Hollywood’s Déjà Vu: 8 Typecast Actors of Cinema

Hundreds of actors and actresses have made a renowned name for themselves in the film industry. Some have successfully made their work into their brand. However, some have fallen from the footsteps of expanding fame into the confines of a cinematic Groundhog Day; they play the same type of character, over and over. It happens more often than we think, and sadly even some of our go-to favourites have fallen victim. Here are eight contenders worth discussing. Whether these stars are repeat offenders for regular paychecks, or whether they mould their roles around their existing repertoire, rest assured: Hollywood, we’re onto you guys.

Adam Sandler

Billy Madison
Verdict: Likeable man-child with mostly good intentions.

Sandler, King of the Man-Children. There is no denying that whenever Sandler’s face is onscreen, there will be his traditional accompaniment of poop humour, loud sporadic impersonations and general bouts of immaturity. He rose to rapid stardom with Billy Madison in 1995, and soon after as Happy Gilmore in 1996 – spurring his acting career onto an adventurous ride of playful, silly and light-hearted roles. I just can’t help but feel like this funnyman is yet to explore other avenues outside of his large and loud Madison-cross-Gilmore persona.

It begs the question: does he constantly accept repetitive roles, or is he just being payed to be himself onscreen? It’s hard to decipher. He turns 48 years old this year, though still depicting the often absurd goofball we’ve always known him to be. Sure, he has had the sparse role here and there that pushed this boundary, like his 2007 role as Charlie in Reign Over Me, but even so, the Sandleresque enthusiasm of a typical frat-boy mindset soon comes back to test its appeal with audiences.

It is very clear that Sandler is a likeable guy, who always manages to smooth over a happy ending in his films. On this note, it must be admitted that we have repeatedly witnessed his miraculous endeavour to achieve a life of normalcy in Grown Ups, Funny People and 50 First Dates. Oh, and Big Daddy… and The Waterboy… AND Mr. Deeds. I’d much rather him at the very least attempt a meatier role that doesn’t involve revisiting elementary school or inheriting a child. I’m ready to see more from you Sandler. T-t-t-today, junior!

Morgan Freeman

Verdict: Majestic figure of greatness and wisdom. Basically, God.
Verdict: Majestic figure of greatness and wisdom. Basically, God.

Now I know what you must be thinking: how can someone question the likes of Morgan Freeman? Yes. I get it. We all love Morgan.

With the skill set of a Hollywood veteran, and a majestic voice for optimal narration, Freeman is a prestigious individual who deserves his international acclaim. There is no denying his talent, that is for certain. When it comes to his role choices, we are definitely sensing a pattern here. When Freeman comes to mind, I think of an admirable mentor that embodies virtue and grace; a trustworthy confidante with wholesome advice, who offers grandfatherly companionship and fuzzy warmth that requires me to want a lengthy hug from him. That about sums him up, right? Freeman has offered his quota of wisdom in films like Bruce Almighty, The Dark Knight and Invictus – and the list carries on.

Even despite his involvement with the mob baddies in the 2006 film Lucky Number Slevin, the legend himself always reverts back to the role he knows best how to play. It would be rather intriguing to see Freeman head down a different side of the tracks, involving less for the greater good and concerning more conniving motives and weaponry. Whether he be Bruce Wayne’s wingman, or showing Mr Almighty that that’s exactly how the cookie crumbles, or lending his narration to War Of The Worlds; I think we can conclude that Freeman can fill whatever role in God’s name he wants to, as repetitive as it may be. Not everyone can do it with such poise. After all, he has played God, twice. 

Jennifer Aniston

Verdict: Rachel Green.
Verdict: Rachel Green.

