by Paul Russell
How Typecasting Robs Actors & Reality
Too many agents, casting directors, directors, and, yes, even an open-call line crammed with agitated actors can be short-sighted in envisioning truthful optics of what characters actors can portray. Although, some actors tend to be creative (re: delusional) when they envision whom they can inhabit; such as a 4’11” gamine actor who fumes about being ‘short-shortsightedly snubbed’ for a spotlight to personify Abe Lincoln.
Talent agents and casting decision makers don’t sport the rose-colored specs as does the “I can play any role” Norma Desmond actor. Talent agents believe themselves ‘realists’ determining who can be what type or inhere a profession. But are their instincts always being honest to reality?
Let’s place on trial your instincts in the casting of a lawyer. You’ll be doing what casting directors and do daily–viewing pictures and determining by look the actor’s appropriateness for the role.
From the three photos below, whom would you cast as a lawyer?
Are you certain any of the amiable faces above would fit attorney typecasting: a heartless and cold, conniving stereotype that is the fabled assignment as imagined upon attorneys by the public?
All of the ladies are olꞌ friends of mine: an attorney, a real estate investor, and a horse trainer.
Which is the legal eagle?
The brunette on the right. A cherished friend from my adolescence of mullets and Smurfs who failed to convince her mother that pillows lumped under a bed sheet was her dozing best friend.
Now, let’s see how you fare against talent agents’ perception.
From the three photos below whom would you believe to be a doctor?
Choose the third picture? Steven may look like a man with bad penmanship bound for a prescription pad but he’s a wonderful musician and the former music director for the Barter Theatre.
Choose the first picture as our doc? Two talent agents would strongly disagree.
Lawrence was my master class actor/student who portrayed a doctor before a panel of agents.
One agent responded with:
“I don’t think you can play a doctor [from your looks].”
Another agent surmised:
“He doesn’t physically look the part of a doctor in any way.”
Who’s the real doctor of twelve years? The youthful actor-looking gent in the middle. Do you suppose the talent agents would have rejected his appropriateness for ‘looking the part of a doctor?’
Far too often subjective opinions of casting, and those of talent agents, imagine a reality of an actor playing a profession that never matches…reality.
From where comes the misconceptions of who is what by look? It’s taught. Not learned from experience but developed via a distorted perception delivered by media and entertainment to which we become conditioned to as fact. And sadly, I don’t foresee coming anytime soon an expansion of imagination in our industry towards reality. (Unless of course it’s Reality TV for we all know… that’s real… Next!)
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher, and former actor has spanned thirty years. He’s worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul’s taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU, and speaks at universities including Elon, Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.