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Ability over Appearance

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Well, who would you have cast as Magneto?
A bodybuilder who never took acting classes
or Sir Ian McKellen?

"If you have a chance to have a great actor in the part, everything else is irrelevant."
Kenneth Branagh on casting Idris Elba as the Norse god Heimdall in Thor

Directors and casting agents usually have very specific parameters in mind when choosing actors to play their characters. When holding auditions, there will often be descriptions of what the character should look like, noting features such as age, height, eye/hair color, and more. This is especially true for adaptations of pre-existing material, such as books and video games.

Sometimes, however, an actor who looks completely different from the specified description shows up and absolutely nails the audition. In such cases, casting directors may throw the description out the window and hire this actor purely based on their performance. If the discrepancy between the character's appearance in the source material (or a historical figure that he or she is based on) is truly jarring, it leads to Questionable Casting regardless of the actor's talent.

In addition to potential rewrites of the script, this may lead to tropes such as Adaptational Attractiveness, Adaptational Ugliness, Black Vikings, Hollywood Homely, Hollywood Pudgy, and Race Lift. In rare cases, it can even trump a character's original gender.

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.


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Real Life Examples:

  • Aladdin (2019): The casting got criticisms for casting Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine. Agrabah is a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of the Middle East, and Naomi Scott's father is white and her mother Gujarati Indian note  - but she captures both Jasmine's fiery bravery and inner compassion perfectly, and had such natural chemistry with Mena Moussad that fans have joked that it's "too bad" she's already married in real life. The movie also states that this version of Jasmine is mixed-race like Scott is.
  • Alien: All of the characters were written as unisex in the original script and referred to only by their last names. Ultimately, Sigourney Weaver and Veronica Cartwright were cast as Ripley and Lambert. Hardly any lines were rewritten, and the approach has since been repeatedly hailed as a masterpiece of female character writing.
  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Jamie Foxx as Electro/Max Dillon, who is white in the comics. Given that he's blue as Electro, race is a relatively minor point.
  • Anthony Hopkins and Frank Langella both earned Oscar nominations for portraying Richard Nixon (for Nixon and Frost/Nixon, respectively) despite bearing little resemblance to the real man.
  • Apocalypse Now: When Francis Ford Coppola was casting, 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.
  • Batman (1989): Michael Keaton. 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 a paper bag, especially as Bruce Wayne. The infamous molded abs were added to the Batsuit precisely to make Keaton look physically intimidating.
  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Tom Hanks and Fred Rogers resemble each other about as much as a beagle resembles a tabby cat, but there was no chance that anyone else was going to get the role of The Kindest Man Who Ever Lived. Rogers' widow, Joanne, noted that her husband would have been thrilled to be portrayed by Hanks, as Forrest Gump was his favorite film.
  • The Blue Lagoon indicates that the children were both about sixteen or seventeen when they consummated their love and the girl became a mother about a year later. Jean Simmons and Donald Houston were nineteen and twenty-four respectively during the filming of Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder's 1949 film adaptation of the novel.
  • Carrie (1976):
    • 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, adapting Carrie's own observation from early in the book, 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 character's attitude. 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, Susan (Sophie Cook) was blonde instead of brunette, Edmund (Jonathan R. Scott) looked older than Peter, and Lucy (Sophie Wilcox) was much older and chubbier- but they all gelled well together in their auditions. Later on, they added David Thwaites as Eustace, who, unlike in the books, was fair-haired and stocky, but he also gelled well. Then there is Camilla Power, who was 14 years old at the time of filming, as Jill Pole - who, in the book, was nine years old during the events of The Silver Chair.
    • 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 an 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.
  • The Craft: When scripting Rochelle was written to be a white girl who obsesses over her weight. Rachel True was keen to play a witch and really lobbied for the part. In addition to being black, Rachel was also in her late twenties and her agents kept telling her she was too old for the role. She ended up being one of the first actresses cast.
  • Daredevil (2003): 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. Incidentally, the mid-90s Spider-Man cartoon had Kingpin drawn as a white man and voiced by Roscoe Lee Brown.
  • The Dark Knight Trilogy:
    • Cillian Murphy's casting as Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow gained some ire from Batman fans due to his youthful good looks, but his performance has generally been well praised. There's a reason he returned for cameos in the second and third films.
    • Murphy's casting was nothing compared to the outrage when Heath Ledger was cast as The Joker. A talented actor who had never played a villain and whose famous good looks would be hidden behind the famous white face, red lips and green hair? Christopher Nolan insisted that Ledger was the best actor for the part and he would surprise fans with his performance. He certainly proved his gamble was worth it.
  • DC Extended Universe:
  • The Devil Wears Prada:
    • Miranda Priestly is a British woman in the book but played by the American Meryl Streep in the film. Even the film's detractors say she nails the role.
    • Emily was the reverse - an American in the book but played by the British Emily Blunt. She was asked to audition using her own voice, very few complained about the change and it became a Star-Making Role for her.
  • Diary Of A Sergeant: Harold Russell lost both of his hands in World War II. After receiving hooks, and training on them, he was chosen to make this Army training film. William Wyler saw the film and decided to cast him in The Best Years of Our Lives, for which role Russel eventually received two Oscars.
  • John Malkovich in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile bears absolutely no resemblance to the much heavier Judge Edward Cowart who presided over Ted Bundy's murder trial in Florida, though Malkovich certainly conveys the judge's quirky sense of humor.
  • 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.
  • The Flintstones: 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 Adaptation of the beloved cartoon, 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. (Her being cast also had a lot to do with the fact that she was a big fan of the original cartoons.)
  • Forrest Gump in the novel was an enormous (6' 6"/1.98 m, 242 lb/110 kg) and very muscular man, with the author envisioning John Goodman in a possible adaptation. The film instead cast Tom Hanks, that while tall (6'\1,83 m) has a more slender physique, fitting of how the movie makes him someone who loves to run.
  • The General's Daughter: John Travolta's performance so impressed the author of the original book, despite being almost the complete opposite of the book's description of Warrant Officer Paul Brenner.
  • Going Postal: When the light-haired Charles Dance was cast as the Tall, Dark, and Snarky Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, some of the fans of the series were surprised — but after seeing the film, most of the fanbase seem to agree that he created the definitive screen-version Vetinari.
  • The Golden Compass: Philip Pullman had something of a reaction like this when Nicole Kidman was cast as Mrs. Coulter. 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.
  • The Graduate:
    • Dustin Hoffman himself thought he was miscast as Benjamin. In the book, the character is an Aryan Pretty Boy, while Dustin was Jewish and also 29 years old at the time of filming. Robert Redford was suggested for it, but director Mike Nichols thought that he did not possess the underdog quality that Benjamin needed. When he talked with Redford, Redford asked what he meant. Mike said, "Well, let's put it this way, have you ever struck out with a girl?" Redford asked, "What do you mean?" Nichols said, "That's precisely my point." Word of God is that Dustin was chosen because he was far enough away from his early 20s to have an attitude about that time of his life, and "get rid of that self-pity".
    • To a lesser extent, Anne Bancroft was only 35 playing the Mrs. Robinson. Few would argue with her iconic performance. Producers at first wanted Bette Davis for Mrs. Robinson.
  • A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints:
    • Dito Montiel claims he nearly had a fit when he saw that Channing Tatum was up for the role of Antonio. Among other things, Dito thought he was far too good-looking to believably play such a troubled kid. He was won over by Channing's desperate longing that he brought to the character - and worked with him twice more afterward.
    • Shia LaBeouf was likewise turned down for the lead role - because Dito thought he was too "Disney" for it. Shia talked his way into a second audition and convinced Dito he could bring the necessary amount of anger for it - by punching a hole through his wall. It's held up as one of his best performances.
    • When casting Laurie, Rosario Dawson was signed on to play her adult self. To play her teenage self, Dito was torn between an actress who looked very much like her and Melonie Diaz - whose performance was better. He chose Melonie, despite thinking she and Rosario looked nothing alike. After the film came out, he was met with lots of people claiming Separated-at-Birth Casting for the two actresses - because they were able to match their mannerisms.
  • 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).
    • Alan Rickman as Severus Snape bears mention here; in the books, Snape is in his 30s, while Rickman was 55 when he made Philosopher's Stone. Regardless of the Dawson Casting, there are few who would disagree that Rickman totally owns the role. J. K. Rowling herself clued Rickman in on what she had planned for Snape's backstory to help his performance in the films; she did not do the same for the rest of the cast.
    • JK Rowling joked that if she had met Emma Watson in person first, she would have vetoed her casting as Hermione for being too pretty. But she first spoke to Emma on the phone, where the eleven-year-old girl spoke for a full sixty seconds without taking a breath, and knew she was perfect. Upon seeing how cute Emma was in person, she said "It's film so get over it".
    • Jude Law, who plays the middle-aged Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts, doesn't particularly look like the way the character is described in the books. Law is average height and has brown hair but Dumbledore is described as being tall and red-haired in his younger years. However, he's quickly become a fan favorite despite having minimal screen time thus far and was the only actor ever in contention for the role by the casting team.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005): During the beginning stages of making the movie, Douglas Adams made only one request regarding the casting: that Arthur Dent must 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.
    • Freeman's Britishness was about the only way in which he matched the description of the character, who is 'tall, dark-haired and never quite at ease with himself'. The last point is arguable, but Freeman's shambolic awkwardness is not quite the chippy snarkiness of the radio series, books and series. However, few could argue that when looking for a guy to embody "normal English guy lost in a big, scary universe", Freeman is your go-to man whatever the differences in appearance and manner.
  • Holes: In the book, 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 have been difficult to have an overweight 14-year-old actor gradually losing weight like his character did in the book due to the digging.
  • Don Cheadle plays Paul Rusesabagina, the Hutu hotel manager who saved the lives of over 1000 Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide in Hotel Rwanda. The slim, rather long-faced Cheadle looks absolutely nothing like the relatively heavy and round-faced Rusesabagina, but his Oscar-nominated performance was widely praised (including by Rusesabagina himself).
  • Anthony Hopkins was cast as Coleman Silk, a black man who passes as white, in the film adaptation of Philip Roth's The Human Stain. Even though he passed as white, Coleman still had a dark complexion and features (people thought he was Jewish or perhaps Italian), which doesn't match Hopkins' appearance at all.
  • The Hunger Games:
    • 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.
    • 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 and stockier than Katniss and has curly blond hair and blue eyes. Hutcherson is shorter than Lawrence, not very muscular, 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. By the time of the third and fourth film's release, at least, most fans were in agreement with Collins that Hutcherson captured the character perfectly. Even so, there were still complaints about his appearance.
  • Marvin Chomsky's made for TV Inside The Third Reich, based on Albert Speer's diaries, casts Rutger Hauer as Speer, Derek Jacobi as Hitler, and Ian Holm as Goebbels. Needless to say, none of these actors look remotely like the historical figures they portray. Holm in particular stands out - the only physical trait he shares with Goebbels is his short stature.
  • Jack Reacher: Jack Reacher in the novels is a burly 6'5, while Tom Cruise is a compact but toned 5'7, but he utterly nailed the role, to the approval of author Lee Child.
    • However, this was later subverted as negative fan reception to Cruise's performance persisted over the years, and even Child has voiced agreement. When it came time to recast Reacher for the Prime Video TV series, the producers went with Alan Ritchson, who is nearly identical to how Reacher is described, and who was much better-received by audiences.
  • James Bond:
    • Daniel Craig got a bit of controversy when he was cast 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 the film, Fleming instantly added some Scottish roots into the books as well.
  • 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."
  • The Last Airbender: Ran headlong into this and concussed itself very badly. Two of the three main characters are from the Water Tribe, who in the original cartoon have tan skin, dark hair and blue eyes, conforming to no specific racial group, with a culture serving as a Fantasy Counterpart Culture for Inuits. The film cast brunette Caucasian actors in these roles, with M. Night Shyamalan and his staff insisting that the resulting performances would be worth the Race Lift. It was later revealed Shyamalan was simply putting the best spin on a case of nepotism and Executive Meddling: Nicola Peltz, who was cast as Water Tribe member Katara, is the daughter of billionaire Hollywood financier Nelson Peltz whom Paramount owed a favor; this forced the casting of the similarly-white Jackson Rathbone as Katara's brother Sokka. Both performances were criticized.
  • Lethal Weapon: Roger Murtaugh wasn't written with any specific ethnicity in mind. Danny Glover was chosen because he was the strongest actor.
  • The Little Mermaid (2023): The black Halle Bailey was cast as the white, redheaded Ariel because she gave the strongest audition, full stop. Even though Bailey went redheaded for the role, the casting is believed to have contributed to the film's comparatively lower box office totals outside the US. Her performance has been acclaimed by critics.
  • Little Women (1994): Winona Ryder 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 of her generation who can capture Jo's spirit, clumsiness, and generally loud attitude as well as she can.
  • The Lord of the Rings:
    • The producers intended to cast only British actors as the Hobbits as J. R. R. 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.
    • Gollum was meant to be animatronic but Andy Serkis' 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 The Return of the King where a live-action hobbit-Sméagol played by Serkis transforms into Gollum.