Aniston has been making a healthy pay packet for the duration of her screen career, and I would argue that her Friends character Rachel Green has had a whole lot to do with her offered roles in Hollywood post-FriendsFriends ran from 1994 to 2004, hailing as one of the most successful American situation comedies of our time. Aniston played Rachel – the breezy, sweet girl-next-door with a likeable air about her, a catchy sense of humour and those beautiful beach waves that made me frequently envious. She was the romantic of the show; the charming friend who snagged her high school sweetheart after ten seasons of on-and-offs. Now, ten years have passed since we said goodbye to Rachel… though the shoe still fits. Did Rachel really leave us?

From She’s The One, Marley & Me and Love Happens to Along Came Polly, The Bounty Hunter, He’s Just Not That Into You and The Switch, I’m getting a feel for a pattern occurring here. Her Friends presence as Rachel was hugely popular internationally, which became a major springboard for her further success in Hollywood – now her string of films are generally giving us repetitive forms of Rachel Green that Aniston was so renowned for in the ’90s.

It wouldn’t hurt to see Aniston try a role where her character is not seeking love or male affirmation in any sort. Hell, I’m open to the unthinkable here – Jen with superpowers, Jen in Elizabethan times, Jen in a Burton film (these may be too absurd, but the idea is there). Her repertoire in discussion is through no questionable lack of skill, experience or talent, though I’m simply emphasising a gap in what we’ve seen from Aniston, and the potential yet to come. She ought to jump into the deep end and surprise eager audiences, or face the risk of drowning with the other hopeless cinematic romantics. It’s all a matter of snatching the right part, I just hope she captivates us before she decides to retire on her riches.

Ricky Gervais

Verdict: Sarcastic sod with bad karma.
Verdict: Sarcastic sod with dry humour and bad karma.

Ricky Gervais is simply Ricky Gervais. I’m not implying that this is a bad thing. I am standing firm that Gervais is an undeniable serial character of cinema. Without offending Ricky-religious fans, I daresay that while he sure is a presence, he does not ‘act’, per se. He is a personality that we opt for, not necessarily his acting that we buy a movie ticket for. He’s an incredibly funny guy that you can link to the charismatic Russell Brand, Robin Williams or Jim Carrey, in the way that they must be simply let free, on screen, with audiences to anticipate what on Earth will spill out. They command attention as their own little ball of wisecracking energy.

Gervais is a diverse talent if there ever were one; an English comedian, actor, voice actor, director, producer, musician, writer, and former radio presenter. He is largely hailed as being David Brent from the UK Office, in which he was the lead performer, co-writer and co-director. Then he was Andy Millman in the series Extras, which delivered the same amusing one-liners while affecting a serious manner. His Hollywood roles as Pincus (Ghost Town), Dr McPhee (Night At The Museum) and Mark Bellison (The Invention Of Lying) have me sceptical as to whether he even stepped out of character from 2007 to 2009, approaching each film (and Golden Globes performance) with the same hallmark and deadpan delivery in different costuming.

Is Gervais bound to struggle in his famed future? I’m unsure with how long his comedic efforts will be welcomed before he may be considered a bit ‘been there, seen that’.

Katherine Heigl

Verdict: Highly strung and unlucky in love.
Verdict: Highly strung and unlucky in love… until she loosens up and becomes lucky in love.

Oh, Miss Heigl. I’m onto you. Time after time, I flick through the television channels and catch a perky blonde who’s thrown into catastrophic, laughable circumstances where she’s in over her head. If it isn’t Kate Hudson (apologies), it’s sure to be Katherine Heigl. Heigl tends to fling about with the story line of a young career-driven woman whose idyllic life is interrupted by any of the following: the surprise of a baby (through pregnancy and/or the result of Godparenting duties); an evil engaged sister; a new job prospect; or contact with a chauvinistic male who, upon initially despising, ends up falling in love with. Allow for minor variations of any of these potential story pathways – or if all else fails, you’ll find she’s just playing Izzie on Grey’s Anatomy.

Despite the ease of mapping out her past acting stereotypes, she does deserve kudos for always bagging the most gorgeous looking man of the entire film cast. With this in mind, I guess I can understand why she consistently goes for this archetypal character role.. Maybe I am feeling a tinge of jealousy. Nonetheless, she has made the list!

Upon looking through her repertoire of zany adventures with their romantic undertones, the situations she faces always seem extravagently unrealistic (with predictable resolutions). 27 Dresses was the one with simply too many dresses (and she ended up marrying the guy she originally hated), Killers had too many good looking people using guns (ahem, Ashton Kutcher), New Year’s Eve was a large cast of (also good looking) A-listers who realised what they’ve been missing in their life, and Knocked Up was where her highly strung character randomly had a one night stand, with whom she clashed with and ultimately fell pregnant to. Did I mention they eventually passed the hateful stage and fell in love? Shocker.

Keira Knightley

Verdict: Passionate heroine circa any classical period.

Keira Knightley is known as a time travelling powerhouse, often jumping at the chance to play any feisty duchess from a historical era. If you’re adapting a classical literature piece, chances are you’ve got Knightley in mind as your leading corseted lady. Can anyone else see the common thread in her performances in Pirates Of The Caribbean, The Duchess, Atonement, Anna Karenina, King Arthur, Pride & Prejudice and A Dangerous Method? Perhaps a successive quest to star as the lead in every historic film she can get her hands on? So far, so good.

I acknowledge her modern roles such as Penny in Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World, Greta in Can A Song Save Your Life?, and her 2014 role as Megan in Laggies. I think though, Keira truly shone in Hollywood early as Elizabeth Swann in the string of Pirates films, which began in 2003. These films are set in the mid 18th century, and Knightley has even further dabbled in roles spanning the rest of the 1800s (Pride & Prejudice, The Duchess, Anna Karenina), as well as the 1900s (A Dangerous Method) and World War II (Atonement).

The question is, is Keira current? Many of the films she has starred in are visually stunning, and several have delved into the roles and values of women in their context (and she did play Sabina Speilrein, one of the first female psychoanalysts). Her roles have consolidated these films’ worth to cinema audiences. But who exactly, are her target market? Middle aged women? There are only so many Keiras in a corset or bonnet I can take. My favourite Keira moment was Jules in Bend It Like Beckham, displaying facets of which contemporary girls could relate. Can we see more roles like Jules rather than Jane Austen?

Michael Cera

Verdict: Undeniably adorable nerd with strange hobbies.
Verdict: Undeniably adorable nerd trying to get the girl.

Commonly known as George Michael Bluth in Arrested Development (or Paulie Bleeker, the cheese to my macaroni), Cera is yet another actor who is seemingly stuck in the repetitive run of typecast roles. Cera may have first been on your radar as Dean on Veronica Mars in 2006, before capturing a Gen Y nerd-herd following as Evan in Superbad in 2007. Fast forward through his notable career moments, featuring Juno, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Year One and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, he is still the awkward teen trying to understand the social rules of human interaction. He has clearly never played an alpha male, being the cinematic stereotype of the kid who fumbles to assert himself, and instead gets shoved into the lockers and his books knocked to the ground. Note: Cera turns 26 this year. Do you feel me here?

If you describe Cera as cinema’s dork-status dweeb who is crushing on the girl next door, and your reaction is something like “oh, that guy”, that’s a clear indication that these roles aren’t exactly the type of Globe-winning performances you should always be seeking. It does make me wonder about the personality divide (or lack thereof) between character and actor: is he trying to make us love him, just the way he is? Because I want to see where he can push himself next.

Cera has helped successfully bring indie-tone films like Juno and Nick & Norah out of obscurity with his loveable character archetype, though risks falling into the heap in 2014 alongside actors with unmemorable performances. Awkwa-dorable, sensitive males with a penchant for orange Tic Tacs and video games have a relevant place in contemporary culture film, but how long will Cera stay relevant in this sense?

Zooey Deschanel

Verdict: Quirky free spirit who makes you forget your troubles.

