“Don’t Call Me Versatile”: 10 Actors Who Always Play The Same Character

There’s something to be said about how we prefer our entertainment to be familiar. Just look at the box office tallies of the top movies – sequels, remakes, films based on books, etc. – and you realize that homogeneity sells. It’s a good thing too; otherwise some actors would be out of a job.

Like going to a McDonald’s, the following actors follow a standardized character set that they play throughout all of their films. Sure, the characters may have different names, jobs, and romantic interests, but really, they ain’t that different.

10. Jason Bateman

Ever since appearing on the short-lived (but cult favorite) sitcom Arrested Development, Jason Bateman experienced something of a career renaissance. Unfortunately, everyone wants him to play Michael Bluth, or a variation thereof.

Stock Characteristics: Responsible, often overworked and under-appreciated, neurotic, and can be self-centred. Tends to be a cynical realist who expresses disbelief at the inane ideas of family and friends.

Evidence: The Change-Up, Horrible Bosses, The Switch, Extract, Up in The Air.

9. Michael Cera

The fictional son of Jason Bateman’s Michael Bluth, Michael Cera has made a career out of playing the exact same character. Of any person on this list, he is the most obvious choice of an actor who has never reached outside his comfort zone.

Characteristics: Awkward, awkward, awkward. That’s about the extent of his range.

Evidence: Superbad, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Year One, Youth in Revolt, Juno.

8. Katherine Heigl

After the release of the 2007 hit Knocked Up, Katherine Heigl complained that the film was “sexist” and that the female characters were portrayed as “humorless and uptight shrews.” Then she starred in The Ugly Truth – on which she was an executive producer – and played the exact same role.

Characteristics: Driven, ambitious, hard-working. Tends be a little on the frosty side – and don’t expect many (or any) jokes from her. Tends to repel romantic interests for 65% of the running time for being “typical guys” or “inconsiderate assholes” and then spends the third act being completely in love with them.

Evidence: The Ugly Truth, 27 Dresses, Knocked Up, Life as We Know It.

7. Kristen Stewart

Stewart is a special case. While her characters could be portrayed differently, the young actress always puts her personal spin on the performance, which means two things: labored breathing and constant scowling.

Characteristics: Unhappy, difficulty showing emotion (smiles only occur as half-pained grimaces), and continually glum, moody, and generally not very pleasant to be around.

Evidence: Twilight Series, Adventureland, The Runaways, Welcome to the Rileys.

6. Adam Sandler

There could be a great Twilight Zone episode made of Adam Sandler’s career. A time traveler ends up in the future where only one Adam Sandler movie is played, but people don’t realize it because the film always has a different title. The time traveler becomes irate and agitated, trying to convince moviegoers that they’ve been watching the same film for the past twenty years but no one will listen to him. Eventually he ends up in an insane asylum, heavily medicated. While in the break room the same Adam Sandler movie is shown and the traveler watches with a lopsided smile on his face, laughing and shouting “I understand, I understand!”

Characteristics: A sweet, sensitive, down-to-earth man-child who delights in gross-out gags and childish antics before becoming a real grown-up.

Evidence: Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, Mr. Deeds, 50 First Dates, Big Daddy, Grown-Ups.

5. Ryan Reynolds

Hey look! It’s Van Wilder as the Green Lantern. And over there – it’s Van Wilder buried in a coffin! Reynolds broke onto the scene with a mediocre (but successful) American teen comedy National Lampoon’s Van Wilder. Like the titular undergraduate character who has schemed to keep himself in school for the better part of a decade, Reynolds has played the same character for a similar length of time.

Characteristics: Wise-cracking, charming, super-cool, likeable smart-ass with a rarely shown sensitive side who gets all the ladies.

Evidence: Green Lantern, The Change-Up, The Proposal, Adventureland, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

4. Steve Carrell

There are only two versions of Steve Carrell characters: Michael Scott and slightly less obnoxious versions of Michael Scott.

Characteristics: Tends to be a bit of a blowhard, anxious, nervous, neurotic, jealous, prone to fits of impotent anger,  bumbling, less than average intelligence, sexually awkward.

