built his career on playing buffoonish or Jerkass comedy characters. But then he made a surprisingly emotional turn as a mild-mannered accountant in Stranger Than Fiction. as well as an alcoholic who get thrown out of his House and Decides to sell all his possessions that have been chucked out as well Everything Must Go
Elf is a bit of a playing-against-type role for him, too; while he's still a bit of a buffoon in there, it's more "good-natured but exuberant Man Child" instead of "lecherous jerkass."
Speaking of Elf, you can make a case for tough-guy James Caan playing the straight man father figure to Will Ferrell's man-elf, his deadpan delivery leading to some laughs as well.
Batman Begins had Liam Neeson, usually cast as the noble hero, as the villainous Ra's al Ghul, and Gary Oldman, usually cast as the villain (or at least violently conflicted anti-hero) as the heroic Jim Gordon, Batman's sole ally among the Gotham City police.
Bradley Cooper, best known for nice guy roles like Will Tippin from Alias, plays one of the most despicable Romantic False Leads in romantic comedy history in Wedding Crashers. It seems like he's decided that it's his new type. He didn't exactly play sympathetic characters in He's Just Not That Into You or The Hangover either. And to top it off, he also plays the obsessive, borderline-psychotic protagonist in The Midnight Meat Train.
Pleasance was quick to point out, however, the role of Loomis re-typecast him. Whereas people had previously seen him only as a villain, he remarked that after the first two Halloween films, he found himself being cast solely as rescuers.
Pleasance also played the overweight, incompetent President of the United States in another John Carpenter film, Escape from New York.
Earlier in his career, Pleasance played one of the POWs in The Great Escape and an anti-Hitler conspirator in The Night of the Generals.
While he's never come out and given this as the exact reason, Christopher Lee has gone on the record as saying that one of the few regrets he has about his career was turning down the role of Dr. Loomis. Probably because it would help him shake off the villainous reputation he's picked up (mostly for his endless Dracula movies and The Wicker Man, and revived by The Lord of the Rings.) Lee gets to play a character with a sensitive side in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and in the biopic Jinnah (where he plays Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder of modern Pakistan) but... that's really about it. Although, he's a flat-out good guy in The Devil Rides Out and Howling II.
There's also Lee as a gentlemanly gunsmith in "Hannie Caulder", as an ultimately heroic businessman in "Airport '77", as an American businessman with a (non-villainous) secret in "Serial", as an elderly, sympathetic psychiatrist in "Triage"; as duplicitous good guy Mycroft Holmes in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and a rare friendly alien in Space: 1999.
Done for comedy/irony in Trick Or Treat, a horror movie based around the moral panic over Satanic messages in rock and roll records. Gene Simmons plays the school DJ, while a very subdued Ozzy Osbourne is a moralizing, anti-rock fundamentalist.
Peter Cushing, also considered for the role of Dr. Loomis in Halloween (1978), would not have been against type, as he was best known for playing Dr. Van Helsing in the Hammer HorrorDracula movies. However, he played an extremely evil version of the title character in Hammer's Frankenstein movies (with the exception of the ironically named Evil of Frankenstein, where he's the hero). And 21st Century audiences might know him best for blowing up Alderaan.
He and Christopher Lee had their roles inverted in the Hammer film The Gorgon. Cushing plays an obsessive doctor, trying to keep the town's dark secret covered up - bordering on outright Yandere at times. Lee plays the protagonist's good natured colleague who helps save the day.
Danny DeVito is usually cast as Jerkass or Jerk with a Heart of Gold characters, so seeing him play Andy Kaufman's friendly, grounded-in-reality agent George Shapiro in Man on the Moon is an interesting change of pace. In the same film, Vincent Schiavelli (best known for oddball-if-not-creepy roles such as the Subway Ghost in Ghost) appears as an uptight ABC executive, and Andy's sharp-but-down-to-earth girlfriend Lynne Margulies is played by Courtney Love.
Elizabeth Berkley, fresh off of Saved by the Bell, tried to go radically against type in Showgirls. It was widely considered a poor choice at the time.
It still is. Showgirls completely derailed her film career before it could even start.
