Actors Who Couldn’t Escape Their Biggest Role


Although he won critical acclaim for several award-winning performances — including a role in Civil War movie Friendly Persuasion as a young man drawn to battle to protect his family and a part in May-December romantic drama Goodbye Again — multifaceted talent Anthony Perkins will forever and always be known as Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho. Immortalized on celluloid as the meek and deeply troubled murderer, Perkins’ — who would have been 80-years-old today — played Bates with a boyish vulnerability, quiet charm, and repressed anxiety that Hitchcock skillfully helped mold into one of the greatest screen villains of all time.

Many have said that Bates’ most unfortunate victim was Anthony Perkins, and that the character eventually consumed him — at least through three other sequels that spanned into the ’90s. “Without Pyscho, who’s to say if I would have endured?” Perkins once told the New York Times .

What other actors never escaped their biggest roles? We explored the careers of a few stars past the jump. Sometimes the deal of a lifetime can haunt you, making you wonder who is playing whom in the end. (And sometimes it’s not always a bad thing.) Check out our picks, and drop your faves in the comments section.

Mark Hamill

Batman fans who have long been following Mark Hamill as Joker in the DC Animated Universe — and all the shorts, videogames, and other spinoffs that go along with it — may protest about this pick. We feel Heath Ledger’s performance and incredible transformation as Joker in The Dark Knight has overshadowed Hamill’s vocal work for most folks, but we digress.

Film fans grew up with Hamill’s iconic Jedi Knight, who evolved from an inexperienced boy into a skilled fighter and spiritually wise leader. After Star Wars, Hamill tried to avoid being typecast and did little film work. Despite his efforts, his lead, recurring role in one of American cinema’s greatest achievements will always follow him.

It’s got a life of its own. Mazel Tov, people … Live long and prosper and all that stuff, but so what? It doesn’t have any relevance to me in terms of what I want to do in my career, callous as that may sound — but truly, it’s show and business … I did the show — now all I’m dealing with is business … I always just tried to go for things that challenged me in some way. Sometimes I faltered and did things just for the money, and it shows, but I’m in a really good place now.”

Ralph Macchio

Ralph Macchio has said that he sees character Daniel LaRusso as the perfect everykid and underdog character — a figure that can live on in innumerable sequels with the right talent behind it. LaRusso was reborn as Dre Parker in the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid, and while Jaden Smith’s redux signified the passing of the torch for Macchio, there was definitely something missing in LaRusso 2.0. The 1984 film launched Macchio’s career and made him a teen idol. After the film, the star’s biggest success came in the form of the 1990’s Broadway revival of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and cameo roles as himself. Even My Cousin Vinny — his first adult film role — couldn’t erase the image of a crane-posed teen in our minds. The sweet kid with an imperfect life most modern audiences could identify with warmed hearts, securing Macchio as LaRusso for life.

” … Daniel Larusso was the ‘every’ kid. He was the boy next door. He was not very athletic. He didn’t have any of that. And it’s the human elements of a fatherless child with a single mother moving to a different place and having that guy, that human Yoda, to help him navigate adolescents. It’s a beautiful story.”

Linda Blair

Child star Linda Blair was a relative unknown when she accepted a part as possessed child Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist in 1973. The film changed her entire life and practically stole her childhood away from her. Even though she tried to keep working post Exorcist, she was continually passed over when it came to bigger parts — Taxi Driver and Blue Lagoon were just two movies with lead roles that Blair desperately wanted to tackle. Eventually her place in cinema as Regan MacNeil — the good girl who bad things happened to — was secured thanks to a real-life dalliance with the law and acting gigs that portrayed her as the sick/kidnapped/broken/alcoholic child.

“I think people seemed to believe when they saw me that they might be becoming possessed. That is the look in their eyes. They were frightened of me. And no matter what I said or did, it didn’t change. And the fact that it was a job in film, it just never came across.”

Sean Connery

Sometimes typecasting can be a terrible thing, but in the case of Sean Connery — who will forever be known as the debonair, vodka martini-loving Secret Service agent James Bond — it made him a legend. Before Connery became 007 in Dr. No — the first film in the spy series — he had a fairly admirable career, but Bond was really his breakthrough. Bond creator Ian Fleming thought the actor looked more like an unrefined, working class type than a commanding hero. It was Connery’s charisma that eventually won the part, and Fleming quickly changed his mind after seeing him in action. Connery felt locked into a contract throughout his career, and resented that his other acting achievements were downplayed while driving the Aston Martin. He found other successful roles after a new Bond was hired, but for many fans Connery is the quintessential British agent whose “cocksure animal magnetism” is unparalleled.

“Let me straighten you out on this. The problem in interviews of this sort is to get across the fact, without breaking your arse, that one is not Bond, that one was functioning reasonably well before Bond, and that one is going to function reasonably well after Bond. There are a lot of things I did before Bond — like playing the classics on stage — that don’t seem to get publicized. So you see, this Bond image is a problem in a way and a bit of a bore, but one has just got to live with it.”

