There’s a decent debate to be had about typecast actors. Should we be viewing them as poor souls that have been limited in some way, or should we be celebrating them for having the chance to work in the industry at all, regardless of how similar an actor’s roles have been? Most of the time, typecast is an overused word. If an actor plays the same character a few times, that doesn’t mean that they’ve been typecast, it just means that the actor has had success with the role. Even the most beloved actors in the world have taken on similar roles on more than one occasion.
Having said that, not every actor and not every role is equal here. While some actors have that teacher look and continue getting cast as teachers, other actors continue getting cast in less savory roles. They may say they’re happy to get the work, but there’s a part of us that has to wonder if the actor feels a little strange about these roles. What is it about these actors, aside from their talent, that makes them seem so ripe for these parts? Obviously, looks play a big part, but is there something in their natural mannerisms? Maybe they’re really capable actors, but for these roles, they don’t need to change much. Maybe this is kind of who they are. The names on this list might not be the most recognizable, but chances are you’ve seen many or most of them. In fact, you’ve probably only seen them in these roles. Here are 15 Actors Who Keep Getting the Most Degrading Roles.
15. Jackie Earle Haley – Pedo
We don’t want to reduce the great Jackie Earle Haley to only two films, but we have to acknowledge, he is effective at playing ped*philes, which is a strange thing to write. The first time he played one of these characters was in his Academy Award nominated performance in Little Children. Years and years later, Haley would take on the role of Freddy Krueger in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. While these are the only pedo roles for Haley, he’s played psychopaths in other films as well, including Shutter Island, The Watchmen, Preacher and even the reboot of The Tick TV series. He just knows how to make our skin crawl.
14. Marisa Tomei – Single Woman
Don’t get us wrong, a single mother is not degrading at all, but we do wonder what it is about Marisa Tomei that makes her so single-worthy in film and TV. Perhaps it’s because she’s beautiful and people want to watch beautiful people fall in love, but we can’t be sure. Almost every movie that Tomei has been in over the last decade has featured her as a single woman, often a single mother, including Cyrus, Spiderman: Homecoming, Crazy, Stupid, Love, The Wrestler, Trainwreck, Love the Coopers and The Rewrite. Now, there is some interesting real-world overlapping going on here. Tomei, somewhat famously, is against the institution of marriage, so that might have something to do with her role choices. That, or she just fits the bill as a woman that men want to pursue. She’s stunning and we love watching her fall in love, so we’re not complaining.
13. Anthony Johnson – Crackheads and Drug Dealers
Anthony Johnson’s career was launched when he was seen in Lethal Weapon 3 playing a drug dealer. The role went uncredited, but the next year he was cast in a similar role in Menace II Society. Though Johnson’s next big role, that of the crackhead Ezal in Friday, was his biggest and likely his best, it further cemented him in this type of role. Since then, Johnson’s has been a crackhead or a drug dealer or both several more times. He is convincing in the role and he makes it look like a lot of fun, so we sure as heck don’t mind it, but we have to wonder if Johnson wants to spread his wings a bit and try some new things. While there has long been a typecasting concern with black actors who have been relegated to the same roles over and over again in white films, this is not the case with Johnson. He has been primarily in black films playing these roles. Maybe that makes the roles more desirable.
12. Jackie Debatin – Call Girls
Jackie Debatin has had a pretty great career. She’s not been the main star in any major projects, but she’s been in plenty of incredible shows. There’s a good chance many of you recognize her from a few different roles, but her most famous roles have probably come in The Office and Friends. In both of those shows, Debatin played a pole dancer. Obviously, her beauty and her body were a primary reason why she was cast, but there’s more. In Friends, Debatin’s character was believed to be a stripper, but she was really a prostitute. Later, she would be cast as a prostitute again in Veronica Mars as well. So, what is it about Debatin that makes her such an effective pole dancer and/or hooker?