Throughout the Spanish-speaking world, Sergi Lopez was largely known as a family friendly, comedies-and-melodramas kind of a guy. In Dirty Pretty Things, however, he plays the villain, an organ-smuggler who preys on desperate immigrants. When Guillermo Del Toro was casting Pan's Labyrinth, producers worried that Lopez wouldn't work as the villain, Captain Vidal. Ironically, the English-speaking world is probably most familiar with these two roles and Vidal is now consistently cited as one of the more despicable characters in recent cinema.
His turn toward villainous roles started with the title role in the French film Harry - He's Here to Help. Let's just say that Harry's advice for the protagonist takes a sinister turn.
Dean Jones plays the cruel, selfish veterinarian in Beethoven (one critic notes that in his Disney heyday, Jones would've been the sympathetic family man lead - as was the case in the animated TV series, where he voiced dad Georgenote played by Charles Grodin in the movie).
Double playing against type in 3:10 to Yuma (1957): Glenn Ford, usually cast as a nice guy, plays a villain, and Van Heflin, in his career playing mostly villains, is the good guy.
Jan Malmsjö as Bishop Vergerus in Bergman's Fanny and Alexander. If IMDB is anything to go by, in his native Sweden he had been known up to this point only as a song-and-dance man, while Bishop Vergerus is... anything but.
John Goodman can usually be counted on to be playing a jolly, avuncular portly character. The exception is when The Coen Brothers are on the other side of the camera, in which case he is rather more...well...violent.
Not to mention his role in The West Wing, where he played the tough negotiating leader of the Republican Party.
Goodman also played a burly biker in The Simpsons episode "Take my Wife, Sleaze."
Similarly, it's jarring to see George Wendt as a frighteningly brutal heavy in King of the Ants.
His jovial and friendly demeanor was played upon and horribly subverted when he plays Barton's friend and next door neighbor, Charlie Meadows in the movie Barton Fink when it turns out he's a serial killer wanted for multiple homicides and he sets fire to building kills the two cops that came to bring him in, and may have killed Barton's parents. But he's enough of a nice guy to free Barton so he doesn't burn to death in the fire.
In The Hangover Part III, he's a mobster who's got a beef with Chow for an IPO* Impersonating a police officer caper that ended with two equal loads of gold getting stolen.
Done three times in Double Indemnity. Fred MacMurray, these days best known as family man Steve Douglas, plays a glib murderer. Edward G. Robinson, usually either a villain or anti-hero, plays a fatherly Jerk with a Heart of Gold. And Barbara Stanwyck, who usually played the sweet but plucky heroine in romantic comedies, starts the film as if she might be reprising that role here as Phyllis Dietrichson. She's not. She's reallynot.
Another MacMurray example is The Apartment, where he plays Jack Lemmon's cheating, corrupt douchebag of a boss.
Alan Rickman played against type in his 1990 romantic comedy Truly, Madly, Deeply, in which plays the ghost of the lead character's boyfriend. He also plays a saintly romantic hero in Sense and Sensibility. In most of Rickman's other roles, he plays dour, stodgy, or villainous characters. Or dour, stodgy, villainous characters.
Swedish actor/director Hasse Alfredson, mostly known as a comedian with improvised monologues as his forte, played viciously against type in The Simple-Minded Murderer (which he also directed), where he's a cruel sociopathic Nazi sympathizer.
Swedish actor Peter Haber is hugely famous in Sweden for two roles, grizzled, but noble By-the-Book Cop Martin Beck, and bumbling, Homer Simpsonesque but sweet-natured Papa Rudolf in the "Sune"-series. So it come as a huge surprise when he played Martin Vanger in ''Men Who Hate Women'' (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). For our American friends, picture Fred Rogers in the same role, and you understand how jarring the casting choice was to a Swedish audience.
Liz White is best known for her role in Life On Mars as the caring and sympathetic policewoman Annie Cartwright but played very much against type as the titular child murdering ghost in The Woman in Black.
Freeman got his first Oscar nomination for playing a nasty, violent pimp in 1987's Street Smart, a role that must come as a surprise for audiences who had previously known him mainly for his role as Easy Reader on The Electric Company.
