When an actor is cast for a role, and the movie/show becomes a success, it is quite easy for the actor to be consistently typecast as that character, or similar versions of him, in future projects. For major Hollywood projects that appeal to the masses, there will always be high-paying roles for actors that can successfully master the art of embodying a lovable idiot in a comedy or being the leading man in an over the top thriller that lacks real substance. Of course, there are cases in which the actor is simply not good enough to take on a more impactful and impressive role. Big names such as Nicholas Cage, Seth Rogen, Channing Tatum, Zach Galifianakis, Ryan Gosling and numerous others are likely forever going to be cast into their respective roles. Awful actors are quite similar to awful books in that for some reason they are both able to pull in ridiculous amounts of money from the general population. There are some actors that have appeared to be on a predictable career trajectory and then shockingly take on roles that elevate them to the pinnacle of acting talent. There is always room to grow, and the following trio of actors have made startling and impressive transformations that have pushed back on the concept of typecasting in film and television:
Matthew McConaughey used to be a punchline to an overwhelming amount of jokes about bad romantic comedies. Over his almost twenty-five year career, McConaughey has been one of the premier faces in the cliched, popcorn love story genre. In 2003, after the release of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, he had reached a level of awfulness that rivaled any other actor working in Hollywood at the time. It did not help him that his movies made fairly large sums of money, leading him to consistently get cast in the same underwhelming role. He was one of the classic cases of getting by with his looks as the female audience that his movies were targeted towards, quite obviously liked looking at McConaughey as a lovable idiot.
His transformation was one of the most surprising because not only did he become an above average actor, he became one of the best actors of his generation. Starting with his 2013 performance in Dallas Buyers Club, where he portrayed a real life AIDS patient in the 1980's, McConaughey turned into a serious actor in a film that needed him to be incredible in order to succeed. He won an Oscar for that performance, and one of the most popular actors working in the cookie cutter romantic comedy portion of film, transformed into an actor capable of touching audiences on a profound and emotional level.
From there, McConaughey transcended once again on television in the first season of True Detective. The show, while not for everyone, was slow paced, character driven, and intensely psychological. It made for some of the most gripping television in recent memory, and McConaughey's portrayal of Rust Cohle was unnervingly brilliant. It is bold but not unwarranted to say that he gave one of the best, maybe even the greatest, performance in a season of television, ever. He stepped into the role of a troubled, intelligent, and deeply driven man in remarkable fashion. Rust Cohle is one of the most memorable fictional characters in television in a long time, partly from excellent writing, but also because of Matthew McConaughey's acting skills.
Okay, Bryan Cranston was never a bad actor, but he spent all of the 80's and 90's in prolific minor roles on the big and small screen. He became more widely known in 2000 when he started his six season run of being the silly dad on Malcolm in the Middle, Admittedly, he spiced up the traditional sitcom dad trope during his time as Hal, but no one would have expected that after having his back shaved in his underwear in the pilot episode of a humdrum sitcom, he would go on to become the leading man in what is almost inarguably the greatest television drama of all time.
In 2008, Bryan Cranston entered into the role of Walter White, the high school chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin in the astounding Vince Gilligan series, Breaking Bad. Cranston's dark descent was chronicled over five seasons of television that captured the attention of TV viewers everywhere. He was nominated for the Emmy award for best leading actor in each of the six years that it ran, and took home the award four times. His ability to progress from a bumbling chemistry teacher at the onset of season one to a charismatic and powerful force in the meth industry over the span of the story arc was uncanny, almost as if he had been preparing for the role his whole life.
Bryan Cranston was a goofball of an actor on his other major show, but when he became Walter White, he evolved into the most impressive character in the history of any television series. He triumphed as he progressed further into the role of the villain, even making it possible for viewers to support his villainous ways. Cranston made the usually easy choice of supporting right over wrong infinitely more complex.
In the 2005 movie, Wedding Crashers, there was a character that went by the nickname "Sack," whose sole purpose was to be the most unlikable and cruel character possible. Bradley Cooper filled that role perfectly. Then in 2009, Cooper became a household name when he starred in one of the absolute worst comedies of all time, The Hangover. His typecast of a good looking, rather unkind and self-indulged character seemed to fit him well. He was not a bad actor as he served a valuable purpose, but he did not seemed poised to make the jump to serious acting based off of his roles up until just a couple years ago.
All of that changed in 2012 when he took on the leading role opposite of Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook. For his role as Pat Solatano in the adaptation of the book by Matthew Quick, Cooper received his first Oscar nomination for best actor. He played a young man struggling with mental illness, and despite the difficult subject matter, he managed to portray Pat in a heartfelt way that brought attention to the epidemic that is not talked about enough and misunderstood by many: mental illness.
In 2013, he entered a literary role as Rory Jansen in The Words. While not as big as some of his other movies, Cooper portrayed a young writer struggling with a moral dilemma in a way that reminded viewers that Cooper himself is a lover of literature that holds a degree in English. He showed that he was capable of playing a serious role, outside of one with a mental illness, and convincingly appear as the right man for the job.
In the same year, Cooper starred alongside Lawrence again in American Hustle where he was nominated again for an Oscar, this time as a supporting actor. He played the role of an FBI agent, once again displaying his range as a performer. If that was not enough to solidify Cooper as one of the best actors working today, his 2014 role in American Sniper provided further evidence to this claim along with providing him with his third consecutive Oscar nomination. Portraying the late American hero, Chris Kyle, Cooper delivered an unflinching, inspiring and heartbreaking performance in one of the most important war movies of our times. Taking on the role of the decorated American hero, who as a U.S. Navy SEAL, was the most lethal sniper in military history who later died tragically in the U.S., was more than just an acting opportunity for Cooper. Despite the sensitive subject, Cooper succeeded in paying homage to a real life hero by truly appreciating the subject matter at hand, and respecting the importance of the role.
These three actors have become top tier talents despite starting their careers in quite different roles. They have disapproved the concept of typecasting by transcending into some of the most important performances in modern film and television.