  • For the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon Jim Carrey was cast despite having far less of a physical resemblance to him than many of the other auditionees (including the actor he narrowly beat out, Edward Norton) — Carrey being substantially thinner and more conventionally handsome, and having brown eyes rather than blue. He did some Dyeing for Your Art by gaining 15 pounds and wearing wigs and a touch of prosthetic makeup to look dowdier, but even there plans to give him a Kaufman-esque nose were nixed when makeup tests didn't look good. But as Carrey himself put it, starting with the mandatory video audition he did "I looked like Andy when I felt like Andy" — committing to an extreme variant on Method Acting in which he was in character(s) throughout the shoot and able to perfectly execute Kaufman's various voices, tics, and mannerisms, virtually everyone around him could see Andy rather than Jim, and the performance remains one of Carrey's most acclaimed.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • African-American Samuel L. Jackson was cast as the Caucasian-in-the-comics Nick Fury, though the unusual "casting" actually occurred in the Ultimate Marvel strand of the comics: in these, Fury was modeled on Jackson because the creators thought he would be awesome in the role, despite the break from Marvel canon. Comics fans agreed, and when it came time to show Fury in the MCU, Jackson was cast for the post-credits cameo in Iron Man. His portrayal was so well-received that in comic continuities outside the Ultimate Marvel imprint, the original Nick Fury retires and an African-American son was created (Nick Fury Jr.) to take his place.
    • 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 (originally modeled after Peter Cushing, no less!) 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 Chris Hemsworth, 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.
    • In The Mighty Thor comics, Heimdall is pretty covered up, but still visibly Caucasian note . 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 MovieBob 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."
    • Thor: Ragnarok:
      • Valkyrie is a white blonde in the comics, but in this movie, she is portrayed by Tessa Thompson, who is black. Director Taika Waititi said he was aware that some of the more hardcore fans might take umbrage with her casting, but insisted that she gave the strongest audition of all the actresses who read for the part. The costume designer even nearly gave Valkyrie blonde hair out of respect that the fans would react negatively to the casting — but ultimately chose to leave it dark. Semi-justified in that the character is portrayed as being a member of an army of Valkyries rather than as a strict adaptation of the comic character (who appears in flashbacks).
      • Likewise, Cate Blanchett was cast as Hela, despite the character being 6'6" in the comics, due to giving the strongest audition. The height difference was also handwaved by giving the character a different backstory.
    • The Mentor in Doctor Strange (2016), "The Ancient One," is an elderly Tibetan man. White woman Tilda Swinton was cast in the role, with the character reworked as an androgynous Celt, specifically to avoid the (many) Asian stereotypes the character could have tripped over: Yellow Peril / Fu Manchu, Dragon Lady, Asian Hooker Stereotype. While this was still seen as an unnecessary Race Lift, and Marvel have since admitted that a non-stereotypical Asian casting would have been possible, Swinton's performance was considered one of the highlights of the film.
  • Mean Girls: The producers thought Lizzy Caplan was too pretty for "art freak" Janis, but eventually cast her for considering her the best actress that auditioned.
  • Much Ado About Nothing (1993): Kenneth Branagh cast the African-American Denzel Washington to play the Spanish Don Pedro of Aragon whose character was the half-brother of the (mostly) Caucasian Keanu Reeves.
  • 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.
  • Night of the Living Dead (1968): Ben was not written to be black. At the time, it was quite unusual for a black man to get a lead film role. George A. Romero always maintained that he only cast Duane Jones because he gave the best audition, not to make a point or be controversial.
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: In the book, McMurphy is a big, burly, red-headed Irish-American barroom brawler. The film cast Jack Nicholson, who captures the irreverence of the character, but looks nothing like how he is described.
  • Peter Pan: A really impressive example in PJ Hogan's film. Tinkerbell was originally going to be entirely CGI. But actress Ludivine Sagnier lobbied for the role and impressed Hogan enough to cast her.
  • 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."
  • The Queen: Michael Sheen bears little physical resemblance to Tony Blair, but embodied his mannerisms and speech patterns so well that the real Blair quoted lines from the film in his autobiography under the assumption that he had actually said them.
  • Road to Perdition: Tom Hanks bears very little physical resemblance to Michael O'Sullivan, 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".
  • Salt: The eponymous role was for Tom Cruise, but when he dropped out Angelina Jolie talked her way into an audition. The rest is history.
  • Sense and Sensibility: At the time of filming, Emma Thompson in Ang Lee's version was 35, and looked like exactly what she was — a grown-up woman in her thirties. Despite aging Elinor up to 27, Thompson still looked a bit too old for the part — but she nailed Elinor's character so perfectly and so thoroughly that absolutely nobody cared one whit. Every Elinor before or since has been compared to her, and even the well-received performance of Hattie Morahan in the 2008 miniseries has more or less been considered 'great, but not quite as great as Emma'.
  • The Shawshank Redemption: When casting Red, 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's only given name is Red, after his hair colour. It's changed in the film to "Ellis Redding," to explain the name.
  • Sherlock Holmes (2009): 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, however, was generally well received.
  • The Shipping News: Casting Quoyle based on appearance would require a lot of excessive prosthetics so instead Kevin Spacey sells the role on the strength of his performance.
  • Showgirls: Molly Abrams was originally written as a chubby Caucasian girl. She was played by the thin African-American Gina Ravera.
  • Sin City: Cardinal Patrick Henry Roark is a dwarf. In the film, he's played by Rutger Hauer, who isn't.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness: The very white, very British Benedict Cumberbatch was cast as (the Alternate Timeline version of) the specifically-ethnic Khan Noonien Singh, a Sikh from India. Fans instantly cried Race Lift. Needless to say, his performance was acclaimed; it's one of the few aspects of the film that the vast majority of watchers, including the film's (rather sizeable) swath of Trekkie detractors, applaud. 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 terrorist violence within the film, casting someone of the proper ethnicity might have generated unneeded controversy. Finally, it's worth noting that the character has a history of merely being Ambiguously Brown; the original actor approached for the role was Benicio del Toro, and the actor who originated the Prime Timeline role in The '60s was Ricardo Montalbán.
  • Star Wars:
    • The role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope was originally written for Toshiro Mifune. When Mifune turned down the role, they went with Sir Alec Guinness, who was much older, whiter, and less physically strong than what they had in mind, more Shakespearean than Samurai. He ended up delivering one of the best portrayals of a mentor figure in a sci-fi film ever, if not the very best.
    • Captain Phasma in The Force Awakens was originally written for a man, with Benedict Cumberbatch as a major candidate. However, hoping to improve the cast's diversity, J. J. Abrams decided to cast actress Gwendoline Christie instead, making her the first female main villain in the live-action films. The fact that Phasma remains under the menacing silver stormtrooper armor for the entire film makes it something of a moot point regardless.
    • Solo
      • Alden Ehrenreich doesn't quite look like a young Harrison Ford, something that raised no shortage of hackles online when he was cast as the title character. Despite his lack of resemblance, he absolutely nails Ford's mannerisms and special brand of jackass charm, for which he was praised by many fans, including Ford himself.
      • While Donald Glover has a close enough resemblance to a young Billy Dee Williams, Glover is noticeably shorter than Williams (Glover is 5'8", Williams is 6'). Most will agree that he absolutely nailed the role of Lando regardless.
  • Steve Jobs: Michael Fassbender looks nothing like the title role (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.