Sir Alec Guinness in an over-the-top comedy role as the blind butler in Murder by Death would surprise anyone only familiar with his work in the epics of David Lean and/or the Star Wars films. But in fact, he was once best known as one of England's great comic actors, with such highlights as his epic eight roles in the black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets (from kindly vicar to insolent old woman) and the gang leader in the original version of The Ladykillers.
Before his iconic role as Private Detective Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (1941), Humphrey Bogart had mainly been playing either psychotic or cowardly villains. Casting him as a romantic lead character in Casablanca (1942) was also considered an unusual choice by studio excecs (An incredulous Jack Warner: "Who'd want to kiss Bogart?" Ingrid Bergman: "I would!")
He also went against his hard-boiled, cynic, cool persona in Sabrina, playing an awkward, withdrawn workaholic.
And again in The Caine Mutiny, playing an experienced but unstable martinet of a naval officer who slowly goes to pieces.
The 2009 Star Trek film featured several examples:
Eric Bana, who got his start in Australia as a comedian and went on to play hunky hero types in Hollywood, plays Nero.
Tom Cruise has a fairly tight niche playing powerful, self-confident men with varying levels of Jerk Ass. He surprised some audiences by playing a straight villain in Collateral, though he had already played a villain in Interview with the Vampire. Cruise's role as the fat villain Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder also surprised people, as it was a rare venture into comedy. Also, there's his role in Magnolia, which, depending how you see him, could be seen as a form of Adam Westing.
Precious, based on the novel Push, has Mo'Nique as the title character's abusive mother, which is very much against type for her. She's usually a Sassy Black Woman in comedies.
The thriller The Watcher criss-crossed actor types by casting James Spader as the cop and Keanu Reeves as the serial killer. In the same year, Reeves also played an abusive redneck boyfriend in The Gift. Spader has played a number of sympathetic characters, though he was known for his creep roles at the time.
Spader also had this back in 1990 when Bad Influence cast the normally (even then) Jerk Ass Spader as a nice guy and Rob Lowe (!) as the villain.
And in 1994 when he played the Adorkable archaeologist Dr. Daniel Jackson in Stargate
Andy Griffith, best known as either kindly small-town sheriff Andy Taylor or no-nonsense defense attorney Ben Matlock, got his first big acting break as Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, a superficially charming con man drunk with power in Elia Kazan's A Face In The Crowd. Griffith became so engrossed in the role that he started incorporating his character's mannerisms into his everyday life, and became so disgusted with himself that he refused to play villains ever again. He broke this streak in the late 1980s, playing a heartless judge who sentences an adolescent girl to hard time in federal prison in a TV movie made at the height of his Matlock fame.
Southland Tales features a few intentional invocations of the trope. Schlubby comic Jon Lovitz plays a murderous corrupt cop. Comedienne Cheri Oteri plays an anarchist.
Harrison Ford spends most of What Lies Beneath as Michelle Pfeiffer's concerned husband, until we discover he murdered the young girl whose ghost haunts Pfeiffer.
Ford also played an unlikeable character in Mosquito Coast, which he says was one of the reasons for the film's financial failure. He was a scientist who, while well-meaning, yells at Brendan Fraser, in Extraordinary Measures.
While not unlikeable per se, his roles in more drama/comedic or family films such as Regarding Henry and Working Girl were not the usual everyman action hero that Ford is normally cast as.
In Lake Placid, we see Betty White (previously the sweet, ditzy Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls) as Mrs. Delores Bickerman, a foul-mouthed, possibly insane local who fed her husband to a giant crocodile.
Jesse Metcalfe played the eponymous casanova of John Tucker Must Die. He earlier played Van Mcnulty, a bigot determined to hunt down and kill everyone with superpowers, with Clark Kent marked as big game, on Smallville.
Alan Arkin often plays an Everyman or the Only Sane Man— and is absolutely terrifying as the psychotic Harry Roat in Wait Until Dark (1967).
