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Playing Against Type

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"Henry Fonda is the bad guy for once in his career; Charles Bronson is impressively inscrutable as the mysterious good guy; and Jason Robards is a tough guy, believe it or not."

The hiring of an actor to play a certain part which differs fundamentally from roles the actor is famous for or has played in the past. For instance, an actress who is known for playing scheming murderess types suddenly cast as a kindly old grandma, or a longtime action hero does a silly comedy role.

This is generally done when an actor wants to 'stretch his/her wings' or a director wants to 'try something different'. In its highest form, this leads to an Oscar for the actor in question. Often, it can be very useful in The Reveal. Comedies will frequently use this trope for laughs; a wacky line will often sound much funnier coming out of the mouth of someone you'd never expect to say such a thing. If it works very well, it can even turn around a career and give them a new type.

Occasionally, Playing Against Type is something that comes up in retrospect. An actor who becomes famous for a certain type of role may have played a character who is the complete opposite early in his or her career. At the time, the role may have not been a departure but, when viewed later, the difference will seem quite stark.

The polar opposite of Typecasting, although it is possible to invoke both at once. A source of Hidden Depths. Really bizarre cases (or those which look bad in hindsight) can lead to people saying it is Questionable Casting.

For a specific form of Playing Against Type, see Tom Hanks Syndrome, Leslie Nielsen Syndrome, Playing with Character Type, New Sound Album or Creator's Oddball. May first require Typecasting to fall into this trope.

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  • Hard rockers KISS have at least one sweet-sounding ballad in "Beth," which is basically piano, violins, and other acoustics.
  • Other than some relatively gentle fair under Black Sabbath like "Changes", Ozzy Osbourne also contributed lead vocals to the Was (Not Was) dance-pop song "Shake Your Head (Let's Go to Bed)" alongside Madonna, a far cry from the usual macabre fare Ozzy and his band are known for.
  • Better known for his jazz compositions like "Canteloupe Island" and "Watermelon Man," Herbie Hancock in the early 80's released the synth pop record-scratching hit "Rockit."
  • "Far Away Eyes" by The Rolling Stones sounds every bit like a country song, complete with pedal steel. The song is the B-side to "Miss You."
  • Adam "Nergal" Darski and John Porter collaborated on a project called Me And That Man, resulting in a Nick Cave-ish album Songs of Love and Death. Then, Nergal kept the project running on his own and invited other metal musicians (including Ihsahn, Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Matt Heavy of Trivium) for the second album, New Man, New Songs, Same Shit, Vol. 1.
  • Eminem, best known for hyper-complicated and aggressive rapping about horrible topics, flexes his singing voice to deliver a loving Break-Up Song piano ballad in "Stronger Than I Was" on The Marshall Mathers LP 2.
  • Sarah Bonito (or Sarah Midori Perry) is best known as the frontwoman for Indie Pop trio Kero Kero Bonito, lending her gentle, playful voice and bilingual rapping to the band's generally upbeat, MIDI-inspired sound. Her 2022-launched solo project, Cryalot, is post-industrial Black Metal, instead playing Dissonant Serenity amidst dark noise.

  • At the start of Cool Kids Table game Small Magic, Jake says that he normally plays girls in RPGs, so it's out of character for him to play a guy like he is here (as Stege). To far the only male characters he's made are Stege, Oliver (alongside which he also made Stacey and Olivia), Kip, and Dario.

  • Poets can do this too, and have been doing this long before typecasting was patented. Remember Edgar Allan Poe? The guy who wrote dark poems like "The Raven" and "Annabel Lee"? He also once wrote A Valentine.
  • And then there's E. E. Cummings, who usually wrote poems with a gentle tone, writing something like this.
  • So you think Shel Silverstein is a children's poet, Do You? Before he wrote and illustrated children's poetry, he was a cartoonist for Playboy, and wrote songs like "A Boy Named Sue" and "I Got Stoned and I Missed It." I dare you to sing his Mermaid to your kids.
  • The extremely high-brow T. S. Eliot was famous for writing about nihilistic despair (his early work, notably The Waste Land and The Hollow Men) and religious faith (The Four Quartets). He also wrote the entire libretto of Cats as a series of comic poems while relaxing between his more serious work.

  • Cabin Pressure: Benedict Cumberbatch usually plays intelligent and sophisticated sorts (Sherlock, Doctor Strange, Smaug). Here, he plays Martin Krief, a neurotic serial screw-up of a wanna-be pilot.


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Snipes and Swayze in Drag

The trailer for 'To Wong Foo' shows that two of its leads were known for playing masculine characters and are now playing drag queens.

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