  • Stop-Loss: Kimberly Peirce was horrified when the studio insisted on casting Ryan Phillippe as the lead. She dismissed him as a Pretty Boy at first, but he won her over early on with his ability to play A Father to His Men. This was during a time when he was slowly transitioning out of his roles in teen movies and winning critics over.
  • Sunshine: An odd subversion in this story, which is about a crew of astronauts with only Two Girls to a Team. Michelle Yeoh's audition was so good that Danny Boyle told her she could have any part she wanted, and he'd give a Gender Flip to a male character if need be. She ultimately chose Corazon, the biologist, who was already female in the script.
  • Superman: Believe it or not, Christopher Reeve. 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 an 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.
  • The Tempest (2010): Julie Taymor altered William Shakespeare's original play to have Helen Mirren play the normally male lead.
  • The Tragedy of Macbeth: Although they hardly look the part of medieval Scots, Denzel Washington and Corey Hawkins are great examples of colorblind casting.
  • Trainspotting: Robert Carlyle, who is short and wiry, was cast as Francis Begbie, even though in the novel, he's described as being a big, muscular, intimidating brute. Part of this was Danny Boyle's belief that smaller bar brawlers ultimately prove more dangerous.
  • True Grit: Hailee Steinfeld did an amazing job as Mattie, 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.
  • The Vampire Chronicles
    • 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.
  • Michael Caine played Joseph Stalin in World War II: When Lions Roared. It's hard to imagine any man who resembles Joseph Stalin less than Michael Caine.
  • A Wrinkle in Time (2018): Director Ava DuVernay wanted to make the film more diverse, so the Murrys became a mixed race family. Meg the protagonist was Race Lifted to become black. Even people who didn't like the film praised Storm Reid for her performance.
  • X-Men Film Series:
    • 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.
    • On the subject of Patrick Stewart, if his appearance had been very different from Xavier's, it's hard to believe he wouldn't have been cast anyway, given his ability to elevate any production he's in. That he has such an uncanny resemblance to the comics version of his character is a happy accident.
    • 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. Nobody ever mentions his character's condition. It should be pointed out that one of Dinklage's stated goals as an actor has always been to invoke this trope: he only goes for roles which he can win on the strength of his performance. In that sense, he may be one of the patron saints of this trope.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 McCall 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine was conceived with a lot of the characters as gender and/or race-neutral, allowing this trope to play out and assembling a pretty diverse cast in the process.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • The 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 nerd.
  • Sam Malone in Cheers was originally a former football player (specifically, a quarterback for the New England Patriots). This was thrown out the window when Ted Danson was cast, as he didn't look like a football player. Thus, he became a former baseball player (specifically, a relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox).
  • David Jason as Rincewind in The Colour of Magic. Jason was 35 years older than Rincewind was in the book, as well as being shorter and stouter than the description, but he captured so much of what made the character likable and entertaining that some fans didn't mind.
  • The Cosby Show: Rudy Huxtable was supposed to be a boy, but the casting director couldn't find a suitable boy actor and began auditioning girls. Keshia Knight Pulliam would land the role.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo: As often noted, Gérard Depardieu was too heavily built to resemble the much scrawnier Edmond Dantès from the novel who escaped from prison (where he was fed just enough to survive). But absolutely no-one can deny that he had the dramatic chops for such a role.
  • 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 Crown (2016):
    • Jared Harris looks and sounds nothing like the actual King George VI, but was widely praised for the role, anyway.
    • Winston Churchill was 5'6 and had a famously round and baby-like face, but he's played by the 6'4, long-faced John Lithgow, who nonetheless pulls off a very memorable performance.
    • The very conventionally-handsome and brown-eyed Dominic West freely admitted that the only part of him that physically resembles his character is "his hair from the back", but still delivered an excellent performance as Prince Charles in Season 5.
  • Daredevil (2015):
    • Vincent D'Onofrio passes pretty well for Wilson Fisk, but he's still not nearly as big as the comics usually depict him as, and doesn't fit the physique as much as the late Michael Clarke Duncan. But D'Onofrio's 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.
    • Ben Urich is typically portrayed as white in the comics. The show has him portrayed by African-American Vondie Curtis-Hall, but his race doesn't do much to affect his role aside from the casting of his wife.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • Freaks and Geeks: Neal was originally written as a slightly fat kid with a bowl haircut, but when Samm Levine auditioned with a William Shatner impression, they changed the character to fit him.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Michelle Fairley is about ten years older than Catelyn Stark is said to be in the books, but you'd find very few who would protest about how well she captures Catelyn's fierceness and Iron Lady temperament - while also her soft motherly ways.
      • Of course, it must be noted that virtually every character has an Age Lift from the books, with many actors being at least 10 years older than the characters from the books (Ned and Catelyn are in their 30s, Tyrion and Sandor are in their 20s, Daenerys is thirteen when the show starts).
    • Oona Chaplin was surprised when she was cast as the love interest for Robb Stark - expecting to be turned down for her dark complexion (she's mixed Chilean, Romanian, Irish and English, as well as Spanish born). The character Jeyne Westerling is white in the books, but she became Talisa Maegyr - an exiled Volantene noble.
    • Natalia Tena doesn't match the book's description of Osha - who is a middle-aged Brawn Hilda. Natalia is younger with a more Unkempt Beauty, as well as being much more energetic and sarcastic. George RR Martin himself loved her take on Osha, and said he would change the character in later books to match the TV version.
  • 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.
  • Fonzie of Happy Days was originally envisioned as a tall Italian man, based on a friend of the show's creator. While he does look like he's of Italian descent, (actually German Jewish in origin) 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.
  • House:
    • Chase was originally intended to be British, but Jesse Spencer gave such a brilliant audition that he was made Australian instead.
    • 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 New Jersey accent convinced Singer that he must be American.
  • The casters for Hustle had intended for Michael Stone to be white, like the rest of the main cast, but Adrian Lester's performance impressed them. He was also a little younger than they had envisioned.
  • Series author Elizabeth George was openly displeased about the casting choice for Barbara Havers of Inspector Lynley - 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.
  • 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.
  • The Last of Us (2023): Bella Ramsey looks nothing like Ellie from the game, but the critical praise they got for the series proved they have the acting chops.
  • An acknowledged part of the multi-ethnic nature of the cast in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, is a casting that favoured the better candidates of all ethnicities as opposed to sticking with Caucasian actors only. Outside of that aspect, Galadriel is described in the books as a Statuesque Stunner, the tallest of Elf women and as tall as her husband Celeborn, himself already tall for a male Elf and the males being no less than six and a half feet in height. This stands in contrast to Morfydd Clark's own lithe physique (standing at just 5'3/1,61 cm), but her performance leaves no doubt as to her importance to the role.
  • 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.
