So we have Typecasting, which is cases in which an actor is known only for playing certain kinds of roles (in its most extreme form, I Am Not Spock, when the actor is only known for a particular role). Then we have Playing Against Type, which is when an actor deliberately plays a role extremely different from his or her established type.
Then there's this trope, a sub-trope of Playing Against Type, in which an actor plays against type in such a way as to specifically play with, subvert or outright deconstruct his or her previously established character type.
Supposing, for example, Bob is best-known for playing charming, funny Nice Guys. In this trope, Bob takes on a role superficially quite similar to his established character type — only for the film to reveal that Bob's character is only capable of being charming and funny while drunk, and that he is driven to alcoholism by his history of social awkwardness and depression. (This trope can hence overlap with Deconstructed Character Archetype, if Bob's character type is a recognizable archetype in its own right.)
Note that this trope is not limited to comedic character types being Played for Drama; it's entirely possible to do this by playing dramatic character types for laughs (e.g.: Bob is best-known for playing tough-as-nails gangsters, and then plays a wannabe gangster who acts tough but is in fact easily frightened and can barely hold a gun, let alone fire one), or exploring facets of a dramatic or comedic character type previously left unexamined.
When successfully executed, this trope can cast an actor's earlier roles in an entirely new light and lead members of the audience to cry, "He Really Can Act!" When done poorly, it can seem jarring and awkward and may lead the audience to ask "WTH, Casting Agency?" (especially if the actor in question is insufficiently skilled to pull it off).
Compare I Am Not Spock, I Am Not Leonard Nimoy, Adam Westing, Self-Parody, Meta Casting, Casting Gag, Tom Hanks Syndrome and Leslie Nielsen Syndrome. In-universe, compare with Hidden Depths, Character Development, Flat Character and Rounded Character.
Note: Do not list a different actor indented under another actor's example just because they appeared in the same work. Indented examples should only be examples of when the same actor played with their character type in multiple different roles. See Example Indentation in Trope Lists for more information.
Unmarked spoilers below.
- Robin Williams is best known for playing cheery, funny and manically upbeat characters, but in One Hour Photo he plays a character whose outward cheerfulness masks the fact that he is a Stepford Smiler Stalker with a Crush.
- Jim Carrey:
- He subverted his reputation for upbeat, funny, over-the-top characters in Black Comedy The Cable Guy, playing a character whose demented zaniness is indicative of his Stalker with a Crush tendencies.
- Likewise in The Truman Show, in which his character's superficial friendliness and wacky charm hides his inner loneliness and yearning to escape his dreary life.
- Audrey Tautou, as per the page quote, is best known (especially in the English-speaking world) for her role in Amélie, in which she plays a sweet, innocent, hopelessly romantic young woman (essentially a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, except that she's the protagonist). For the first half of He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not, she appears to be playing a similar type of character, only for the film to reveal that she is in fact a violent, insane Yandere, whose innocent romantic spirit is symptomatic of her complete and utter detachment from reality.
- As part of Unforgiven's Genre Deconstruction of Westerns as a whole, Clint Eastwood's role in the film is a deconstruction of his earlier Western character(s), namely those from the Dollars Trilogy.
- In what has actually become a sort of type casting itself, Morgan Freeman, who is known for playing "wise old man" characters, sometimes plays "wise old man characters... who turn out to be evil", with Wanted being a good example of this.
- Adam Sandler has played with his stereotypical persona more than once:
- In Punch-Drunk Love, his character is, like always, antisocial, emotionally immature, and prone to uncontrollable fits of anger. Instead of that being a source of comedy, it leads to awkward, embarrassing situations, and the character leads a lonely, depressing life. Roger Ebert discussed this in his review of the film.
- His character in Click is a workaholic with very little time to spend with his family, but as the film goes on the audience learns that this attitude makes him miss out on most of his life, leaving him a broken man.
- He also plays a broken character in Reign Over Me where the character's seemingly carefree attitude is actually just an escape mechanism so he doesn't have to acknowledge a terrible trauma in his life. Any attempts to disturb his escape from reality tactics are usually met with violent denial and outburst.
