It isn’t type casting. It’s smart casting.

Over at my Tumblr ask thingy, therondraith asked:

Why do you always end up playing the asshole in your various acting roles? You’re good at it, but it seems to be an unfortunate typecast.

All actors have a particular role that they’re best suited to play, and when they play those roles, they really connect with the audience.

For example: John Travolta is amazing at playing The Loveable Loser. That’s who he was in Welcome Back Kotter, Grease, and Saturday Night Fever, and audiences freaking LOVED him. When the studios tried to make him The Leading Man, in films like Urban Cowboy, Perfect, and something else I’m forgetting right now, audiences turned on him and his career started to flounder.

He didn’t do much of note for a very long time, until Tarantino cast him as a junkie hit man in Pulp Fiction. Suddenly, he’s playing the Loveable Loser again, and his career explodes with roles in Michael, and something else that I’m forgetting right now (it’s 5am and I’m on 4 hours of sleep).

So, when he’s playing that archetype, audiences connect with him on a subconscious level, because it’s the type he plays so perfectly.

The type I play so perfectly, it turns out, is that guy you love to hate, that guy who antagonizes your hero, but who actually has a good heart, when he forgets that he’s being an asshole. That’s who I play in The Guild, Leverage, Eureka, and Big Bang Theory. I don’t know why I play those roles so effectively (it may be related to how much I like to sass people in real life), but it’s what I’ve been doing for a few years, and it’s no coincidence that my acting career has had a bit of a resurgence as a result.

I don’t consider it typecasting, I consider it smart casting, and I wish that more casting people would understand what type I play, and give me a chance to work in those roles.

Oh, and remember: the villain is the hero of his own story, so even though I’m playing an asshole you love to hate, from that character’s point of view, he isn’t doing anything wrong. For example, Doctor Parrish on Eureka was an antagonist to Fargo and Carter, but from Parrish’s point of view, he was the smartest guy in the room, and he was just baffled that he was the only one who could see it. As a result, he resented having to answer to Fargo, who he viewed as someone who didn’t deserve to go to Titan, be the Director of GD, or get the girl. He resented having to deal with Carter, who wasn’t even a scientist, but was always telling him what to do. At the end of the day, though, Parrish loved GD, loved the town, and would tolerate working with people he thought weren’t as smart as him, because he believed in doing the right thing for science.

Thanks for your question.

45 thoughts on “It isn’t type casting. It’s smart casting.”

  1. Typecasting is often a smart choice/and can also be a lazy choice for casting directors, but it mostly refers to the attitude of an actor. If you’re looking to do more work or to work with some fantastic director on his or her next project, you’re going to be OK with typecasting. “Sure. Typecast me!” I don’t say that as a putdown. Almost every actor out there wants to work on the best project.

    But if you’re that rare actor (really only 10 with this kind of pull) who can pretty much work with anyone they want, you’re going to start getting bored.

  2. Is “The guy who always rolls ones” the role that you were most suited to play?

    Oh, and TT is a great show. Thank you helping make board games popular again.

  3. Well analyzed, although w/out initial buy-in from the writers for a recurring role to let those ideas develop, I can see it being a hard sell for a one-off episode.

  4. That is so crazy.. I was just thinking about this the other day. “Wil Wheaton has been an asshole in everything I’ve seen recently.” But gosh darnit, he’s good at it, and we like it, we love it! Good for you Wil, to own this about yourself and I’m sure you’ll continue you get roles in the coming years.

  5. “I don’t see how being good at something can be your downfall” – Elisabeth Shue, Cocktail

    We focus so much in life on the negative…look at baseball or weather forecasting…you can fail 7 out of 10 times, and still be awesome.

    so take that into “typecasting”: Is typecasting negative? I don’t think so… If you’re good at something, continue to be good at it. It fills a need or a void, it provides creative outlet, and oh, you get paid…how awesome is that!

