What is “Type”?
You have to know exactly what you’re selling in order to consistently make the sale
(by Tonya Tannenbaum)
An actor’s “type” generally refers to the category or categories that the actor is loosely placed in for purposes of casting. An actor’s type is useful for narrowing down which actors, among the vast sea of potential actors, might fit the breakdown of a role being cast. Sometimes referred to as an actor’s “niche”, type is also useful for actors in their understanding of where they fit into the market, relative to other actors.
Breaking down “Type”
All theatrical presentation is based on an audience’s ability to suspend disbelief. That is, audiences understand that the production they are experiencing is make-believe. They understand the character in The Martian, for example, is not really on the planet, Mars, and that the character, Mark Watney, is actually the famous actor, Matt Damon. But the audience suspends their disbelief in order to accept this imaginary world and enjoy the story.
However, this suspension of disbelief can only go so far. The imaginary world still must be genuinely believable. Otherwise the audience will reject the imaginary world altogether.
What if, for example, the role of Mark Watney in The Martian was cast, not with Matt Damon, but with an actor who looks 18 years of age; too young to realistically be the astronaut, Mark Watney? The audience would, of course, reject the story wholesale, because the 18-year-old astronaut is simply not plausible in that story.
This is where type comes into play. An actor’s type plays an essential role in the casting process. Because, no matter how talented an actor is, he or she can only, believably, play a limited number of roles.
Criteria for “Type”
As an actor, you probably already know what criteria generally make up an actor’s type. They are the key physical and personality factors that are usually laid out in breakdowns. They include things like:
• Gender – male or female
• Age range – whether an actor appears to fall within the general age range of the character
• Race – whether an actor appears to fit within the racial background of the character
• Physical build – whether an actor fits the size, height, weight and overall dimensions required for the character
• Look – whether the audience can immediately identify an actor as fitting with the character’s personality and profession, such as lawyer, doctor, grandfather, geek, affluent, arrogant, etc.
Type is important for casting
Casting must choose actors who can believably fit the roles being cast. While there is lots of room for creativity and deviation, casting, nonetheless, must choose an actor who fits the breakdown well-enough for audiences to take the character, and the overall story, seriously.
Type is one of the first things casting directors examine when determining from whom to request a self-tape or to bring in for an in-person audition.
If an actor does not fit the essence of the character as described in the breakdowns, the casting director will likely move on to the next actor.
While there are always exceptions made during the casting process, actors rarely get cast outside of a small collection of roles.
Type is also important for casting because it narrows the field of potential actors, making it easier to find and cast the right actor in a role that is right for them and for the story.
Type is important for actors, too
Understanding “type” is important for actors, as well. Since actors can only believably play a limited number of characters, knowing your type is essential to effectively finding and competing for the roles that are right for you.
Auditioning for roles that you’re not right for is usually a waste of time, since it is very unlikely that you’ll be cast in a role that doesn’t fit your type.
It is the proverbial fitting of a square peg into a round hole. If you constantly audition for roles that don’t fit your type, your success rate will suffer, no matter how talented you are. There are just some roles an actor cannot do or, at least, cannot do nearly as well as another actor who better fits the type that the role demands.
It is also a waste of resources. Auditioning for roles that don’t fit your type is a waste of money, effort, and focus. Knowing where you effectively fit into the marketplace – your type – makes it easier to concentrate your resources and to find success. In other words, you have to know exactly what you’re selling in order to consistently make the sale.