Acting is a very interesting profession. You are essentially paid to play make believe and entertain an audience of millions. While it is every actor’s goal to play a wide range of different characters and be heralded for them all (a la Leo DiCaprio or Daniel Day-Lewis), that isn’t always how it goes.
There are several actors and actresses who have done such a great and memorable job in a role that it is basically all people remember them for. Even years (or decades) after these signature roles, some actors find it tough to break out from the shadows and they can sometimes find it difficult to move forward with other characters or roles. OR even if they do, they are only remembered for one thing.
Without any further ado, let’s take a look at 15 actors and actresses who are forever stuck in one role, no matter what they try and do.
15. Reese Witherspoon
Reese Witherspoon has been in Hollywood since 1991, but it wasn’t until 10 years later that she finally found her breakout role. That role was as the lead in Legally Blonde, a role that turned her into a superstar and got her on the map for many people. She continued to act in a range of other films and even went on to become a successful producer with her own production company. Despite all of this, she is still remembered by most as the star of Legally Blonde and not for her role in Walk the Line (which won her an Oscar) or for her other work since. While she has, without a doubt, been successful, it has to be a bit annoying when most still remember you for work you did almost two decades ago.
14. Jason Alexander
Despite his success on Broadway and his Tony award, Jason Alexander is better known for his role of George Costanza on the hit comedy series, Seinfeld. Alexander played the role for nearly 200 episodes and was nominated for several different awards during his near-decade on the show. Since then, he has appeared in dozens and dozens of different TV and film roles, but none have been able to turn him into anything but George Costanza for most people. Not sure he’s too mad about this as the show made him a lot of cash and the character is generally loved, but still.
13. Laura Prepon
Laura Prepon has been an actress professionally since 1997, and only one year later, she would secure the role that would make her famous. This role was as Donna in the hit comedy TV series That ’70s Show. She appeared on the show for almost a decade until it stopped filming in 2006. Throughout those 8 seasons, she would appear in 200 different episodes of the show, and if you saw her face in anything else, your mind would (and likely still does) go back to that role she had over a decade ago. Even though she was on a few seasons of Orange is the New Black, one of the best and most popular shows on TV, she still isn’t able to escape the role of Donna, and we doubt she ever will be able to.
12. Natalie Dormer
Natalie Dormer has been around for over a decade now and has acted in some decent TV shows and movies. However, her big break came in the form of a role as Margaery Tyrell in HBO’s Game of Thrones from 2012 to 2016. She has been nominated for a number of awards for this role and has gained international fame as a result of it as well. While she has had other roles in the past and is still young and thus will have many more in the future, it is hard to imagine her as anything but Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones. She was simply amazing in the show, and being as it is one of the most popular and best TV shows ever, it will be hard for her to escape the aura she created with this brilliant role.
11. Kim Cattrall
Kim Cattrall has been an actress since way back in 1975, but it wasn’t until her role as Samantha Jones on Sex and the City that she broke out and became a superstar. She starred on the show from 1998 to 2004 and also reprised the role in the two Sex and the City films that were released. She won and was nominated for a ton of different prestigious awards including Emmy Awards and Golden Globes. While she has had several other roles before and since Sex and the City, none have gotten even close to getting the same amount of recognition as Sex and the City. Looks like Cattrall might as well change her name to Samantha Jones with how many people think of that role when they see her.
10. Jason Biggs
While he initially got some recognition for his role on a soap opera as a teenager, it wasn’t until he was a little bit older that Jason Biggs starred in the film series that would turn him into a household name. That series would, of course, be the American Pie series in which he played the role of Jim Levenstein. He would hold this role in several different films that would become very popular among teenagers and young adults alike. Sure, he has appeared in Orange is the New Black and held other roles in TV and film, but none of them have gotten as popular or famous as the American Pie series. He was perfect for that role, and they couldn’t have hoped to cast it any better.
9. Helena Bonham Carter
This entry is a bit different than the others, but Helena Bonham Carter definitely deserves inclusion. While one role in particular doesn’t pop off the page, a trend of similar roles definitely does. Carter was married to director Tim Burton for over a decade and, as a result, played roles in many of his different films. If you know about Burton, his “style” of film exists across almost every title he releases. As a result, even though Carter and Burton are no longer together, you can’t help but associate her with his films. She has even been nominated for an Academy Award and other accolades for other roles, but none of them have been able to pull her out of her reputation for her many roles in Burton’s films.
