What Is My ‘Actor Type’ or Typecast?
Without a doubt, this is one of the most contentious points in the modern acting world: Does typecasting exist? If so, what is my type? How do I find my type? What type of roles should I be going for? These are all questions that we get bombarded with at StageMilk on a regular basis, that I am going to attempt to answer all at once in this article. The truth of the matter is one part marketing, one part Disney, and a little dash of Tony Robbins without the thousand dollar price tag. It’s a combination of positioning yourself, believing in yourself and knowing yourself.
Your ‘typecast’ is derived from who you are. Your background, upbringing and how you present to the world are the key factors that will get you assigned to a role or a type. Early in your career, no one wants to see you ‘acting’, so it’s a good idea to build your brand around who you are today.
Your ‘Type’ Come From Who You Are
So let us unpack this thought just a little bit. What if I told you that Disney was right all of this time, that the magic really was inside you all along and all you had to do was believe in it? It’s true! The magical solution to finding out your type or your brand is – every single thing in your life, which has led you to this article today. Who your parents are, where you went to school, what jobs you have worked to survive, what makes you happy, what you are interested in, how you see the world and how the world sees you! These factors all combine seamlessly, often without you even thinking about it, to give us your type.
Let me quickly go on a tangent here about my girlfriend. She is not an actor but if she was, she would be going for very specific types of roles. If I was to describe her to you, I’d say that she is white, with long black curly hair and big bright blue eyes. That she wears glasses and has a lot of stripey tops, overalls and Converse shoes. She collects brightly coloured stickers, draws beautiful portraits and hilarious cartoons in her A3 flipbooks and loves old school Star Trek and terrible 80’s fantasy movies. You get a clear picture of who she is right? If she was an actor she’d be auditioning for supporting roles in Supernatural, New Girl and playing tech wiz or outsider characters in college romance movies or love interest roles in shows like Silicon Valley. Who she is, her background, how she presents herself to the world, and what interests her are all going to be the key factors in her type. She would want to lean into this type especially early in her career to maximise her casting opportunities. Fortunately for her, she’s a visual artist and doesn’t need to worry about all of this!
The key defining factors that make up your type are as follows: your age, gender appearance, ethnicity, your hair, physicality and your voice. If you are 6’3, ripped, covered in tattoos, compete in MMA competitions and know how to operate a bandsaw it is unlikely that you will be cast in any wilting flower tech-wiz roles. You’re going to be going for leading person, muscle, or outsider gigs. At least initially! I keep saying early in your career and initially, because over time, once casting directors, agents, directors, producers and audiences see that you are comfortable playing roles close to who you are, they will offer more opportunities that require you to put on a bigger mask – roles further away from you or that require more acting, so to speak. So let’s break these categories down to see what factors make up a type.
Age: What is your playing range? It’s usually a 10 year period centred around your current age, i.e. 5 years younger than you are now to 5 years older. Don’t be one of those people who is constantly 27 for fifteen years. There are plenty of roles for people of all ages folks, and you are never getting any younger. Embrace it! Your age is a big factor in who you are, so bring it to the world!
Gender: If you are a cisgendered person who has no worries here and looks like, and was assigned at birth, the gender they identify as, then simply put that on your casting materials. For our non-binary and trans friends, there can be more to it. There has been a lot of progress on this front in the industry in the last five years, shows like Euphoria and L-Word have made big leaps in how non-binary and trans characters are represented being played wonderfully, by trans and non-binary actors. If you are out and proud, you will predominantly get cast as non-binary or trans characters, if you are not out yet (and that’s, of course, completely fine) you will be going for roles that align with how you present and/or the gender you were assigned at birth, so be aware of that as you continue your journey. Always feel free to talk to you agent about this; you want to make sure you’re on the same page, because they can help you present yourself to the industry the way you want to!
