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Darkhorse Casting

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"Despite rumors that had everyone from Shia LaBeouf to Josh Hartnett being cast in Kenneth Branagh’s version of Thor, two virtual unknowns will instead be handed the keys to the Marvel franchise. Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, whom you might recall from the opening scene of Star Trek, will play the Norse superhero, and Tom Hiddleston has been cast as his nemesis, Loki. Let’s hope they follow the J. J. Abrams route and put the money they saved in casting straight to special effects."
Will Graham, Vulture, May 19, 2009 — "Marvel Rolls Dice, Casts No-names for Thor"

Sometimes, a director doesn't just want big stars in their movie. Maybe it's to avoid a bias from the viewers, maybe they just want a challenge, or maybe they just want to help struggling actors and actresses in the brutal world of show biz. Usually, these lesser-known actors and actresses will be teamed up with their big-name counterparts.

If the casting is successful enough, this can result in a Star-Making Role for the darkhorse, or at least prompt Retroactive Recognition if they become famous later in their career. Compare Amateur Cast, when a work is predominantly comprised of unknown actors, and Non-Actor Vehicle, when someone who's famous in a field outside of acting is given a lead role in a work (those tropes occasionally overlap with this one). Contrast All-Star Cast, when the cast is primarily made up of A-listers, and Ascended Fancast, when a (usually famous) actor fans wanted in the role is actually hired. Look at Ensemble Dark Horse for a definition of darkhorse.


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  • The Love Live! series has a history of casting voice actresses who (at the time) have very little exposure and almost no major roles to their names. Love Live! being such a well-known multimedia franchise in its home country, the result is that their role in Love Live! ends up becoming their Star-Making Role. The fourth series Superstar!! even goes into full-blown Amateur Cast mode.
  • Funimation's English dub for One Piece was not originally like this but trended toward it as the series went on. Due to the series having a huge cast, it also requires a huge cast of actors in an attempt to avert Acting for Two as much as possible. To this extent, the casting directors for One Piece have hired from local improv groups, local stage performers, podcasts, YouTube, TikTok, broadcast news, vlogs, and any other source they can think of where people enunciate well. Except for Franky, this also applies to the core members later on: Robin is voiced by Stephanie Young, who at the time of casting was an opera singer and not a voice actor; and Brook is voiced by Ian Sinclair, who was lesser known at the time, having just done his breakout role as the lead of Space☆Dandy.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Live-Action TV 

    Video Games 
  • The Dark Souls series, along with its spiritual siblings Demon's Souls, Bloodborne, and Elden Ring fills most of its cast with low profile British stage and TV actors, leading to much of the dialogue having an off-kilter feel. The biggest names to appear in the series are likely Ruth Negga, Con O'Neill, and Peter Serafinowicz in Dark Souls II, all of whom are veteran character actors.
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake had Briana White (Aerith), who didn't have any major acting role prior to being cast, especially when compared to her costars Cody Christian (Cloud) and Britt Baron (Tifa), both famous screen actors, and John Eric Bentley (Barret), a veteran voice actor.
  • The original releases of Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3, like most horror games of that era, had a voice cast of low profile and even non-professional actors, with by far the biggest name among them being Donna Burke. Guy Cihi, the voice of James Sunderland, didn't even audition for the role at first; he was accompanying his daughter to audition for the role of Laura and the devs liked how he looked. The HD rereleases had new dubs starring heavy hitters like Troy Baker and Laura Bailey, but consensus among the fans was that it lacked the off-kilter, creepy feel of the original releases.
  • While the sixth generation Grand Theft Auto titles featured major roles from big name actors like Michael Madsen, Kyle Maclachlan, Samuel L. Jackson, and James Woods, Rockstar Games started going for this approach with Grand Theft Auto IV. With the exceptions of a few moderately known character actors like Karel Roden, most characters, including the main protagonists of the games, are voiced by near unknown stage and TV actors. This extends to the Red Dead Redemption games and Bully as well. Rockstar's shift in approach for casting stemmed from the prohibitive costs of having an All-Star Cast as the games got more technically advanced and expensive, as well as the difficult, diva-like behavior of certain stars like Ray Liotta and especially Burt Reynolds.

    Western Animation 
  • Justified for Molly of Denali, as the show wants to have authentic Indigenous voice actors on board, resulting in many lesser known or new faces in the cast. These fresh talents are cast alongside relatively well-known/experienced voice actors such as Lorne Cardinal (Nat), Vienna Leacock (Trini), Rebecca Shoichet (Dr. Antigone Howell), Luc Roderique (Daniel), Katrina Salisbury (Nina), Samuel Vincent (Mac McFadden), Bethany Brown (Joy), Cathy Weseluck (Charlotte, one of the Sassy Ladies of Saskatoon), and Ellen Kennedy (Connie).
  • Happens In-Universe in The Simpsons episode "Brother From Another Series", where it's revealed that Sideshow Bob's brother Cecil originally auditioned as Krusty the Clown's sidekick, and after Krusty wasn't impressed with Cecil's audition, he hired Bob based upon how he handled the Pie in the Face gag from him, and Cecil never forgave Bob for that.