Being typecast is never good news. Actors say it limits their opportunities, that it can put their careers into indefinite idle. But there are worse things than becoming so good at one thing that everyone thinks of you when they need that part played. It’s the equivalent of a brand becoming the popular name for the very product it produces. Band-Aid. Kleenex. White-Out. Coke. Ralph Bellamy.
Ralph Bellamy was so well known as the guy who loses the girl to Cary Grant that Howard Hawks turned it into a joke in His Girl Friday, having Cary Grant describe his foil, played by Ralph Bellamy, as looking “just like Ralph Bellamy.” Ralph Bellamy did OK. For about sixty more years.
As early as 1919 movies were making these sort of in jokes. A Moonshine Feud opens with star Texas Guinan and the movie’s director (Jay Hunt) playing themselves and discussing the story and all the parts within, naming the actors that should (and do) play them.
Sometimes this vise is so tight though, an actor becomes known for playing just one specific part. After starring in That’s My Bush, Timothy Bottoms became a not-that-glorified George W. Bush impersonator, playing him in varying types of productions. And he’s had it easy. Charles Middleton played Abraham Lincoln at least 5 times (and Tom Lincoln once) and a guy in Russia played Josef Stalin so often that after Stalin’s death, he was never allowed to go back to playing “mere mortals.”
As daunting a prospect of becoming known in such a limited scope may be, even the oppressively specific ones, it still seems far from a hardship. Of course, these are only the more famous examples, and being famous for anything is a difficult idea for which to garner sympathy. The potential plight afflicting near-nobody Kevin Rankin right now is at least slightly more a cause for concern.
The first time you saw Kevin Rankin he was Lucien, the soft spoken RA on the only floor of The University of Northeastern California we were supposed to care about. Since Undeclared, he has played plenty of small roles on television, perhaps the most memorable being wheelchair bound Herc on Friday Night Lights. The disparity between these two characters alone would seem to preclude any trouble with typecasting, even if it were a given that was in fact, trouble.
But 2013 has been a breakthrough year of sorts. With a small part in a high profile (though underperforming) release and a large part in a limited (and still underperforming) one, you would assume Kevin Rankin was poised to be, at the very least, one of those actors you know you know from somewhere but just can’t place it.
The problem is, in both of these movies, Kevin Rankin plays an overt racist. And it isn’t the first time. He played a white supremacist on a few episodes of Justified. And before that, on Breaking Bad. Even fans of both those shows might not have noticed this coincidence. (edit: And now, he’s even back for some of the last few episodes of Breaking Bad.)
In White House Down, he plays Killik, the bad guy the bad guys don’t even like. But he hates the black President so much, he just can’t be left out of this plan to take him out. It’s an off the wall performance in a movie full of them and I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that White House Down suffers under none of them.
In Pawn Shop Chronicles, he has a swastika on his neck. And after everything else, it almost seems as though it’s something he’s been covering up until he finally got a role it made sense not to. Like Jim Carrey’s chipped tooth in Dumb & Dumber.
Even when, after Paul Walker asks him why he’s supposed to hate Jews in dialog seemingly leftover from the post-Pulp Fiction wasteland of 1997, his character admits to not truly hating anybody, to having black friends that understand when he gets up from their card game to attend Klan meetings, it’s difficult to not stare at that swastika tattoo, undermining any sympathy that might have come of this confession (but probably wouldn’t have anyway because of how badly it’s written.)
So it’s not even close.
Best portrayal of a racist by Kevin Rankin in 2013: Killik – White House Down
But this isn’t over! In Dallas Buyer’s Club, Kevin Rankin plays T.J. and in the trailer, he calls someone a homo. Not exactly racism, but we probably shouldn’t rule it out just yet.
(Sort of) Luckily for Kevin Rankin, more people have seen Breaking Bad than have seen White House Down and almost no one has seen Pawn Shop Chronicles or ever will (or should.) And so he may have scarcely avoided that terrible, lucrative fate of becoming a “Kevin Rankin type.”