Ethnicity: Slowly but surely our industry is getting more diverse, and less racist. It is far from where it should be, but it is getting better. Racial and ethnic background is going to form a major part of your casting. Roles that were only the domain of white people are now being offered to people from all backgrounds and, while white people still do dominate the industry, there are a lot more opportunities for people of colour in all types of roles, worldwide. Similar to your age, embrace your cultural background, where you come from, and who you are today. All of these factors are vitally important in realising your casting type. This is another thing that you and your agent should have a conversation about!
Physicality: How you look dramatically affects your casting; this is the only one of the things so far that you actually have control over. Your body size, shape and presence has a significant impact on the roles you get cast in. To be straight with you, if you are physically fit and traditionally attractive, you will get more casting opportunities than if not. This too has been changing recently, with more people with different body types and appearances succeeding in leading roles. However, you don’t need me to tell you that being hot always helps. A lot of being attractive is about being confident in yourself and who you are. Your style, your vibe, your lease on life and while you might not have Brad Pitts cheekbones you can have a part of his level of attractiveness if you back yourself.
Hair: Again, what you choose to do with your hair will impact your type. When I shaved my head and got a bit fitter, I went for a lot more castings as villains and bad guys. When I let it grow out and let my body get a bit softer, I go for a lot more nerds, a lot more best friends. It really does make a huge difference. Importantly here, ensure that your headshots reflect your current hairstyle. If you dramatically change your look, you need new headshots, so check your bank balance before you crack out the hair dye!
I present to you three versions of the same man. Me. Crew cut, long-haired, and the (current) short-haired vibe. You can see that even though I haven’t changed that much, how much difference there is between these three pictures. In the crewcut pic, I am genuinely scary. The long-haired kid is clearly here to fix your PC and install some new widgets into your servers. The final (and most recent) headshot is serving you the best of both worlds and a slightly more mature feel too.
The point here is that your hairstyle, length, colour and vibe dramatically affects your type. You want to ensure that your headshot reflects who you are and your presence to the world. That is why I am so happy with my current headshot because I think it reflects who I am really well. I am a smart guy, I do love computers and Dungeons and Dragons nights, I can also be a little intense and I do have a passion for dark dramatic roles on screen. I think that my current headshot reflects all of that, just as my older headshots reflect who I was at those points in my life. It all comes from you, who you are and how you present yourself and your unique personality to the world.
Voice: This is another aspect you can work on, alter and change but be aware that how you speak is also going to affect your casting. If you are trying to get work in an English speaking country and English is not your first language, you are highly unlikely to be offered roles where you are playing a native English speaker. If you speak very quickly and eloquently, you have a large vocabulary you’re going to be heading towards more high status, intelligent characters. If you come from a rough part of town, you’ve had to work multiple jobs since your early teens and so on, you have a specific, regional, working-class accent or dialect more likely than not you will be going for more working-class, less refined characters and roles. Now, this is one area you can change if you want to, you can learn accents, voice work and all of the other skills required to play a wide variety of characters and roles. But early on in your career, you will most likely be going for characters that have a similar accent or background to you. A great example of this is Matt Damon, in his first big role (that he wrote for himself) in Good Will Hunting plays a kid from the wrong side of the tracks in Boston. An accent and place he was very familiar with.
The combination of all of these factors adds up to your casting and your type. I will go into more detail below to give you some examples. But first, let’s talk about the common roles in the industry and the types of actors who get those gigs, so you can weigh up some similarities and differences and see if you can find your spot too.
Where Do You Fit In the Industry?
Now look, this is in a state of flux, more than at any other time in history. Steaming services, episodic storytelling, ensemble casts have blown a number of these ideas right out of the water. But, if you are really struggling to pinpoint your type then looking at a few archetypes here can be useful. All the examples of actors I am going to talk about here are those actors early in their career just as a reference point. Also, please note that these types are not exclusive, you can be a lead and a love interest, or a sidekick and a tech wiz or a villain and a mentor, I am just trying to frame some common types of roles and the actors who booked them to give you a jumping-off point.
