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Alan Sepinwall engaged in a Twitter discussion recently about actor David Morse. Morse is known for playing heavies and dark brooding characters and a reader wanted to know if he had ever played a light character. Alan (bless him) referred the reader to BIG WAVE DAVE’S, a short-lived series my partner David Isaacs and I created for CBS back in 1993. The Big Wave Dave of BIG WAVE DAVE'S was Dave.
We opted to cast against type and were thrilled with the results. To see David in our show just go here.
I feel bad for actors in that they easily get pigeonholed. Play a good villain and those are the only roles you’re offered. Make a name for yourself in comedy and you’re deemed too “light” for hard drama. Producers and networks are often short-sighted and just see actors one way.
And yet, casting against type pays off time and time again. I’ve found that interesting villains generally can play comedy. Ed Asner was a heavy his entire career until landing the Lou Grant role on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. Nick Colsanto played mob guys and thugs in many movies including RAGING BULL and I think you’d agree he did an okay job as the Coach on CHEERS. (And while we’re on the subject of CHEERS, could you ever picture Woody Harrelson playing scary guys so convincingly?)
When I saw ROBOCOP I was particularly impressed with one of the bad guys. I had never seen him before but he was so compelling. I thought to myself, “I want to work with that guy someday.” That guy was Kurtwood Smith and in fact I did work him. Going against type we also cast him in BIG WAVE DAVE’S. Kurtwood went on to play the father in THAT ‘70s SHOW.
You can see an example here. Tell me he didn’t hit it out of the park.
As a producer you have to be willing to stick your neck out. You may be asking an actor to do something out of his comfort zone and you may be asking the audience to put aside preconceived opinions (even if those opinions were favorable). But when it works the payoffs are HUGE.
Look at Mandy Patinkin in HOMELAND. Usually there’s not a set he doesn’t leave teeth marks on. But in this show he plays a wonderfully controlled character and is far more spellbinding than he ever was playing to the last row.