Her niche is a cohesion of her cute fringe, quirky perspective on ways to enjoy life, carefree and open mind, tongue-in-cheek sweetness, a vintage kind of style and appreciation for all things folk, indie and/or creative. All the while, utilising any of the above with a cutesey smile, silly face or awkwardly perfect dance, forcing her equally awkwardly-cute counterpart (Joseph Gordon-Levitt types) to swoon: I’ve found the perfect girl. Consider this one nailed, Deschanel. The jig is up.

Zooey’s acting mix of innocence, a positive nature and those big blue eyes is the ultimate big fat soppy example of adorkable, and we can’t deny that we just love her for it. But when your audiences can recite what may have been the exact criteria for you scoring your Hollywood roles (like, all of them), it might be the time to see you try something different for a change.

We’re seeing this persona as recently as Jess in New Girl, though let’s be real here, Zooey has had plenty of practice post-2003 in films like Elf, Gigantic, Yes Man and (500) Days Of Summer. Not to mention that Apple commercial for iPhone’s Siri, where she danced around in her pajamas. She has the gift of making anything look super fun. I think I speak for many: now is the time to mix it up a bit.

Honourable mentions who also contribute to déjà vu include: Hugh Grant (British romantic with irresistible charm, sometimes even a little smarmy), Helena Bonham Carter (the wicked mental case in need of a hair brush), Johnny Depp (the one weird guy), Diane Keaton (quirky, controlling mother), Vince Vaughn (smug douchebag), Whoopi Goldberg (the sassy woman who will take no sh*t; great dreadlocked hair), Samuel L. Jackson (bombastic, streetwise purveyor of the truth), Megan Fox (considered the smouldering babe of the entire movie, who knows that she’s hot too) and Russell Brand (Russell Brand).

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Your forgot about Zach Braff? Many of his roles are where he’s a goofy socially awkward dude, but usually gets the girl in the end of the flick. Or what about Mark Hamil? He gets a heck of a lot of villain roles. Hobgoblin, Joker, Ozai from Avatar: the Last Airbender.

    • Michelle Webb

      There are seriously so many! No so familiar with Zach Braff, though I do know his work in Scrubs. True about Hamil too.

    • Actually Mark Hamil has had a great variety of roles in his career… well he sort of gets his typecast depending on the format he is working on.

  2. Diana Chin

    Love the article! I agree with your stance on Morgan Freeman. Even as I’m typing my comment, I can hear his voice playing in the back of my head…

    • Michelle Webb

      I rather enjoy his roles, even if they have a very obvious common thread throughout. He can play God any day I say!

  3. Agree with every word.
    Morgan Freeman has in fact played God three times I believe. Bruce Almighty, Evan Almighty, and in the upcoming Lego Movie haha.
    Sorry for being pedantic

  4. Nilson Thomas Carroll

    Cera’s tough because he is a good actor but I don’t think many would put him in a different kind of role. There’s a recent movie, Crystal Fairy, which might be relevant, as Cera plays a character that doesn’t fit in with his type casting.

    • Michelle Webb

      Cera seems to be stuck in high school in his roles, but I’ll be sure to check out his new film and see where he’s at! Thanks

  5. Joe Holland

    Great choices, never really thought of Zooey Deschanel being type-cast but you are totally right.

  6. ALatoya

    Adam Sandler: It’s not exactly type casting when he writes the movies, and his production company makes the movies, that’s the type of actor he is and he keeps making it that way.

    • Michelle Webb

      Do you not think his roles are characterised by sporadic bouts of immaturity, impersonations, and poop humour? His roles are the same time and time again, whether he wrote/produced/edited it or not.

  7. Lachlan Vass

    At least in This is the End we got to see Michael Cera for who he really is.
    A coked up sex god

  8. Siobhan Calafiore

    Great article Michelle! Loved the tone of your writing! Other typecasts I can think of include Seth Rogen, Angelina Jolie, Jim Carey, Will Ferrel, Drew Barrymore and Michelle Rodriguez.

