10 Iconic Movie Roles That Shattered The Actor's Previous Typecasting – Screen Rant

From Robert Pattinson to Leonardo DiCaprio, even the best actors can end up getting typecast. These are the times they smashed audience expectations.
With Robert Pattinson continuing to prove anyone wrong who once dismissed him as a teen heartthrob with his role in The Batman this year, he stands as one of the best examples of why great actors can never be written off. Typecasting can be an actor's worst enemy, but it can also open the door for a stand-out performance that subverts everyone's expectations.
That's exactly what many great actors did, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Radcliffe. After establishing themselves as stars in a very specific kind of role, they shocked everyone with a completely different performance.
Steve Carell's comedic talents have been unquestionably amazing for a long time now, allowing him to rise to worldwide recognition for his roles as Michael Scott in The Office and Andy Stitzer in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Even so, not many would have pegged the American actor who excelled at roles where he could be awkward and goofy as a serious dramatic force.
That was the case until he found acclaim playing disgraced wrestling coach John du Pont in Foxcatcher. Just like his other characters, du Pont was larger than life, but Carell played him with the perfect amount of reserve, earning himself Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. The actor has been impossible to pin down ever since, easily shifting between dramatic and comedic roles.
It goes to show just how much Robert Pattinson was typecast 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 on. For some, the recent movie in which Pattinson played the tortured hero was the first time they were seeing his real acting chops.
The view of Pattinson as a young adult heartthrob has been inaccurate for a long time now though. In the crime movie Good Time by the Safdie brothers, the same director pair that engineered Adam Sandler's dramatic breakout in Uncut Gems, the actor truly shattered everyone's expectations of him, vividly portraying a character's violent breakdown in the space of a single night.
Keanu Reeves has been the consummate action movie star for so long, particularly excelling in the stylish John Wick franchise, that it's hard to imagine there was once a time when he was typecast as a comedic actor. In fact, public perception has shifted so far the other way that many found his return to comedy in Bill & Ted Face the Music hard to adjust to.
It was playing hilarious but well-meaning morons like Ted in that franchise that led to Reeves being pigeonholed into one-dimensional comedic roles. But as undercover FBI agent Johnny Utah in the explosive thriller Point Break, Reeves made it clear he was a formidable leading man too and his illustrious action career bloomed from there.
Ralph Fiennes is one of those actors who nearly always plays villains and anyone who has seen his chilling portrayal of Voldemort in the Harry Potter franchise knows exactly why that is. Whilst his talents seem to shine the most in antagonistic roles, Fiennes has been a versatile star of stage and screen since the beginning of his career.
Even so, few would have expected his star turn in the comedy-drama The Grand Budapest Hotel, where he managed to outshine a huge ensemble cast with a weighty and convincing performance. In a single movie, Fiennes proved he could be both grounded and funny, demonstrating exactly why he shouldn't just play villains.
Although Heath Ledger was unquestionably a talented actor long before his turn as the Joker earned him worldwide acclaim, it was in roles of a very different kind. In movies like 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight's Tale, the Australian actor had become known as a handsome romantic lead to the point where some fans were outraged over his Joker casting.
Of course, he didn't just break audience expectations in The Dark Knight, he smashed them with a performance that redefined a villain many thought they knew and earned Ledger a posthumous Academy Award. Violent, unstable, and decidedly unpleasant-looking, it's not an exaggeration to say Heath Ledger was unrecognizable.
Leslie Nielsen is one of the most iconic comic actors of all time as a result of playing characters like Frank Drebin in the Naked Gun franchise during the golden age of spoof movies. Anyone who browsed his filmography from before this era might be surprised to find a whole lot of dramatic roles across film and television but very little comedy.
That all changed with his turn 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 embraced the new version of Nielsen with open arms.
As Hollywood's favorite "nice guy," Tom Hanks has managed to win over a huge amount of fans and few would begrudge him his immense success. There was a time early in his career when that same reputation almost held him back from further success, however, as many still saw him as little more than a charming, likable screen presence.
That all changed in the early '90s when Philadelphia showcased a completely different side of Hanks. A movie about a gay man who sues his former employers for firing him after discovering he has AIDS, the lead role in Philadelphia required empathy and depth, and Hanks delivered on both.
Typecasting can be a curse but it can also arguably 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 found almost unparalleled success as a result, but it's no surprise he wanted to do something a little different.
Luckily, Quentin Tarantino had the perfect role for him. In Django Unchained, DiCaprio played the uniquely detestable plantation owner Calvin J. Candie and proved he was just as good at character acting as being a compelling leading man. DiCaprio was so good in the role that many have been asking for him to play more antagonists ever since.
After rising to fame playing the alien Mork in 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 similarly goofy and charming characters. Whilst they would have been entirely correct, that's doing a disservice to Robin Williams' incredible skill when it came to serious acting too.
In Dead Poet's Society, in which he played the inspiring English teacher John Keating, Robin Williams shocked everyone who'd written him off as a comedic actor with a performance that was charmingly empathetic. Almost a decade later, he achieved the same feat again with Good Will Hunting, for which he won an Academy Award.
It's fair to say that Daniel Radcliffe is an actor who will always be associated with one specific movie role, playing the lead 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 just another grown-up child star and a safe choice for conventional movies.
Luckily, Radcliffe had no qualms about doing something extreme in order to change that. In the delightfully strange Swiss Army Man, he plays a man marooned on a remote island who befriends a corpse with powers that include the ability to propel itself across the ocean using its own farts. Radcliffe continues to avoid 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.
NEXT: 10 Movies & TV Shows Where You've Seen The Cast Of Weird The Al Yankovic Story Before
A freelance list writer for Screen Rant, Jordan Woods has already written well over 100 pieces for the site since he began in 2021. Though he has been writing for most of his life, having been a content writer in the past and had his work featured in magazines, it was only recently that he combined this with his keen interest in all things film, TV, and video game-related. He enjoys the research side of writing for Screen Rant, as that often means watching the TV and movies he wanted to anyway. Though he has been writing ever since he first found inspiration in the fantastical worlds of the Star Wars movies and The Legend of Zelda games, he was able to hone those skills during his time studying English and Creative Writing at Coventry University. These days, he mixes writing about movies with writing his own, often spending his free time drafting screenplays based on movie ideas he has.

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