Often actors are cast in similar roles, and this frequently is a reason why we love/hate them: They just turn up in so many films as this specific type of character. This is a list of my own personal top 10 of current active actors who just seem to turn up predominantly playing extremely similar roles. This is not to say they literally just play this type of character in every film, as they obviously do not, but more often than not, they just tend to.

This list is by no means a criticism, in fact it is more a light hearted tribute to the fact that these actors turn up on screen in a film and we are often overcome by an overwhelming and reassuring feeling of: “Naturally, they will obviously play that character, but they do it so god damn well!”

Though they are not on this list, a special mention has to go to Nicolas Cage and Bruce Willis, as these days each ‘character’ they apparently play always seems to look rather bored and fed up.

1. Denzel Washington: The always in charge and one step ahead of everyone else know it all.

typecast 1

No matter what the situation he faces, Denzel just seems to know exactly what he needs to.  Whether this is knowing exactly how many trucks fit in sidings in Unstoppable, or flying a plane upside down while drunk in Flight, standing up for some righteous cause, or even being able to jump in time while Val Kilmer blatantly hates him in Deja Vu. Denzel is just the ultimate reassuring screen presence, and with his self assured and uniquely stoic approach as soon as he appears on screen you know he is in charge and that everything is just going to be ok. No matter what happens or how outrageous the plot is, Denzel just knows.

Examples: Flight, Unstoppable, Safe House, 2 Guns, Deja Vu, The Taking of Pelham 123, Remember the Titans, Inside Man, Fallen, Crimson Tide, The Book of Eli

2. Ethan Hawke: An extremely intense character permanently living on the very edge of his own sanity.

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If you want an actor to play intense/angry/confused/all of the above then Ethan Hawke seems to be the Hollywood go to guy. The desperation in his eyes and extreme variation of facial hair just perfectly encapsulates a man on the verge of a severe mental breakdown.

Examples: Brooklyn’s Finest, Sinister, The Purge, Before the Devil Knows Your Dead, Lord of War, Assault on Precinct 13, Taking Lives

4. Mark Strong: Angry, furious or the ‘surprise’/expected bad guy.

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In Hollywood there is no better bad guy than the nasty Englishman. Mark Strong with his great screen presence and fantastic ability to do accents is so frequently cast as the bad guy. Even when he is not the bad guy, he seems to be cast as an angry character. Hollywood calls it ‘character acting’; where as in England we simply call it ‘acting’, darling! As one of the greatest screen presences around, Mark Strong will appear and then we have to act all naive and be shocked that his character turns out to be the bad guy as we the audience are expected to be as stupid as Hollywood itself.

Examples: Robin Hood, Babylon A.D., Zero Dark Thirty, Kick-ass, Welcome to the Punch, Green Lantern, Stardust, Sunshine, Blood

4. Morgan Freeman: The one voice and very symbol of righteous laid back wisdom.

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Ever since Shawshank Redemption whenever we hear the voice over of Morgan Freeman we know that everything will just be ok. It just will. This man has done everything in his film career from being American president in the face of the apocalypse to simply being God. The fact is, if Morgan Freeman speaks, then you will listen!

Examples: The Shawshank Redemption, Bruce Almighty, Seven, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Oblivion, Deep Impact, Million Dollar Baby

5. William Fichtner: the all round nasty piece of work.

typecast 5

The classic “him form that film” actor, Fichtner turns up in more films than even he would probably care to remember, but so often he is that nasty slippery character. The things that makes his (often) nasty characters stand out is just how much fun he is obviously having playing these roles.

Examples: Drive Angry, Elysium, The Lone Ranger, Equilibrium, Armageddon, The Dark Knight

6. Bill Nighy: Bill Nighy

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Bill Nighy is one of those immortal actors in that he has forever been a middle aged cynical bastard and has subsequently played every role in that way. He does however do it so well and no one can quite say the words “bollocks” and “shit” with as much of a lugubrious tone as good old Bill Nighy. Even when he is a Scottish CGI octopus, he is still blatantly Bill Nighy.

Examples: Love Actually, About Time, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Wild Target, The Boat that Rocked, Notes on a Scandal, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Shaun of the Dead, The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

7. Sean Bean: The character that will obviously be one of the first to die.

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In so many films you have the token Brit that we all like, but know will die first despite being a reasonably big name. Well frequently that part happens to be played by Sheffield’s finest: Mr. Sean Bean.

Examples: Equilibrium, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Game of Thrones (TV Series), Black Death, Ronin,

8. James Purefoy: Brooding, rugged and downright bloody moody.

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If you ever need a moody and brooding hero for your historical epic then James Purefoy is the man. This is a man that probably exited his mother’s womb with a sword in his hand to cut the umbilical cord and then went and sat on top of a mountain to contemplate what it all means. It was also probably raining. Basically, he is one moody screen presence and would be a sure winner of the actor-least-likely-to-be-in-a-rom-com prize if there was one.

Examples: Ironclad, Rome (TV series), Soloman Kane, George and the Dragon, A Knight’s Tale, John Carter, The Following (TV series)

9. Sean Pertwee: The angry cockney.

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Thankfully Britain produces many films, and many of these films needs an angry Londoner in them. Even more thankfully Sean Pertwee is always on hand to provide his own unique brand of naturally furious Londoner.

Examples: Dog Soldiers, Event Horizon, Mutant Chronicles, The 51st State, Love, Honour and Obey, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, Devil’s Playground

10. Jean Reno: The token Frenchman.

typecast 10

As obvious as this may sound, when Hollywood needs a Frenchman to appear in a film, Jean Reno is the go to guy no matter what the character. He has obviously made a good living out of it and was great in Léon, but living in Hollywood has obviously got to the old boy. Reno must have maybe spent too long away from the Gallic lands as his accent in the god awful Alex Cross was so comically French it was reminiscent of Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau. This has also leaded to him becoming the Steven Seagal of France, ie: Old bastard still pretending he can play the bad-ass.

Examples: Alex Cross, The Da Vinci Code, Ronin, The Pink Panther, Godzilla, 22 Bullets, Armoured

About MoodyB

An extremely passionate and (semi) opened minded film reviewer, with a hint of snobbish.
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  1. Victor De Leon says:

    Great list! Spot on with these choices. I just watched a movie with William Fichtner named “Phantom” where he played against type and it was quite refreshing seeing him play a brave dude with a good heart. Good job. Thanks!

  2. colin says:

    Jim Carrey: Being Jim Carrey.

  3. vinnieh says:

    Interesting post, some good choices.

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