    I know you don’t need my or our affirmation, Wil, but keep on rockin’ the archetype. I’m only sad we won’t have more Chaos…

  6. I was talking with someone about this very thing the other day. We get used to seeing an actor play a certain character, or type of character, and we love him/her in that role. When we see them in something else, completely different, we often say, “That’s not right. That’s not who they are.” Some actors can pull off the whole gambit of character types, others, however, fall into a type of character they can embrace, connect with, and just be “that person.” I would rather a watch a movie where the actor is comfortable being the person they are portraying, and not act as though they are acting. Also, Magneto, Prof. Moriarty, even the Borg weren’t evil for evil’s sake, they were ‘evil’ for the greater good…from their perspective. They aren’t killing someone for fun, or robbing a convenience store for a couple of bucks, there’s a much bigger outcome at stake. We need the bad guys, the antagonists, even that annoying guy who thinks they are smarter than everyone else, but not necessarily better than everyone else. These are the characters in the story to make us love the hero that much more, and if you’re good in that role then it makes sense to play that role.

  7. I think that the main reason the snarky dude role work so well for you, is that you have such a kind face that no one expects it. It’s that contrast that is so appealing.

  8. I absolutely loved the character you played in Leverage…brilliant casting and you did it so well.It’s definitely smart to play to your strengths…and a well-thought out answer :)

  9. best explanation of this hands down. i love your roles, i’ll probably always think of you as wesley crusher (who was SUCH a nice boy) up front but those other roles make me smile more lol

  10. So happy that you did NOT list “Wesley Crusher” as an asshole role. As The Traveler said, “Wesley, you are a sacred person.”
    Live long and prosper. \\ // _

  11. Casting for an actor’s strengths benefits the actor in many ways. That’s not to say that particular role is all the actor can pull off. I like how you get into the head of your characters, its taught so much in acting classes, but so few people get it. A role is an opportunity, making the most of it is the best any of us can ask. Many actors make a living playing the same type of character. Don’t knock it, I always say, at least you’re working. Hopefully the opportunities keep flowing in.

  12. I really liked your turn on Criminal Minds. No further comment for fear of spoiling anyone who might not have seen it yet.

  13. It irritates me when some actors shy away from roles for fear of typecasting. I know it is cited that Josh Holloway (Sawyer on Lost) didn’t play Gambit due to his busy Lost schedule, but I have also heard he was afraid it was too close to Sawyer. WELL YOU KNOW WHAT, he would have been perfect. What a let down, either way.

  14. Wil I’d really like to see you as a leading audience-proxy type character, I think your sass could be put to better use there. E.G. Eli In SGU

  15. That’s not all, Wil. Remember the philosophy of the great NPH?

    No antagonist, no story!

    Barney Stinson from the TV show How I Met Your Mother looks at movies unlike perhaps anyone else. He argues that the bad guys in his favorite movies are indeed the main and title characters:

    The Terminator: the terminator cyborg
    Die Hard: Hans Gruber
    Karate Kid: Johnny Lawrence

    These stories wouldn’t have happened if these characters weren’t there to antagonize the heroes.

  16. That works for your stuff on “Leverage” (maybe the first thing I ever saw you in), but on “Big Bang”, it’s not ANY type of casting, as you play “Wil Wheaton”!!!

  17. I still remember the episode of Numb3rs when you played the part of Miles, I really could not see anyone else playing that role :-)

  18. And you gotta give it, you play a great evil Wil Wheaton. I actually had to explain this to a friend a few weeks ago (and I thought she wasn’t the type to confuse actor / character because she’s a writer herself). I told her all about your great family and your involvement with the Pasadena Humane Society and your awesome blog and your honesty on here and, well, your general awesomeness *salutes* (damn you, HIMYM), and with every sentence I just saw how her jaw dropped a little further. It was kinda funny actually.

    On a different note, glad that your wife’s surgery went well! Hope she’s recovering fast!

  19. I have read that after “None But the Lonely Heart” flopped, Cary Grant resolved to only play “Cary Grant” from then on. (His role in that movie was very different.) And while he played it both on and off screen, it was a role.

    OTOH, when people think of James Stewart, they think wholesome nice guy, even though he played some less-than-savory characters (“Vertigo,” anyone?) in movies that did well at the box office.