  9. Jeffery Hunt

    Bill Shatner is another one but he has intentionally used himself as a comitic means, and I love him for it. He is the crazy funny uncle who sings, dances and knows he can’t but does so anyway for laughs.

  10. Lovely article! It is true that studios seem to recycle actors, and that they often lose their originlaity and creativity as they know they are good in a specific type of role. The audience will pay to see them perform Morgan Freeman (although I truly love him, like everyone else, and feel like he is one of the best actors we ever had) or Jennifer Aniston. Once my French teacher said that he thought that the best actors were those who could make you forget their names, and who they really are, and instead make you focus on and believe entirely in their characters :)he’s probably right

  11. Let me add to your great plethora Rob Schneider, as the clumsy, kind-hearted consultant! 🙂

  12. True and True! I’ve said this many times. At some point you have to ask yourself, are they being paid to be themselves? Exactly. This is not necessarily a bad thing however, we would love to see some versatility in the roles these actors choose to play. For some it works and for others it doesn’t and they are casted in one role and their career doesn’t make it too far. Luckily, the ones mentioned here don’t seem to have that problem.

    • Michelle Webb

      Well said! Especially for those like Aniston and Freeman, their typecast roles do not seem to be at their detriment, as they are quite successful, renowned and rich from what we can tell! Definitely some diversity would be an interesting venture, which is exactly what my article was suggesting 😀
      Thank you for your comment 🙂

  13. Completely agree with your choices. Especially Adam Sandler, which I’m actually so upset about. If you’ve ever seen Punch-Drunk Love, you know that he’s actually good at carrying a role that’s serious (we don’t include Spanglish, that never happened in my opinion). But what really upsets me anyways, is that he has this talent but still gets typecasted or just decides to do zany roles.

    Which I could understand why he may do some more comedic roles than serious.

    Johnny Depp once said he was going to stop making serious-creepy films so he could have appropriate, light-hearted films that his kids could watch and sadly I don’t think that’s been going so good for him. And I’m excited to see how Transcendence goes because it looks like it may be Depp’s film back into his old ways.

  14. Shane

    Re: Keira Knightley, I think she’s very underrated. She doesn’t look like the girl next door and she has a natural air of sophistication. However, I think she’s capable of much more than just the period films that she’s known for.

  15. Stormy Skies

    I’m beginning to see this in Matt Damon as well…

  16. mari rhodes

    Nowadays surely the most typecast character is Richard Belzer. He has played as Detective Munch in Law & Order: SVU as well as 10 other TV shows, including The Wire and Sesame Street.

  17. Candice Evenson

    I love ’em, but sometimes I wish that more fresh faces would be given a chance to shine, but I guess that would be “risky.” These are actors who have proven themselves to bring in the audiences. It is probably in the best interest of actors to find their “niche” because that makes them the first person a casting director thinks of, before they even audition (or “if” they ever audition?).

  18. Jordan Neves

    When I watched the new trailer for Transcendence the other day and Morgan Freeman’s popped up as a supporting actor, it got me thinking about how his filmography for the last few years has mostly consisted of this role. Glad I’m not the only one! Fine actor nonetheless, and great article too.

  19. Jim Carrey is a BIG TYPECAST ACTOR in my books. I often get confused by which of his characters belong to which movie. Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber, Bruce Almighty, The Mask – shall I really go on. In most of his movies he plays a loud mouth goofball. I much preferred him in ‘Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind’ where he plays a much more pleasant role. Agree completely with your repeat offenders, great article, it was a joy to read!

  20. What about KEVIN COSTNER?
    Dances With Wolves, Untouchables, Waterworld, Wyatt Earp, The Postman, Robin Hood, Revenge, The Bodyguard, The Guardian

    All as the hero who takes it to an extreme in the name of justice.

  21. I think looking in hindsight the archetypes of Cera and Deschanel have declined in popularity as the culture has evolved.

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