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Pop Off: Actors out of the typecast

By Brendon Field
On November 26, 2012

When it comes to actors who have been around for a couple decades and have had extensive filmographies, we tend to associate them with a type of performance and genre. And when actors are in roles the public expects of them, those films tend to be more marketable and commercially successful. Emma Thompson will forever be associated with British romance films, Gene Wilder with screwball comedies, and Daniel Day Lewis with historical dramas, to name a few. However, for a handful of others their best work can often be found outside their comfort zone, in films much more likely to have evaded the public's eye.
One of the best examples is Will Ferrell. Ferrell established himself as an over the top comic actor with "Saturday Night Live" and has starred in almost a dozen comedies since. And to be perfectly honest, with the exception of "Anchorman," I've never really liked his work. His comedy doesn't seem to be driven by anything, rather it just throws endless absurd humor at the audience hoping some of it will stick, which comes across as desperate and lazy. However, Ferrell has shown to a more than competent dramatic actor. He is very good at playing insecure characters hopelessly lost in the world around them, and his vulnerability always seems genuine. This is best seen "Stranger Than Fiction" and "Everything Must Go."
Bill Murray, another "Saturday Night Live" alumni, also has been a comedic staple since the 1980s. However, as he's gotten older he's ventured out into more dramatic roles. While he keeps the dry, sarcastic tone seen in early work, he also employs a lot of minimalism in his acting. He handles his characters graciously, always revealing himself subtly and adding a layer of complexity that couldn't be provided by the screenplay. He can be found in "Broken Flowers" and a number of Wes Anderson's films, with "Rushmore" likely his best display.
On the opposite side of the coin is Matthew McConaughey. He became known as one of the go to male leads for romantic comedies in the 2000s, and nearly all of them were terrible. But the beginning of his career, and thankfully this decade has seen take on much darker more challenging roles. He proved he could take himself seriously in "The Lincoln Lawyer" and "Killer Joe," giving a performance so fierce, you may be unable to sit through "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" again. Well, assuming you were able to sit through it the first time. Two other movies to check out with a younger McConaughey are "Lone Star" and "Contact."
This trend tends to be less common among actresses, as their roles tend to require more versatility, and therefore, it's harder to be typecast. One exception is Cameron Diaz, who established herself as a romantic comedy gem in "There's Something About Mary" and has remained since. However, earlier in her career she did try her hand at darker characters. She was practically unrecognizable in "Being John Malkovich" and was equally good in "Vanilla Sky." She is able to combat the presence of the men she paired with and has an incredible ability to display panic and even disguise insanity. She has done little of the sort since "Gangs of New York," but hopefully she will return to it soon.

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