10.14.2013

THE SOMETIMES UNBREAKABLE TYPECAST SPELL

WHY GOOD GIRLS GO BAD, BUT RARELY THE REVERSE

First impressions can go a long, long way-- typecast actresses could tell you all about it. Last week, scantily clad Emma Watson appeared on the cover of British GQ in attempt to break her good girl Hermione image. She is just one of the many cautious actresses on Hollywood's not explicit yet implied list of categorized actresses.

Typecasting goes one way or another; goody-good or badass. Whichever the role, if performed successfully and impressionably, the actress will become a big hit in her designated playing field. Whether it be a romantic lead, a melodramatic character or an action hero, the actress will rake in more offers to play the same type of role.

The typecast spell is more daunting on actresses involved with long-lasting movie sequels, or even worse, TV series. The situation is bittersweet; the more episodes, the more publicity and possibility of fame, but also a longer-lasting impression as the specific character played out.

Luckily, for Emma Watson, it was a reputation that was breakable. Even after seven Harry Potter sequels as the wholesome Hogwarts student, she had no problem landing diverse roles. Her effort to broaden her range was apparent in Perks of Being a Wallflower, where she played a free-spirited high school senior who had a history of dating bad guys.

The 22-year-old actress told the May issue of British GQ that she is attracted to playing wilder roles at the moment because she never wants to be forced to play the same character. This explains her most recent decision to play the tattooed, pole-dancing rebel in The Bling Ring. Watson said that she hated the character, but it gave her “a whole new insight into what my job, or my role as an actress, could be.”

Watson isn't the only one trying to prove herself as versatile. Anne Hathaway had built a specific persona after The Princess Diaries series, but promptly worked on shedding her pre-conceived reputation. She picked up striking roles, purposely to mark a multi-faceted career: she played a raunchy rodeo queen in Brokeback Mountain, a recovering drug addict in Rachel Getting Married and Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. She saw success as a "serious" actress, recently winning an Oscar for her performance as a homeless single mother in Les Miserables.

It doesn't seem too difficult for these actresses to break free from the typecast spell, thanks to the many welcoming opportunities they've received. But it isn’t all that simple for others. Though good girl images can easily be altered, the reverse seems to be far more challenging – and rare.

Some women are stuck in a typecast because of their appearance; some looks simply don’t fit certain parts. It makes sense that Megan Fox (Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, Transformers, Jennifer’s Body), despite her popularity, has not once starred as lead of a rom-com. It makes sense because her look isn’t exactly the quirky girl-next-door. But what about some perfectly versatile-looking actresses who still end up typecast? They’re paying their dues for the character that brought them most fame.

Take Helena Bonham Carter for instance. She played the same obscurely dark roles in movies like Alice in Wonderland, Sweeney Todd and Fight Club. A blog post on ScreenJunkies.com described her as an actress who “just can’t get enough bat-shit craziness crammed into her resume.” Carter continues to settle – and excel – within her realm of dark Victorian or witch-like roles that often involve over-the-top disguise, wacky hairdos and evil cackles. Despite her natural beauty underneath all the costume-y make-up, she is predominantly remembered as a crazy character. And working with her husband, gothic film-enthusiast Tim Burton, hasn’t helped her typecast situation much either.

Phoebe from Friends is another example. Appearance-wise, Lisa Kudrow is not far off from tall blonde Katherine Heigl; but somewhere along the 10 seasons of the hit sitcom, Phoebe was permanently labeled as, well, Phoebe. After the finale of Friends in 2004, Kudrow set her niche in comedy and indie films. The times she did appear in blockbuster hits, her character was never farfetched from Phoebe’s. She’s been the comic relief in movies such as P.S. I Love You and Easy A, proving her lasting image hard to escape.

Meanwhile, Rachel from Friends saw no limits ahead of her, after being typecast as the traditional wholesome girl-- the type that leads rom-coms. Post-Friends, Jennifer Aniston starred in countless Hollywood films where she demonstrated nothing new. Aniston’s character was basically identical in all of Along Came Polly, Just Go With It, Love Happens, He’s Just Not That Into You and box office hits The Break-up and Marley and Me. Finally, in 2011, she decided to switch it up a bit in Horrible Bosses where she played a crazy persona for the first time.


It’s interesting how Rachel’s typecast from Friends did not limit her career as much as it did Phoebe’s. Jennifer Aniston went off to do an array of films, while Kudrow had less to work with. Typecasting can be an asset for actresses who are perceived as classic. These actresses, so long as they have the courage to do so, can explore more eccentric roles. But for those who start off as unconventional, typecast is a haunting spell. Not all typecast actresses will be given an opportunity to redeem their full potential. Not to mention, impressively breaking the mold isn’t easy when the pre-determined image is so strong.

Some movie stars would be better labeled as “character commodities” than real “actresses.” Zooey DesChanel (Yes Man, 500 Days of Summer) is a prime example because what she is selling is her catchy, quirky character, not exactly her ability to act. She’s one of the highest paid actresses on the small screen with her TV series New Girl, where she plays a role practically identical to Summer in 500 Days of Summer. For Zooey, her typecast set her apart in the industry and worked to her advantage, but on the down side, it’s a wonder how long her career will last as the same character.


Comparing contemporary media to the film industry of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn's time, we’d think a lot has changed. But someone as iconic as DesChanel reminds us that typecast – or personal branding if you’d call it, -- is still prevalent. In the movie business, most actresses are inevitably categorized. Most actresses will be forced to embrace their designated typecast; even the capable and talented actresses, probably due to a lack of bravery or for the sake of easy approval.


Emma Watson's skimpy attire on the cover of GQ may seem absurd; but it is her statement as an actress to defy being categorically caged. This doesn’t make her a better actress than other typecast actresses, but it does make Watson a more courageous one. She also shows how a good girl image can be shed, while the reverse is almost unheard of. Watson may have gone from Harry Potter to GQ easily, but realistically, there will probably not come a day where Snooki goes from Jersey Shore to Vogue.


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