Surprising casting choices that paid off

TV Editor Kate Dunkerton analyses her picks for the most surprisingly successful casting choices in film.

Kate Dunkerton
29th March 2020
Image credit: IMDB
Sometimes a casting decision can be questioned by fans and even the studio, when an actor’s skills are underestimated, or they break out of their usual typecasting. Let’s take a look at some of the unexpected casting choices that resulted in critically acclaimed performances.

Lady Gaga

I have to admit, I was surprised when Lady Gaga was announced to star as the female lead opposite Bradley Cooper in the fourth remake of A Star is Born (2018), and not in a good way. This was mainly because I wasn’t convinced by her acting skills in American Horror Story: Hotel. Maybe it shouldn’t have come as such a shock that she was cast, considering the role is about a singer and the music industry. Going into A Star is Born with not very high expectations, this made the film, and Lady Gaga’s performance, that much more enjoyable. Whether this was because of the strong material Gaga was given to work with, her undeniable chemistry and encouragement from Cooper (let’s not forget those 99 other people in the room) or that Lady Gaga can act after all. Whatever it was that boosted her acting skills, this didn’t go unnoticed, with Gaga securing an Academy Award nomination for best actress.

Heath Ledger

Image Credit: IMDB

It’s strange now to associate any role with Heath Ledger without thinking of his iconic take of the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008). In what was his penultimate role before his tragic death, his casting initially received much scepticism from fans. Before this film, Ledger had mainly been known as romantic leads such as hit teen rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) and A Knight’s Tale (2001). His turn as the psychotic villain has since become one of the most talked about and respected performances, not only in a comic book film but possibly film history.

Jim Carrey

Everyone’s favourite comic Jim Carrey took on very similar roles in films like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), The Mask (1994) and The Grinch (2000), with his hyperactive, fast-talking characters. That changed with his leading roles in dramas The Truman Show (1998) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). Both bordering on the sci-fi, it still shocks me that Carrey wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award for either of these films. One following a man whose life is unknowingly broadcast on television all over the world and the other a man erasing the memory of his ex-girlfriend, neither of these films seem to fit Carrey’s usual role i.e. anything over the top.

John Krasinski

Image Credit: IMDB

Best known for his role as prankster Jim Halpert in The Office, John Krasinski soon broke beyond the comedic barrier in horror A Quiet Place (2018), which he also wrote and directed. Revolving around a family who are struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world which has been taken over by blind monsters, Krasinski’s role as a father desperate to protect his family is far from the sarcastic paper salesman he played for 9 years. Despite there being little dialogue in the film, Krasinski convincingly captures the intensity of the role, proving his talent goes beyond comedy in his fight for survival.  

Winona Ryder

Having read Little Women multiple times, I wasn’t quite sure how Winona Ryder’s turn of feisty heroine Jo March would turn out in the 1994 adaptation. Ryder seems the opposite of Jo, who is described as tall and boyish in the novel in contrast to Ryder, who is petite and pretty. However, Ryder accurately portrays Jo’s ambitious spirit and liveliness which makes her stand out, taking on her own interpretation of the adored heroine. Her portrayal of Jo was so convincing that, to this day, she is who I picture when I re-read the book (that might have been taken over by Saoirse Ronan).

Steve Carell

Krasinski’s The Office co-star Steve Carell’s harrowing turn as John du Pont in Foxcatcher (2014) marked Carell’s progression from comedies such as The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005) and Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) to intense dramas. Based on the true story of wrestling brothers David and Mark Schultz who are trained by abusive coach du Pont, Carell underwent both a physical and mental transformation for the role. Although he had starred in dramatic roles before, specifically in Little Miss Sunshine (2006), it was Foxcatcher which gave Carell the critical recognition he deserved, earning an Academy Award nomination for best actor.

Renee Zellweger

Image Credit: IMDB

Who would have thought that an actress from Texas would pull off the role of a lonely British woman living in London so well as Renee Zellweger did in Bridget Jones' Diary (2001)? She was so convincing as the lovable Bridget that I thought she was British for a long time, making her sound odd in other roles where she uses her natural accent.

These are just some of the actors and actresses who provided film-goers and critics with unforgettable performances, even if there was doubt over how they would turn out. From those best known for comedy or even singers turned actors, this proves a risk is worth taking.

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