11. Peter Sarsgaard – The Creep
It takes a great actor to breathe life into complex characters and Peter Sarsgaard has had his share of complex characters. He often plays bad guys who are multi-dimensional and good characters, for lack of a better term, who are a bit strange. Sarsgaard is an excellent actor, but he does seem to be at his best playing a creep. There’s his recent performances as Ray Seward on The Killing and Bartholomew Bogue in The Magnificent Seven. He also made us uneasy with his characters in Lovelace and An Education. Then there was his character in Boys Don’t Cry, probably the creepiest of all his characters. Maybe slime-ball is the better description. There’s always a predatory-type quality to his characters as well. Maybe it’s in the eyes. Peter Sarsgaard: great actor, creepy roles.
10. Christian Calloway – Homeless Person
In the recent Twin Peaks revival, one of the most intriguing parts of the series came from the Woodsmen characters. These strange guys who are half lumberjacks, half homeless men are all horrifying. Amongst these terrifying men was one who looked familiar to film fans with keen eyes. His name is Christian Calloway and he’s been playing a homeless person on TV and in film for years now. It all started with a few shorts and music videos, but, in the last seven years or so, Calloway’s been homeless on screen 26 different times, with several more in production. He’s embraced it too. His twitter handle is even @ActingHomeless, so there’s no feeling bad for this bearded man. He’s found his niche and embraced it.
9. Rade Serbedzija – Foreign Gangster
Rade Serbedzija is incredibly well-known in other parts of the world for his lead roles, but internationally, he is typically found in two opposing roles, the foreign gangster or the foreign military. Now, his famous military roles are quite clearly not degrading. Still, we have to mention these as they are prevalent on his resume. He’s been military-related in The Shooter, X-Men: First Class, Mission Impossible 2, Space Cowboys, In the Land of Blood and Honey, The Fog and a recurring role in the series 24. But it’s the gangster side we’re more interested in. It seems that because Serbedzija has a cultured appearance and a thick European accent, he is often cast as a mob leader. We’ve seen him play very similar roles in the films Mighty Joe Young, Snatch, and Thick as Thieves and the TV series CSI Miami and Red Widow. For Serbedzija, it seems unlikely that he’ll ever escape the European mobster role, but we wonder if he’s tired of it.
8. Pam Grier – Blaxploitation Femme Fatale
This category is not nearly as cut and dry as the others. The blaxploitation films of the 70s were stereotypical and offensive in many ways, but they were also vehicles for black actors to showcase their talents during a time when actors of color were being relegated to the sidelines of films or not getting roles at all. Perhaps no other black actor benefitted from blaxploitation films like Pam Grier. Because of her roles in Coffy, Foxy Brown, Sheba, Baby and Friday Foster, Grier became one of the biggest action stars on the planet. Since those days, Grier’s career has not been as prolific, but it has been more varied. Still, her biggest roles since the 70s, particularly the title role in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown have gone back to that niche. So, while we have included Grier in a list of degrading roles for playing the lead role in the stereotypical blaxploitation genre, we are also acknowledging that she was a giant in this genre and if she’s fine with it, so are we.
7. Ahmed Ahmed – Terrorist
For the Egyptian-born actor Ahmed Ahmed, the only acting opportunities he had in the early going of his career were roles playing various terrorists. Though he jokes about it now, his first encounter with this type of role came in the Steven Seagal movie Executive Decision. In that film, he was credited as Terrorist #4. Since then, Ahmed has played a terrorist in Roseanne, JAG, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan and Iron Man. More recently, things have changed for Ahmed. He landed a starring role on Sullivan & Sons in a non-terrorist role. He also ran his own comedy tour for a while, which allowed him the opportunity to make fun of the roles that he was offered early on.
6. Tasha Smith – Angry Black Woman
Tasha Smith is an actress whose face is much more memorable than her name. She’s a talented actress, but many have wondered if she’s been unfairly typecast in an angry black woman role. This is a type of role that has become well-known for black actresses, one that has many variants but remains the same at the core. Perhaps the most famous of these roles have come in the Why Did I Get Married film franchise, which also spawned the TV series For Better or Worse. In that Tyler Perry vehicle, Smith plays the outspoken and always angry Angela. Of the typecasting, Smith has said, “I understand when people say that because no one wants to see a character who’s always negative. For me, even with Angela, I don’t write her, I play her, and it just so happened that I’ve been blessed to have a character that has lasted over 5 years. It’s a beautiful thing, but of course I want to evolve as an actor too. I don’t necessarily want to play the same kinds of roles.” Well, even outside the franchise Smith plays angry black women. Maybe she is angry.
