Opinion: Playing against type

Commentary by Terry Anker

Actors, some say, have a type. The way they look, the way they speak and the way they take the stage all contribute to fashioning a shorthand for the audience – the birthing of a persona. We audiences seem to prefer that these characters align very tightly within our expectations. In sitcoms, we look for the whacky neighbor, like Ethel Mertz in “I Love Lucy.” In drama, we expect to find the wealthy inheritor, too eager to await dad’s death by natural causes. And in professional wrestling, we seek the loathsome cheater – always ready to take advantage of our good-guy hero who is playing yet another role.

If we’re completely honest, don’t we look for types in most situations? There is the woman at the office always arranging for the staff parties. And, there is the alpha-male new-hire who is keen to make a name for himself as a hard case. So, are these folks actually one-dimensional, or are we overly willing to assume them to be?

To become a long-playing and working actor, identify a comfortable persona and fill it for a lifetime.  In essence, one embraces the role of central-casting player for this “type” of character. Yet rarely is the move made from supporting performer to a top-billed star. Usually, it is not for lack of trying. Actors often accept roles intentionally to perform against their own type. But the audience, loving of the compliant actor, lash out at those who wish to expand the kinds of roles they might pursue.

Are they alone? Don’t we find ourselves trapped in our own carefully curated personas, often hoping to be considered different by our peers, more by our employers, and better by our families? Yet, the more we struggle to be seen differently, the more that others resist our desire to self-redefine.