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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 kindly old grandma types suddenly cast as a scheming murderess. This is generally done when an actor wants to 'stretch his/her wings' or '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.


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 one to ask WTH, Casting Agency?

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.
  • 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.

  • 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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