"Typecast [verb]: to assign (an actor or actress) repeatedly to the same type of role, as a result of the appropriateness of their appearance or previous success in such roles."
Especially in LA, where casting is rapid-fire and can happen overnight, casting directors often only have enough time to call in the actors they know who fit the role like a glove. Why? Because they don't have much time or the money, particularly in Hollywood where networks are putting pressure on them. Oftentimes, just one look at your headshot and they know whether or not you fit the ever-so-specific bill.
But being typecast does not necessarily mean that you're going to spend your life stuck in one role and one role only or that you're doomed to spend your career on the outside looking in. Many times, the elements of typecasting can actually work in your favor…
The Good News:
1. Typecasting can make your career. Ever heard of Paul Newman? How about Michael Cera? Does Johnny Depp ring a bell? All of these actors, no matter what movies they're in, are basically playing themselves. I mean, ever since Pirates of the Caribbean, Johnny Depp has been in roles that are essentially various weird versions of Captain Jack Sparrow, but with different make-up. Of course, it is undeniable that this not only did not harm their careers, but launched them into international fame! When you go see a movie with Michael Cera in it, you go in knowing firmly that it will be a quirky teenage comedy where he plays a very awkward young man on the brink of adulthood.
2. "Type" is marketable. It's remarkably easy to figure out what category you fall into (i.e. ingénue, bad boy, athlete, mom, nerd, etc) and play up that stereotype hardcore. Once you know your type, you can hone the skills necessary for it to perfection and be ready and waiting to go when a director is looking for someone like you!
3. Casting directors know what they want—and it could be you. If they want a short, dark-haired girl who looks like a nerd, and you are one of those, you're golden! You can look at the character breakdown and know right off the bat how good a shot you have at the part. For cattle calls, casters will often make their first cuts based solely on your appearance in your headshot!
The Bad News:
1. Typecasting can also break your career. Yes, many actors' careers have been made because they always play a certain character…but if there isn't enough substance to back it up, audiences start to get the déjà vu effect. Each movie that comes out, they complain, "But they're basically the same as in the last film!" and slowly but surely audiences lose interest in seeing the same person in the same role over and over again. The key is subtle variation, to stave this off! Exploring the nuances of a certain stereotype and breaking it in certain ways makes it more an exploration than just a repetition.
2. Stuck in a rut. When you spend all your time playing to your stereotype to get work, you develop a specific skill set. But what happens when that skill set can't apply to you anymore? What happens to Michael Cera when he's 30 and cannot possibly get away with the "awkward teenager" roles anymore? If you've been playing a certain role your entire life, you've gotten great experience within those constraints…but when you're not that age anymore, your training and experience will be lacking in variety.
3. If your type isn't needed, you're out! Although your type can open doors for you, it can also limit you. Obviously if casting is going on for a girl-next-door, you'll have difficulty being cast if you've been playing to the dark and mysterious goth type. Keeping a variety of personalities in your arsenal (or better yet, not fitting characters into strict categories) will keep your options open and give you more opportunities!