- A One-Scene Wonder example in Natural Born Killers, with Rodney Dangerfield - replete with Laugh Track and his "I don't get no respect" shtick - playing Mallory's violent, sexually abusive father. Makes for very uncomfortable viewing indeed.
- Robert de Niro has made a career for the past ten or more years out of subverting, parodying, or deconstructing the tough-guy cred he had accumulated over a long and illustrious career. Examples include Analyze This and Stardust.
- Leslie Nielsen's goofy role in Airplane! was a play on his previous roles of the studly, stoic hero. One critic quipped that what was needed of him in his dramatic roles and his comedic roles was exactly the same: the ability to recite patently absurd dialogue while keeping a perfectly straight face. This was so successful that he's now better-known as a comedic actor than a dramatic one.
- Barbara Billingsley's most well-known role during her heyday was June Cleaver, the housewife in the archtypical 50's Slice of Life Dom Com Leave It to Beaver. It makes having her play the Jive Turkey translator in Airplane! that much more stark (and hilarious).
- Anthony Perkins in Psycho. Thitherto this, Perkins had been known for playing likeable, affable, somewhat socially awkward supporting roles. When adapting the film from Robert Bloch's book of the same name, Alfred Hitchcock was unimpressed with the original characterization of Norman Bates, a grouchy, overweight alcoholic with much more overt problems with women and sex (directly based upon the inspiration for Bates, Ed Gein). He instead decided to change the characterization to superficially match Perkins's earlier roles, largely because Perkins looked, in Hitchcock's own words, "like a boy scout". This made Bates's character more sympathetic, the Decoy Protagonist element easier to swallow and the Twist Ending much more shocking. Alas, this gambit was so successful that Perkins ended up being typecast as Bates for the rest of his career.
- John Travolta has a natural screen presence that can be described as a complete embodiment of the Nice Guy in TV shows and movies like Welcome Back, Kotter, Phenomenon, and Look Who's Talking. On the other hand, he seems to LOVE subverting that niceness by playing Affably Evil or Faux Affably Evil characters in movies like Broken Arrow and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. His role in the movie Face/Off zigzags this trope, where he starts out as a Nice Guy FBI agent who has to swap faces with evil terrorist Nicolas Cage. This allowed Travolta (and Cage) to play both sides of their personas in the same movie.
- The protagonist of The Perfect Host is a bank robber who is looking for a place to hide. So he manages to trick his way into the house of a guy played by David Hyde Pierce who seems to be the latter's usual milquetoast character a la Niles Crane. Then Pierce's character reveals himself to be an Ax-Crazy maniac who proceeds to drug the protagonist and torment him for most of the night.
- David Bowie started getting film offers almost as soon as he had his commercial breakthrough via his Alter-Ego Acting persona of Ziggy Stardust, a flamboyant alien (or Touched by Vorlons) rock musician, Messianic Archetype, and Tragic Hero who succumbs to Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll, ego, and his own fans. But virtually all of the roles he was offered were Ziggy Expies. Instead, his first major film role was that of Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Newton is also an alien Messianic Archetype Tragic Hero...but he's The Stoic and Moe before Moe was trendy, and his succumbing to Earthlings and their vices is the result of humanity proving infectious rather than success going to his head. Also, he can't sing.
- In The Descendants, one of the main plot points is that the protagonist (played by George Clooney) has found out that his comatose and slowly dying wife has been cheating on him. Early on he and his daughter find a picture of the guy...and he's played by Matthew Lillard, to which he and his daughters react with "Seriously? THAT'S the guy?". While this could simply be a crack at his appearance (who would go from Clooney to Lillard?), audiences familiar with Lillard's typical "annoying jackass" roles will likely start figuring this is yet another one of those...then once they actually meet Lillard's character, you're blown away.
- Mark Sheppard is very well known for playing slightly sinister, slimy sons-of... whom you can't help but admire even as they're stabbing your protagonists in the back. Then he appeared as one of the Regents on Warehouse 13. When an episode was centered around Pete getting assigned by Mrs. Frederic to find out which Regent was The Mole, I Knew It! was the immediate reaction when Sheppard's character quickly turned out to be an evil bastard making some kind of play for control of the warehouse. Then it turned out that Pete hallucinated the entire thing, and in a later episode Sheppard's character would even made a Heroic Sacrifice to save the main characters.