    Besides all the behind-the-scenes aspects of casting, there’s also what the audience will and will not accept. And there’s just no way of predicting that beforehand, or explaining it afterward. But I think you could do a lot worse than following Cary Grant’s example of playing to your strengths. :-)

  20. Mick Foley (ex-professional wrestler & New York Times bestselling author) was given similar advice during his formative years starting out in the business.
    He had been working as a “face” (good guy) since the beginning of his career, and when he moved to a different territory he was told he was going to be a “heel” (bad guy). Since he had no idea what to do, he asked a veteran heel about how to play it. The veteran advice he got was (paraphrasing):

    “It doesn’t matter what the heel is doing – whether it’s sinister or not. What is important is that the heel believes that what he is doing is right. A good heel must believe in what he’s doing, and that he’s the only one to see the situation in the proper perspective”.

    That’s similar to what you’re describing, I think. Wil, I think we just found your next big career change. From actor to blogger to writer to actor again – now tack on “professional wrestler”!

  21. Well, if we’re talking about Travolta’s “comeback” as a lovable loser, 1989′s “Look Who’s Talking” pre-dates Pulp Fiction by 5 years :)

  22. My husband and I have been slowly catching up on Eureka, and oddly enough we were just discussing this a few days ago. I have to say, I always enjoyed the Dr. Parrish episodes (just finished Season 4). He really is the guy you love to hate.

  23. If casting directors won’t give you the shot you deserve, I pledge to insert you into roles myself through Photoshop Wil Wheaton. First up, you get to work with Martin Scorcese. Hopefully it gets approved and posted soon.

  24. Great answer to a query that would have enraged most actors. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, Affleck.)
    I have to keep beating what appears to be a dead horse, but I have to ask, Wil: Would you be open to answering five fun, quirky queries for my blog? Jenny Lawson had a ball doing it, if that lays to rest any fears you have concerning my credibility.
    Either way, I’ll always be a fan.

  25. I always thought Walter Koenig did a superb job of being simultaneously a villain and the hero of his own when he played Bester in Babylon 5.

  26. I really enjoyed your answer on this, and find it very true. And while I’m not every going to be an actor (truly paralyzing stage fright) of any level, I do enjoy the mechanics of it and think that being the a$$hat would be somewhat easier for many people than they realize. I know it would more fun. Most of them get to say out loud the things we think to ourselves frequently. That would be nice to be able to speak our mind and still be a “popular” character. I love all the roles I’ve seen you in ever (I have to admit, I never watched Trek of any iteration) but I also have to say that I was a little disturbed at how well you played your character in Criminal Minds. That’s the sort of bad guy I wouldn’t be able to play because I really just don’t get it. You did a remarkable job making me see that character and not you when I “know” you so well. And honestly – I was a little creeped out how well you played him. :) (which to me also translates into how good of an actor you are)

  27. (Is anyone else having the same problem I am with the “Post Comment” button disappearing from the bottom of the screen when I’m done typing and ready to click Post? Because either I just posted my last comment like 3 times, or not at all.)

  28. In my 30+ years of con attendance and meeting genre celebrities, it has occurred to me that when I meet an actor that has primarily played villains, they are always either super sweethearts that make you think “Oh, wow, they were SO cool IRL, they must really enjoy playing assholes and getting their evil ya-yas out to do it SO well!”, or they are, in fact, total assholes IRL and that’s why they keep getting cast as such. Very few have fallen in the middle.

    Your Pal,

    Storm the Klingon

  29. (Weirdness; I guess it was too long to post as one unit? I TRY to keep it short, honest to Bowie!)

    No example of lazy writing irritates me as much as “The Villain Who Is A Villain Just Because Reasons”. EVERY bad guy/gal has a REASON for what they are doing or getting what they want; you and I don’t have to agree with them that it’s a good or even logical reason, there just HAS TO BE ONE that is reason enough for them. Don’t waste my time with “Assholes Who Just Are”, (even if they’re played by someone awesome like Tim Curry or Malcolm McDowell), unless you want me and my friends (AKA The Burn Unit!) to MST3K the crap outta you. And we are without mercy.

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