Despite what anyone might say to the contrary, acting is a difficult job. To be clear, no one is pretending that it’s as difficult or as painstaking as being a surgeon or an astronaut or anything like that, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy.

Acting is one of the most difficult jobs in the world to succeed in, and it’s one of the most difficult jobs in the world to earn a decent living from. They say that it takes a lifetime to become an overnight success, and even if you’re one of the very lucky few that do manage to carve out a name and a legacy for yourself as an actor, perils such as typecasting still haunt your every waking moment.

Being typecast is one of an actor’s biggest fears, some are shoehorned into a certain type of role from which they can never escape, no matter how hard they try (Jack Black as the leading man in King Kong for example) but some actors manage to free themselves of these trapping categories, and submit performances that more than justify the risk that producers took to cast them.

For some risky casting decisions, the fear doesn’t come from typecasting, it comes from the actor possibly being a relative unknown to certain audiences – with the ability of said actor to carry a film or a TV show completely untested (Daisy Ridley in Star Wars, for example). Whichever way you look at it, some casting decisions can make or break a movie or a TV show, sometimes it turns out being an utter misfire, but sometimes – as in the cases of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Michael Keaton in Batman, or all of the TV stars on our list – against all the odds, the actor manages to pull it off.

With that, here are 8 of the riskiest TV casting decisions that turned out to be total successes.

8. Matt Smith (The Doctor in Doctor Who)

At 26 years of age, Matt Smith was three years the junior of the youngest previous Doctor to date: Peter Davidson. Naturally, eyebrows were raised and appropriately furrowed at the decision to cast the fresh-faced young lad in the iconic role – a role which had previously been given exclusively to older men that could command more of a presence and exude a more experienced sense of gravitas.

To further that point, fans took to the internet to voice their dissatisfaction with the decision, with a popular refrain from the time being “It’s Doctor Who, not Medical Student Who!”

Nevertheless, the casting department, encouraged by the youthful exuberance of David Tennant’s performance as the Doctor, stuck to their guns and cast Matt Smith in the role. Fortunately, it was a gamble that paid off enormously. Smith injected the role, and indeed the show as a whole, with an even more concentrated dose of youthful energy, giving it fresh life and renewed vigour.

Given that the most recent incarnation of the character, being a return to an older Doctor in Peter Capaldi, has fallen somewhat flat (let that not be a criticism on the might of Capaldi’s talents however) the BBC might learn that the times they are indeed a-changin’, and as such, maybe a younger Doctor is the way to go from now on.

7. Katey Sagal (Gemma Teller Morrow in Sons of Anarchy)

At first thought, presenting the idea that Katey Sagal, who played Peggy Bundy on Married with Children, could be playing the leader of a tougher-than-leather Hell’s Angels style biker gang would get you laughed out of the building.

However, the closer you look at it, the more sense it makes. Mark Twain once said that humour is tragedy plus time, and the more one thinks about all of the comedians or comic actors over the years that have either gone on to portray darker characters or had darkness persist in their personal life, the truer the statement gets.

It’s all about the tears of a clown. It’s either that or you’d have to have a pretty intense mean streak to be able to stay married to Al Bundy for all those years, like her character did on Married with Children.

Many people thought this casting decision was a risk. Even Sagal herself acknowledged that it was a risk:

“My husband and the FX network both took a shot on me. They went for it. I had faith that I could do such a departure from what I was known for, but I needed other people to be on board, too. I feel very grateful they believed in me. It opened up a whole new world for me. It gave me so much more opportunity.”

However, the risk paid off not only for the show, but for Sagal herself, as her performance as Gemma Teller Morrow on Sons of Anarchy earned her a Golden Globe win in 2011.

As is proven in the cases of Steve Carrel in Foxcatcher, Robin Williams in One Hour Photo or Rodney Dangerfield in Natural Born Killers, if you want an actor that can portray a dark and twisted character, cast a comedian. Next page

Next Page