Typecasting has been around since the beginning of film. Whether it’s the fault of the studio, the audience or the actor, certain stars get stuck in the same roles throughout much of their careers. Sometimes it’s the studios that create the cycle, refusing to try new things with actors who became famous or well-known for a certain role, using the classic, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. Other times it’s the fans, who have become so accustomed to seeing an actor as a specific character or profession that they refuse to accept them as anything else. And finally, sometimes it’s the actor’s fault. It might be their look or their mannerisms, their persona or their voice that makes them fit so well in a specific role. One thing we should mention here is that we’re not just looking at general typecasting. It’s easy to say “this dude plays a good guy” in all his films. We’re trying to look at specifics, like actual professions. The narrower we can get and the more ridiculous the similarities between characters, the better.
We’ve seen it time and time again, from the cast of Star Trek to Superman, comedians to foreign actors. It’s an accepted reality in the film industry that certain actors will struggle to break free from being typecast. Some actors turn down iconic roles specifically because of their fears of being typecast in the future. Sometimes actors defy the odds. Who would’ve thunk that Daniel Radcliffe could become anything other than Harry Potter or David Tennant anyone else but the Doctor? Perhaps it’s a testament to the actor’s ability or maybe it’s just good luck and better timing that not everyone gets pigeonholed in one role. Still, many do, and that’s what we’ve all come together to observe. Here is Typecast: 15 Stars Who Have Played the Same Role Over and Over Again.
15. Bruce Willis – Aging Cop
What do Hostage, The Last Boy Scout, 16 Blocks, Mercury Rising, Surrogates, Cop Out, Striking Distance, Sin City, Moonrise Kingdom, Fire with Fire, Extraction and the Die Hard franchise (five films) have in common? They all feature Bruce Willis as an aging cop in some form or another. This list doesn’t even include all the times he played an army guy of some sort either. If you didn’t count, that’s 16 films in which Willis has played a cop. That’s a pretty significant number for a guy who is as popular as Willis is. Basically every action film that requires a cop-looking actor as the lead has gone to Willis ever since Die Hard in 1988. Even then he was an old veteran looking to relax. Now, almost 30 years later, he’s still not retired from the police force.
14. Dean Norris – Cop
You know Dean Norris as Hank Schrader in Breaking Bad. In that beautiful show, Norris plays a police officer, which probably felt natural to you. You may not have realized it at the time, but the man has been playing cops on film and TV his entire life. He doesn’t complain much about it because the guy’s put together a really successful career playing to that typecast. Of the position he’s found himself in, Schrader says, “I used to call myself the alphabet actor. FBI, CIA, DEA, you name it, I’ll play it.” Ever since his first feature film, Police Academy 6, where Norris played an uncredited police officer, he’s been cast as a police officer of some type 35 different times.
13. Bela Lugosi – Vampire
Like John Wayne, Bela Lugosi makes the list as we move from the well-known typecast actors to the more obscure and interesting. When Lugosi first took on the character of Dracula in the Broadway adaptation of Dracula in the 20s, it began a cycle that he would never effectively break free from, that of playing accented villains. While some of his roles differed in certain ways, most of Lugosi’s parts in films included him portraying a character similar to Dracula, often well-dressed, thoughtful and, of course, European. It was mainly because of Lugosi’s thick Hungarian accent that he was pigeonholed into these roles, and not anything to do with his skill as an actor. It’s also why, still to this day, the characters like Dracula sound and look so much like Bela Lugosi did.
12. Christopher Lee – Count Dracula
From Lugosi we move into another horror icon, Christopher Lee. Now like Lugosi, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, Lee was typecast as a villain (often supernatural) throughout most of his career; however, there was one role in particular that would define Lee: Count Dracula. You cry, but what about Bela Lugosi? Well, the amount of times Lee played the Count dwarfs Lugosi. Unlike other actors who have played the same character several times within a film franchise like Marvel or James Bond, Lee played Dracula numerous times across many different film franchises, different studios, directors and producers. The horror legend played Count Dracula an astounding 10 times on film, 11 if you count The Magic Christian in which he reprised the role briefly. That’s a really staggering figure when you think about almost none of these films being related to each other.
