Tuesday, September 18, 2018

"Playing Strictly To Type"

“It is better to be ‘type cast’ than not cast at all.”

– A “Character Actor” I once knew.

We were watching an English murder mystery, and, typically in such programming, there is a “Person of Interest” instantly characterized as “mousy.”

(I was watching a “prototypical” one when this pondering came to me.)

Which made me wonder:

How does it feel to be constantly characterized as “mousy”?

I mean, an actor’s characterized as “Manly”, they go – Clooneyishly humbly – “I guess I could fool them with that.” 

A “Blonde Bombshell”? You might get some dates expecting more than you are willing to deliver – cameramen soliciting your phone number between “takes.”  But overall, it’s not terrible.  

On the other hand…


Do you really want to go through life the human equivalent of a rodent?

What if you are actually not“mousy” at all?  What if, in an annoying twist of Fate, you only look“ mousy” but are in realitya “A Blonde Bombshell.”  (Alternate hair color notwithstanding.)  Though you can never be cast as a “Blonde Bombshell”, looking inarguably “mousy.”  

(Until some bold director, detecting “Bombshell” potential beneath the veneer of overt “mousiness”, wants you for “The Lead”, but the conventional studio says “No.” 

Too ‘mousy.’”

Is it actually – inescapably – possible, wonders a man with a thin frame and no muscles, that our outward appearance is more causally determinative of our destiny that we would comfortably like to believe?  That’s “us”, and that’s it?

There are examples when “type” has been successfully overridden by, I don’t know… driving ambition.

In 1980, there was this joke around the Republican nominating process:

“Ronald Reagan for president.”

To which the savvy reaction was,

“No.  Ralph Bellamy for president.  Ronald Reagan for ‘Best Friend.’”

Still, Ronald Reagan became president.  (Bellamy costarring instead in Trading Places.)  

So it can happen. Stick a nose on classically English Sir Alec Guinness and he’s an Arab.  Great actors can do that.  British “Outside-Inside” actors, where “physical exterior” says, “That is precisely who I am.”

“Ah, yes, the ‘nose.’ Call me ‘Prince Faisal.’  Except at ‘Tea Break.’”

Geniuses aside, most actors predominantly bestplay one thing.  And if they’re lucky, they’ll make a nice living at it.  (Note:  This limiting practice was even more prominent during the “Studio Era” where actors were repeatedly requiredto play the same character.  “Gabby Hayes” as Hamlet?

“Not at Republic, he’s not.”  

“GABBY” HAYES:  “Are they holdin’ me back?  Yer dern tootin’!

Okay, so you’re “mousy.” And here’s another audition.  

What do you do?

Maneuvering for the part,, you dress decidedly “mousy.”  Maintain a distinctively “mousy” hairstyle.  Adopt a tentative gait in your nondescript footwear.  

And off you go.  (Hoping to contract a sniffle along the way.  Daubing your drizzling nose, a crumpled Kleenexplucked from the sleeve of your unfitting cardigan?  

Nothing says “mousy” more than “a congenital drip.”  

You park your car, step into the “Production Office” – 

It’s wall-to-wall “mousiness.”

(Except for the “Personal Assistant”, who’s authoritative.  Which likely got them the job in the first place.)

You nod to your competitors in cowering passivity, and wait.
They call you in, thank you for coming, and they offer you a seat.  Already “in character”, you simperingly sit down, anxiously clutching your “sides.”  (The extracted portion of the script highlighting your character’s signature behavior.)

No one is fooling anyone. The stage directions describethe character as “mousy.”  Or, transparently sparing the feelings of the actor, “on the ‘mousy-ish’ side”, dodging “'Lazy Writing' Cliché” on a weasely technicality. 

You stumble awkwardly through your audition – a credible “mousy” performance requirement – they say, “Thank you”, and you leave.

Reasonably certain you got the job.  

Nobody does “mousy” better than youdo.  (Belated “gender balancing”:  “Milquetoasty” for men.)  

Over the years of “honing your craft” you’ve perfected “mousy” down to a science –  look in the dictionary under “mousy”, there is a picture of you.  Or if you had a better agent, there would be.

Your bracing confidence belies the labeling characteristic.  

You’renot “mousy.” 

“Mousy” is only what you do.

And yet…

Good as you are, like the gunfighter who inevitably meets their match,

There is always somebody out there who’s “mousier.”

Who knows?  Maybe you arenaturally “mousy.”

If you weren’t, you would kill them.

And “mousily” act like you didn’t.   

1 comment:

Brian said...

One of my favorite character actors was Elisha Cook Jr... He was so little known and yet he had to suffer the further indignity of being a "junior".