  • Malcolm in the Middle: Malcolm was originally written to be nine years old whereas Frankie Muniz was thirteen at when the series first began filming. He even gave his mother a thumbs-down as soon as he came out of the audition room. However, the producers were so enthralled by his performance that they decided to age Malcolm up to a middle schooler, and give Muniz the part. When the young actor found out he got it, he jumped on the hotel bed.
  • 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.
    • They had fun with this in one episode during an alternate universe where Maddie and London's roles were reversed.
  • 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 The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo and altered the premise accordingly.
  • Shelly of Northern Exposure was written to be Native American, but Caucasian Cynthia Geary ended up getting the part.
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi: Despite Rupert Friend's Grand Inquisitor looking very different from the live-action Pau'ans seen in Revenge of the Sith, as well as the animated depiction of the character in Star Wars Rebels, many were won over by Friend's performance.
  • 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 Swisher is a full eighteen years older than Disney's Ariel, who is more recognizable 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 Mid-Atlantic accent, while Bolger (who is Irish) uses a standard American onenote . Either way, her casting and performance were 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.
  • The Partridge Family: Danny Partridge was originally envisioned as a wiry, dark-haired boy. Red-headed Danny Bonaduce was cast anyway for his sense of comic timing, very rare in a child actor.
  • 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. A subplot in Season 1 was then written where Julia is able to pass for over 21 with a fake ID.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Rick Riordan, the author of the original books, has stated he casts actors based on who can best embody the essence of his characters, even if they look nothing like how he originally wrote them. This is why the majority of the cast looks almost nothing like how Riordan depicts them in the books.
  • 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.
  • A somewhat blurry example can be found in the live-action adaptation of The Sandman (1989): in the comics, Death of the Endless was typically drawn as an Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette, much like her brother Dream, so there was some controversy when Netflix cast Kirby Howell-Baptiste in the role, though even Neil Gaiman was extremly vocal in his praise of her and how well he felt she embodied the character. What makes it blurry is that even in the comics it was canon that none of the Endless actually look like how they're depicted, and that Death absolutely could take the form of whatever ethnicity (or species) she wants, with Dream himself doing exactly that on several occasions.
  • 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 50 years old. Dennis Haskins won the part despite being neither.
    • Jessie Spano also didn't exist in the original concept of the series; Elizabeth Berkley auditioned to play Kelly. Although producers cast Tiffani Thiessen, they liked Elizabeth's audition so much they created Jessie just to have her on the show.
    • Slater was written to be white and they tested multiple actors for the part. When the right one couldn't be found, they opened up casting to actors of other races, and Mario Lopez won the role.
  • 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 that Bernard Cornwell retconned the character as having spent a large part of his teenage years in Yorkshire to explain his accent.
  • In Shetland, the point of Jimmy Perez having a Spanish surname is that he is supposedly descended from a survivor of the Spanish Armada and has wild black hair - but the fair-haired Douglas Henshall was cast in the role.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • Tasha Yar 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. Conversely, the role of Deanna Troi was supposed to be a voluptuous blonde, but the part was given to Marina Sirtis. Essentially, Denise Crosby and Marina Sirtis traded roles.
    • In "Face of the Enemy", the role of the Romulan Commander Toreth was originally written as a male, since screenwriter Naren Shankar was inspired by Sean Connery's portrayal of Capt. Marko Ramius in The Hunt for Red October. The role was given to Carolyn Seymour, who previously appeared as another Romulan officer, Sub-Commander Taris in "Contagion" (interestingly, the producers forgot that Taris had survived "Contagion"). Toreth's dialogue stayed the same after Seymour's casting while making the conflict between Troi (masquerading as a Tal Shiar officer) and Toreth a female/female battle of nerves.
  • The doctor on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was originally named "Julian Amoros", and described as "may have an accent depending on casting". When Sudanese-British actor Alexander Siddig was cast, the character was renamed Julian Bashir.
  • Succession casts the short, stocky and bulldog-faced Brian Cox and tall, lanky, aquiline James Cromwell as brothers, obviously just to have such respected actors on the show.
  • The Suite Life of Zack & 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.
  • The title character of The Wiz is usually played by a male actor. However, the director of NBC's version, Kenny Leon, cast Queen Latifah, under the belief that "the Wiz can be anything, anyone..."note 
  • 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.
  • Lynda Carter was bluer eyed, three inches taller, wider hipped, bustier and less athletically lithe than the Golden Age comic book Wonder Woman she was based on. However, Marston's son thought her attitude and facial expressions were perfect for bringing the character to life. The Golden Age Wonder Woman tended to keep being drawn as she always was in comic books, but the Silver Age, Post Crisis, newspaper comic strip and most other versions of the character were given an extra three or four inches in height and an extra cup size or two. It was to the point people complained when the brown-eyed and less-endowed Gal Gadot was cast to play Wonder Woman in the 2017 movie, although the producers of that film also insisted that her attitude was perfect for the more martial Wonder Woman they were adapting. (Gadot's performance was also lauded, incidentally.)
  • 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 spunky spirit 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Young Sheldon: Annie Potts, who plays Sheldon's "Meemaw" Connie Tucker, looks absolutely nothing like June Squibb, who played Connie in The Big Bang Theory, even taking the two-plus decade time-gap into account. Most fans are willing to excuse it due to how well Annie portrays the character.
  • Z Cars: Cowboy Cop "Fancy" Smith was originally envisioned as a small, fairly lithe man from the big city and a bit of a dandy, who liked nice suits and Italian shoes (hence the nickname "Fancy"). Then BRIAN BLESSED auditioned, and "Fancy" became a tall, rather stout Yorkshireman. It seems to have harmed neither the series (which is still fondly remembered in spite of having been off the air for decades) nor Blessed's credibility.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • 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. However, while a majority of his success was his own doing, his initial World Heavyweight Main Event run in 2006 was partially due to close friend Eddie Guerrero passing away unexpectedly earlier in the year, and Eddie's nephew Chavo Guerrero declining an offer from WWE's higher-ups, for a main event run "in honor" of the passing. The aforementioned run consisted mostly of Rey being destroyed by multiple big men on the roster at the time, such as Mark Henry, recently debuted the Great Khali, and even ring veteran midcarder Fit Finlay.
    • Chris Jericho isn't particularly muscular or tall but he's WWE first Undisputed 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.
    • 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 Místico (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 make her Progressively Prettier to fit the required for the 'WWE look' - than to find someone with the right look and try and teach them the ability.
  • Recently, the WWE Women's Division has become this as most of the female roster came from the independent scene as opposed to the then-Divas Division from 2006-2015 when most of the female talents were swimsuit models (e.g. Kelly Kelly). As a result, the likes of Sasha Banks, Bayley, Charlotte Flair and Asuka have been very popular with the WWE Universe thanks in large part to Triple H.

