It can be hard to break out of being type-casted in cinema. You audition for a part again and again, only to be told no each time. You keep trying, and you learn to be the part that a production is looking for. Finally, you nail that audition. You do well in the film, let’s say, and you finally get noticed.
The film industry is one that focuses on finding people right for the job (well, the attempt is made anyways), so you might start being offered similar work. You won’t be told to star in a Shakespearean production after your first raunchy rom-com performance.
Nonetheless, these silly roles keep coming your way. Other performers are being considered before you with those dramatic roles you really want to try out for. This continues, and you can fade out into obscurity, or just remain a one-note performer for eternity.
This is a reality many actors face when they finally make it into the business after many years of trying. The film industry is insanely unforgiving. Fortunately, this is a list that is meant to celebrate, as these are some examples of actors that not only broke against their provided labels, but did so in memorable style. All of these entries are considerably staples in the filmographies of these actors, so the impacts made are still felt to this day.
Many current actors have made the difficult transition from one noticeable role to being Hollywood mainstays. Yet, these ten actors did so in ways that are rare, surprising, and unforgettable. Here are ten actors who broke typecasting in the most epic ways.
10. Steve Carrell-Foxcatcher
Sure, Steve Carrell was becoming a familiar face in the dramedy genre (like The Way, Way Back), but his creepy turn as the eccentric John du Pont still captured the attention of all. In Foxcatcher, Carrell is unrecognizable; only a part of this is due to the make-up department’s excellent work on his facial structure.
Otherwise, most of this transformation comes from Carrell’s ability to shift comedic timing into the pulse of a psychopath. John du Pont is cold, slow, and crooked (physically and characteristically). We’ve seen comedic actors show off their dramatic chops before, but this is one of the most drastic displays of hidden talent any funny performer has shown. We knew Carrell was talented, but we didn’t know he could be intentionally detestable.
9. Ryan Gosling-Half Nelson
It’s hard to remember this now, but there was a time where Ryan Gosling was essentially the heartthrob of whatever film he was featured in. After his success as a child performer and actor, Gosling was most remembered for stints like Remember the Titans and The Notebook. Yes, he did take part in films like Murder by Numbers and The Believer, but just starring in super serious works doesn’t convince the world.
It was Half Nelson that made Gosling’s capabilities known on a global scale. His work as a teacher suffering from addiction placed him in the echelon of other talented actors in the 2007 Academy Awards (where he was nominated for Best Actor). Gosling’s immersion in the indie circuit is far from a secret now, and while he does dabble in more charming works nowadays, there’s more than one note to his capabilities now.
8. Willem Dafoe-Platoon
Has anyone reminded you that we are blessed to have Willem Dafoe lately? Well, we might adore his off-kilter natures in the bulk of his performances, but it’s true that many actors of his kind usually don’t headline films (especially not for three or so decades). It’s wonderful that we got to see his human side in 2017’s The Florida Project, but his biggest break came from Oliver Stone’s similar gamble at playing against Dafoe’s strengths.
In Platoon, Dafoe is a respectable sergeant that tries to play the voice of reason when fellow sergeant Barnes goes off the rails. There’s nothing looney about Dafoe’s performance; in fact, you might find his iconic scene (you know the one, if you’ve seen the film) hits a little too close to home. This power is what sent him into the stratosphere, and he has yet to come down. We love Dafoe’s idiosyncrasies, but, damn, he hits you where it hurts when he wants to.
7. Charlize Theron-Monster
No one ever brings up Charlize Theron’s days in films like Mighty Joe Young or The Cider House Rules when her talents are discussed. Some obvious reference points are Mad Max: Fury Road, Young Adult, and North Country, where her ferocity is on full display. Well, we all know why she is featured on this list.
Theron’s portrayal of the serial killer Aileen Wuornos is arguably one of the great cinematic transformations of the new millennium. Her cold stare, hateful inflictions, and devastating decisions still shake people up fifteen years after the film first came out. She rightfully won her Oscar, and the rest is history. Of course, Theron dabbles in action and lighter affairs whenever she wishes, but the world quickly learned she can pull off whatever is necessary in any role.
6. Katharine Hepburn-African Queen
Katharine Hepburn is one of the most acclaimed actresses of all time, because she miraculously went through so many career renaissances (not that her filmography was ever considerably bad). She succeeded outliving her early Academy Award win in 1933’s Morning Glory (she went on to win four Oscars in total, a record that is still unbeaten for any performer). She was later entrenched in screwball and romantic films like Bringing Up Baby and The Philidelphia Story. How did she then leap to something like The Lion in Winter?
Even though Hepburn had worked in a variety of different films before, her turn as Rose Sayer in The African Queen sealed the deal. Here, Hepburn was out of her familiar element, as she coasted through parts of Africa during the first World War. Her contrast with Humphrey Bogart’s guzzling captain is a kind of manipulation that we are now used to, but it was yet another career reinvention at the time.