What is a “Type” and How Do I Find Mine?
There is much debate and controversy surrounding the idea of types and the necessity of knowing your type is not something young actors always get to learn early on. Many drama classes reinforce the idea that theater is a magical world where anyone can play anything. Type-Casting is often met with some understandable resistance and frustration. It is thought in theatre that you can play any role, and the idea of only being able to play certain roles based on your look is contradictory. In an ideal world, anyone COULD play anything, but the professional world does not often work that way. Part of creating the world of the story, relies on things "making sense." A common criticism of NBC's hit show, "This Is Us", is that Mandy Moore is not convincing as a 60+ year old woman. Is it the makeup artist's fault? Is Mandy Moore's acting not strong enough? Possibly, but the main thing is we know and love her as her younger self and it breaks the world of the show and brings the viewers back to reality.
In actuality, finding your type and playing to it will allow you to establish the basis of a career. What about playing against type? You can, but at the beginning of a career you will have to work several times harder than those playing to their type. Once your resume is built there is more freedom to show your other skills and wow audiences with your abilities. In Matt Newton's Backstage Article, 4 Ways to Nail Down Your Type, he advises, "Remember: it’s not what you are, it’s what you play. You can be the smartest person in the world and still go out for the “dumb jock.” You might not even play any sports! It’s not what your grandmother thinks of you, it’s what the “business” thinks of you." Is it silly? Yes. But people wouldn't do it if it didn't work. It takes so much more than talent to book jobs as an actor. Benjamin Lindsay continues in his Backstage article, How To Find Your Type As An Actor, by quoting Gwyn Gillies: “Your type is a combination of the five criteria found on any breakdown when a role is being cast: sex, age range, physicality (race or the basics: short, tall, thin, heavy, light, dark), job title (mom, lawyer, cop, spy, teen, criminal), [and] personality trait (quirky, serious, intellectual, sexy, loud, innocent).” Film and Television are heavily visual mediums so the audience must truly believe who you are before you even speak, and Tom Burke goes on to point out, “the same is true for a casting director, agent, or manager. They must be able to look at you, your headshot, or your reel, and know exactly who you are and exactly how they can work with you by the physical image you present.”
You may feel the pressure of trying to identify your type. You might be a mix of a few different ones and aren't sure which roles are most right for you. Ask your acting coach, ask friends who you trust to be honest about how they see you. Their view of you may not match how you see yourself, but they will see you how the industry will. Regardless of what type you fall into, the best thing you can do to truly WOW a Casting office, is be authentically you. Creative teams want to work with people who are genuine as well as talented and reliable.
What if nothing is casting for my type?
If nothing is currently casting that you feel you would fit, write it! Do something every day to challenge yourself creatively and better your craft. If you have the friends and means, produce something that is meaningful to you and will push open some doors for you. YouTube is a wonderful and easily accessible option for self-creation. There are many projects filmed on cell phones that are beautifully made and have gotten into international film festivals. The only way to get better is to practice and try new things, so get on out there and experiment. There are lulls in many actors' careers where it feels like there are no roles for them so if you find yourself in that position, use that time and energy to be creative! It's easier to keep yourself motivated in an unreliable business when you take some creative control over what you do. You got this!