Evidence: The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Get Smart, Dinner for Schmucks, Evan Almighty, Anchorman.

3. Paul Rudd

First starting out as Phoebe’s boyfriend (then husband) Mike on Friends, Paul Rudd hasn’t made much of a transition from likeable everyman.

Characteristics: Likeable everyman with a hint of cynicism who wants to follow the dreams of his youth. Can be awkward and fumbling. Feels real bad when he hurts someone’s feelings.

Evidence: Dinner for Schmucks, How Do You Know, Role Models, I Love You, Man, Knocked Up.

2. Russell Brand

Brand is a commanding screen presence (and fantastic at comedy relief) as long as he is in a supporting role. Giving him the lead in Arthur highlighted the actor’s weaknesses (namely an inability to act “serious”) and showed what a grating character he plays when he’s onscreen an entire film.

Characteristics: Oversexed, goofy, British, overly enthusiastic, afflicted attention deficit disorder with a tenuous grasp on the difficulties normal (and impoverished) people face in everyday life.

Evidence: Get Him to The Greek, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Arthur.

1. Keanu Reeves

One word: Whoa.

Characteristics: Quiet intensity with constant blank looks of incomprehension that double as feelings for “love,” “anger,” or “determination.” Constantly seems to be questioning his existence…or wondering why he isn’t working on his beach tan.

Evidence: Point Break, Speed, Bill and Ted, The Matrix, Sweet November, Johnny Mnemonic.

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6 Responses to “Don’t Call Me Versatile”: 10 Actors Who Always Play The Same Character

  1. bep says:

    Absolutely agreed, except Carell showed a totally different (and might I add brilliant) character in “Little Miss Sunshine”. A few more to add to the list: Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Seth Rogen… there’s just too many to name. Ughhh.

  2. Dave says:

    This is so right on. I hate to admit that, though, cuz I’m actually a big fan of Rudd’s, Reynolds’ and Bateman’s. But you are very right. They aren’t exactly the most versatile of actors. I should have guessed you’d pick Keanu as number 1! Poor guy can’t catch a break. 🙂

    Fun (yet brutally honest!) post.

  3. Modest Movie says:

    Thanks for your comments!

    @bep – I do have to agree that Carell did play a slightly different character in “Little Miss Sunshine” than he normally plays…but I still viewed his portrayal of the character almost as “Quiet, Contemplative Michael Scott.” But you are right, Carell doesn’t always play the same character…he almost always plays the same character.

    @Dave – I’m a big fan of Bateman and Rudd as well (and Keanu too..but keep that on the down low). I have to admit though, being the least versatile of actors doesn’t really seem to have its drawbacks…none of these actors have trouble finding roles and their movies are usually box office successes.

  4. Jo says:

    I have developed a saying: “You hire a Bateman, you get a Bateman”. I actually googled the subject after watching the trailer to that “Change-Up” movie…and yep, yet again Man Of Suburbia is in full effect.

    And I also -do- like both Bateman and Rudd (and Carell to an extent), so it’s not that. I also thought “Scott Pilgrim” was a refreshing break in the streak of Cera, even more so, when you think that his previous one was “Year One” in which he once again rehashed the “Superbad awkward guy” method of acting.

    Will Ferrell is also one super funny dude (the legendary SNL cowbell skit is just one example)…but in his movies, more often than not has he succumbed to the Sandler school of thespians. There was a point when EVERY single Ferrell movie was him acting the same exact screaming and shouting man-child, no matter what the setting.

  5. Ana Isabel says:

    ZOOEY DESCHANEL. Need I say more? :p

  6. Zym says:

    I mostly agree with this except for Steve Carrell. He is a very talented actor and comedian who has shown that in many movies. Little Miss Sunshine, Anchorman, Dan in Real Life, The Way, Way Back are all examples of him not playing Michael Scott. Plus he’s HILARIOUS as Michael Scott. Few actors have that mastering of comedic timing. And you have to give *most* of these actors credit- it’s the industry that typecasts them. No actor wants to be typecast. At least *most* of them are still likable and good at the “one part” they play. But in general I think you did a good job compiling this list.

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