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Best Movies with Actors Playing Against Type

Updated on January 23, 2013

The Danger of Being Typecast

Often actors will develop a film persona. We get used to seeing them play a certain kind of character, whether it be a good guy, a damsel in distress, tough-talking cop, what have you.

This can be dangerous for an actor, because the public may decide that it only wants to see him in a certain kind of role. In fact, they may so reject the notion of him as a different kind of character that the film is doomed. Under these circumstances, the actor has been typecast, because now movie studios will only want him to star in movies if he plays a particular type of character.

To avoid this, leading actors will often take a role that has them playing against type. In other words, they play a character that is quite different that what the public expects of them. In this way, the actor can show the range of his thespian skills, and the public doesn't get comfortable with the idea of only seeing him play specific types of characters.

With that in mind, we look at several movies where actors did a fanyastic job of playing against type.


Kevin Costner: Loving Husband, Man of the Year, Serial Killer

Kevin Costner is well-known as a heroic leading man, generally typecast as morally upright and honest characters in films such as The Untouchables and JFK.

However, Costner has one of the best roles of his career as the disarmingly loving family man and business owner Earl Brooks, whose kind demeanor masks a murderous, serial killer alter ego that is so diabolically clever that he's never even been a suspect in a crime, let alone caught.

Struggling to overcome his "addiction" to killing, Costner's character finds himself blackmailed into committing more murders by a witness to his latest crime. (Oddly enough, the witness is played by comedian Dane Cook, who surprisingly pulls his weight in a dramatic role that also requires him to play against type.)

If you haven't seen it, the film is a bone-chilling thrillride into the mind of a brilliant fiend who seems completely unstoppable.


Jennifer Aniston: Good Girl Gone Bad

Jennifer Aniston is one of America's sweethearts. She's a perennial good girl on-screen for the most part, going all the way back to her time as the perky Rachel on "Friends."

That being the case, it is somewhat surprising to see her in Horrible Bosses spewing the kind of dirty talk normally reserved for triple-X movies. Aniston plays a slutty dentist who constantly engages in the sexual harassment of her male employee.

It is one of Aniston's most memorable roles, and she is completely hilarious as she steals every scene with her brazen, aggressive sexuality and totally inappropriate workplace behavior and comments. She should play against type more often.


Denzel Washington: Maniac Cop

Denzel Washington is a proven acting talent, blowing us away on-screen with riveting performances in movies like Glory and The Hurricane.

Yet, it was for his searing portrayal of corrupt police detective Alonzo Harris that he won his second Oscar. Playing against type, Washington's character is a dirty cop who will do anything and betray anyone in order to survive. After this film, there was little chance of Denzel ever being typecast.


Tom Cruise as Les Grossman

Tom Cruise is a Hollywood megastar, the heroic lead in films such as Top Gun and the Mission Impossible franchise.

Setting aside his leading-man good looks, Cruise steals the show in Tropic Thunder as a fat, balding, foul-mouthed studio exec who evaluates everything according to the bottom line.

Despite minimal screen time, Cruise's portrayal of Hollywood greed and impersonality is so spot-on that the character has taken on a life outside the film in which he was featured, as evidenced by the clip below.

Poll on Playing Against Type

In the films listed here, who did the best job of playing against type?

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Playing Against Type Can be a Fun Surprise

In short, it's often refreshing to see an actor take on a movie role that's unexpected. Moreover, as shown here, they often exhibit a flair for portraying characters outside of what is considered the norm for them.

(And, just for kicks and grins, if you'd like to see how my own career as an actor went, please visit: Being A Movie Actor:My Experience on the Set.)


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    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 5 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      I didn't see horrible Bosses, but I felt the others were great. Mr. Brooks was the inspiration for one of my short stories, actually.

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 5 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      This is a great take. We often see actors basically playing the same role over and over again!

    • geegee77 profile image

      geegee77 5 years ago from The Lone Star State!!

      Mr Brooks is one of my favorite Kevin Costner movies, he did an awesome job loved it and your hub:) ge