Breaking the Mould: 5 Actors Who Smashed Their Typecasts


Without question, the process of typecasting carries a certain level of stigma with it. If an actor can be subjected to a typecast (a particular type of character that they often play) then there is definitely some negativity sent there way. There’s rationale behind the scorn though, as audiences have every right to be annoyed when they are forced to watch the same concepts and characters over and over again.

Perhaps then, this is why it’s so refreshing to see a particular star play against their allotted typecast. By subverting the expectations of the audience, it can generate a shock value for the film that makes it immediately more interesting. Below is a list of six actors that have done just this; broken against the stereotypical roles they are known for.

‘Six?’ you might be thinking, ‘but the article title expressly says five!’ Well spotted, eagle-eyed reader. This is because the list features five actors, but there is an honourable mention added at the end. This sixth actor didn’t qualify, as the particular role is from a TV series, not a film. However, the against-type performance is too good not mention it (see if you can guess who I’m talking about, it’s not difficult!)

5.Albert Brooks – Drive


Albert Brooks is a funny guy. From his past at Saturday Night Live, to his Academy Award nomination for Broadcast News, he’s been the poster-boy for egotistical and self-involved comedy for decades. That’s why it’s so interesting to see him as a villain. Sure, he’s played an antagonist before, but that was in The Simpsons Movie, which was worlds apart from his blade-wielding gangster in Drive. It’s a typecast-breaker that doesn’t really take hold until the second half of the film, which makes it even more terrifying. He starts the film as typical nice-guy Brooks, but by the end he’s slashing Bryan Cranston and trying to gut Ryan Gosling. You’ll never look at Nemo’s dad the same.

4. Jim Carrey – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


In full-swing, Jim Carrey is more cartoon than man. Known for his larger-than-life characters, he’s one of the most beloved comedy actors of all time. However, that’s not to say he hasn’t strayed from time to time. Carrey has made several efforts to break from his typecast into more serious roles, but perhaps his most successful was in Michael Gondry’s genre-defying Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. As the character Joel, Carrey is able to flex his acting muscles in ways we’ve rarely seen. There’s humour there, sure, but there’s also an emotional performance that the actor is yet to replicate.


3. Anthony Perkins – Psycho


It’s almost hard to believe that before starring Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, Perkins was known by audiences as a leading man in romantic films. Starring in films like The Matchmaker and Tall Story, Perkins status as a charming leading man is a far cry from his turn as Norman Bates. To this day, his performance in Psycho remains one of the most sinister and haunting of all time.


2. Robin Williams – Insomnia


Like Jim Carrey, Robin Williams is one of the most recognisable comedic actors around. He’s the star of countless family classics, such as Aladdin, Jumanji, Hook, Mrs. Doubtfire and Flubber. In addition to this, Williams has won much acclaim for his more serious roles, in the likes of Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting. You might think his status as both a serious actor and a comedy legend might free him from the clutches of a typecast, but regardless of the film’s tone, one thing is usually guaranteed: Williams is a good guy. Well, that all changed in Christopher Nolan’s 2002 thriller Insomnia, where the actor played a ruthless killer. Opposite Al Pacino, Williams’ performance is truly unnerving, made all the better by its subversion to his usual roles.


1. Henry Fonda – Once Upon a Time in the West


Like most in this list, this is another good guy turning heel. However, this is probably the most shocking and effective example of an actor breaking typecast to play a villain. Henry Fonda had been a Hollywood hero since 1935, and in that time he had built up quite the repertoire of heroic characters. His films include The Grapes of Wrath, Mister Roberts and 12 Angry Men. So imagine cinema-goers surprise (and horror) to see him appearing in Sergio Leone’s western epic as a child-killing hired gun. It’s a career turn that has never been outdone in terms of shock value, as the dashing fan-favourite became a hateable villain. All credit to Fonda himself for having the bravery to take the role, and for having the ability to play such a convincing and memorable villain.


Honourable Mention – Bryan Cranston – Breaking Bad


Who else was it going to be? Not so much breaking his typecast as gradually obliterating it. For many people, myself included, Cranston first entered the public eye as Hal, the friendly but bumbling father in Malcolm in the Middle. It was role that spurred him into film roles retracing his ‘everyday nice guy’ image, in likes of Drive and Argo. When Cranston took on the role of Walter White in Breaking Bad, it looked like that trend was going to continue, but thanks to some of the finest writing on television, and Cranston’s three-time Emmy Award-winning acting, that all changed. Over the course of the show’s five seasons, Walter (and Cranston’s typecast) has been transformed beyond all recognition; from mild-mannered everyman to fearless drug-lord. He is the one who knocks.