The curse of typecasting

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It’s catch-22: Sometimes an actor’s first film can put them straight into the spotlight, but then they become associated with no other role. Many of us may tried to watch Daniel Radcliffe in The Woman In Black without picturing him holding a wand, but most of us failed. We became so used to seeing his face in the Hogwarts context that it was almost impossible to detach ourselves from this image. Many actors fall under this curse, where their most distinctive role obscures whatever came before or after.

Linda Blair is an actress who has become victim to this association, famous for her role as the possessed child Regan in The Exorcist. Her role had such an impact on people’s psyche that for a long time people were afraid to even approach her.  In an interview she said: “I think people seemed to believe when they saw me that they might be becoming possessed. That is the look in their eyes. They were frightened of me. And no matter what I said or did, it didn’t change. They couldn’t get their heads around how it was just an acting job to me.” As a consequence, big roles in movies such as Blue Lagoon and Taxi Driver have slipped through her fingers despite her great efforts to break through.

Arguably a sufferer of the same fate is Sean Connery, known for his role as James Bond.  Despite his acting success later on, many viewers continue to associate his name with the suave secret agent – an image never complete if you don’t portray him drinking a shaken martini. Connery has received little recognition outside of MI6, which he says is “a problem in a way and a bit of a bore, but one has just got to live with it.”

Way before Christopher Reeve and Henry Cavill, the first actor to play Superman was George Reeve in the 1950s TV series, but was it the privilege we might expect? He grew to hate the role as it was the only one he received recognition for throughout his career. Rumour has it that during the film preview of From Here to Eternity the audience kept screaming ‘there’s Superman!’ every time he appeared on the screen, perhaps an explanation for why he was only given a few lines. His successor Christopher Reeves also tried very hard to escape Superman’s cape. Only time will tell whether Henry Cavill will be seen as just another Clark Kent through his career.

It would be wrong not to mention the stars in The Twilight Saga. Robert Pattinson has never hidden his dislike of playing Edward Cullen (he asks why anyone would want to be remembered for ‘sparkling like My Little Pony’) – no one hates Twilight more than him. People say the best way to tell the truth is to joke about it, and Rob certainly manages this in interviews: ‘When I read it, it seemed like a book that wasn’t supposed to be published’ he laughs. At the moment, he is trying to concentrate more on his music career hoping to stop living under the shadow of Twilight. As for the co-star Taylor Lautner, he is to replace Andy Samberg and take on his role in the BBC 3 comedy show Cuckoo, but can audiences see him without thinking he might turn into a werewolf at any point? I wonder whether ladies would bear the thought of not seeing him shirtless running across the woods.

Could it be that once an actor becomes a character of a certain scale, it is impossible to break out of the associations that go with it? Well Harrison Ford’s iconic roles as Han Solo in Star Wars and Indiana Jones didn’t at all hinder his successful six-decade acting career. Robert Downey Jr managed to concurrently play the larger than life roles of both Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes. And Gary Oldman has his finger in more franchise-pies than anyone. Unfortunately, it seems the typecasting curse only applies to some actors, and it is impossible to predict which ones.

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