The recent passing of Dustin Diamond is a sad thing, but there’s one part in the article I just linked to that’s worth noting:
He played himself in several film and TV productions, and made his way around the C-list reality show circuit to pay the bills. But there may be no better example of an actor being so closely associated with a single role, and it ended up being impossible for him to fully break out of that perception in the public eye.
That is of course his character of Samuel “Screech” Powers, which Diamond played as far back as Good Morning Miss Bliss, the Haley Mills primetime sitcom about a teacher and her students. Diamond, Lark Vorhees (Lisa) and Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Zack) also came from that show into Saved By The Bell, moving the show from I think Wisconsin to the fictional California town of Bayside. Only the boys, joined by Mario Lopez (Slater), would continue their roles on The College Years until Tiffany Amber Thiessan (Kelly) returned some point after the pilot and I really started to not like Kelly when she appeared on that show, but that’s another topic. After that show failed Diamond returned to Saved By The Bell: The New Class after a slight revamp playing the assistant principal back at Bayside High. He was not asked to return for the 2020 reboot for NBC’s Peacock network, and there’s some backstage and fan drama attached to that which I also won’t get into here. The show has him going to the International Space Station. It’s a sad thing for Diamond that he didn’t return to the role when he was on every other incarnation of the franchise.
Then again there is one bad part about having been on every other show as the same character, which was brought up in the quote above: Diamond was the victim of typecasting. Outside of some wrestling appearances (I did a search for him in Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wresting and found out he showed up in other wrestling promotions) and the sex tape he later claimed was a body double with his head popped on he couldn’t get any other real work. The casting directors only saw Screech and wouldn’t give him any roles that weren’t variants of that character. Typecasting can kill your career.
I posted the above video to point out that there’s a difference between typecasting and a character actor. Sometimes an actor make a living playing the same kind of role. Christopher Lee and Donald Pleasance brought us some of the best villains in movie history while John Wayne is known for his many cowboy roles and to a lesser extent his war movie roles, also playing characters with a similar personality. However, they settled in to those roles and didn’t seem to have a problem with it. Typecasting however can restrict what roles you can make. That’s why some Doctor Who actors, including the Doctors themselves, only stay around a few years. I knew someone who worked in local theater and relished getting a role you couldn’t see him playing because it allowed him to show that he could. Actors known for playing heroes sometimes want to play the villains because its fun. Actors known for more risque movies may want to do something for their kids, or actresses want to get out of their clean images in order to open more roles later on. Acting is about playing multiple roles and multiple kinds of characters.
Sometimes this can be done through voice action. Mark Hamill was known for the clean-cut hero Luke Skywalker, but finally got to play the villain thanks to taking on the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series…then ended up playing mostly villains in various Scooby-Doo movies and later live-action appearances on The Flash and SeaQuest DSV. Worried about being typecast as Steve Urkel, Jaleel White not only had the transformation chamber on Family Matters but also served as the voice of Sonic The Hedgehog in numerous shows based on the video game. While he hasn’t had a widely known career beyond those two roles he has at times gotten to play other roles, including a different sitcom, but also found himself returning to both Urkel and Sonic later on. This however is not always the case, as some voice actors get typecast in a certain role. I’ve heard a number of animation reviewers remark that it’s weird hearing character A’s voice come out of character B, a different kind of character or role, especially if the actor or actress only has one distinct voice.
Sometimes you have no choice but to embrace the typecast just to find work, and maybe it works out for you like it did for Adam West. He wanted to get out of his image as the 60s Batman from TV but never really got a big role again until he embraced both the lighter version of the Caped Crusader and the campier show. That got him more voice roles, including returning to Batman in three different animated incarnations, only two of which not playing Batman. (He had also played Batman in two earlier animated series.) He also played a parody of himself in both Johnny Bravo and most notably Family Guy, and he at least appeared to be having fun with these roles as a comedic character actor. However, I’m sure he would have loved to have done more than B-movies and some cameos getting to play someone that wasn’t either Batman or Bruce Wayne.
So is it the casting directors or the movie and TV audience that are the problem here? I don’t know. These are actors and actresses, people pretending to be someone else, and they want to be able to play numerous roles as adults that we did playing with our action figures and dolls with our friends when we were kids. Is there a solution? Maybe not, but we should at least give them a proper shot. Michael Keaton was known for comedies and Leslie Nielsen for dramas before each crossed over and look how well they did. Robert Pattison was typecast by fans because they didn’t think the guy who played Edward Cullen could play Batman. (Too bad that’s not the role he’s playing, just someone using Bruce’s name, but that’s yet another conversation.) Jim Carrey had to break out of his goofball image to start doing more dramas and the same for Robin Williams, though I would say Carrey had the better luck. I was convinced Robert Downey Jr. was perfect for Tony Stark and I was proven right. Now Downey’s performance has influenced other versions, including the comic. Maybe we should give the performers a chance to see what they can do before typecasting them. They may surprise you.