- Gary Oldman is well-known for playing villains, so when he was cast in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as Sirius Black, a mass-murderer after Harry, no one was surprised. By the end, it's revealed that Sirius never murdered or betrayed anyone, and in later movies he becomes the closest thing Harry has to family (naturally, this came as no surprise to viewers who'd already read the books).
- A retroactive example: Kate Winslet spends most of A Kid in King Arthur's Court as Proper Lady Princess Sarah. Then comes the twist: Princess Sarah is an Action Girl, who has been secretly dressing as the Black Knight.
- James McAvoy in Victor Frankenstein. The actor was almost always Type Cast as a Wide-Eyed Idealist, he often appeared in Period Pieces, and he had about a dozen roles where he portrayed an intellectual character. Between 2013 and 2015, however, he was Playing Against Type as all of his onscreen and theatre personas suffered from mental illness. McAvoy's interpretation of Mad Scientist Victor Frankenstein combines all of these elements; Victor is a dark character, but even he possesses a hint of naïveté when he says things like, "I dream of a world where hope replaces fear." That line of dialogue could have been spoken by the benevolent Dr. Charles Xavier (which is McAvoy's most famous example of Typecasting), but in Victor's case, his idealism is mixed with Sanity Slippage, and they twist him into a Well-Intentioned Extremist.
- Barbara Hershey as My Beloved Smother and Mama Bear at the same time, notably in Black Swan and Once Upon a Time. It's a similar situation in Insidious...except she's unambiguously the hero this time.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Cobie Smulders plays Maria Hill as what Robin Scherbatsky would be like if she worked for a government intelligence agency.
- Robert Redford's role as Alexander Pierce in Captain America: The Winter Soldier riffs off his earlier roles as liberal or left-wing heroes taking down fascist conspiracies, but then reveals that he's the leader of the film's fascist conspiracy.
- Ben Mendelsohn is known for his villainous roles, which led to him being cast as Talos, the Big Bad of Captain Marvel (2019). Namely, to help obscure the fact that the Skrulls undergo Adaptational Heroism in the film and Talos is an Anti-Hero at worst, only trying to find his family and protect his people from the Kree.
- End of Days: The movie was sold on the premise of "Arnold Schwarzenegger fights The Devil". However, instead of depicting Arnold as an unstoppable force of nature that can destroy everything in sight, this movie depicts his character, Jericho, as being genuinely flawed, such as being suicidal, not being able to do the death-defying acts that the other heroes Arnold has played (not counting the scene where he has no strings to hold him down) and, in the end, there was not any other way to stop Satan from causing the End unless Jericho killed himself but, at least Jericho can be with his family again. In interviews, Schwarzenegger said that he took this role because he thought it was the perfect script to make his return to action movies, which makes this part even more weird.
- Jason Statham is well-known for his roles as steely-eyed, razor-sharp badasses. In Spy, he plays Rick Ford, a steely-eyed, razor-sharp Cloud Cuckoolander suffering from Small Name, Big Ego. When he's not recounting ludicrous, probably-made-up tales of his previous exploits ("I drove a car off a freeway on top of a train while on fire. Not the car; I was on fire."), his action-hero attitude is constantly screwing up attempts to be a stealthy spy.
- Before undergoing Tom Hanks Syndrome, Anne Hathaway played a lot of wholesome squeaky-clean girls in various Disney films. In Alice in Wonderland (2010) she plays the White Queen as a sort of darker take on her earlier innocent characters. The Queen is in the Uncanny Valley and is strongly implied to be a Stepford Smiler. Word of God says that she surrounds herself with so much light imagery because she's too tempted by the dark side.
- Keira Knightley eventually became typecast as a Plucky Girl ahead of her time in various period pieces. In The Duchess she starts off as this type...and then runs into the sexist and oppressive laws of the time. She invoked this in Atonement too, as Joe Wright had wanted her to play the adult Briony. Having had enough of "coming of age ladies", Keira chose to play Cecilia instead.
