Oscar Impact: Typecasting Curse

"If you play down and out loser parts, they send you down and out loser parts"–Marsha Mason

"I wanted to break out of the kinds of roles I used to do because I was boring myself"–Glenn Close

Casting actors in roles similar to their Oscar-winning roles is another negative effect of winning the award. Actors complain that they tend to receive scores of roles that are identical or similar to their winning role, and that it is impossible for them to break away from the mold, which is often created or reinforced by the Oscar itself.

Cary Grant

Most actors are aware of their potential range and of audiences' expectations of them in terms of screen roles. "When I appear on the screen," Cary Grant once said, "I'm playing myself," though he believed that "it's harder to play yourself." Grant attributed his success to his conformity to audiences' expectations. Hence, his philosophy was: "Adopt the true image of yourself, acquire technique to project it, and the public will give you its allegiance." It's possible to describe Cary Grant's or John Wayne's screen persona due to their durable coherence and consistency.

Actors also understand the different responsibilities and rewards that are involved in being actors versus being movie stars. The Critic John Russell Taylor once described "the penalty" of being a star as follows "an actor is paid to do, a star is paid to be."

Mary Pickford

Indeed, some actors have come to resent the screen image imposed on them by the public due to its limitations. Mary Pickford was best loved for playing the naive, innocent girl, for which she was dubbed "America's Sweetheart." Occasionally, Pickford would try to deviate from her standardized roles, but under public pressure she would be forced to play them again. As late as 1920, when she was 27, Pickford was still embodying onscreen teenagers in the mold of Pollyanna.

Pickford was cast against type in her Oscarwinning role, Coquette, which called for cutting her curls and acquiring a new hairstyle and a new personality. But neither the film nor her persona convinced her fans. Pickford resented her public image, as she recorded in her memoirs: "Every now and then, as the years went by and I continued to play children's roles, it would worry me that I was becoming a personality instead of an actress. I would suddenly resent the fact that I had allowed myself to be hypnotized by the public into remaining a little girl. A wild impulse would seize me to reach for the nearest shears and remove that blonde chain around my neck."

Greer Garson

also got tired of the image that MGM had created for her, the graciously noble, Englishlike lady, epitomized in Mrs. Miniver. A professional actress, Garson felt qualified to play a wider range of roles, hence her strong interest in getting the part of the bitter, adulterous wife in From Here to Eternity, a role played with great success by Deborah Kerr.

Deborah Kerr

Kerr herself wanted this part for the same reason; she too was typically cast as the coolly elegant and reserved lady. Director Zinnemann's decision to cast against type became a turning point in Kerr's career. After this part, she was able to demand any role, and the ensuing Oscar nomination enhanced her selfconfidence as an actress.

Jane Darwell

Typecasting characterizes the careers of both leading and supporting players. Specializing in plump, middleaged matrons, Jane Darwell was cast in over sixty standardized roles modeled on her Oscar-winning role as Ma Dodd in The Grapes of Wrath. "Those mealy mouthed women, how I hated them," she once complained. "I played so many of them, those genial small'town wives, that I was getting awfully tired of them."

Glenn Close

Glenn Close, too, was able to shake her screen image of earth mothers with the aid of one commercial hit, Fatal Attraction, for which she received an Oscar nomination. She recalled: "I wanted to break out of the kinds of roles I used to do because I was boring myself." After that 1987 success, Close was cast in another juicy and villainous role in Dangerous Liaisons, for which she garnered her second Best Actress (and fifth) nomination.

Since acting involves role-playing and film is perceived as a "realistic" medium, viewers often fail to separate between actors' lives onscreen and offscreen. Ray Milland recalled that after the release of The Lost Weekend, he found himself being looked upon as an authority on alcoholism. Jack Lemmon, who also played a harddrinking man in Days of Wine and Roses, shared the same experience, as he told the New York Times: "You don't know how many people think of me as a drunk and send me letters telling me of the glories of Alcoholics Anonymous."

Gloria Swanson

The effects of typecasting are severely felt by actors who played powerful roles that became their trademark. Gloria Swanson recalls that after her 1950 stunning performance, "more and more scripts arrived at my door that were awful imitations of Sunset Boulevard, all featuring a deranged super'star crashing toward tragedy." A strong woman, Swanson vowed: "I didn't want to spend the rest of my life, until I couldn't remember lines any longer or read cue cards, playing Norma Desmond over and over again." She resented that "serious directors were foolish enough to think that this was the only role I could play and get boxoffice returns."

Hollywood believes in repeating successful formulas, which means, among other things, recasting stars in similar roles. Sylvia Miles' "specialized" in playing tough but vulnerable floozies, earning a first nomination for Midnight Cowboy, and a second for Farewell, My Lovely. Miles claims to have a drawer in her apartment with many similar parts, marked as "whores with hearts of gold, waitresses, tough broads."

Marsha Mason

For her effective portrait of a prostitute in Cinderella Liberty, Marsha Mason received her first nomination, which was followed ny numerous offers to play hookers, upscale and downscale, cheerful and tragic. Mason complained, "if you play downandout loser parts, they send you downandout loser parts."

Bruce Dern

Although women are more confined by typecasting, men are victims too. Bruce Dern played numerous villains, first in NBC's "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," then in The Cowboys, in which he "dared" to kill John Wayne on'screen. Dern holds that his recognition as an actor came rather late because "I was sold wrong." "I would have been much further along if I had gotten a better agent earlier. Everyone in this business is sold, and I was sold as a cuckoo, a bad guy, a psychotic." The Academy legitimized this typecasting, when it nominated Dern for Coming Home, as the demented chauvinist captain, who commits suicide out of despair.