Incredibly specific typecasting in movies and TV

Mark takes a look at some of the more specific examples of typecasting happening in the world of TV and film today...

Typecast actors

We all know of actors who are typecast, stuck replaying what is essentially the same role over and over. The set and plot may change, but the shtick remains the same. Jason Statham is a gruff tough guy without a sense of humour. Jim Carrey is an unhinged wacky person with a penchant for pulling funny faces. Michael Cera is an awkward teenager and Tom Cruise is, well, Tom Cruise.

But some actors have refined the art of typecasting to the point where the characteristics on display are incredibly specific. It’s quite the niche they’ve dug out for themselves.  First up on the list we have…

Tahmoh Penikett

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Anyone with an appreciation of compelling sci-fi will know Penikett from Battlestar Galactica. He played Lieutenant Carl ‘Helo’ Agathon  in the backdoor-pilot miniseries which preceded the first season. Near the end of the piece, the character is marooned on a post-apocalyptic planet in an act of ultimate sacrifice. That, as intended, should have been that.

However, due to a massive fan response to the character, Helo was resurrected when Galactica returned for its first season proper. Penikett went on to play the character for five years, battling with cylons, existential angst and that same puppy dog/confused expression for most of that time. Helo fell in love with a cylon, then had to come to terms with the fact the woman he loved was, for all intents and purposes, not a real person. The fact she looked like Grace Park probably made it easier to reconcile.

Then came Dollhouse.

Joss Whedon’s glorious mess of TV show, it starred Penikett alongside Eliza Dushku (herself relatively typecast as ‘tough girl’) and token Brit-in-a-US-TV-show Olivia Williams.

When reading the scripts for his latest slab of televised sci-fi, Penikett must have thought his career was regurgitating itself. For as the series wore on, in the guise of FBI Agent Paul Ballard, he once again battled with the fact that the woman he loved was not real (in fact, he did it twice!). She was not a robot this time (although some of Dushku’s acting would imply otherwise) but rather a composite personality of ‘imprints’.

So, Penikett was destined to struggle with existential angst over the nature of humanity and what it takes to be a real human being. For a change.

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Add to this the fact that both shows featured Penikett in a self-contained sub-plot for the entirety of their first seasons, and the guy must surely have been getting a hefty slice of déjà vu the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Eddie Murphy got the box office takings from his latest self-indulgent humour-vacuum.

Penikett will next be seen in SyFy’s (stupid name that) adaptation of Phillip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld books. If I were him, I would insist on interacting with the rest of the cast in the first episode, and that all love interests are vetted for being ‘actual human beings’ before the series goes into production. Otherwise, he may just have a frakking ‘composite event’.

Alan Dale

In a former life, Alan Dale was Jim from Neighbours. The natural career progression for an ex-Aussie soap actor is usually Neighbours/Home And Away > come to the UK > pantomime > failed music career > back to Australia > repeat as necessary.

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Not for Alan Dale, though. No, he tried his luck in the ol’ US of A and fashioned a lucrative trade in niche typecasting categorised as follows:

‘father/authority figure who is also a bit of an asshole’

In The O.C. he played a father of a blonde woman who was both rich and ‘a bit of an asshole’. In Ugly Betty he played a rich asshole who is the father of a blonde woman (technically, a post-op transsexual, but whatever), then he moved onto Lost, playing the enigmatic Mr Charles Widmore, who may or may not be the Emperor Palpatine of the Lost universe. He has a blonde daughter, is super-mega ‘I can stage a plane crash at the bottom of the ocean’ rich and, low and behold, is a bit of an asshole.

24 was much the same (minus the daughter part) but perhaps his biggest departure came in the final season of The X Files, where he played a man with possibly the stupidest name on television, ‘The Toothpick Man’ (and this, coming from a show that once had a character called ‘Well-Manicured Man’, is quite the achievement).

