The Role of a Lifetime

Could one role affect the rest of an actor's career?

It’s every young actors dream – to land a life-changing role in a film seen by millions of people across the globe, raising your status from virtual nobody, to one of the most famous faces in Hollywood (and beyond).

When an opportunity such as this arises, however, it is worth considering, just for a moment, the ramifications of taking on such a part, and playing such a well-known/well-loved/massively famous character so early on in your career. While dramatically raising your profile can never really be seen as a bad thing, there are some occasions when such a move may restrict the rest of your career… let’s take a look at a few actors who may have suffered the pitfalls of this acting career quandary.

Zac Efron

Young, handsome and charismatic, Zac Efron landed his first major movie role at the age of nineteen after several years of TV movie appearances and minor roles in CSI and ER, when he was chosen as the lead male in the smash hit Disney Channel movie High School Musical. With his talent for singing and dancing and his good looks, Efron was on his way to stardom, with teenage girls everywhere breaking their hearts over his relationship with co-star Vanessa Hudgens. The film became an unprecedented huge franchise, with CD albums, a second and third film, spin-off movies and more branded merchandise than you can imagine. Within the space of three years, Efron had gone from relatively unknown TV teen actor, to one of the most well-known faces on the tween-film scene.

Since then, Efron has landed roles in several other films. Two of these roles, however, were in Hairspray (another musical in which he showcases his aptitude for singing and dancing) and 17 Again in which he played a basketball playing high school student, who (in the very first scene of the film) joins in on an elaborate dance routine with the high school cheerleaders – sound familiar?

That is not to say he has not been successful in playing other sorts of characters. He has six films due to come out over the next couple of years, and has appeared in Me and Orson Welles and The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud. When it emerged in 2008 that Efron was one of the names being batted around to play Nirvana front-man Kurt Cobain in a biography-type film, he was practically laughed out of the running. Fans, not only of Nirvana, but of Efron himself, seemed astounded at the suggestion that ‘Troy from High School Musical’ would even be considered to play someone like Cobain. The role of a lifetime, it seems, will (for the next few years at least) hold Zac Efron back from some other stupendous acting opportunities.

Matt Le Blanc and the rest of the F.R.I.E.N.D.S gang…

Starring in one of the most successful television shows of all time helped Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt Le Blanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer become six of television’s most beloved actors thanks to their portrayal of Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler and Ross. Running for an incredible ten seasons, Friends aired (and continues to air) in countries across the globe, making these six actors some of the most famous faces on screen in the past twenty years.

Since Friends ended in 2004, however, the careers of the six actors listed above have had varying levels of success. Jennifer Aniston has arguably had the most successful career post-Friends, starring in numerous Hollywood rom-coms and dramas with everyone from Ben Stiller to Kevin Spacey. With the exception of a couple of roles, however, the characters she plays have a tendency to wander into Rachel-territory, with film fans often claiming that she plays virtually the same character in every movie. Had she not played the same massively famous character for ten years, perhaps this would never have been noticed – but at the same time, had she not starred in Friends, married Brad Pitt and become a world-wide hair and style icon, she may never have landed any of these roles in the first place, making the discussion irrelevant. Once again, the role of a life-time proves to be problematic.

The same goes for Matt Le Blanc, who played the loveable womaniser Joey. His post-Friends acting endeavours have included Joey, a Friends spin-off show which proved to be an unsuccessful concept since the popularity of Friends relied on the interaction of the six main characters, and Episodes, a TV show in which he plays a fictional version of himself, and is constantly referred to as ‘Joey from Friends’. When audience members are describing a film as ‘the new one with Rachel from Friends in it’, you know that one particular character has become a career defining role.

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson?

With such specific roles defining the careers of other actors, the three young stars of the massively successful Harry Potter franchise have just left their time as Harry, Ron and Hermione behind, and are venturing off into the acting world to take on new exciting roles. While each of them starred in other minor films over the past few years, now that the final film has been released, and the phenomenon of Harry Potter has reached an end (in terms of new cinematic releases, at least), what does the future hold for the stars its three main roles created? In a recent poll, Emma Watson gained 79% of the votes as to which of the three was most likely to succeed outside of Harry Potter, suggesting that perhaps for the two boys, their portrayals of Harry Potter and Ron Weasley have been just a little too memorable. With all three in the midst of filming new movies, only time will tell if Daniel, Rupert and Emma can succeed post-Potter.

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