  • Color Blind Casting is far more present in theatre than other mediums. This is due to it being a much less literal form of art, where you can often "see the strings". The result is actors of different ethnicities playing relatives, people of color playing roles that were originally written and portrayed as white, and period pieces where a minority never has their class questioned. For some shows, this ties into the themes and for others, it's just there and never questioned.
  • Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman is described as overweight and ridiculed as a "walrus" in the play. When Dustin Hoffman played Willy, this obviously didn't work, so "walrus" was changed to "shrimp."
  • Similarly, in Guys and Dolls, Nicely-Nicely Johnson is traditionally the Fat Comic Relief, originally played by the very rotund Stubby Kaye. Just before his big number, "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat," Big Jule calls him "you fat water buffalo." But in the 1992 Broadway revival, he was played by the slender Walter Bobbie, and that line was cut.
  • In The Iceman Cometh, Hickey is described by Rocky the bartender to the police in the final scene as "that fat guy over there." Since Hickey was often played by non-overweight actors, perhaps most notably Jason Robards, the line was changed to "that guy over there" so as not to seem out of place.
  • 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. Raúl Juliá also played Othello, in the 70s and again in the 90s, which is a downplayed example: Raúl Juliá was mixed-race (his grandmother was Black), but light-skinned, and wore makeup to make his skin appear darker (it looked much less Uncanny Valley on his facial features than it might have done on a white man's), as well as his (naturally quite wavy) hair being styled to make it appear even curlier than usual. The casting was not particularly controversial and Laurence Fishburne praised his performance in the role.
  • 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.
  • Similar to the Hamlet example, a lot of Opera roles are usually subject to this:
    • Madame Butterfly is supposedly 15-17 but with a voice most singers don't perfect until at least 30.
    • As referenced in the trope Brawn Hilda, the role of Brünnhilde in The Ring of the Nibelung is usually played by rather large women not because of how it's believed she looked (In-Universe, Brünnhilde is seen as beautiful with plenty of suitors vying for her hand), but because large opera singers are usually the only ones with the ability to play her role. The role of Brunhild requires a lot of vocal vigor, being able to build that vigor usually results in building up a lot of muscle in your upper abdomen.
    • Similarly to Brünnhilde, the titular princess's role in Turandot is an extremely challenging one and requires a very strong and experienced voice, resulting in her being often played by large middle-aged women. In-Universe, Turandot is drop-dead gorgeous (literally, as Calaf is willing to risk his life to win her after seeing her only once).
    • There is a film version of Wagner's The Valkyrie where a black woman and white man are cast as Half-Identical Twins. Their voices work for the roles, though, so no one cares.
    • Similarly, Wagner's tenor roles, especially Siegfried and Parsifal in the operas of the same name, 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. Placido Domingo sang Parsifal in his 60s.
  • The 2008 concert performance of the musical Chess had Mexican-American David Bedella performing the role of a Russian, Molokov.
  • Quentin Oliver Lee took the role of the Phantom of the Opera in 2017. A towering, black baritone, he is a strong departure from the shorter, pale Frenchman that usually plays the part or the skeletal white appearance of the book. However, he was truly imposing on stage.
  • Community and school theaters, as a rule, tend to do this since good actors (or actors, period) are often quite limited.
  • Played With in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which cast a black actress as Hermione, who was normally portrayed in both the film adaptations and in illustrations as white. J.K. Rowling was on board with the decision, for what it's worth. The creators doubled down on the portrayal by casting a second black actress as Hermione during its later run.
    • In a straight example, Ron and Harry don't have their traditional hair colors (ginger and black).
  • The Elephant Man onstage takes a very different approach to the titular character's physical depiction in comparison to the movie. The film used incredible makeup to make John Hurt resemble John Merrick. The play has the actor's appearance go unchanged, with them using their physicality to represent his deformity.
  • The 2015 ITV live broadcast of The Sound of Music had an interesting case where vocal ability was trumped by acting ability. Though she has a well-trained and very pretty singing voice, lead actress Kara Tointon lacked the soaring vocal power of her predecessors Mary Martin and the legendary Julie Andrews, and is probably surpassed as a singer by a dozen West End mainstays. On top of that, she was playing opposite Julian Ovenden as the Captain — a BBC Proms mainstay who trained at Oxford on a choral scholarship and who has one of the most-praised voices in British musical theatre. By all rights, she should have been completely overshadowed by her co-star — but her fresh, sweet, spirited take on Maria, and the beautiful way her voice blended with Ovenden's, meant that her relative lack of "star" vocal power mattered not a whit, and she charmed critics and audiences alike with her captivating performance.

