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Home / Hollywood / Weekend Binge | Like Varun Dhawan, 10 actors who played against type, and won

Weekend Binge | Like Varun Dhawan, 10 actors who played against type, and won

Before Varun Dhawan surprised everyone with a nuanced performance in October, scores of actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Emma Watson challenged themselves by playing against type.

hollywood Updated: Apr 14, 2018 08:41 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
Emma Watson, Varun Dhawan and Leonardo DiCaprio refuse to be typecast.
Emma Watson, Varun Dhawan and Leonardo DiCaprio refuse to be typecast.

Every week, we will curate a collection of titles - movies, TV, general miscellanea - for you to watch (and in some cases, read, or listen to), in a series we call Weekend Binge. The selection will be based on a theme which binds the picks - which could be extremely blunt in certain instances, or confusingly abstract in some. No rules apply, other than the end goal being getting some great entertainment to watch.

While the idea is to base the theme on the week’s major events - it could be the release of a new movie, or show - we could also use this opportunity to comment on our world in general, and turn to art to wrap our heads around some of the more difficult stories of the past seven days.


There could be many reasons for actors to play against type - younger actors could want to showcase range that might perhaps not have been noticed otherwise, and older stars might want to experiment. Stars such as Varun Dhawan, who have either willingly or not settled into a comfort zone with a certain kind of films, might want to break out.

If Entourage is to be believed - and why wouldn’t it - then agents like Ari Gold must be yelling at their clients to diversify, because how else would Martin Scorsese notice them? And isn’t it always in an actor’s best interest to play different characters, to challenge themselves and their fans. Sometimes it works - Liam Neeson was a hefty dramatic performer before Taken - and sometime it doesn’t - Shah Rukh Khan, to his credit, has tried to break out of his romantic hero image several times, with only marginal success.

Here, we list 10 actors who took the leap, and regardless of their motivations, decisions such as these should be celebrated - clearly, we got some of their best work out of it.

Tom Cruise - Collateral


While Cruise is one of the last remaining movie stars, the sort of star who could be counted on to deliver box office hits, for one brief moment he decided to play the villain - and we’re not talking about The Mummy here. In Michael Mann’s noir thriller, Cruise plays a hitman who abducts a cab driver to take him from one job to another throught the course of one dreamy Los Angeles night.

Adam Sandler - Reign Over Me, Punch Drunk Love, Funny People, The Meyerowitz Stories


These four films - the only good films Sandler has ever done - are enough to forgive him for the rest of his filmography, which he insists on populating with insufferable versions of the same man-child characters. But in just four movies, Sandler will take you on a journey you never thought you’d want to take, let alone agree to go along on. Pro tip: Watch these movies in this order.

Robin Williams - Insomnia, One Hour Photo


One of the most beloved actors of his generation - or any generation, really - Robin Williams explored (and laid bare) the depths of his soul to play two psychopaths in Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia and the very underrated One Hour Photo, directed by the very underrated Mark Romanek.

Ben Kingsley - Sexy Beast


Whatever type of character you expect Ben Kinglsey to play - and he’s certainly played them all - his foul mouthed gangster from Sexy Beast is not one of them. Such is the power of his performance that he leaves the most lasting impression of any actor in the film, despite being largely absent in it.

Steve Carell - Foxcatcher


Another reason why actors might want to play against type (that I did not mention above) is when they decide that enough is enough and they’d like an Oscar now, thank you very much. While it can’t be confirmed that this is was Steve Carell’s exact thought process when he chose to play the icy Jon E du Pont - heir to the du Pont family fortune, wrestling enthusiast and murderer - he certainly broke out of the comedic image he’d developed in seven years on The Office, and he got that Oscar nomination.

Jim Carrey - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


Jim Carrey is a born comedian, so in that regard, for him to do films like The Number 23 and Kick-Ass 2 (which he refused to promote) couldn’t have been easy. But his uncharacteristically toned down performance in Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that is, to this day, among his finest.

Selena Gomez - Spring Breakers


Director Harmony Korine - a wild provocateur - didn’t hide the fact that he cast Spring Breakers with the sole intention of desecrating Disney princesses. So in a scenario that was mutually beneficial for both him and his stars - he wanted to provoke and Gomez and her co-actors wanted to grow up - Spring Breakers is one of the best examples of stunt casting in modern cinema. It also happens to be a great film, featuring a bonkers James Franco performance at its centre.

Emma Watson - Bling Ring


It’s safe to say that of the lead trio of Harry Potter stars, Emma Watson has had the most diverse post-Potter career. She has chosen her projects wisely, and favoured directors over budgets. It’s also possible that she is the one who has grown the most as an actor of the three - even though Daniel Radcliffe turns in excellent performances usually. Bling Ring was a departure for not just Watson - she played an airheaded teen robber - but also director Sofia Coppola, whose movies tend to be rather dreamy affairs, and the last place you’d expect to hear a 2 Chainz song.

Leonardo DiCaprio - Django Unchained


I maintain that while DiCaprio has delivered a handful of performances worthy of an Oscar, culminating with literally the most desperate campaign to win one ever conceived, his performance in Django Unchained is just such an uninhibited distillation of pure evil, it was a crying shame that he wasn’t even nominated.

Hugh Grant - Cloud Atlas


Like most actors in The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer’s Cloud Atlas, Hugh Grant - the charming, stuttering Hugh Grant - played six characters. But unlike his co-stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, he played a tribal chief with war paint and everything.

Check out other Weekend Binge lists here.

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar