The 10 Most Typecast Actors of All Time

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The best actors in film are often known as chameleons. They adapt to any role and play it to great acclaim without repeating themselves. Actors and actresses like Gary Oldman, Edward Norton, Charlize Theron, and Daniel Day-Lewis are the best modern examples of artists who can play virtually any part at any time. But for every chameleon working in film today, there are countless actors and actresses who get pigeonholed into one type of role for the entirety of their career.

These actors recycle their performances over and over, and while they can achieve some success doing this, it ultimately weakens their legacy. Next to not working at all, or being known as one of the worst actors, being typecast is most actors' biggest fear.

In the new crime drama Killing Them Softly, Ray Liotta and James Gandolfini play mob-connected criminals yet again (a thieving poker game host and an alcoholic hit man, respectively), joining the film's more diversified star, Brad Pitt. Both men have repeatedly played psychotic gangsters or police officers during their careers, but they’re not even the most typecast actors. For those, see The 10 Most Typecast Actors of All Time.

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Written by Jason Serafino (serafinoj1)

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10. Jennifer Aniston

Typecast as: Bland romantic comedy star
Notable examples: Just Go With It, The Break-Up, Love Happens, Rumor Has It, Along Came Polly

Jennifer Aniston has been a star for nearly 20 years and we still don’t know much about her capabilities as an actress. Why? Because every role she takes is about as safe as they come. She’s only found in cookie-cutter romantic comedies where she plays the lovelorn lead that needs to either A) move on to another man, or B) fight for the one she’s after. The problem is that the roles she chooses are often so similar that we, as a society, should no longer care about whether or not Aniston finds love.

Plus, it doesn’t help when Aniston’s real life personal drama echos the characters that she plays. We saw a hint of personality when she played a nymphomaniac dentist in Horrible Bosses, but we’re sure she’ll be back trying to woo Mark Ruffalo or Gerard Butler in another saccharine romantic comedy soon enough. She just better watch out; no one will find her romantic struggles endearing when she’s playing the same roles at 50.

9. Michael Cera

Typecast as: Awkward indie teen
Notable examples: Arrested Development, Youth in RevoltSuperbad, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Juno, Year OneNick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

After playing George Michael Bluth on Arrested Development for three seasons, it looked like Michael Cera was set to break out into the comedy world in a big way. And at first it seemed like he did after brilliantly playing another awkward teen in Superbad. Then he played another socially inept young man in Juno, and another one in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and another one in Youth in Revolt, and another one in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. You get the picture.

Now that Cera is getting older, his trendy, geeky, hipster veneer is getting harder and harder to swallow. If he doesn’t do something about this typecasting soon, we’re afraid he’s going to go the 90210 route and play a high school kid well into his 30s.

8. Christopher Lee

Typecast as: Crazed supervillain
Notable roles: The Star Wars prequels, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein

When it comes to big-screen baddies, no one is as adept at pulling the part off as Christopher Lee. For Lee, this trend started in the ‘50s when he was cast as Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s creature in the Hammer horror film series. Since then, he has become the king of the villain roles, playing foes such as Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels, Saruman in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun.

But being a villain just isn’t enough for Lee; over the years he has brought a regal touch to these roles complete with a cape (or robe) and supreme intelligence. He has put his stamp on the sophisticated bad guy part over the past five decades, and even at 90, Lee has managed to still bring the goods whenever he’s cast as yet another villain.

7. Steve Buscemi

Typecast as: The smarmy weirdo
Notable examples: Fargo, Ghost World, Con-Air

He's changing perceptions by playing corrupt politician Nucky Thompson in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, but Steve Buscemi will always be the creepy loner with the pencil-thin mustache to us. Sporting a head of greasy hair, thrift store clothing, and a crooked smile, Buscemi was typecast for years as either a harmless weirdo (Billy Madison) or sociopathic creeper (Con-Air) in movies from every genre.

Over the years, he has worked with some of the best, and most mediocre, directors in the biz, yet no matter who was behind camera, they always had the same idea of who Buscemi could play. Most notably, his work in Fargo and Ghost World is simply creeptastic as Buscemi manages to get under our skin with just a few awkward lines of dialogue. Being Hollywood’s go-to guy for deranged weirdos might not be glamorous for your résumé, but at least it pays the bills.

6. Helena Bonham Carter

Typecast as: Any eccentric female in a Tim Burton film
Notable examples: Big Fish, Sweeny Todd, Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland

It's a Hollywood tradition that any actress who is dating a director is secured gigs for life, and when Helena Bonham Carter shacked up with Tim Burton, she saw her career really take off. Since then, she’s been a staple in nearly every Burton film, usually playing the same exact character over and over.

In Big Fish, Sweeny Todd, Dark Shadows, and Alice in Wonderland, Carter plays almost identical roles as she always winds up as the token crazed female in each. Sometimes she's a villain, sometimes she's just a supporting role, but she's always eccentric and completely over-the-top. We’re pretty sure that Carter’s typical crazed female role from the Burton films helped land her the part of the bonkers Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter series as well.

