Top Ten… Roles Against Type

zacefronMovie guru Gavin Burke from Phantom 105.2’s Cinerama show is back. This time he has his sights set on ten actors who gave audiences great performances – just not the performances they were expecting. 

By Gavin Burke from Cinerama at Phantom 105.2, Dublin’s Indie Rock


Next week Zac Efron ditches the basketballs, the dancing and the singing (well, kind of) to play an actor struggling with his first role in Orson Welles’ adaptation of Caesar. He plays the ‘Me’ in Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles and although the film works better when it’s ‘Orson Welles’ than when it’s ‘Me’, the boy Efron does okay.

The following is when actors do better than just ‘okay’ when subverting their screen personas…

10. Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo

vertigostewartWhere Jimmy loses the plot. Completely. Stewart was America’s everyman – a war hero and an Oscar winner – and then he turns up as an acrophobic cop struggling to get over the death of his loved one, Kim Novak. He then spots another Kim Novak and sets about changing her into the original Kim Novak. ‘You’re safe with me.’ Not any more, Jimmy.

9. Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity

‘I always thought that Matt Damon was like a Streisand, but he’s rockin’ the s**t in this one.’ Paul Rudd was never more on the money than this line in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Damon was slowly coming good with Good Will Hunting and The Talented Mr Ripley but no one guessed he could pull off an action hero. This movie, and this performance, even made dinosaur Bond rethink his approach.

8. James Dean in Giant

He invented the teenager in East of Eden and honed it in Rebel Without A Cause, but in only his third movie he threw it all out the window with this mature turn. His Jett Rink is a lonely, disgruntled oilman, frustrated that rich boy Rock Hudson has landed Elizabeth Taylor. He never gets over it. And he doesn’t live to see it.

7. Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind

Russell Crowe is ‘all man’ in every movie. If he’s not jumping on your head in Romper Stomper, he’s threatening to send you to San Quentin on a kiddie-rapper beef in LA Confidential. Here, Crowe turns into himself and even looks weak as a paranoid maths professor. ‘I’m only here tonight because of you. You are the only reason I am… you are all my reasons.’

6. John Travolta in Pulp Fiction

We have to remember that before this Travolta was either in a bubble, on the dancefloor, in a T-Bird, in crap sequels (Staying Alive, anyone?) or in family movies about talking babies. Here he gives a great turn as a stoned hitman determined not to bed Marcellus Wallace’s wife. ‘Aw, man – I just shot Marvin in the face.’

5. Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction

Ferrell stems his I-don’t-need-a-script-because-the-first-thing-I-think-of-is-always-genius, booming, larger than life antics of Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Old School for the quiet and reserved IRS man too shy to ask Maggie Gyllenhaal out on a date. He may also die. It all depends on Emma Thompson. ‘This may sound like gibberish to you, but I think I’m in a tragedy.’

4. John Cusack in The Grifters


Cusack made his name in wacky ’80s chase-the-girls movies like Better Off Dead, The Sure Thing, Hot Pursuit, One Crazy Summer and the sublime Say Anything, but in Jim Thompson’s The Grifters he plays a conman who may or may not enjoy a bit of how’s-your-father with his mother (Anjelica Huston). The Cusack we knew never came back: ‘Maybe I like it where I am.’

3. Pierce Brosnan in The Matador

Pierce was always a bit suave even before he donned 007’s tux, but no sooner had he quit that contract did he attempt to burn down everything James Bond is by playing the mentally unhinged and lonely hitman in The Matador. He even tries to hide his face behind a ridiculous moustache. ‘I wouldn’t do that for all the teenage t**t in Thailand.’

2. Robert De Niro in Midnight Run

De Niro flirted with black comedy before in The King Of Comedy and played the love interest in the soppy Falling In Love – not roles we associated with the method actor – but it’s Midnight Run that shows what a talent for comic timing the man has. And his determination not to put a cigarette out. ‘So here come two words for you: Shut the f*** up.”

1. Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love


Sandler’s angry comic persona was given a makeover for Paul Thomas Anderson’s slow-burning drama. Sandler plays Barry Egan, a shy businessman who is so emasculated by his sisters he can’t even allow himself to fancy Emily Watson. Then he straps on a pair and decides he’s not taking it anymore. ‘I have a love in my life that makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.’

Honourable mentions: Robin Williams – Dead Poets Society, Owen Wilson – Behind Enemy Lines, Bette Davis – Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, Jim Carrey – The Truman Show.


For more movie chat from Gavin and Cinerama, click HERE.


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18 Responses to “Top Ten… Roles Against Type”

  1. madhatter21 Says:

    I did a top five like this way back when. These were my choices…

    Kim Basinger in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL
    Whoopi Goldberg in THE COLOR PURPLE
    Tom Hanks in PHILADELPHIA
    Bill Murray in Everything since 1998

    here’s my list:

  2. Great list. I agree with a lot of them. Especially agree with your #1 choice.

    The only one I might contend is Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity. It seems to me that his performance in The Departed is far more different and out of type.

    But still, it’s true that before Identity came out it seemed like he was a horrible choice.

  3. Don’t forget all the murmurs and puzzled looks Christopher Nolan’s choice of Heath Ledger for the Joker initially generated

  4. Thanks guys.

    Tom Hanks in Philadelphia is good one, alright. And I can’t believe I forgot about Ledger in TDK.

    There’s always a few obvious ones that slip by. I bet there will be more before the day is out.

  5. Great idea for a list and some good picks. Here are a few more suggestions:

    Anne Hathaway in Havoc & Brokeback Mountain
    Robert De Niro in Stardust
    Steve Martin in A Simple Twist of Fate
    Elvis Presley in Flaming Star
    Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits
    Tom Cruise in Collateral
    Will Smith in Ali
    Robin Williams in Insomnia

  6. Awesome list, guys. Grifters, Midnight Run, & Punch-Drunk Love – all freakin’ solid choices. How about some love for Robin Williams in One Hour Photo?

  7. Robin Williams in One Hour Photo?

  8. All good choices, guys.

    My angle was that this was the first time these actors tried something different, that it came as a surprise to us.

  9. solid list Gav – man you love Stranger Than Fiction, i thought it was pretentious drivel, but there you go.
    the ones that jump out for me at present are Cameron Diaz in Being Cyrus the Virus and Tom Cruise in Magnolia

  10. Well, I’m prone to the odd bout of pretentiousness and to drivel pretentiously from time to time. Right up my street.

  11. What, you don’t mention Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West?

  12. Damn Anna beat me to it. Fonda’s casting was the most revisionist aspect of Leone’s film, and it goes far beyond simply playing against type. The most American of all actors, the man who played Wyatt Earp, now portrayed as a ruthless, insatiable killer.

  13. It may seem obvious now, but Brad Pitt’s surprising performance in 12 Monkeys sort of ended his “chick-flick star” status and set the stage for Fight Club.

  14. Pitt had already had varied roles including Kalifornia and Se7en by the time 12 Monkeys came out.

  15. Punch Drunk Love, was such a great movie that not many people remember or take in granted that it is Sandler’s best film.

  16. Really loved Jim Carrey in The Truman Show and would consider both that performance and his performance in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind qualified for this list. But Sandler’s turn in Punch Drunk Love really showed us all how talented and capable of an actor he really is.

  17. Dr Manhattan Says:

    how can you miss HEATH LEDGER in THE DARK KNIGHT


    and my favourite DAKOTTA FANNING in PUSH



  18. Tom Hanks did move away from comic slapstick to serious performance based roles with philadelphia.

    Bruce Willis did the same with Die Hard.

    Jim Carey went Serious with Truman Show, and Man on the Moon.

    How can someone miss Henry Fonda in Once upon a time in the west. It is always talked about as the most controversial casting against type ever.

    Ahnuld in Twins and Junior and Jingle all the Way.

    Michael Douglas in Wall Street.

    Michael J Fox in that war movie…dunno the name.

    Matthew Broderick in Glory.

    Will Smith in Ali

    Jamie Foxx in Ray

    the list is probably endless…..

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