Similar to Carrey, Adam Sandler started out playing childish buffoons, then he graduated to romantic comedies, than turned serious in Punch Drunk Love and Reign Over Me. Neither one was financially successful, so he's reverted to the middle ground between immature idiot and Kavorka Man.
Oddly enough, his role in Punch Drunk Love wasn't actually all that different from his better-known roles: man child with social issues who is awkward around women and has a bit of a violent streak. It was just that it was no longer played for laughs.
Rupert Grint (best known as Ron Weasley) admitted that he made a conscious effort to play against type in the Irish teen drama Cherrybomb, in which he can be seen swearing, drinking, stealing, having sex, and snorting cocaine.
Beverley Mitchell, best known as the middle daughter in 7th Heaven, plays a jigsaw victim in Saw II.
Shahid Kapur, often associated to romantic movies like Jab We Met and Vivah, plays a gangster in Kaminey.
Haylie Duff, usually in teen comedy roles like her sister Hilary, played a frontier-era doctor in Love Takes Wing and Love Finds A Home.
And it's not like Hilary Duff hasn't played against type herself, as anyone who's seen War, Inc. (an overlysexed Middle Eastern pop star who stuffs scorpions down her pants for fun? You never got that on Lizzie McGuire) or Greta will testify.
Peter Sellers never really had a type per se, but by the end of the 1970s his best-known role by far was Large HamFunny Foreigner Inspector Clouseau in the slapstick series The Pink Panther, so seeing him as the serene, subdued Chance in the satire Being There was a real change of pace (he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar).
Stand-up comedian and comic actor Dane Cook as the bitter, abrasive "Mr. Smith" trying to blackmail the title serial killer in Mr. Brooks.
Alyssa Milano wished to shed her "good girl" image from her days as Samantha from Who's the Boss?, so she played sex-crazed maniacs in Embrace of the Vampire, Poison Ivy 2: Lily, and The Outer Limits episode "Caught In The Act", as well as numerous television roles where she played very sexual characters.
Given her, shall we say, consistency in preferred roles, and the time she and her mother sued porn sites for distributing images of Alyssa not because they wanted the pictures removed, but because they wanted a cut of the profits, one could argue that she was playing against type back in her "good girl" days.
Ronald Reagan, who usually played the Best Friend or B-Movie Hero types, was a brutal, vicious crime kingpin in his last film, The Killers.
Halle Berry in Monster's Ball. She played a Hollywood Homely down-on-her-luck waitress who often physically and verbally abused her overweight son (who later gets hit by a car and dies), lost her convicted murderer of a husband (played by Sean Combs) to the electric chair, and then infamously banged Billy Bob Thornton. This role won her an Oscar.
Julia Roberts' Oscar-winning turn as the trash-talking, trampy-dressing Erin Brockovich was a departure from her usual characters. Mary Reilly was also a different role for her - a period drama in which she played a dowdy and repressed Fake Irish Victorian maid. Critics were not impressed.
Hugh Jackman as a suave, manipulative and slimy corporate type in Deception.
But Judge Doom was more unsympathetic and a pure evil monster with no comedic moments (a thing that you would have expected from Lloyd even when he plays a villain)- so we could definitely consider Judge Doom as Chris Lloyd's Evil Counterpart, with the capital "E".
Judge Doom did sound a bit like Doc Brown, when describing his ambitious plans with the freeway project.
Sean Penn whom nowadays known for being a dramatic actor in his early acting career he was known for his comedic roles most notably as Jeff Spicoli a pot smoking hippie surfer in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
At one point he was considered to be a has-been, due to a combination of inability to escape that typecasting and some personal problems.
Ciaran Hinds, a classically trained actor known for stoic or villainous characters in such films as Munich and The Sum Of All Fears.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, usually known for playing villains or tragic types, made a nice romantic turn as a limo driver in Jack Goes Boating, a film that he also directed.
Michael Madsen, known for playingmalevolentbad guys, played the kindly adoptive father in Free Willy, which rather confused his younger fans who saw him in that first and then were later horrified to see Glenn hacking off a cop's ear. Earlier he he played a nice guy in Thelma & Louise and actually acknowledged how rare it was for him not to play a villain. And he's The Hero in Species.