- Tom Cruise is one of the quintessential confident, competent and easy on the eyes action heroes. In Edge of Tomorrow, he plays US Army Major William Cage, and we are introduced to him giving interviews looking like every bit like an experienced war hero...and then the minute he's ordered to go into a war zone, we learn that he's a glorified PR drone who has never been in combat a day in his life and proceeds to do everything he can in order to avoid fighting, such as grovelling, blackmail, and outright desertion. After being dragged kicking and screaming into battle and dying fairly quickly, a twist of fate gives him the power to trigger a time loop after death. We then see him spend the rest of the movie (and LOTS of death triggered loops) slowly becoming the Tom Cruise hero we all know and love.
- Naomi Watts often plays heroic Woobies that endure plenty of suffering. In the Divergent films she's a Jerkass Woobie who's causing the suffering.
- American Hustle features Amy Adams playing a sort of Innocence Lost character, and there are a few scenes that evoke her more familiar sweetheart personas in other films. But her character Sydney has had to reinvent herself as a sexually aggressive Femme Fatale - though she wants to escape that life and settle down.
- Deborah Kerr was Hollywood's favourite Proper Lady in the 1950s and her most famous role is arguably Mrs Anna in The King and I. In The Innocents she plays around with that benevolent governess image. She believes her two children are being possessed by ghosts, but it's left entirely open whether she's just imagining that as a result of her sexual repression.
- Channing Tatum entered The New '10s playing his Dumb Muscle image for laughs. Then came Foxcatcher, where this is Played for Drama and his character feels inadequate compared to his more beloved older brother. In a different vein, it's something of a Running Gag for Channing to have lots of Ho Yay with his male co-stars. This film implies something of a twisted sexual relationship between Mark Schultz and John Du Pont.
- In the Star Wars Anthology film Rogue One, Mads Mikkelsen - who is primarily typecast as villains in American films and television - plays a scientist working for THE Trope Codifier, if not the Trope Namer, of the Evil Empire. The catch? In this film, he's actually a Reluctant Mad Scientist (pardon the pun) who helps the heroes in this movie destroy the Death Star.
- My Name Is Earl: In the episode "Made a Lady Think I Was God," Roseanne Barr guest stars as a character with her usual insulting personality, until Earl inadvertently turns her into a kindly nun.
- In an episode of Bones Robert Englund (of A Nightmare on Elm Street fame) guest-stars as a creepy janitor who hangs out in the basement of the school - who, in a subversion of Narrowed It Down to the Guy I Recognize, isn't the perp.
- Breaking Bad:
- Bryan Cranston was best known for his performance as Hal in sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, an archetypal Bumbling Dad and Henpecked Husband frustrated by his dead-end job and poor financial standing. His character in the series, Walter White, starts off as a very similar sort of character, which makes his transformation into a vicious, ruthless drug dealer all the more shocking.
- For those who watched Friday Night Lights first, it at first seemed that Jesse Plemons as Todd was playing a criminal version of Landry: an extreme Nice Guy and even a little Adorkable. Then he unexpectedly murders a child with no hesitation and only gets more creepy as the show progresses.
- In Summer Glau's first guest appearance as Skylar in Alphas, she is initially depicted as the kind of bizarre, waif-like young woman who she became famous for as River in Firefly and Cameron in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It then comes as more of a surprise when it's revealed that the MacGuffin that she's searching for is actually her daughter, as nobody would expect her usual type of character to have a child.
- Robert Carlyle is often the Butt-Monkey of the story in some way. In Once Upon a Time his character (Rumpelstiltskin) started out as one. His status as this is Played for Drama and motivated him to become The Chessmaster Big Bad known as the Dark One.
- Another Once Upon a Time cast member who took this trope for a friendly game of pinball was Raphael Sbarge. In live-action roles (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Cold Case, Star Trek: Voyager), he's usually playing some deeply disturbed Perp of the Week. It's his voice acting roles where he tends to play NiceGuys like Scorch, Carth Onasi, Kaiden Alenko, and Deadman. Jiminy Cricket would be playing to type when depicted as a CGI cricket, but playing against it as the meek Archie Hopper.