    Video Games 
  • Rather rare in video games, 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 Douglas asks what's wrong, the director tells him that his performance was very different from what they imagined for the character. 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 appearance actually makes the character's One-Man Army and Serial Killer nature all the more striking, proving their decision the correct one.
  • Overwatch has a few vocal variations regarding this:
    • Lúcio Correia dos Santos (a black native Brazilian) was cast to Jonny Cruz (a Hispanic American who speaks with an American accent and didn't speak Portuguese until 2018). This is a little unusual given the game's tendency to cast actors native to their character's respective nation (and usually able to speak their native language), but Cruz was cast because he perfectly captured Lúcio's all-important personality. Blizzard reported they had auditioned several Brazilian natives beforehand, but they couldn't find anyone else who could portray Lúcio the way they wanted in time.
    • Similarly, Roadhog (an Australian) is voiced with a typical American accent by the American Josh Petersdorf, though the performance is as deep, threatening, and growly as you'd expect for his visual design. This is mainly notable due to his partner, Junkrat, who does use an appropriate Aussie accent despite also being voiced by an American.
  • Warcraft III: In the early years, when makers of custom maps were mostly inexperienced in creating new 3D models for themselves, they were stuck with what the game files had to offer, resulting in characters bearing little, if any, resemblance to how they were supposed to look. Of note, many LOTR-themed maps featured Legolas as a woman, because there was no male elf (or otherwise humanoid) archer model in the game.