11. Jennifer Connelly – Woman on a Pier
In a really silly entry on the list, Jennifer Connelly deserves to be mentioned here for the hilarious coincidence of character staging in three of her films. We’ve all seen a similar shot. The camera is facing the far end of a pier with the water in the distance and someone is standing there, at the end, staring off at the water. Well, there’s a good chance that the woman you’re picturing is Connelly because she’s done it in Dark City (1998), Requiem for a Dream (2000) and House of Sand and Fog (2003). Darren Aronofsky, the director of Requiem for a Dream, stated that his part in this was completely unintentional. He wasn’t aware at that point that she was a pier kind of girl. Not really a typecast, but this is damn funny nonetheless.
10. Ray Liotta – Ex-Con or Corrupt Cop
It’s probably because of the way he looks, but Ray Liotta always seems to play either a full blown ex-convict or a corrupt cop. Is it his eyes or his smile? Whatever it is, Liotta seems like he’s always up to something and that’s probably why Powder Blue, Goodfellas, Something Wild, Turbulence, Control, Revolver, Wild Hogs and Crazy on the Outside all had him play a convict. Then there are films like A Place Beyond the Pines, Narc, Copland and Youth in Revolt and many more that he’s a cop with a shady track record. Well, you have to admit, Liotta does play the hell out of corruption.
9. John Wayne – Cowboy
You can’t just make a list about typecast actors and not include John “The Duke” Wayne. Wayne would appear in 83 westerns and almost always as a cowboy or a farmer of some sort. While he started with several unbilled and bit parts, Wayne’s name blew up after he appeared in John Ford’s Stagecoach, in which he played, you guessed it, a cowboy. Even though Wayne did appear in many other films in roles that were not cowboys or something closely related, he always played his characters the same. If not in dress and profession, they were still always cowboys. That’s not to take anything away from the abilities of the acting legend, but it’s a fact that he wasn’t about to be anything other than himself and his fans ate that up. When Wayne played a Roman Centurion in The Greatest Story Ever Told, he was a cowboy Centurion. When he was cast as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror, he was a cowboy Genghis Khan. You can take the boy out of the cow but you can’t take the cow out of the boy… or however that saying goes.
8. James Marsden – Second Best Love Interest
Poor James Marsden. This guy always seems to be the “other guy” or what we like to call, the second-best love interest. It seems like every year Marsden is playing the guy who is runner up for the affections of the star female. We have The Notebook where he loses Rachel McAdams to Ryan Gosling. We have X-Men where he loses Jean Grey to Wolverine. There’s also Enchanted where he loses Amy Adams to McDreamy and Superman Returns where he loses Lois Lane to Superman. Even in 27 Dresses and Straw Dogs (the striptease) do the women in Marsden’s life choose other guys, if only briefly.
7. Brian Cox – The Man Behind Amnesiac Human Weapons
What do The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Bourne Identity and X2 all have in common? If you guessed, they all feature a hero with amnesia, you are half right. The other half is that Brian Cox is one of the guys at the top in all three films, aware or even responsible for the hero’s issues. In The Long Kiss Goodnight, it’s Geena Davis as the expert fighter with amnesia, think female Jason Bourne. Cox plays Dr. Nathan Waldman, a man who knows all about her past and tries to help her figure it out. In The Bourne Identity, Cox plays CIA Deputy Director Ward Abbott, the man almost entirely responsible for Bourne’s amnesiac state. Finally, in X2, Cox plays William Stryker, the man behind all the tests on Wolverine and responsible for his memory loss. It might be a weird role to be typecast for, but Cox has managed it superbly.