5. Reginald VelJohnson – Loud Cop
Reginald VelJohnson is a face that everyone knows. We also all know him in one particular role too, the loud and overweight cop. This role goes all the way back to Ghostbusters in which VelJohnson played a corrections officer. That led to cop roles in Die Hard 1 and 2, Plain Clothes, Turner & Hooch, One of Her Own, Chuck, Girl Meets World and many more. His most famous of all his cop roles is from Family Matters, playing Carl Winslow. VelJohnson seems to have created a chicken or the egg scenario. Is his character type a stereotype that VelJohnson just happens to fall into or have we created this image of a loud overweight cop because of VelJohnson’s many memorable roles? Obviously, the man has done very well for himself and we doubt that he regrets his career, but you gotta think he rolls his eyes a little whenever he gets a call to play a cop.
4. Noel Gugliemi – Hector
Most of the typecasting or similar roles on this list are character types. Well, Noel Gugliemi had that happen to him as well. He almost always plays the gang-banging and violent type, typically a lower class southern California gangster. But, for Gugliemi, it goes a little further than that. He’s also been typecast as a guy named Hector. In total, he’s played Hector eight times and only a few have been in the Fast and the Furious franchise. He’s almost never just a regular Hector either; he’s Cholo Hector.
3. Timothy Spall – Creepy Evil British Assistant
It’s possible that we’re making an offensive category here. Perhaps this is just the Timothy Spall category, but this is an actor who sure seems to play an awful lot of creepy assistants. Whether it’s Harry Potter, Sweeney Todd, Enchanted, or any of his other similar roles, Spall is often the conniving, evil, creepy underling. He’s done very, very well in these roles as well. Now, that’s not all Spall does. His Winston Churchill in The King’s Speech might be his best role to date, but he is most memorable playing the sneaky antagonist. The best test for a creepy actor is to play the ultimate creepy role in literature, that of Fagin in Oliver Twist, which Spall did for BBC. While his version of this character was more sympathetic than usual, there’s still so much weight behind the character that it doesn’t improve Spall’s unpleasant stereotype.
2. Michael Emerson – Evil Weirdo
Aside from his role on Person of Interest, basically every memorable role from Michael Emerson has been that of the evil weirdo. It’s a strange category but it suits Emerson well. He’s been just that. Look at the characters of Oliver Martin in The X-Files, the serial killer, William Hinks, on Private Practice, the antagonist Benjamin Linus, on Lost and the sadistic Zep Hindle in Saw. What is it about Emerson that makes him so effective at playing the villain? It’s not all in his looks, but that has something to do with it. He looks intelligent and a bit awkward. This might put some people off. There’s also his voice. When Emerson voiced the Joker in The Dark Knight animated film, it kind of confirmed our suspicions that his voice was just as creepy, if not creepier, than his appearance.
1. Lupe Ontiveros – Maid
Guadalupe “Lupe” Ontiveros, sadly, passed away in 2012, but she makes this list because of all her maid appearances in film and on TV. Normally, it wouldn’t be offensive to be cast as a maid, but Ontiveros has played so many Mexican maids that there can be no doubt she was offensively typecast. Her most famous of these roles probably came in The Goonies, but she played similar parts in a crazy number of big shows and films. Some numbers have her playing a maid more than 150 times. There’s Reba, Alice, Charlie’s Angels and As Good As It Gets, to name a few. When Ontiveros was offered her biggest role as Beverly in Chuck & Buck, she jumped at the chance, saying, “Beverly? Her name is Beverly? I’ll do it. I don’t care what the script is about because her name is Beverly. It wasn’t Maria Guadalupe Conchita Esperanza, this Latino stereotype.” Obviously, the stereotypical roles wore her on her nerves over time.
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