As Robert Pattinson continues to prove anyone wrong who once dismissed him as a teen idol with his role in The Batman this year, he’s one of the best examples of why great actors can never be struck off. Typing can be an actor’s worst enemy, but it can also open the door to a standout performance that subverts everyone’s expectations.
That’s exactly what many great actors have done, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Radcliffe. After establishing themselves as stars in a very specific type of role, they shocked everyone with a completely different performance.
Steve Carell – Foxcatcher (2014)
Steve Carell’s comedic talents have long been unquestionably incredible, earning him worldwide recognition for his roles as Michael Scott on The Office and Andy Stitzer on The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Even so, few would have identified the American actor who excelled in roles where he could be clumsy and clumsy as a serious dramatic force.
He was until he gained acclaim playing disgraced wrestling coach John du Pont on Foxcatcher. Much like his other characters, du Pont was larger than life, but Carell played him with the perfect amount of reserve, earning him Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. Since then, the actor has been impossible to pin down, easily transitioning from dramatic to comedic roles.
Robert Pattinson – Good Time (2017)
It goes to show just how typecast Robert Pattinson was after his role as Edward Cullen in the Twilight franchise that there was significant backlash for his casting as Bruce Wayne in The Batman even a decade later. For some, the recent film in which Pattinson played the tortured hero was the first time they saw his real acting skills.
However, Pattinson’s view as a young adult idol has long been inaccurate. In the thriller film Good Time by the Safdie brothers, the same directing couple who engineered Adam Sandler’s dramatic escape in Uncut Gems, the actor truly shattered everyone’s expectations of him, vividly portraying the violent depression of a character in the space of a single night.
Keanu Reeves – Point Break (1991)
Keanu Reeves has been the star of action movies for so long, particularly excelling in the slick John Wick franchise, that it’s hard to imagine there was a time when he was typecast as a comedic actor. In fact, public perception has shifted so much the other way around that many have found his return to comedy in Bill & Ted Face the Music difficult to adjust to.
He played hilarious but well-meaning goons like Ted in that franchise that led to Reeves being cast in one-dimensional comedic roles. But as undercover FBI agent Johnny Utah in the explosive thriller Point Break, Reeves made it clear that he was also a great man, and his illustrious acting career blossomed from there.
Ralph Fiennes – Budapest Grand Hotel (2014)
Ralph Fiennes is one of those actors who almost always plays villains and anyone who’s seen his creepy portrayal of Voldemort in the Harry Potter franchise knows exactly why. While his talents seem to shine the most in antagonistic roles, Fiennes has been a versatile star of stage and film since the start of his career.
Even so, few would have expected his star to star in the comedy-drama The Grand Budapest Hotel, where he managed to eclipse a huge cast with a weighty and compelling performance. In just one film, Fiennes proved he could be both grounded and funny, demonstrating exactly why he shouldn’t just play the bad guy.
Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight (2008)
Although Heath Ledger was unquestionably a talented actor long before his turn as The Joker brought him worldwide fame, it was in roles of a very different genre. In movies like 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight’s Tale, the Aussie actor had become known as a beautiful romantic role to the point that some fans were outraged at his Joker casting.
Of course, he didn’t just smash audience expectations in The Dark Knight, he shattered them with a performance that redefined a villain many thought they knew and won Ledger a posthumous Oscar. Violent, unstable and decidedly unpleasant, it’s no exaggeration to say that Heath Ledger was unrecognizable.
Leslie Nielsen – Airplane! (1980)
Leslie Nielsen is one of the most iconic comedic actors of all time, having played characters like Frank Drebin in the Naked Gun franchise during the heyday of parody movies. Anyone who has looked through his filmography from before this time might be surprised to find plenty of dramatic film and television roles, but very little comedy.
Everything changed with his role as Dr. Rumack in Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker’s classic comedy, Airplane! With a sharp and completely deadpan delivery, Nielsen’s comedic style differed very little from his dramatic acting and that’s exactly what made him so hilarious. Audiences welcomed Nielsen’s new release with open arms.
Tom Hanks – Philadelphia (1993)
As Hollywood’s favorite “nice guy”, Tom Hanks has managed to win over a large number of fans and few would blame him for his immense success. There was a time early in his career when that same reputation nearly prevented him from achieving more, however, as many still saw him as little more than a charming, likable on-screen presence.
That all changed in the early ’90s when Philadelphia introduced a completely different side to Hanks. A film about a gay man who sues his former employers for firing him after finding out he had AIDS, the lead role in Philadelphia required empathy and depth, and Hanks delivered both.
Leonardo DiCaprio – Django Unchained (2012)
Typecasting can be a curse, but it can also be a blessing. Leonardo DiCaprio established himself as a serious leading man in the 90s and became the go-to for Hollywood producers who needed a bankable star in their movies. The actor thus found almost unprecedented success, but it’s no surprise that he wanted to do something a little different.
Fortunately, Quentin Tarantino had the perfect role for him. In Django Unchained, DiCaprio played particularly loathsome plantation owner Calvin J. Candie and proved himself to be just as good at playing a role as being a compelling leading man. DiCaprio was so good in the role that many have asked him to play more antagonists since.
Robin Williams – Dead Poet’s Society (1989)
After rising to fame playing the alien Mork on the sitcom Mork & Mindy, it’s easy to see why everyone thought the legendary comedian would go on to have a great acting career playing equally goofy and charming characters. While they would have been perfectly fine, it does a disservice to Robin Williams’ incredible talent for serious acting.
In Dead Poet’s Society, in which he played inspirational English teacher John Keating, Robin Williams shocked all who had considered him a comedic actor with a charming and empathetic performance. Almost a decade later, he achieved the same feat again with Good Will Hunting, for which he won an Oscar.
Daniel Radcliffe – Swiss Army Man (2016)
It’s fair to say that Daniel Radcliffe is one actor who will always be associated with a specific film role, playing the lead role in the phenomenal Harry Potter series since he was just 11 years old. It would take a lot to shake the perception of him as another adult child star and a safe fit for mainstream films.
Fortunately, Radcliffe had no qualms about doing something extreme to change that. In the deliciously weird Swiss Army Man, he plays an abandoned man on a remote island who befriends a corpse with powers that include the ability to propel himself across the ocean using his own farts. Radcliffe continues to dodge anyone’s attempts to put him in a box as he next plays Al Yankovic in the spoof comedy Weird: The Al Yankovic Story this fall.