Once again he was playing an authority figure who was ‘a bit of an asshole’, but the twist here was that he was also an alien super soldier with a metal spine who enjoyed chewing toothpicks.

Hopefully, any lingering respect you may have for the final season of The X Files disappeared when you read that sentence. If not, read it again out loud.

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Never blessed with the most subtle of roles (he even died to a Coldplay track in The O.C., talk about cliché), Dale shows up and does what he does best. He adds a bit of menace and gives you someone to root against. And for that Jim, I salute you. May you continue to be ‘a bit of an asshole’ in many geek shows for years to come.

Josh Charles

Anyone remember Sports Night? No? No one? Not that surprising, I suppose.

Well, it was an American ‘dramedy’ from The West Wing writer/creator/genius Aaron Sorkin. It was set in a kind of US-style Sky Sports News and starred, amongst others, Peter Krause (Nate in Six Feet Under) and Josh Charles (that guy who’s picture is above this paragraph). It mixed together comedy, politics, relationships, and tragedy all wrapped around the setting of a nightly TV show. Imagine it as similar to Sorkin’s later project, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, but minus the preachy Iraq stuff, sanctimonious moralising and being quite crap.

As CSC Anchorman Dan Rydell, Josh Charles was a revelation. Mixing a smart-guy attitude with vulnerability and pathos, his performance throughout the two-year run was a dramatic tour-de-force. Unfortunately, this only made his subsequent projects even more disappointing for myself and the 12 or so other Sports Night fans out there. I’ve seen him in a few action movies and his particular brand of typecasting is as follows:

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‘the seemingly loyal good guy who actually turns out to be a bad guy, betraying the good guys and then getting killed’

See Four Brothers and S.W.A.T. for the most pertinent examples of this.

Common

Now, in truth ,this could be any American rapper, as rappers in general only play generic henchmen, full stop. Sure, there is the occasional exception (Mos Def springs to mind), but most of the time a rapper is added to a cast to give one extra ‘name’ on the poster and is given a role that’s as undemanding as Samuel L. Jackson’s in Jumper. In short, they just play to type.

Common plays a hitman in Smoking Aces. In Wanted, he plays a hitman. In Street Kings, he plays a thug, but in spirit he’s playing a hitman. In Terminator Salvation, he plays another freedom fighting future warrior sort of chap, but again, in spirit, he’s playing a hitman. In American Gangster…well, you get the point.

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It is true that he’s slated to star in a romantic comedy soon alongside Queen Latifah, so, that’ll signal a departure for him, but in rapper-in-film terms, that’ll be UnCommon.

Yeah, that joke sucks. Anyway, moving on.

Because finally, we come to the guy you will recognise but probably not know his name…

Glenn Morshower

Ah, where to start. This guy’s typecasting is as follows:

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‘shadowy government figure from some echelon of power/law enforcement/military who usually wears an earpiece’

Playing a variation on the above archetype, Morshower has appeared in 24, The X Files, Alias, JAG, NCIS, The West Wing, Dollhouse, CSI, Bones, The 4400 and Charmed as well as the feature films Transformers (both Bay abominations), Good Night And Good Luck, The Men Who Stare At Goats, and you may also know his voice from Call Of Duty Modern Warfare 2.

Having seen most of those, I can vouch for the appearance of the earpiece in the vast majority. It’s so commonplace, in fact, I do wonder whether he brings it with him from home. When he turned up in the recent remake of The Crazies (earpiece in tow) I actually laughed out loud in the cinema, much to the embarrassment of the people with me at the time.

He must be the most typecast actor currently working in the US. A quick look through his IMDb page more than implies he is never short of work, so, although he no doubt makes a decent wage and is the go-to-guy for whenever a casting director requires a ‘military type’, I do like to think he secretly yearns for a starring role in a romantic comedy alongside Sandra Bullock.

But then again, don’t we all?

If you can think of any other examples please feel free to add them to the comments below.