Acting Types Demystified

“Type” is a term that gets thrown around like prenup agreements in a Hollywood wedding. Everyone in the business seems to have one, to know theirs, and expect you to be able to rattle off yours too. But what if you aren’t sure? What if the very mention of “type” fills your soul with confusion and dread? Worry not, my little Googlers! This is the internet, where all of your shameful ignorance can be dispelled in a few clicks by questionably qualified sources! So let’s figure this one out together, shall we?

What’s A Type, Anyway?
In layman’s terms, your type describes the roles as which you are most often cast. It is the first impression you give when you walk in a room. It takes your physical appearance, your age, your voice, your personality quirks and bundles them all into a neat little central casting package. Your type is shorthand for your acting scope. So when somebody way up on the casting ladder needs a gruff, binge-drinking surgeon, you can rise to that clarion call and say with confidence, “Yes! I am THAT guy!”

Strategies To Help You Find Your Type

Look at Your Resume. If you’ve been working long enough to have a resume (even a non-professional one), revisit it. Try to find patterns. Sometimes the best way to predict future bookings is to look at past gigs.

Ask Around. One of the dubious advantages of living in this culture is that there is no shortage of people ready and willing to tell you exactly how they see you. Ask acting coaches, professors, past directors, friends, coworkers, strangers (anyone!), how they perceive you. Start tracking the most consistent answers and try to translate them into a useable commercial type.

Celebrity Look-a-likes. Do you often get told you remind people of certain celebrities? Score! IMDB those doppelganging suckers. See what their types are. It might hint at yours.

Record Yourself. Start paying attention to how you come across in various mediums. Your vocal presence might differ greatly from your physical type. If you look like a manic pixie dream girl but sound like a chain smoking trucker, that’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity! It means you have a certain type as a vocal artist, and another range of possibilities on screen and print! Start checking out your voice over options, and maybe work on some vocal choices that are more compatible with your visual type for when you need them.

Pay Attention IRL. Start listening to how people describe and perceive you in your daily life. If people consistently refer to you as sweet, perky and cuddly, know that the casting director might not look at you and immediately be on board with your rendition of Medea. On the other hand, know that your real-life stereotype may differ greatly from your acting niche. If people are constantly asking if you played football in college, but all you ever want to do is listen to Mahler and solve quadratic equations, recognize there is a good chance you will get called in for more jocks than nerds.

You Chose Your Weapon. Now How Do You Wield It?
Once you have figured out your type, it is time to work on branding and presentation. It is great to know that you often get cast as young, anxious-yet-endearing secondary characters. But when an agent inquires after your type, it is even better if you can distill that knowledge to “nervous babysitter.” Formerly useful knowledge has now upgraded to a specific and memorable catch phrase! A good beginning formula is to take a well-known type (doctor, teacher, military, girl-next-door, loser, etc.) and add a qualifier that is uniquely yours. You aren’t just the loser, you’re the clueless loser, or the brooding loner, or the loveable slacker. Have a couple options! If you can offer “loveable slacker,” “high school coach” and “friend-zoned pal,” that starts describing a range of types, and increases your chances of fitting the bill.

So What Comes Next?
While knowing your type is an invaluable tool in the business, take care that it does not become limiting. If you start to define your career exclusively within the parameters of your commercial type, you will inevitably miss out on the kind of opportunities that stretch you as an actor. Your type is your bread and butter—it is a go-to in the lean times and a boost in the competitive arena. Think of it like the foundation of a house. First, you make that solid and secure. Then you keep building.

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com