OFF-CASTING AND MISCASTING
One of the responses to the relative freedom brought about by the end of the studio system was an increase in the frequency of "off-casting" or "casting against type." As studio contracts expired and were not renewed, stars found themselves free to play a broader range of roles. Many of the roles taken by Humphrey Bogart (1899–1957) and James Stewart after 1949 typify successful off-casting. Bogart, whose tough cynicism was transformed into heroism in the films of his Warner Bros. star years, was drawn to roles like the grizzled sot in The African Queen (1951), a part originally intended for Charles Laughton (1899–1962); the urbane screen-writer with uncontrollable violent tendencies in In a Lonely Place (1950); and the paranoid Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny (1954). For James Stewart, playing driven, neurotic, possibly disturbed loners in the films of director Anthony Mann (1907–1967), such as The Naked Spur (1953) and The Man from Laramie (1955), moved the fortyish actor away from his "boyish" image and helped him deepen his emotional range. This change readied Stewart for the great roles Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980) would offer him in Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958).
For women as well, freedom from studio contracts meant new opportunities, but these were often traps, or perhaps respites from the traps in which actresses were usually caught. Susan Hayward escaped the insipid love interests she played in her Twentieth Century Fox contract movies ( David and Bathsheba , 1951; Demetrius and the Gladiators , 1954), taking challenging and realistic roles in biopics like I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955) and I Want to Live! . Doris Day (b. 1924), severely typecast at Warner Bros. as the girl next door in nostalgic musicals, in her first role as a freelancer, played Ruth Etting (1897–1978) in the melodramatic musical biopic, Love Me or Leave Me (1955). The film brought her acclaim, but also letters from fans deeply offended at seeing Day as an alcoholic trapped in an abusive marriage; she never accepted such a role again. Less surprisingly, when wholesome actresses like Donna Reed (1922–1986) and Shirley Jones (b. 1934) played prostitutes, they won Oscars ® . These did not keep Reed and Jones from receding later into TV sitcoms ( The Donna Reed Show , 1958–1966, and The Partridge Family , 1970–1974), where their sunny personas were permanently etched.
Moreover, the rise of Method acting, as seen especially in the wide and lasting influence of Marlon Brando (1924–2004), encouraged versatility in acting and the assumption that a good actor should be able to play anything. This led to more adventurous casting but also to a good deal of miscasting; even Brando was capable of appearing ridiculous in the wrong role, as in Desirée (1954), in which he played a bored-looking Napoleon, and The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), in which he impersonated a Japanese interpreter.
Off-casting works when it illuminates character by revealing aspects of an actor's talent that had been previously undiscovered, as Hitchcock knew when he cast boys-next-door Robert Walker (1918–1951) and Anthony Perkins (1932–1992) in Strangers on a Train (1951) and Psycho (1960), respectively. Perkins's case provides a cautionary tale, however, about how good off-casting can turn into typecasting if producers thereafter are unable to picture the actor in any other kind of role. Conversely, actors typecast as heavies have turned their careers around by playing a nice character or two. Ernest Borgnine (b. 1917) was known for brutal bullies in From Here to Eternity (1953) and Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) when he took the role of Marty Piletti, the good-hearted lonely butcher in Marty (1955). Borgnine projected ordinary humanity and decency and won the Academy Award ® for Best Actor. This was off-casting that played as perfect casting.
The line between off-casting and miscasting can be thin. Gregory Peck (1916–2003) was so convincing playing earnest heroes of high moral rectitude that no one, including Peck, seemed to realize that he did not have the range to play much else. His attempts at ferocious characters like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick (1956) and evil villains like the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele in The Boys from Brazil (1978) are infamous embarrassments. These are cases in which the actor miscast himself, and the producer, the director, the studio, and Peck's fellow actors went along, hoping the gamble would work. Like other miscast calamities—from Oprah Winfrey (b. 1954) in Beloved (1998), whose rusty acting skills were not up to the demands of a very difficult role, to a fifty-year-old Roberto Benigni (b. 1952) as Pinocchio (2001)—these were the follies of a well-meaning, powerful star to whom no one wanted to say no.
Broadly speaking, most miscasting has occurred when a major star has been put in a role for which he or she is clearly unsuited in order to increase the film's box-office appeal. There is virtually a miscasting hall of fame: John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conquerer (1956), Elizabeth Taylor (b. 1932) in Cleopatra (1963), Cybill Shepherd (b. 1950) in Daisy Miller (1974), Demi Moore (b. 1962) as Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter (1995), Tom Cruise (b. 1962) in Interview with the Vampire (1994), Anthony Hopkins (b. 1937) and Nicole Kidman (b. 1967) in The Human Stain (2003). As these examples indicate, literary adaptations and historical films are the most difficult to cast because critics and audiences bring a preconceived concept of the characters, one that can clash with the personae of wellknown actors.