The most successful and most happiest actors know themselves, know what they do best and know where they fit in – all with remarkable clarity

Brian O’Neill

Fear not, dear reader! This is not a section that is packed full of ominous warnings about the evils of typecasting. Instead we’re going to deal with the power that you, the actor, can harness from it. With the right approach, you can leverage it to benefit your career. 

It’s one of the biggest Catch 22’s of working in this industry. An actor must think of themselves both as:

(a) An individual artistic entity with feelings, loves, hates, needs, wants, reactions, decisions, fantasies, dreams, strong self-belief and an inherently child-like spontaneity.

(b) A brand and a product

Yup, I hear you.

These are the strange parallel universes that actors must exist in on a daily basis. During our training and experiences we are constantly taught (as we should be) to push against the constraints of ‘type’. That Ye Olde Meryl Streep Quote about ‘every character being within you’ comes to mind here. For the sake of our own professional development and, most importantly, our artistic growth, actors must ALWAYS strive to play anything and everyone. That will always remain an eternal goal.

In reality, though… Will you be playing every kind of role that exists under the sun? Of course not. But this doesn’t imply that you shouldn’t stretch yourself creatively. Not once have any of the great acting teachers ever written about phoning it in with ‘type’. On the contrary, generalised acting and carbon-copy performances are rejected outright. If an actor convinces themselves that they’re only ever going to play one ‘type’ and, therefore, don’t need to do anything else apart from copy and paste ‘that type’ from gig to gig, they have poisoned their creative growth at the roots. It is a sad fact that many actors do this either out of laziness or fear of failure and, as I’ve since been told, it is only too evident in the casting room.  

Creative growth aside, the sooner we acknowledge and understand the dichotomy of ‘artist vs. brand’, the sooner we can exploit this bizarre situation. Yes, this industry is a business. That’s why we call it ‘The Biz’. So we might as well treat it like one! Start identifying your ‘artistic talent’ as a product and your ‘instrument’ as a brand. Also, there’s both good news and bad news when it comes to our own careers:

The Bad News: We’ve already been ‘typed’ by our age, height, sex and build. All this without one line escaping our lips. As soon as that line is spoken, we are categorised yet again by our artistic choices.  

The Good News: This industry LOVES archetypes. Once you know where you sit in the grand spectrum of these, you have leverage.

The question naturally follows though: What brand am I? And what product do I sell? Chances are that you already have a fair idea of where you sit thanks to your training. As per my warning in Breaking the Bubble Wrap, be careful of the skewed perception of self you tend to get from the roles you’ve played during training. You’re in the real world now and there are enough actors out here to cover a whole gamete of roles. They can get 70 year old men to play old Russian aristocrats and they can get a 38 year old ex-con to play a Yakuza boss (or not, if they so choose). Talk to your agent and engage with a trusted industry mentor (see Your Creative Growth) to establish what your ‘brand’ is and how you should be marketing it. All these people have enough experience in The Biz to be able to identify where you fit in.

So where does leverage come into this? As a new grad trying to get into people’s faces, typecasting can end up being your friend!

Please note that I say it ‘can’. There are light-sides and dark sides to the issue of typecasting. We are all aware of the many systemic problems of inequality, white-washing and lack of equity which continue to plague our industry. If you’ve been on the receiving end of this, please know that I find it deplorable and shameful. What I am advocating here is to ‘play the system’.

If you find that the casting briefs you are receiving tend to gravitate toward certain roles or genres, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by thinking of it as a problem. This means you have a recognisable screen personality that people really want to see more of. This is an ‘in’ to the industry! If you find that you keep going for the same kind of role, it’s because you’ve been associated with a particular archetype. This means that when a character archetype comes up in a project, there’s a damn good chance you’ll get an audition for it.

Also get to know your strengths when it comes to genre and style. If the auditions you’re getting are reflecting a genre that is unfamiliar to you, I highly suggest embedding yourself in places where you can learn to play it well (see Your Creative Growth). Lisa Mulcahy (‘A Life In Acting’) writes:

It’s very important that you know what kind of work you respond to and are highly influenced by. Because even if you don’t recognise it, your style as an actor probably reflects that specific flair to some extent. And that’s quite a good thing- if you can establish an authentic identity as an artist familiar with a certain kind of performance work (and you get better and better doing it) you will have developed a strong image which will get your name mentioned for a long time.

Lisa Mulcahy

Don’t expect it all to happen within a few months. At first you’ll get all kinds of weird briefs (“Hi, I’m here for Aggressive Cheese Shop Owner?”) But don’t sweat it. Like everything else in The Biz, it will take time. The movers and the shakers are just figuring out where you fit in.

LONG HAUL LIFE SAVERS:

  • Be careful of ego.

In the words of one of my interviewees: “Sometimes I’ve heard actors talking about being ‘pigeon-holed ‘ and I’m like “Whoa! Hang on. You’re not even at a place TO be pigeon-holed!” Don’t be worrying about being landed with the burden of an eternal archetype until you’re Cate Blanchett being asked to play another strong, female lead. And even if you do manage to attain this lofty position, prior to broaching the topic with a publicist/manager,  maybe just ask yourself… Is it really that bad?

  • Remind yourself of the abundance of possibility.

The 95% unemployment rate statistic is true, but you cannot dwell on it. Marinating in creative stagnation will sap your motivation and self-confidence. Ask yourself questions that have ACTIONABLE answers. What roles or characters do you want to play or have yet to play? What roles or projects are you looking forward to? Act on those things now and give your agent something completely off the wall for them to champion you with. Get proactive (use your S.M.A.R.T goals from Breaking the Bubble Wrap)  and go out of your way to show different parts of yourself that you think others have yet to see. It certainly beats lounging around in a cafe whinging about how the world has it in for you and will only ever see you as ‘one kind of role’.