The Hollywood image trap - shaken, not stirred

April 9th, 2008 - 11:28 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Daniel Craig
By Sevanand Gaddala
A few days ago, Bond actor Daniel Craig made the bold claim that he would play the suave British spy until his joints go out. Most actors would shudder to make such a statement, which would corner them into one of the worst things that could ever happen to an actor - being typecast. Craig, unlike the other Bond actors with maybe the exception of Sean Connery, knows he is talented enough to break free from any straightjacket the Bond franchise might ensnare him in. But other actors are not that bold, talented or lucky even to avoid the black hole of being typecast.

For most actors, getting typecast is a conundrum really. On the one hand, because you are readily identifiable as a certain character, you are guaranteed work. But on the other, you will most probably get roles that only correspond to the quirk that made you so famous in the first place.

The worst type of typecasting is when a particular character portrayed by an actor becomes ingrained in the collective psyche of fans. This seems to infect TV actors mostly. The supporting actors of the massive 1990s hit show “Seinfeld” have suffered that fate.

Jennifer Aniston also seems to have hit a brick wall of familiarity that fans want to associate her with. She played a sexy girl next door in “Friends” and even though she was catapulted into the highest stratosphere of fame (marriage to Brad Pitt), and in spite of the range of roles she has opted for, she just doesn’t seem to be able to shake off the good girl image.

Actors have always tried to free themselves from being typecast.

Double Oscar winner Tom Hanks has taken on a range of roles to very good effect. He won an Oscar playing a gay man in his 1993 film “Philadelphia” and snagged another Best Actor award the following year playing a good-hearted simpleton in “Forrest Gump”.

Sometimes an actor, maybe unconsciously, will try to subvert the common perception held of him in the public eye. “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe has recently been reported as being a chain smoker. On a professional level, he has taken on the edgy role in a play called “Equus” which features a simulated sex act and full-frontal nudity.

Yet another approach taken by a few actors is to make peace with typecasting. These actors more often than not happen to be action movie stars. Steven Seagal has done the same character type in almost every movie.

Though in more recent times Jackie Chan has made a foray into Hollywood movies, he still plays a variation of the action star that made him so famous in Asia. Samuel L. Jackson has taken the smart-mouth, tough know-it-all guy to a whole new level. He is easily the most prolific actor in Hollywood, even if it seems like he plays the same character in every movie.

One of the most striking examples of an actor who has managed to control his choice of roles and the associated image is Bruce Willis. His career arc is one of the most interesting in Hollywood. Willis began in the hit TV show “Moonlighting”, playing a witty-romantic detective. He attempted to make the jump into movies but failed playing characters who were nerds or cowboys.

He then got his break in “Die Hard” in 1988 and became an action star, almost transforming himself. But he also continued to star in small independent movies like “Pulp Fiction” and “Nobody’s Fool” just to prove his acting skills. This gave the impression that he could handle shades of complexity in a character. He then got his next ‘break’ with Manoj Night Shyamalan casting him in “Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable”. He has managed to achieve super stardom without being pigeonholed into any set image.

Craig seems to be enjoying the Bond role a lot. He claimed it was his idea to push the producers for the nude scene in the next instalment. He could also be aware that he is talented, and even when it’s time for him to hang up the Bond tuxedo, he will still find a way to shine in almost any other role he takes up.

(Sevanand Gaddala is a film writer. He can be contacted at

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