Random Thoughts: The Chameleon vs. Perpetually-Typecast Actors

Well, clearly we have winner on the movie battle of the muscled men vs. Julia + her men vs. a nerd boy hero. The Expendables exploded at the box office with $35 million, with Eat, Pray, Love came out in a distant second with about 10 million less. I guess Sly’s gamble paid off, it could’ve easily gone completely the other way. Well, whilst Sly and Julia are going ka-ching, Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim only came up at 5th place with a dismal $10 million. That’s a long ways away from its $60+ production budget, yikes!

The movie’s not on my radar until its marketing was kicked into high gear and suddenly it’s everywhere. Sounds like an original concept and even the critics embraced it, but why did it tank despite all the hype at ComicCon? HitFix had a long analysis as to what possibly went wrong, and at the top of the list is the lead actor: Michael Cera. Perhaps he just wasn’t ‘likable’ enough to audiences or as Julian observed from an Entertainment Weekly’s article comments section, it’s that perhaps people are tired of seeing him in a string of repetitive roles (as this article also suggests). Now, I haven’t seen enough any of his movies to offer an insight on that topic, but it brings up an interesting notion. This morning a local radio DJ mentioned a list of Terminally Typecast Actors, she didn’t say where the list is from, but it sounds a whole lot like this one. Well, guess who’s at the top of that list?

Ciaran Hinds as Julius Caesar in HBO's ROME

Obviously such lists are extremely debatable, I mean this one from ScreenJunkies even included beloved thespians the likes of Pacino and De Niro. I for one wouldn’t dispute such picks, but I know a bunch of people would. I guess when it comes to actors, consistency isn’t always such a virtue. It’s not like a restaurant where we expect our favorite food to be cooked the same way every time we go there. We don’t want our Pad Thai or what have you to suddenly be super spicy one day and utterly bland the next. But with actors, though we expect a consistent quality of performance, we generally want to see Actor A brings out a different set of characteristics from role to role. We want to see him/her be all bad ass in one movie, but then vulnerable and despondent the next. My friend Becky were talking about Irish character actor Ciaran Hinds the other day as she has just seen Persuasion. I bet most of you have seen the Irish actor in several movies, but don’t realize right away who he is. Those are the chameleons who ‘disappear’ into any roles. For me, those that fit into such category are Gary Oldman, Cate Blanchett, Edward Norton, Sam Rockwell, the list goes on…

Mark Strong as a Jordanian Prince in Body of Lies

Yet, there are actors who consistently deliver great performances playing a certain type of roles. One thing that came to mind right now is Mark Strong. He’s a great actor, but he’s become everyone’s favorite villain and by his own admission, he actually likes playing bad guys. When someone asked him, “Are you stuck in the villain roles?” He said, “Absolutely not. Swap the word ‘stuck’ for ‘enjoying.’ I’m enjoying them because they give me leeway to make them all different.” And it doesn’t even have to be a certain role category, it could be more of the essence of a character, i.e. tortured soul type or the brooding anti-hero. There are a certain set of actors that we prefer playing such roles because they do them very, very well. To me that would be Christian Bale, Viggo Mortensen, Daniel Day-Lewis, etc. Just to clarify, by no means do I suggest that these three actors are in the same category as those who play ‘repetitive’ roles. In fact, they’re proven to be adept at showcasing their range even if some of the roles they play share similar personalities.

So in that sense, ‘typecast’ doesn’t sound so bad. There’s nothing wrong with putting a fresh spin to a ‘classic’ role. I think as long as Actor A can still bring something new to the table even if the character is essentially the same, I don’t mind it so much.

Well, what do y’all think? Would love to hear your take on the topic… or perhaps you have your own theory why Scott Pilgrim bombed.