Leading Person: Generally traditionally attractive, the protagonist of the story. Predominantly male, but a lot more diversity coming in these roles in recent years. George Clooney is your archetypal leading man, outrageously handsome, great emotional range can play a wide range of characters Clooney rose to prominence playing a handsome doctor on ER. Julia Roberts is your archetypal leading lady, in a perfect example of the patriarchy intrinsic in the film and television industry, she rose to prominence playing a sex worker with a hear of gold in Pretty Woman, but also proved her capacity for emotional vulnerability, playing a range of characters and most importantly driving a narrative forward in a prolific career to date. Other actors in this category are: Denzel Washington, Claire Foy, Cate Blanchett and Leonardo Di Caprio.’
Love interest: Hello romance! You may have noticed that nearly every single movie or TV show ever made has a love story in it somewhere. Why? Because love and relationships are a central part of the human experience. They are responsible for our survival as a species and also the source of much much drama. Your love interest is, you guessed it, usually very attractive, emotionally vulnerable and compelling to watch. Ryan Gosling is a classic male example, bringing a rawness, an honesty and a damn unbridled handsomeness to his work. Kate Winslet is your archetypal female love interest, especially early in her career, played a lot of beautiful, vulnerable, often highly emotionally charged romantic leads with aplomb. Other actors commonly in this category are: Emma Stone, Ewan McGregor, Ziyi Zhang and Timothée Chalamet.
Sidekick: Ahh the compelling sidekick, someone for the protagonist to bounce off, offer some comic relief or a different perspective. Ensemble TV and streaming programs often take these characters and turn them from supporting roles into leads over the course of a season. They can come in a variety of types from Eric to Ruby in Sex Education through to Willow in Buffy the sidekick is a vital and common archetype for actors. These characters are a lot more varied in their appearance and offer roles to many diverse actors. Classic examples of actors who played a lot of these sorts of roles early in their careers are actors like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Steve Buscemi, Karen Gillan, Zoë Kravitz, Seth Rogen and Rebel Wilson.
Tech wiz: One for all my fellow nerds out there, if you have ever built a computer, written a program or own a pair of glasses, you may well find yourself cast in a tech wiz role. Scientists, hackers, engineers, doctors and specialists of any kind fall into this type. This type of character is ubiquitous in crime, action, music, health and information technology-based stories. There is usually a lot of crossover with the sidekick type and the outsider type here. Actors who booked these sorts of gigs to open their careers are people like Pauley Perrette who made the tech wiz role of Abbie on NCIS and Michael Cera who played some similar roles both in Arrested Development and Superbad. Other actors who booked in this vein are Seth Green, Danny Pudi, Christian Slater and Aubrey Plaza.
Muscle: Are you ripped? Do you have muscles bulging out of places? Can you lift heavy things and look intimidating? Well, guess what my friend you have the major qualifications required to go for muscle roles. Physically powerful, strong screen presence, and a background in martial arts or similar are common features for this type. Obviously, these sorts of actors are required a lot in sport, action, and crime productions but are also found in rom-coms, dramas and historical pictures. Plenty of WWE stars have jumped into films in these sorts of roles like The Rock, John Cena and Dave Bautista just to name a few. Gina Carano, Charlize Theron and Mila Jokovitch are some of the names to spring to mind as well.
Villain: Bad guys. Hell yeah. Now, this is an exceptionally general term for antagonists and they come in a wide variety of roles for a hugely different group of actors. I guess the moral of the story there is villains can be essentially anyone. But I would argue they have to be excellent storytellers and have a certain edge that separates them from the more normal people around them. Whether that be physically, intellectually or emotionally. The good news is that as a villain you don’t have to be traditionally handsome, you can look all kinds of ways and book these jobs. The quintessential actor who books villain roles in the modern era for me is Madds Mikkelson. Madds’ is a brilliant actor, and genuinely terrifyingly quiet and intense. He’s made a career out of playing bad guys and, for me, no one does it better. Other actors who have booked here consistently are actors like Hugo Weaving, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham-Carter and Glenn Close.