8. Rainn Wilson
Rainn Wilson is a fairly accomplished actor on both TV and film, but if you have ever watched The Office (or even know about it at all), you know this man as Dwight Schrute, the paper salesman who is just as strange as he is hilarious throughout the show. He would play the role from 2005 to 2013, appearing in over 200 different episodes and was nominated for several different awards throughout the lifetime of the show. Dwight is one of the best TV characters in history, and to be honest, if you showed people a picture of his face, most would actually call him Dwight and not Rainn. He just played the role so incredibly convincing that you almost believed that Dwight was a real person.
7. Kristen Stewart
Kristen Stewart is a bit different than most on this list in the fact that she actually had several different recognized roles before her most famous one took place. She had several starring roles in the early to mid-2000’s, and those garnered her a decent amount of clout and popularity. However, her biggest and most famous role by far was when she took the role of Bella Swan in the Twilight Saga. The series grossed billions and billions of dollars, and Stewart instantly became a teen idol and heartthrob for the role. She was also one of the highest-paid actresses on the planet during her time working on the films. In addition to still working as an actress, she is also a successful model.
6. Emma Watson
Emma Watson is, without a doubt, best known for her role as Hermione Granger in all 8 of the Harry Potter films. However, what you might not have known is that this was her first professional acting role. As a result, there is no way that Watson won’t always be remembered for this role. This role got her fame around the world and netted her tens of millions of dollars in the bank. Not bad for a teenager/young adult at all! In addition to her chops as an actor, Watson prides herself on furthering her education and is an extremely smart and eloquent woman. While she may not ever outdo her role in Harry Potter, don’t be shocked to see her one day become an even bigger star in Hollywood than she already is. Also, don’t be surprised to see another star of the Harry Potter franchise a little higher on the list.
5. Elijah Wood
Elijah Wood has been acting since he was under 10 years old. He has gained some recognition as a child and teenage actor who won a lot of awards and had several acting credits by the time he was a young adult. So, while he has been a solid actor and decently known for a while, his large role ever was that of Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings series of films. The films were incredibly successful and because of the fact that he was the star of the film, that gained him a ton of praise and recognition as well. While he (and his voice) has been present in such films as Happy Feet, Deep Impact, and others, there is no doubt that he is (and always will be) best known for his role in the Lord of the Rings films.
4. Anna Gunn
Despite many not knowing her until a few years ago, Anna Gunn has been an actress since 1992. She has acted in a variety of different TV and movie roles, but they were relatively small parts of recurring roles. However, nearly two decades after debuting in Hollywood, Gunn got the biggest role of her life, as Skyler White on the hit show Breaking Bad. She had the role for the entire series and won the Emmy award for Outstanding Supporting Actress on numerous different occasions. She was perfect for this role, and now that she has achieved a ton of fame and recognition for this role after such a long time in smaller roles, we doubt she will ever be able to be known as anything but Walter White’s wife in Breaking Bad.
3. Sharon Stone
Sharon Stone is a true veteran of Hollywood. She has been around since 1980 and has over 100 credits. She has been nominated for a ton of awards and has won some as well. However, throughout the years and through her various different roles, one has stood out above the rest and it’s the one role that most people think of when they see her face. Of course, that role is none other than her role as Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct back in 1992. She rose to international fame after this film and was a worldwide s*x symbol for years to come as a result of the role. She has acted in other well-known and well-received films as well, but none have been able to get her the same sort of attention and recognition that Basic Instinct did.
2. Daniel Radcliffe
Daniel Radcliffe was thrust into superstardom when he was given the role of Harry Potter in the world-famous Harry Potter series of movies, based off of the books written by J.K. Rowling. In total, he has reprised the role of Harry Potter on eight different films, which followed along his growth as both an actor and a wizard as he and his co-stars essentially grew up in the public eye. He was the perfect cast for the role. And now, there is little chance that most fans can see anyone else playing the role of Harry Potter. Radcliffe has acted quite a bit since then but has had little luck in moving out of the shadow of the Harry Potter franchise. No matter what he tries to do or whatever roles he tries to become, he might as well give himself a lightning bolt scar on his forehead, as he will always be Harry Potter first and foremost.
1. Lisa Kudrow
And coming in at the number one spot is none other than Lisa Kudrow. Kudrow is, without a doubt, most famous for her role of Phoebe Buffay on the hit sitcom Friends, which will go down as one of the most beloved shows of all time. She appeared in well over 200 episodes of the show and was nominated for (and won) a number of different awards, including Emmys and Screen Actors Guild awards. Even though she has been an actress for many decades and has acted in and produced dozens of different TV shows and movies, she will always be Phoebe no matter what she is in. However, that is not always a bad thing as being remembered for frequently because it only means that she did a hell of a job with making the character great, respected, and memorable.
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