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Darkhorse Casting

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Sometimes, a director doesn't 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. For whatever reason, a director will go out of their way to find more obscure names to put in their movie.

Compare Amateur Cast and constrast All-Star Cast. Look at Ensemble Dark Horse for a definition of darkhorse.

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Examples

    Films — Live-Action 
  • What George Lucas was trying to do, and almost succeeded in doing, when casting for the original Star Wars trilogy. Harrison Ford read the part of Han Solo while they were casting for Leia, and did so well in the role that Lucas finally relented.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia manages to almost pull it off, Liam Neeson as Aslan being one of the only mainstream actors in the films.
  • Exaggerated in Boy Meets Girl, where Michelle Hendley was cast from Missouri on the basis of her YouTube channel. She had never acted prior to playing the lead in that film.
  • Was the case with Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston in Thor. The initial reaction to the casting was of bafflement at their relative obscurity.
  • Harry Potter film series had a lot of famous British actors for the adult characters such as Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Richard Harris etc. The child actors playing the younger characters such as the main trio started their careers in this franchise.
  • Pacific Rim pushed Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi and Idris Elba into the main roles. Elba is already famous thanks to his role as Heimdall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe while Kikuchi is only known for her Oscar-nominated role in Babel and is not very famous in her home country. Unless one watches Sons of Anarchy, a lot of people don't even know who Hunnam is. Asides from Elba, Ron Perlman seemed to be the only other recognized name in the movie.
  • While The Matrix was in pre-production, the suits wanted a big name actress to play Trinity. The Wachowskis fought hard to get their choice, a then-unknown Carrie-Anne Moss.
  • Watchmen: None of the actors who played the superheroes were huge stars at the time of the film's release, arguably the two biggest names (Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan) had primarily gotten work as a child star and in parts on TV, respectively.
  • It: Chapter Two: Zigzagged. While James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, and Bill Hader are all certainly established Hollywood stars, the other main casts members are much less well known; James Ransone's best known for his work in The Wire and Sinister. Andy Bean and Jay Ryan are both best known for their television work as Greg in Power and Vincent in Beauty and the Beast (2012), respectively (though Ryan also has/had significant roles in other TV shows). In fact, It: Chapter Two will be both Ransone's and Ryan's first time as leading men in a major theatrical film. Likewise, Isaiah Mustafa is most famed for being The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, which is a viral commercial, and, to a lesser extent, his role in the show Shadowhunters and Jess Weixler is mainly known for her lead role in the independent horror movie Teeth.
    • Likewise, the supporting cast aren't major Hollywood stars many fans were expecting the sequel to such a smash hit to get. It's mostly people who have acting experience from lesser known films, as well as TV shows.
  • The Kid Who Would Be King: With the exceptions of Patrick Stewart and Rebecca Ferguson, no one in the cast is patricularly well known. Though given the majority of the characters are preteens, this was a probably given.
  • In spite of being a reboot of one of most iconic sci-fi franchises of all time, this is surprisingly utilized in Terminator: Dark Fate. Other than Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton reprising their roles and Mackenzie Davis joining the cast, the rest of the cast is much less known. Natalia Reyes, who plays one of the main characters, has had only 2 film roles prior to this and both of them were indie films released within a year from each other(one of them being the critically acclaimed Birds of Passage). Most of her other screen credits were telenovas that have never aired outside of Latin America. Gabriel Luna is primarly known for playing Robbie Reyes/Ghost Rider on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and nothing else. Diego Boneta has had roles in Scream Queens (2015) and Rock of Ages, but that's about it. Jude Collie, who replaces Edward Furlong as John Connor, doesn't even have an IMDB page yet. This could likely be a homage to the original film, as most of the cast was unknown at the time, though that was mainly due to the fact it was a low-budget production(a little over 6 million) whereas Dark Fate has a whopping 160-200 million budget.
    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones had a lot of unknown actors and actresses at that time and the one of the only mainstream actors in the cast is Sean Bean whose character got killed off in episode nine of season one.
  • How I Met Your Mother: Neil Patrick Harris and Alyson Hannigan (and maybe Jason Segel) are the only mainstream actors in the main cast back then. In fact, the actress who played the Mother is unknown.
    • Even then, NPH had left TV for stage work and had been doing mostly guest spots if anything for almost 10 years, Hannigan coming off of Buffy into a sitcom was hardly a lock... and Segal was just starting to get attention, most of it still 'cultish' due to Freaks and Geeks.
  • Every Disney Channel and Nickelodeon live-action series is given an almost entirely unknown child cast (as most of them are just starting their careers). The adults could be people who rose up the Kidcom ranks (i.e. Jerry Trainor, Beth Littleford, Brian Stepanek), D-list actors from obscure adult shows (i.e. Rosa Blasi, Steve Valentine, Hal Sparks), Black sitcom parents (i.e. Kadeem Hardison, Chico Benymon), people more known for voice acting (i.e. Daran Norris, Jack DeSena), or comedians (i.e. Chris Tallman, Stephen Glickman)
  • At least four of the leads of Arrested Development (Michael Cera, Will Arnett, Tony Hale, and Alia Shawkat) were completely unknown when the show began. Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, David Cross, and Jeffrey Tambor were all fairly well-known at the time; Jessica Walter was somewhere in the middle.
  • Band of Brothers: David Schwimmer seemed to be the only recognized name among the cast due to his popularity in Friends and he only had a small role as Captain Herbert Sobel. The rest of Easy Company characters were played by actors who were unknown at that time.
  • Titans mainly consists of lesser-known actors who were chosen specifically for their talent. The best known so far are Brenton Thwaites, Ryan Potter, Alan Ritchson, Minka Kelly and Conor Leslie, but even they aren't exactly A-list. One notable example is Teagan Croft, an Australian child actress that was completely unknown outside her home country and still very obscure in it, as Raven herself.
  • The Witcher has Henry Cavill as the star, who's definitely well-known, but virtually everyone else is lesser-known to completely obscure, with a standout being the newcomer Freya Allan as Ciri.
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