- Andre Braugher plays Captain Holt in Brooklyn Nine-Nine like he's still on Homicide: Life on the Street, with much of the character's humor coming from his overly stoic demeanor contrasting with the wackiness of what goes on in the presinct.
- In season 4 of Veronica Mars, Patton Oswalt plays another "nerdy, Adorkable comic relief guy" who repeatedly impedes in the investigation carried out by the main characters with his bumbling antics, is constantly trading insults with the Sitcom Archnemesis in his online group of amateur sleuths, and it's even somewhat sweet when he starts to romance one of his female friends. Until it's revealed that he's really a delusional Psychopathic Manchild who treats everything as a game, murders the Sitcom Archnemesis to frame him, and becomes a copycat Mad Bomber to undo his perceived lack of respect from the "alpha crowd" around him.
- Jaleel White is famous for his role on Family Matters as a nerd who is constantly pursuing a girl who is not interested in him. Because he is so dorky, he comes across as annoying but generally harmless. In an episode of CSI he plays a character who was constantly hitting on the victim before she was murdered despite her lack of interest. This time he is not a nerd and comes across as creepy and even a reason to suspect he killed her. Though he didn't
- In The Outer Limits (1995) episode "Zig Zag", Frank Whaley seems to be playing the usual nebbish character he became famous for in The '90s due to his youthful "whitebread" looks. However, in this episode it's just a fake persona, complete with Fake Memories, for a bold cyberterrorist who is using it to mask his real status as The Chessmaster.
- The voice actress Rie Kugimiya almost always voices heroic characters (typically those with a tsundere personality), which allowed for an effective Bait the Dog with Nena Trinity in Mobile Suit Gundam 00. Nena initially comes off as a standard cute and quirky character and then sort of out of nowhere, she decides to use her mech slaughter a wedding party because they were having a good time and she wasn't. Then her actual character is established. Asura's Wrath is a much straighter example, as her characters (Mithra and the villager who looks like her) are almost complete opposites to her established typecasting.
- The casting of Doraemon's voice actress as Monokuma in Danganronpa is a perfect example. Monokuma is a parody of a Japanese kawaii mascot character with a Non-Standard Character Design, who speaks with affected cuteness, as well as openly being a vicious, psychotic Evil Genius manipulating people into killing each other, explicitly for his own amusement. Him choosing to use a voice associated so strongly with the wonder of childhood in generations of the Japanese consciousnessnote perfectly fits his personality.
- Nolan North:
- His role in Spec Ops: The Line as Cpt. Martin Walker initially appears to be quite similar to North's usual type (specifically the "Drake" voice from Uncharted), but as the game wears on it turns into a savage deconstruction of the character type, with Walker becoming increasingly violent and unhinged as a consequence of the horrific actions he is forced (or believes himself to have been forced) to carry out. Curiously, this was apparently unintentional on the part of the development team.
- Then there was his role in The Last of Us as David, the leader of a group of survivors, who is kinda in a sense Nathan Drake if he was the leader of a group of survivors. But then you find out he's not only violently crazy, but he's also a cannibal and possibly a pedophile.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic: A light-sided male Consular? Playing with type because the Consular is a Martial Pacifist diplomat. Dark sided male Consular? A cruel, nasty Knight Templar manipulating the galaxy to his own benefit while keeping up the appearance of a hero.
- Also in Spec Ops and in the same vein, Bruce Boxleitner as Col. Konrad is an inversion of his roles as The Captain following Babylon 5, a good leader that had become a military despot, a Colonel Kilgore with a nice voice and good use of words. And then we find out that Walker has charged into the situation without being given all the information and things are not what they seem... like the fact most of the rantings Walker (and the player) has heard throughout the game are Walker's own hallucinations.
- Matthew Mercer is known for voicing sarcastic badasses. Alvin from Tales of Xillia is one of these, but he ends up betraying the party multiple times and undergoes Sanity Slippage.
