A Breaking Bad Community
AMC (ended 2013)
Landing the “role of a lifetime” is every actor’s dream, and for good reason. When the lines between character and actor fade so completely that the two are synonymous, this is when fame and recognition set in. Audiences love to meet a character whose appearance, demeanor, mannerisms, and dialogue speaks to them — it only makes sense that the person who takes the writer’s creation and delivers it to the masses becomes fused with the character. Unfortunately, that same person’s identity can also disappear. Typecasting has always taken a toll.

There’s no need to paint a typecast actor’s life as one of immense suffering and existential angst — at the end of the day, Michael Cera is still wildly successful and rich. What’s interesting to examine, however, is whether actors that become typecast can ever break free from the spell. History and conventional wisdom say no, not entirely. Rather, there seems to be a spectrum along which typecast actors fall. On the left you’ve got actors who will forever be one character, and on the right, you’ve got actors who early on were wildly famous for one role, yet later demonstrated a great range that wiped away any aspects of pigeonholing.

It doesn’t require completion of Econ 1A to smartly guess which direction the spectrum skews toward. Landing the role of a lifetime is hard enough. Continuing to act in strong, diversified roles for a meaningful time afterward is nearly impossible—especially on TV. Take Kiefer Sutherland for example. At age 34, he landed the iconic role of Jack Bauer, the badass, death defying (even when his heart stopped beating) Counter Terrorist Unit field agent. 24 went on to be one of the most successful shows Fox has ever produced, lasting eight full seasons and securing an Emmy for Bauer — I mean Sutherland — in 2006.

Sutherland is now 46 years old, and hasn’t had a durable role since 24 went off the air in 2010. He did star in Touch, a thriller that centered on a former reporter and his emotionally disturbed/brilliant son’s fascination with numbers and ability to predict tragic events. But that was short-lived. Perhaps not coincidentally, the show’s cancellation was followed up by another instance of the TV industry’s recent nostalgia spell with a renewal of 24 for 12 episodes in 2014. If Sutherland wants to branch his career out, so far he hasn’t showed he can.

Similarly, Jon Hamm is an actor defined by one iconic role that he landed relatively late in his career. It’s hard to imagine he’ll ever shake Don Draper from the minds of viewers when he steps in front of any camera after Mad Men ends in 2015, but give the man some credit for A) taking on numerous comedy roles in between MM seasons, and B) sporting incredible good looks. He’ll be just fine.

One of the most talented actors on TV today, and in Hollywood as a whole, makes for the most intriguing typecast story in recent memory. That would be Bryan Cranston, fresh off his masterful performance as Breaking Bad’s ultimate anti-hero, Walter White. Until 2008, Cranston was super-glued to the goofy, gaffe-prone Hal, father of Frankie Muniz and four others in Malcolm in the Middle. When BB creator Vince Gilligan pushed for Cranston as the lead in his dark drama (he had worked with Cranston on an episode of the X-files and knew he could play serious), AMC execs couldn’t get the image of Hal shaving his body out of their heads. Little did they know the man in the whitey tighties had range.

Save for a few Walter White witness protection jokes about him becoming Hal in Malcolm in the Middle, Cranston had completely eradicated his former typecast role by the end of Breaking Bad. This begs the question: do other famously typecast actors have hope? Let’s have a vote on who has the best chance to break free, shall we?


Shame on you if you cast a vote for Kelsey Grammer. Including him was pure novelty. The guy played literally the same character on two long-running shows, and also appeared as Frasier periodically on various shows like The Simpsons. In all seriousness, typecasting is a curious phenomenon. Many actors even admit to it just being a part of the job, while others can’t stand it. It appears only the cream of the crop can ever escape it.

Victor Beigelman is a writer for Thelma, an online pop culture manifesto. Follow him on Twitter @vbeigelman. If you have thoughts about other typecast actors not included, say so in the comments below!
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