Fredric March was best known for playing light comedy and minor romantic parts when Robert Mamoulian cast him in the title roles of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde (1931), in which he was so terrifying that he won the first (and for sixty years only) Best Actor Oscar for a horror role.
David Arquette is associated with goofy comedic roles, but starred in the Holocaust drama The Grey Zone.
Quentin Tarantino loves to play with this trope. Examples include casting Robert De Niro as a slovenly hoodlum in Jackie Brown, and Sonny Chiba as the retired sword crafter in Kill Bill. Pam Grier said that she cracked up laughing at the filming of a courtroom scene in Jackie Brown when she saw who played the judge: Sid Haig, who had appeared in many movies with her, but always as a villain.
Comedian Chi McBride as the serious but kind FBI agent in Mercury Rising, who is the immediate superior to Bruce Willis' undercover expert.
Rob Schneider is probably better known for playing Funny Foreigners or one kind of Butt Monkey or another. Well, in Benchwarmers, not only is he a competent, respectable, dignified male lead, his character is an excellent baseball player with genuine depth. The film had its problems, but Rob's performance was quite a welcomed break from the norm.
Subverted by the fact that Sentinel turns out to have been Evil All Along.
For that matter, Patrick Dempsey. That's right. Dr. McDreamy is playing a slimeball businessman who sold out to the Decepticons in order to ensure his own survival.
Anthony Hopkins, typically known for serious or villainous roles, portrayed the happy-go-lucky motorbike racer Burt Munro in The World's Fastest Indian. Hopkins was on record saying that the role of Burt Munro was one of his most enjoyable, because Munro's outlook on life was not much different to his own.
Another excellent but often-overlooked role of his is Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the extremely eccentric health guru of The Road To Wellville.
Actually the reverse is just as true- Before Silence of the Lambs Anthony Hopkins was better known for playing quite mild-mannered woobieish characters such as Pierre in War and Peace and Frederick Treeves in The Elephant Man and even afterwards he continued in those roles such as in The Remains of the Day and Shadowlands (where he played a very woobieish C. S. Lewis). The thing was that for all his acclaim on stage and in those roles he couldn't give a toss about them and yearned for the speed and glamour of big budget cinema. Also in interviews it's quite hard to imagine that this very self-effacing, shy, sweet man with a soft welsh lilt and not an ounce of ego could have it in him to play someone like Lecter.
Jamie Lee Curtis did this twice. The start of her film career was playing the Final Girl in the original slasher films, then she did an about face and played a prostitute in Trading Places. The 1985 Perfect made her a sex symbol but that didn't work out so well and she switched to playing quirky housewife characters in various genres.
Sharukh Khan: The bollywood-megastar managed to play really evil characters in Darr, Baazigar and worst of all: Anjaam, in which he scared several people shitless. Somehow he managed to glide over to the romantic-interest/hero roles, which is pretty rare because: Once a villain, always a villain.
Jackie Chan in Shinjuku Incident. When watching this movie, don't expect him to pull off any of his high flying kung fu or watching him act like the comedic quirky hero he's normally seen as.
Albert Brooks, always known for playing comedic protagonists or the neurotic comic relief, played the ruthless and sinister crime lord Bernie Rose in Drive.
Sarah Paulson is generally known for her comic work, but shows up as a One-Scene Wonder in Serenity as a scientist who delivers a horrible message before being killed. She was deliberately cast in a dramatic role because Joss Whedon feels that comedy is the harder of the two.
She was also quite convincing as a manipulative bitch in a couple episodes of Deadwood.
The Apartment has two: Jack Lemmon, known for playing comedic secondary characters, plays the still somewhat comedic, but also dramatic lead, and Fred MacMurray, who at the time was widely recognized as the dad from My Three Sons, played his adulterous, selfish, and all-around asshole of a boss.
The producers of Flightplan cast Sean Bean specifically to make viewers think he was part of the villainous plot.
Same with Rufus Sewell in The Tourist. Actually his character is just a Red Herring.