Mentor: Ah yes, the mentor the older person with wisdom and advice who helps the younger protagonist find their way in the narrative. This type of role more often than not comes with age, but certain actors with great presence and a certain je ne sais quoi tend to book these roles regularly. They can also be a sidekick or an outsider but generally, their defining characteristics are a love for the protagonist and a desire to help them through their troubles. You can’t go past Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings as the iconic mentor, his great friend and iconic British actor Dame Judi Dench also books a lot of this sort of character, notably M in the James Bond franchise. Other actors who have booked these sorts of roles are Geoffry Rush, Samuel L. Jackson, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Jackie Weaver.
Outsider: Finally the outsider, the person who doesn’t quite fit in. They can be a lead, a supporting, a villain, or somewhere in between but what makes them their own category is the fact that they are different in some way from the world around them, There are certain actors who just feel like they are on the outside of society or different to most people somehow and they tend to book these types of roles. The person who springs to mind for me here is Viggo Mortensen both in The Road and Lord of the Rings Viggo plays characters who are outside of society, either by choice or not, faced with insurmountable difficulties that we watch him push through. This archetype can regularly be an anti-hero as well and presents a lot of opportunities to a wide range of people to play these characters. Johnny Depp, Jonathan Groff, Jake Gyllenhaal, Carey Mulligan, Olivia Coleman and Elliot Page have made careers out of these types of roles.
Now obviously there are many other types of characters and all of the actors listed here have moved between these types seamlessly over the years as they have grown and changed as people and as actors. However, I think it’s clear that these types of characters occur a lot within the film, television and theatre worlds in a range of different ways. The purpose of this list is for you to look at and ask yourself ‘where do I fit in today?’
How Do I Apply This Information to Myself?
For me, predominantly I have been cast as sidekicks and tech wiz type characters for the majority of my career. This is because, as previously mentioned, I am a big ol’ nerd who loves computers, D&D, slap bass and The Mighty Boosh. I have a big circle of friends and I am really social. I am very tall and decidedly ginger, so when you put those factors together where are you going to put me on screen? You’re going to put me next to some outrageously handsome dude, and I’ll be funny and quirky while he’s cool and driven to move the plot forward. Every now and then, I get cast as a villain and I love it when that happens! Not because I particularly identify with evil per se, but more that, being a bad guy is so far from my usual experience that I really enjoy the travel to that world.
The question you need to ask yourself is ‘who am I? Who am I really?’ Take out a piece of paper and write down some facts about yourself, who were your parents? How were you brought up? Where did you grow up? Would you say you were working class, middle class or upper class? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Are you book smart or streetsmart? Extrovert or an introvert? What do you love? What do you hate? What is worthless and what is priceless to you? Answer all of these questions as honestly as you can and paint a picture for yourself of who you are. Then look at that list above and ask yourself, just based on the information you wrote down if you had to be cast in one of those types this afternoon which one would it be? Don’t think too hard about it, just go with your gut. Once you have picked one, great! Find scenes and monologues in that vein to work on and create a body of work that best showcases your talent in your relevant type. Again. Your type isn’t forever, but it is a great jumping-off point to get you into work that best suits your attributes, especially at the start of your career!
There you have it folks and I really hope that helps. This stuff around types and branding can always feel a bit gross or wishy-washy so hopefully, this gave you some guidance. Remember it always starts with you, who you are and how you see the world. That is the story you need to be telling always and often. If you look for roles that you relate to, that help you express yourself and your story you will find audiences and industry connect to your truth in an amazingly powerful way. Good luck out there and if you’d like to find out more join us at StageMilk by clicking the link below!
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