Robert Pattinson

We may be calling this one a bit early, but with the massive success of the Twilight franchise, most people are wondering where the cast can go from here. Will they forever be typecast as brooding, pale teens grimacing their way across the screen? Rob Pattinson has seen a bit of success in independent film roles, but as the actor progresses with the upcoming Bel Ami — in which he plays an ex-soldier seducing the female social elite during the 1890s — and a potentially thrilling, dark role in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, he knows he’s being watched like a hawk. “I’m now this ‘thing’ that’s supposed to be something. And if you then don’t fulfill that expectation, what the fuck are you?” he recently told The Guardian . Can he make us forget Edward? More importantly, can he forget Edward as he moves forward — or will the self-conscious burden he carries from fast superstardom kill his future success?

“In career terms Twilight was like a security blanket. Not a blanket — a safety net. I had a three — or four — month window between each one during which I could do another job. But whatever I did I knew that I’d have another Twilight movie on the way, which is theoretically guaranteed to make a lot of money. So I could always afford to fail … After the last one comes out, you can kind of have two failures – and they’d better be low-budget failures. Because if you have one big-budget failure you’re pretty much done in this environment.”

Christopher Lee

What is it about the role of a vampire that draws actors in, embraces them within its dark cape, and never lets go? We just chatted about teen heartthrob Rob Pattinson’s career as a bloodsucker, Bela Lugosi was also forever typecast as a vampy villain, and the great Christopher Lee follows suit. Part of what keeps these actors in the clutches of the undead is that they kept playing the character. Other stars that have portrayed the dark prince — like Gary Oldman and Frank Langella — managed to shake off the role pretty quickly. Lee was an integral part of the success of British studio Hammer Films, essentially becoming their most-loved, fanged poster boy. The actor sometimes struggled with the studio, disapproving of where they took his character, but eventually he made his way back home for a recent part in The Resident (he deserved better, frankly) — one of the films released since Hammer’s revival. Despite an incredible career and critical acclaim throughout, Lee’s famous vamp typecast him as a villain in large part. It’s hard to imagine Dracula without the actor’s tall, dark, and handsome visage appearing in your mind’s eye — even if the talented Lee would totally resent it.

“Let me explain something to you: the reason why people associate me with that particular character is three reasons. One: it was a tremendous launching pad for me as an actor. There’s no question about that, I’ve never denied it, I shall always be grateful. It made my name known and my face known, the two went together. They don’t always, but they did then, all over the world. Secondly, by force of circumstances, it became very effective, all over the world. Thirdly, people who saw the original films, of my generation or older — we’re talking 38 years ago, the first one, and we’re talking about 25 years ago for the last one — they remember them, but not to the exclusion of everything else. The other people latch on because of television and video. These are of course repeats all over the world … I won’t conform and I never have. When people ask me what I do, I say I’m an actor. I leave it at that. It’s extraordinary how people won’t let go.”

Gloria Swanson

Hollywood legend Gloria Swanson delivered one of Tinseltown’s greatest performances in noir classic Sunset Boulevard as fading screen star Norma Desmond. Many say Norma was Gloria, an actress unable to easily bridge the transition from silent films to talking pictures, despite a successful run beforehand (and one that saw many breaks in-between). Writer John Rosenfield once wrote of the star:

“Emphatically Gloria Swanson was not the best-dressed woman on the screen, nor was she the most beautiful, nor the best actress. She tackled her big dramatic scenes with all the nuance of Betty Hutton singing “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun.” For pique she shoved out her long, under-lip, for grief she threw an arm over her face and buried both in a pillow.”

“I’ve never made any epics,” Swanson once claimed. Still, it’s easy to see the actress’ true feelings about her career more in line with her memorable character’s. “I am big; it’s the pictures that got small,” seems about right.

“They expected scenes from me, wild sarcastic tantrums. They wanted Norma Desmond.”

Clint Eastwood

Before “Make my day,” and ” Do I feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?” became the wink-worthy punchline in everyone’s joke, Clint Eastwood was just coming off his role as badass cop Harry Callahan in the Dirty Harry film series. The actor was already considered a toughie thanks to roles in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy and other gun-toting parts, but Harry remains his most popular character. What sets it apart from the rest? In an interview with the LA Times , Dirty Harry villain Andy Robinson spoke about the movie’s universal appeal, which of course translates to Eastwood’s lead role. “It was police thriller, a cowboy western and a horror film, it was all of them yoked together,” Robinson shared. “And because of the times it was released in, it became the film that people argued about. Is it fascist? Is it ripe with irony?” Eastwood described Harry as “very good at his job” and noted that his “individualism pays off to some degree.” In a Playboy interview, Eastwood chatted further about the universal hero: “I think that appealed to the public. They say, ‘Yeah, this guy has to be put out of circulation, even if some police chief says, ‘Lay off.” The general public isn’t worried about the rights of the killer; they’re just saying get him off the street, don’t let him kidnap my child, don’t let him kill my daughter.”

People are disappointed when they walk up to me and ask to see the gun and I tell them that, well, I don’t really carry guns … All the movies you make, all these roles you take, and there are certain ones that people really hold on to. Harry is the one I hear about the most from the people on the street.”