When the first Tremors movie was beginning production, the studio was pushing for Michael Gross as Burt Gummer. Gross was then coming off the successful Family Ties (where he played Steven Keaton, an ex-flower child and the calm patriarch) and the studio was hoping his fame would be an asset. Of course, Burt was characterized as a conspiracy theorist with an itchy trigger finger. Casting was hesitant to say the least, but Gross wowed them at the audition (and he wound up being the only actor to be in every part of the ensuing franchise).
Miley Cyrus, aka Hannah Montana, played troubled teens in The Last Song and LOL, and plays a hardnosed police officer hiding undercover as a college student in the upcoming So Undercover. Two new rumored projects will have her playing a young woman who can see into other people's dreams in paranormal Wake, and as the daughter of a super spy in action film Family Bond.
The biggest example of Li playing against type was in the Hong Kong film Ocean Heaven, which is a romantic drama in which Li plays a janitor at an aquarium and father to a special needs child, and he doesn't bust a single martial arts move.
Denzel Washington is known for playing the moral leading man in most of his films. So much so, that he was challenged to play a villain role by other actors. When he talked about it with his family, one of his sons also wanted to see if he could pull it off. Along comes Training Day, where Washington plays a corrupt police officer. He won an Oscar for the role.
Matthew Fox has largely played either nice guys or conflicted heroes, most notably in Party of Five and LOST. In 2012's Alex Cross, he plays a psychopathic professional hitman who kills (among other people) the main character's wife. Fox even went so far as to lose 35-40 pounds and followed an incredibly strict exercise regimen, to the point that his body looked like it was nothing but muscle and bone. Needless to say the character was about as far from Charlie Salinger and Jack Shephard as he could get.
1992's Captain Ron is a comedy starring Kurt Russell and Martin Short in which a dedicated family man buys a boat captained by a total lunatic. Short is the family man and Russell is the lunatic.
Neville Brand is well known for numerous tough guy and gangster roles. But he played a humane, even lenient, prison guard in The Birdman Of Alcatraz.
In Lincoln, Sally Field, who's known for playing sweet, motherly characters, plays Honest Abe's bitter, controlling and highly unstable wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.
This isn't Field's first time bucking typecasting. She followed Gidget and The Flying Nun with the shockingly dark and horrifying Sybil, which won her an Emmy, then followed the lighthearted Smokey and the Bandit with the gritty and dramatic Norma Rae, which won her her first Oscar. Basically, Sally Field has made a career out of playing against type.
Dwayne Johnson almost back out of the role of Doyle, not because it wasn't an interesting character to play but it was so removed from where his comfort zone was. Even as an Anti-Hero he would still have some noble and heroic qualities so playing someone who goes so far south was intimidating.
Sexy Beast features two startling examples: first Ray Winstone, cockney hardman extrordinaire playing the beat-upon retired safecracker Gary 'Gal' Dove and secondly Ben Kingsley, the same person who played Gandhi of all people as the vicious, relentlessly abusive underworld recruiter Don Logan who speaks in page-long tirades of four-letter words.
Go watch the film Triple Dog, which stars Britt Robertson as Chapin. Then compare Chapin to Robertson's three most commonly known roles(Cassie Blake, Allie Pennington, and Lux). You should notice a rather striking difference.
Clancy Brown typically plays villainous types, including the evil prison chief guard in The Shawshank Redemption. In The Hurricane, he plays another prison guard, but this time he ends up being a reasonable man who becomes a friend and ally of the wrongfully-imprisoned protagonist.
Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa became a matinee idol in silent movies playing romantic leads. He's best-known today as the villainous Colonel Saito from The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Jean-Pierre Melville's The Red Circle features Andre Bourvil, a famous French comic actor, playing a ruthless police inspector. It's considered by many his best performance.
The 2010 version of The Killer Inside Me (the book was filmed before in 1976) allows Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson to take a rather drastic break from the roles they're known for (and not only because the latter two get Killed Off for Real).
Alba does this again in Awake as the sweet fiancee of ailing millionaire Hayden Christensen who wants to kill him for his money.
And again in the little-seen An Invisible Sign (as a troubled math teacher - one of her few roles which doesn't call for her to be as sexy as all hell).
