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The Effects of Iconic Roles on an Actor and His/Her Career

Most actors play a plethora of roles in film and on television shows. Some actors though, are best remembered for one or two iconic roles, even after the film has been out for years or the show gets cancelled. Examples include Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, best known for their portrayal of Michelle Tanner, Jaleel White (Steve Urkel), and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter). More examples: Juliette Binoche (Vianne Rochet, Chocolat), Julie Andrews (Maria Rainer, Mary Poppins), and Leonardo DiCaprio (Jack Dawson).

Does being associated with an iconic role help or hurt an actor’s career? Does it make a difference whether the actor was a child or adult at the time of the role (s) in question? Do viewers prefer that actors stay in iconic role "molds," or would they rather actors create new characters/avoid typecasting? Explore these and other questions, as well as any examples you might choose, to determine the positive and negative aspects of associating actors with very specific roles.

  • The best actors would tend to belittle any type of impact, I would say. Take my childhood idol Clint Eastwood: traded his spurs for a holster, plays good guy or bad guy with equal tact; and still going strong in politics of all things--makes it seem as just matter of dusting off the layers of script material and moving on to the next being thing (nothing to it). Not convinced? Then, there is Arnold Schwarzenegger: Mr. Universe, Mr. Titanium, and Mr. Dream Teacher; still turning heads in politics. Positive and negative in Hollywood, not these guys. – LFreire 4 years ago
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  • Yet another interesting topic suggestion from Stephanie. I suppose there are examples of iconic roles that have helped an actor's career and others that have hurt a career. Off the top of my head I could mention just how long Sean Connery took to shake off the '007' tag, as some people actually confused the actor with the role, but he has gone on to more interesting roles, even if he did revisit Bond in 'Never Say Never Again' (1983). Conversely there's the controversial 'unsimulated sex act' that ChloĆ« Sevigny performed in 'The Brown Bunny' (2003), which she will no doubt be forever remembered for and appears to have damaged her standing as a serious actress. Remaining in an iconic role certainly helps with the bank balance, but doesn't stretch an actor in any way - the actor Adam Woodyatt, who plays the character, Ian Beale in the long running British soap 'Eastenders', lives a few miles away from me and is often seen around in his Maserati (No, I'm not envious!...Well, maybe a little). The locals all refer to him by his on-screen character name. However, for me, the best example of someone who has never let the grass grow under his feet is Sir Patrick Stewart - perhaps best known for Captain Jean-Luc Picard in 'Star Trek: The Next Generation', who has since returned to his Shakespearean roots with vigour as well as delivering one the best performances as Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1999 version of 'A Christmas Carol'. – Amyus 4 years ago
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  • I think being strongly associated with a role is probably harmful for an actor in terms of their future career prospects. It's difficult to be type-cast and if an actor is type-cast than I suspect it would be very displeasing for them to have to struggle to break into new roles and in new genres. That being said socially it's probably neat for them to be strongly associated with a type of character or genre which would be cool if it didn't also impact what casting agents and directors think of them. – LucianoTheWriter 4 years ago
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  • This is actually an interesting discussion when you consider the discussion around the death of Heath Ledger. The industry is actually starting to look at improving the mental wellness of actors and the support network required for them. Consider also the anorexia issues of the Olsen twins. Actually an interesting discussion when considered also from the lens of mental health. – SaraiMW 4 years ago
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