It’s hard to believe that Carter started out her career being typecast often as 19th and early 20th century heroines, but now she's been typecast again in a different niche altogether, thanks to Tim Burton. This multiple typecasting has to be a first for Hollywood.

5. Samuel L. Jackson

Typecast as: Badass
Notable examples: Snakes on a Plane, Pulp Fiction, The Avengers

Try to wrap your head around this fact: Samuel L. Jackson is now the highest-grossing actor in history. After appearing in mega-blockbusters like the Star Wars prequels, The Avengers, Iron Man 2, and countless other hits along the way, Jackson’s movies have grossed over $7 billion, and he’s done it all by basically playing the same character in each.

Whenever a movie calls for a cool, highly-quotable badass, producers and directors call in Jackson, who seems to say yes to a every project, no matter how good it is. Hell, we’re sure he would take center stage in a community college production of Othello if he was allowed to take as much of the intermission refreshments as he wanted.

But unlike so many other Hollywood thespians, Jackson embraces his typecasting. It’s made him a multi-millionaire, he’s worked with some of the best directors on the planet, and all he has to do is stand around and look cool.

4. Christopher Walken

Typecast as: A neurotic psychotic
Notable examples: Batman Returns, The Deer Hunter, True Romance, Seven Psychopaths

As Hollywood’s resident psychopath, Christopher Walken has made a small fortune by playing any mentally unbalanced character the film industry has to offer him. Whether the role calls for him to be a bad guy or just a run-of-the-mill lunatic, Walken has graced countless movies sporting the same personality, and it works every time. With his nonsensical rants, cold dead stare, and underlying burning rage, Walken makes for the perfect sadist, yet he’s always sure to bring a bit of humor to his roles.

Gigs like the villains in Batman Returns, A View to a Kill, True Romance, and even Mouse Hunt all have Walken playing the bad guy in a way that is reminiscent of that creepy uncle your parents tell you to never get into a car alone with. But even in movies where he’s not the villain, like The Deer Hunter, Walken's scarred psyche is still front and center. 

3. Peter Lorre

Typecast as: Creepy foreign villain
Notable examples: M, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Face Behind The Mask

Peter Lorre is one of the earliest examples of a typecasted actor stuck in the same role, but, to his credit, he made himself a Hollywood legend because of it. Lorre played squirmy foreign bad guys to perfection in flicks like The Man Who Knew Too Much and Casablanca. But it was his role as a child killer in Fritz Lang’s M that made his career as one of the movie industry’s best baddies.

Bringing Lorre along in your movie as a villain was a surefire way to bring credibility to the project, especially with the actor’s uncanny ability to bring real pathos and emotion to these roles. It seemed like Lorre embraced his niche in Hollywood after a while, which would make sense because he was damn good at it. See, typecasting isn’t always a bad thing.

2. Morgan Freeman

Typecast as: Wise old man
Notable examples: The Shawshank Redemption, Se7en, Bruce Almighty, Million Dollar Baby

Morgan Freeman is one of the most beloved actors in Hollywood right now, but you would have to be blind not to realize that he has been typecast as the go-to guy in any movie that needs an older sage for the hero to lean on. His most famous entry into this pigeonholed role was in The Shawshank Redemption when he played Red, the wise best friend to Tim Robbins’ character. Since then, whenever a main character needs a voice of reason or wisdom to get him through their journey, producers jump to cast Freeman.

In Jungian archetype terms, the “Wise Old Man” is essential in myth, and to be honest, we don’t mind Freeman’s typecasting. He plays each role brilliantly, and he even manages to inject something unique into each. For example, his role in Million Dollar Baby stands out from his role in Se7en, even though they both exist for similar storytelling purposes. In fact, we don’t know how we would feel about Freeman leaving his comfort zone, so for everyone’s sake we hope he stays in it.

1. John Wayne

Typecast as: Cowboy and soldier
Notable examples: Stagecoach, True Grit, They Were Expendable, Red River

John Wayne is one of cinema’s most beloved icons, but you have to admit that the guy played the same role in every movie. If there was ever a need for a heroic, stoic cowboy, Wayne was the guy to go to during Hollywood's Golden Age. His All-American attitude and rugged appearance clicked with an entire nation looking for someone to root for during the '30s and ‘40s.

And when Uncle Sam came calling to make a whole mess of WWII propaganda films, Wayne was the obvious choice for those leads as well. The best part is that he barely changed his acting approach when going from 19th century cowboy to 20th century soldier. He was always the macho leader who would fight against injustice and save anyone in need.

This approach helped him build a ravenous fan base, and any movie starring Wayne during the ‘40s was an absolute goldmine for studios. He was a man’s man, and is still a symbol for Americana everywhere. And that's how you turn typecasting into a legendary career, Pilgrim. 

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