Donald O'Connor was well known for his comedic roles in (most of) the Francis the Talking Mule films and Singin' in the Rain, and being the romantic lead in manymusicalcomedies. It is very strange to hear him in the radio drama from Suspense called "Smiley" where he plays a creepy psychopath with a vendetta against women.
Neighbors, John Belushi's last film, originally cast him as one half of a loud, brash couple who move in next door to milquetoast Dan Aykroyd - but they decided to swap roles, resulting in two people Playing Against Type for the price of one.
Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens in Spring Breakers, as a part of a group of friends who rob a bank to pay for their spring break, then get caught up in the affairs of a drug and arms dealer who bails them out of jail and attempts to use them as partners in crime.
She also plays a teenage car jacker in the 2013 film Getaway.
Emily Osment, who played Miley Stewart's awkward skater girl BFF Lilly Truscott, will be co-starring in a action web series called Cleaners with Emmanuelle Chriqui, as one of a pair of contract killers on the run. If posts on her Twitter page are any indication, she will definitely be doing plenty of kickboxing.
She is also co-starring in the film Kiss Me, a drama featuring Emily as the best friend of a teenage scoliosis victim coming of age.
When people first hear about Mad Dog And Glory, a film about a struggling nebbish of a comedian and a mobster starring Bill Murray and Robert Deniro, they are very much in for a surprise who is playing who.
A year after playing a sexually voracious Depraved Bisexual in Basic Instinct, Sharon Stone played a very sexually repressed woman in Sliver. She went from someone who proudly didn't wear underwear to someone who had to be coaxed into removing her panties. Still a year later, she played the even more repressed wife of an architect in the film Intersection.
Sara Paxton in Aquamarine. Before that she was either a troubled teen or an Alpha Bitch. In fact she was originally approached to play the Alpha Bitch Cecilia but insisted on playing the eponymous character who is a Genki GirlPollyanna (as well as being a mermaidnote Sara Paxton is a huge mermaid lover. Also in The Last House on the Left where she plays a shy teenage girl that ends up as a rape victim.
Chad Michael Murray, Elisha Cuthbert and Paris Hilton in House of Wax (2005). Chad Michael Murray was previously known for teen heartthrob roles in One Tree Hill, A Cinderella Story and Freaky Friday. Here he plays a juvenile delinquent who smokes, drinks, steals cars and beats the living crap out of the bad guys. Cuthbert had just come off playing a porn star in The Girl Next Door which had all but solidified her as Ms. Fanservice. Here she played the Final Girl. Paris had essentially either cameo'd in films or played characters that were basically herself (Nine Lives). Her character Paige is a small town girl who worries about an unplanned pregnancy.
Terence Hill is best-remembered for comedies like They Call Me Trinity, My Name Is Nobody and many others. But Trinity was actually a break from his earlier roles; he'd appeared in several Spaghetti Westerns including Ace High and a Django sequel, along with serious dramas like The Leopard. Maybe a career redefining role rather than playing against type.
Ernest Borgnine, who was best known for starring in McHale's Navy, took on the role of a Satanic occult leader in The Devils Rain in order to push himself out of his comfort zone and play something completely different from what was expected.
There's also his breakthrough role in Marty. Before then, Borgnine was typecast as a sneering villain in flicks like From Here to Eternity and Vera Cruz. Afterwards, Borgnine's roles became much more diverse.
Jim Carrey, Large Ham slapstick comedian extraordinare, known for such outrageous roles in films such as The Mask and Liar Liar, plays Sal Bertolinni / Colonel Stars and Stripes, born-again Christian and badass crimefighter in Kick Ass 2. He also has a bridge dropped on him midway through the film.
David Faustino is known for playing awkward teenage boys on sitcoms. It's quite a shock to see him as a racist Jerk Jock in the Disney Channel film Perfect Harmony and as the voice of Mako on The Legend of Korra.
Tyrone Power acquired the rights to Nightmare Alley precisely so he could play the heartless, unscrupulous lead, as opposed to his usual heroic swashbucklers.