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Careers Clinic: typecast and stuck

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YOUR PROBLEM I’m not sure I’m going to get a whole lot of sympathy for this question, but here goes anyhow. A few years ago I had the pleasure of being in a very high-profile show playing a character that was quite distinctive and who got a lot of publicity at the time.

In addition to the regular episodes, I did quite a lot of chat show and game show appearances, as well as panto and all the other things you do – or are advised to do – when your star is riding high.

In retrospect, I probably did a little too much and, as inevitably happens when such a show finishes, what was once a very successful part for me has become a bit of a millstone round my neck.

I’m obviously not complaining about the financial benefits, which were very welcome, and I’m not by any means destitute, even now. But it’s been really hard to get any other work since.

When I go for parts I want, I’m told I’m too closely associated with the previous show, and any offers I do get just want me to parody the part I used to play.

I’m not aiming for ‘stardom’ again but I want an ongoing career. What can I do?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE We had ‘typecasting’ queries before, but I’m not sure that anybody who hasn’t actually experienced it can truly understand the frustration for somebody like you who feels trapped by a specific character.

While some fellow actors may not be sympathetic to your current plight, I doubt that many of us would not have taken the opportunity to ‘work’ that character while it was ‘hot’ given the chance.

It’s also worth pointing out that given that today’s big thing is yesterday’s outdated thing, and that yesterday’s outdated thing will be the height of nostalgia in about a decade’s time, there may well come a time when the character you played will be reassessed, and maybe even loved again by the public.

But in terms of now, it’s probably best to accept that you’re in a different season, and the first step to getting everybody else to accept that is to put your old character to rest as quickly as you can. I’m not suggesting a Stalinist erasing of history from your CV – a successful show and working with the respected professionals that it entails will always be worth listing – but it would certainly be worth looking at your showreel and the ‘story’ it currently tells. If that story centres on your former mainstay character, you may have to grit your teeth and start editing and look at investing in some bespoke material to replace the older material.

The same would apply to headshots and general image. But before you start booking sessions and maxing out credit cards, a word of caution. Once a character becomes a millstone it is tempting to go to extremes and aim to be the exact opposite of the previous image. Remember, it was presumably because of your talents and strengths, and scripts and direction, that made the character so memorable. You’ll still want to play to your strengths in any new incarnation, so my first investment would be to join an improv class, or engage an experienced acting coach, if you can afford it. You can then discover aspects of your own talent that will be new to the industry and may well be new to you too.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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