    Western Animation 
  • Jafar of Aladdin is, in animation, a Lean and Mean villain. He is voiced by Jonathan Freeman, who was slightly chubby at the time but got so much into the spirit of the character that his expressions and gestures were worked into the animated role. And Freeman later reprised the role in the Broadway adaptation (coincidentally, after he had become thinner).
    Andreas Deja, supervising animator for Jafar: Based on some of the storyboards, I had this very skinny, elegant, bizarre-looking person in mind. And then I heard that Jonathan was at the studio doing some more lines for the movie. So he came into my office, and I almost couldn't put his face with his body together because he's not skinny. He's very friendly and jovial. But Jonathan does have...sort of an oily, insincere quality...which I needed to find out on which mouth shapes I would use. (Still frames of Jonathan Freeman using his mouth movements and facial expressions for Jafar appear for comparison)
  • 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. Her performance impressed them so much they cast her as Melody anyway. She's said that it's the favorite role she's ever played, as she was a massive fan of the original film.
  • In The Flintstones: Stone Age SmackDown!, John O'Hurley uses an accent when voicing Mr. Slate, but he still captures the authority very well.

In-Universe Examples:

  • 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 all contenders, 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 punk 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • The same thing happened to Penny in The Big Bang Theory in what's described as a low-budget version staged above a bowling alley.
  • In an episode of Big Time Rush where James pursues a side career as an actor, he realizes that people recruiting actors do take more than just looks into consideration as well as the fact that he's not the only pretty face out there.
  • In the Red Dwarf episode "Cured", the crew of the Dwarf discover a medical research centre where Professor Telford claims to have created a cure for evil, which is populated by "cured" versions of some of history's greatest villains. Late in the episode, it turns out that these are actually android replicas of other people modified to look like the villains in question, and Telford expresses surprise they didn't catch on sooner:
    Telford: Didn't it strike you as curious that Hitler didn't really look very much like Hitler?

    Web Originals 
  • 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."

    Western Animation 
  • 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 reenactment of Romeo and Juliet. And even that doesn't topple him; Cobb is just that good.
  • Seems to be a pretty common occurrence in the Bojack Horseman universe:
    • In one particularly bizarre case, Wallace Shawn (a human) plays the role of Bojack (a horse) while in the same film Bojack plays the role of Mr. Peanut Butter (a dog).
    • Andrew Garfield is also considered for the role of Secretariat (a horse) at one point, with the characters in-universe almost quoting this page.
    • A TV biopic about Bojack's former co-star Sarah Lynn had Bojack played by Paul Giamatti.
    • Bojack is cast in the role of Secretariat despite being decades older than his hero.
  • One episode of The Looney Tunes Show has Foghorn Leghorn creating a movie about himself. Several Roosters show up, but Daffy, a duck (who thought the line was to watch a movie), was cast because he could speak his mind, something Foghorn thought the movie needed.

Alternative Title(s): Gender Blind Casting