- Bryce Papenbrook is often casted into Nice Guys who have an idealistic view in the world. He is casted into Henry from Fire Emblem Awakening and Nagito Komaeda from Super Danganronpa 2, who are both Nice Guys in a twisted and dark way.
- Stephanie Sheh, in her own words, is often cast as "super-shy high school girls or completely bipolar types". This is probably why she was cast as Mikan Tsumiki in Super Danganronpa 2, since she's both.
- Metal Gear:
- Metal Gear Solid:
- Akio Ohtsuka, the Japanese voice of Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid, is jarring to hear if you're an English player more used to David Hayter's Guttural Growler version of the character. Ohtsuka has often played cool Badass Baritone characters who crack the odd Bond One-Liner, but the voice he uses for Snake is more like the 'astringent', warm and likeable register he uses in his extensive career as a voice-over artist for television advertising, giving Snake an impression of Dissonant Serenity that at first makes him seem like the most relateable, fun character in the cast, but gets progressively more desperate and brittle as the story continues and it becomes more apparent how messed-up a person he is.
- Hideyuki Tanaka had previously been playing the badass, cynical Jonathan Ingram, a character who shares more than a few traits with Solid Snake, in Hideo Kojima's previous game, Policenauts. In Metal Gear Solid, he is cast as Otacon, an awkward Otaku with a poster of Jonathan on his wall, with the voice indicating that there is a core of coolness in there. As Otacon becomes more confident and attractive over the course of the series, Tanaka's performance gets closer to his voice as Jonathan.
- Metal Gear Solid 2:
- Quinton Flynn's Raiden was developed to sound like an older Jonny Quest, also a young, blond, heroic character in a James Bond-influenced action-adventure setting with supernatural elements (even, in the case of the incarnation of Jonny played by Flynn, incorporating the idea of VR training as a significant part of the backstory). This adds some interest to the reveal that Raiden isn't a Kid Hero, but a former Enfant Terrible traumatised by fighting in wars while still a child.
- Kenyuu Horiuchi was cast as Raiden because of his ability to play cool biseinen while himself being a much older veteran, with the idea that Raiden's voice would sound inappropriately old for his age, indicating he isn't as innocent as he seems.
- The Japanese version of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker probably contains Metal Gear's best example, Stunt Casting Paz Ortega Andrade with the Jpop idol Nana Mizuki. Paz appears to be a perfect innocent, but we later find out she's significantly older than she appears, has a rude, foul-mouthed and obnoxious personality, loves nuclear war, hates everyone around her and also smokes, and sprays you with verbal abuse while attacking you, with a jpop song playing in the background about how nuclear deterrence is a lot like love. This is a reference to the pressure to maintain impossible standards of Contractual Purity for Japanese idols, who have had their careers ended by slips of an Incorruptible Pure Pureness image that no-one could maintain. (Although it's fair to suggest that Mizuki has probably never tried killing people in a giant, nuclear-equipped mech.)
- Metal Gear Solid:
- Nick Frost in Ice Age 4: Continental Drift. He voices a Cloud Cuckoo Lander Ditz... who is one of the villains.
- Sarah Silverman often plays foul-mouthed, sarcastic jerks. It looked like her character Vanellope von Schweetz in Wreck-It Ralph was just a more kid-friendly version of that. Of course, it wasn't nearly that simple.
- Tom Kenny as the Ice King in Adventure Time. At first, it's one of his many Cloud Cuckoolanders (who's also a Harmless Villain). Although once his backstory as Simon Petrikov is established, it fits his less-common more serious roles he doesn't play as often.
- Grey DeLisle as Major Doctor Ghastly from Evil Con Carne shows her as a Mad Scientist who actually cares about other people compared to her other villainous roles.
- Patrick Stewart as Seti from The Prince of Egypt is a Reasonable Authority Figure who loves his sons... and had thousands of innocent children murdered without remorse.
- Bill Fagerbakke, best known for voicing ditzy Manchild Patrick Star on Spongebob Squarepants, voiced Broadway on Gargoyles, who acted in a similar manner to Patrick, but was actually fairly intelligent, mature, and romantic underneath his goofball exterior.