6. Danny Trejo – Gang Member
Danny Trejo is the character that makes you feel like you’ve seen every movie. Seriously, you’re watching a brand new movie and out walks Trejo with a leather vest on, chest out, tattoos blaring and hair flowing in the wind, and you think to yourself, I’ve seen this damn movie. Nope. You’ve just witnessed the Danny Trejo effect. Basically every one of Trejo’s 300+ roles on TV and film have been him playing a current gang member or a former gang member or a guy who, if he isn’t yet in a gang, he probably should be or will be soon. You won’t catch Trejo complaining. He isn’t offended about looking the part because he was in a gang. He is an ex-convict. He got his first movie playing an ex-convict because he was helping a young man with some drug counseling on the set of the film Runaway Train. They saw him, the screenwriter even recognized him from San Quentin prison, and they asked him to join in. Trejo never looked back.
5. Octavia Spencer – Nurse
Thinking about Octavia Spencer, you’re going to think about The Help and maybe Snowpiercer, but you probably aren’t thinking that she’s been typecast in her career. She has. She knows it too. Hell, Spencer was a casting director before she was an actor, so she knows damn well what’s happened to her. Speaking to Stephen Colbert, the actress said, “My first job, I got cast as a nurse and I became the eventual nurse all the time…apparently, I have a sweet face.”
Here are all here nurse roles: A Time to Kill, ER, Brimstone, Chicago Hope, Roswell, The X-Files, Everything Put Together, What Planet Are You From?, Just Shoot Me, City of Angels, Grounded for Life, The Sky is Falling, Seven Pounds, Halloween 2, Break a Hip and Red Band Society. That’s 16 nurses/doctors. That’s typecasting.
4. Jay Jackson – News Anchor/Newscaster/Reporter
If you’re a fan of Parks and Recreation, you’ll know Jay Jackson, the man who played Pawnee’s newscaster, Perd Hapley. Now, if you felt that Jackson’s role was just right for Jackson, you’re noticing what casting directors have known for years. Jackson has only ever played newscasters or reporters. Twenty-three different times, Jackson has played this role. He’s done it on Dexter, The Mentalist, Scandal, Fast Five, Battleship and, of course, Parks and Recreation. It all makes sense, however, when you learn that Jackson was an actual newscaster in real life. He did it for 22 years before acting, so basically now he just gives fictional news and does it for more money.
3. Thomas Kretschmann – Nazi
When Thomas Kretschmann was cast as Baron Wolfgang von Strucker in The Avengers: The Age of Ultron, some film fans recognized a pattern that has been forming around the actor for some time. Kretschmann always seems to play a Nazi soldier. The Avengers marked the 14th time this actor has played a Nazi, and not in just random films either, big films, The Pianist, two Stalingrad films, Eichmann, Downfall and Valkyrie. Thanks to the German accent he picked up by being born and living in Germany, Kretschmann has basically become the stand-in for Hollywood every time they need a quality actor to play a Nazi.
2. R. Lee Ermey – Military Man/Drill Sargent
Almost half of the characters that R. Lee Ermey has played in film or TV have been military men. That’s a total of about 50 characters by our count. It’s pretty unbelievable, especially when you add in the fact that he’s been in some massive films too, including Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Toy Story 1, Toy Story 2 and The Frighteners. Check his IMDb profile and you’ll find every rank possible, Lt., Col., General, Captain, Drill Instructor etc. This is, however, a life that Ermey knows very well. He was a drill instructor in the Marines. He spent time in Japan and Vietnam during the Vietnam War, where he was promoted to staff sergeant. Originally, in Full Metal Jacket, Ermey was brought on to be an advisor, but he was so convincing as a drill instructor that Stanley Kubrick asked him to be in the film.
1. Fritz Diez – Hitler
You may not know the actor Fritz Diez, but his typecasting might be the most unfortunate that we’ve ever seen. In 1955, Diez was cast in the role of Adolf Hitler in Ernst Thälmann – Führer seiner Klasse. Little did he know then that this would be the role that defined him as an actor. Eight more times in his career, Diez was cast as Hitler. In 9 films and TV series total, unconnected and not part of a franchise, he had to play one of the most despicable people ever. Several of the TV series had him play the part in multiple episodes, making him the most Hitlerized actor of all time. When asked about the role, Diez called it the “ungrateful role which always seemed to pursue me.” Seeing what typecasting brought Diez should quiet some of the complaints coming from other actors who find themselves in similar positions.
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