One word often strikes fear in the hearts of working actors everywhere, and that word is "typecasting." Although the actual practice of typecasting is not necessarily sinister, its effect on an actor's career can be chilling. Essentially, typecasting is the practice of hiring an actor based primarily on a specific or infamous role he or she portrayed earlier. Typecasting can provide certain character actors with steady work, but it can also prevent others from being considered for more challenging roles.
One early example of typecasting involved the late actor George Reeves. Reeves had come to Hollywood in the 1930s to pursue leading man roles under the studio system, but only experienced moderate success. His strong physique and all-American demeanor made Reeves an ideal candidate for the role of Superman on the new medium of television, however. Reeve's portrayal of Superman made him famous, but when the series ended his hopes of reviving his movie career faded along with it. Reeves was offered roles which were simply variations of his successful Superman character. This form of typecasting also affected a number of other early television stars.
Typecasting also had a profound effect on actors such as Leonard Nimoy, whose portrayal of Spock on the original Star Trek television series made it difficult for him to find other film work in Hollywood. When actor Henry Winkler created the role of Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli on the television series "Happy Days", one of his greatest personal fears was typecasting. Winkler, and other character actors in equally popular roles, have all had to step out of the public spotlight in order to avoid typecasting. Winkler had to prove that he could play other characters who were clearly not variations on Fonzie.
Some in the entertainment community make a distinction between casting for a specific type and typecasting. There's a reason why the same character actors portray the same roles in a number of movies and television shows. Casting according to type is a form of dramatic shorthand for the audience. The tough-talking New York cab driver or the wise old man are often used as stock characters in scripts, which means the same experienced character actors are usually cast. Typecasting usually involves a mainstream actor whose potential may be limited if he or she becomes too closely associated with a role.
Sometimes actors do break free of typecasting, but it often requires taking on an edgier dramatic role or a complete departure from type. Henry Winkler found some success by portraying unsympathetic characters, such as a serial rapist. By demonstrating a wide range of acting skills and a willingness to work against type, some actors are able to avoid the pitfalls of typecasting. Others are not as fortunate, portraying the same character type for the rest of their acting careers. Typecasting can be a double-edged sword, since the actor benefits from portraying a popular character, but often pays the price creatively after the role ends.