I watched Free Guy in theaters recently, though I wasn’t originally planning to. It seemed like a weird Ready Player One movie with Ryan Reynolds, and while there were definitely moments that had that feeling, it was much more the mathematical average between Deadpool and The Lego Movie, both of which I really enjoy, so I enjoyed this movie as well. It wasn’t the presence of Ryan Reynolds that gave it the Deadpool vibe, but it’s obvious that the audiences experience with Deadpool is what lent it to be cast by Ryan Reynolds. That made me think about other times when movies cast an actor not because of that actors ability, but because of the public perception of said actor. Which is called Metacontext.
This is a little different from Typecasting, though very related, so I understand if there’s a confusion.
Typecast – 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.
This is why Will Smith has so many movies where he saves the world, Liam Neeson plays older, yet highly proficient, killers, and Kiera Knightly keeps wearing Victorian outfits. After Star Trek: The Next Generation, Sir Patrick Stewart went from Jean-Luc Picard to Professor X of the X-Men, an obvious similar character type. These are actors that are really good at these types of roles, and so a shortcut to get the audience on board with the character, you simply cast an actor that has played similar roles in the past.
Typecasting is very popular in Hollywood, but MetaContextual casting is taken to an even stronger point. These are movies based on how the audience perceives the actor taking a role like this.
Daniel Radcliffe in Now You see Me
Post-Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe has tried very hard to prove to audiences that he is more than just a wizard-boy, which he’s done fairly successfully with movies like Guns Akimbo and Horns, playing very different types of characters, and trying not to be typecast. One of his roles, that was against type, but still strongly related to his past as Harry Potter, was as Walter in Now You See Me 2. Now You See Me (and it’s sequel) is a movie about street magicians who use their skills for crime, specifically to get rich, and Walter is a villain of the movie who wants to use the magicians for his own personal gain. Of course, being the villain against a bunch of magic users isn’t just against the type of characters that Daniel Radcliffe normally plays, it’s a specific reference to his previous role.
Matthew Broderick in The Producers
Matthew Broderick became a household name with the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, wherein he plays a cool high schooler, who manages to skip school with his friend and girlfriend, go to the big city of Chicago, and spend the whole day not only goofing off, but having what is possibly the coolest day ever. He drives fast cars, gets into expensive restaurants, sees a baseball game, and even becomes the star of a parade. He is awesome. Then 19 years later, he plays Leo Bloom in The Producers, an accountant who still holds onto a security blanket, and is extremely anxious and nervous at every idea that his business partner charmingly suggests. Once again, this is more than just against type, this is a strict departure from how the audience would naturally perceive Broderick, and makes the performance even more enjoyable.
Betty White in Golden Girls
Golden Girls was a show in the late ’80s to early ’90s, that followed a group of four women of, let’s say “retirement age”, and the fun and mischief that they got into (if Betty White was playing an old lady in a show 30 years ago, how old is she now? (She’s 99)). One of the characters in this show was Rose Nylund, a naive old woman who never thought about sex, and seemingly was very simple-minded. She lived in a small farming town, had a husband, and five children, and now suddenly she was living in Miami with three other single women, who all wanted to find some romance! What made this casting funnier, though many people nowadays might not realize, is that Betty White was most known for her character Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a witty character who trades insults with Mary, and makes a lot of sex jokes to her coworker who she is very much attracted to.
Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy
Now this brings me to Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy. Obviously there is a bit of playing to type with his previous experience in Deadpool as a character who knows he’s a character and breaks the fourth wall. However, what makes this MetaContextual is the inclusion of Marvel references, including the villain of the film, also being an MCU actor/writer/director. I don’t want to give away spoilers if you haven’t seen it, because it’s possibly the best joke in the film, but having anyone else in the role would have lost some of the jokes the movie makes, because we all, on some level, now see Ryan Reynolds as the Merc with a Mouth.