Mark Hamill Star Wars

Weekend Roundtable: In the Shadow of One Iconic Role

Just about any actor would be thrilled to catch a break as great as Mark Hamill did when he landed the part of Luke Skywalker. One of the downsides of fame, however, is that some actors never achieve nearly as much success in anything else they do. Our Roundtable this week is about actors who couldn’t escape one iconic role that defined their careers.

Shannon Nutt

For seven seasons and four motion pictures, Brent Spiner was nothing short of fabulous playing Lt. Commander Data on ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’. But while some of his co-stars have gone onto other things (and others have not), Spiner has never really been able to find a career outside of ‘Star Trek’.

I remember him popping up in the Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau comedy ‘Out to Sea’ and, of course, most remember his supporting role as Dr. Okun in the two ‘Independence Day’ flicks. However, Spiner has been pretty much relegated to bit parts these days, or making cameos as himself on shows like ‘The Big Bang Theory’. That’s a shame, since he’s probably one of the best under-used talents out there.

Luke Hickman

As someone who loved the ‘Harry Potter’ movies and the performance he gave in all eight of them, I’m bummed that Rupert Grint (a.k.a. Ron Weasley) hasn’t been able to shake his lovable teenage wizard character. Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson have been able to break the bands, but poor Rupert is stuck. I noticed that he landed a leading role in a ‘Snatch’ TV series, but since it’s a Crackle exclusive, I can’t bring myself to give it a shot. For two rounds of ‘Doctor Who’ casting, there was speculation that he would take over the title role, which just might get me to watch the long-lasting BBC series, but the rumors never came true.

Brian Hoss

I have to go negative with Matt LeBlanc. His Joey role as part of the ensemble ‘Friends’ cast was a crucial part of the show’s charm, big enough even to get an ill-conceived spinoff. But in everything else, from ‘Lost in Space’ to ‘Top Gear’, he has either come off as forgettable or outright off-putting. The ‘Top Gear’ presenter role in particular doesn’t work. While I haven’t seen all of LeBlanc’s work, I can’t help but hope that he follows through on his threats to retire from acting.

Josh Zyber

Early fame is often a curse for child actors. At the age of 15, Linda Blair starred in ‘The Exorcist’, which was for its day the biggest box office hit of all time and landed her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Sadly, her career was all downhill from there. Although Blair returned for ‘Exorcist II’, that movie was both a critical and commercial disaster. Once she hit adulthood, her personal life became a mess due to substance abuse issues, and before long the only acting jobs she could score were in sleazy D-grade exploitation movies with titles like ‘Chained Heat’ and ‘Savage Island’. Although she’s something of a camp icon today, for most viewers, Linda Blair will forever be the little girl who vomited on a priest.

As far as I know, Daniel Radcliffe seems to be a bit better adjusted than that. Considering that he was only 12-years-old when he was thrust into the lead of one of the biggest blockbuster movie franchises of all time, it’s kind of amazing that he hasn’t yet suffered a massive public meltdown. Nevertheless, Radcliffe’s attempts to break out in other big studio productions like ‘The Woman in Black’ and ‘Victor Frankenstein’ have largely fizzled, and his quirkier indie fare like ‘Horns’ and ‘Swiss Army Man’ are essentially cult curiosities, respected among small groups of viewers but unknown to most. For everyone else, Daniel Radcliffe will always be Harry Potter. I think he may even be OK with that.

What other actors got stuck in one role they couldn’t escape? Tell us in the Comments.


  1. I feel like almost all of Sam Jackson’s roles since Pulp Fiction have all been variations of Jules Winnfield…loud curse words and violence. It only stands out to me because it seems he did a wider variety of roles prior. When’s the last time you saw Jackson do a subtle performance without violence or profanity?

      • I agree, but he is gravitating to one type of role, similar to what has happened to other “older” A list actors like De Niro, Walken, or Nicholson. But, in their cases, it seems like their repetitive film persona is similar to their off screen persona, and grew in tandem with roles that also were similar. With Jackson, that did not seem to evolve in the same way. Once Pulp Fiction hit, that was his type of role from that point forward.

    • At least with someone like Harrison Ford, he could be Han Solo to some people, Indy to others (and Decker to some)…I can’t think of a single Michael J. Fox movie other than ‘The Frighteners’. Even during his role on Boston Legal, it felt like he was going to run to a conference room shouting “Doc! Doc!”.

      • Boston Legal? Or Spin City? 🙂

        Other films I immediately think of: ‘The American President’, ‘Teen Wolf’, ‘Secret of my Success’, ‘Bright Lights Big City’, ‘Doc Hollywood’, ‘Greedy’, etc.

        • William Henley

          I loved Secret of My Success as a kid, and was also a fan of Family Ties, which was his breakout role. he was already quite popular before Back To The Future was released, I don’t know if we could say Michael J Fox fits the conditions of this roundtable, but I do get where you are coming from, Julian

  2. Chris B

    Josh, Radcliffe was great in the undercover Neo-Nazi thriller Imperium. I’m willing to bet he breaks out of the Potter mold more and more as years go on.

    • William Henley

      I thought Radcliffe was fantastic in Woman in Black. The movie had a budget of $17 million, but made $54 million in the US, and $127 million worldwide. He is filming a television series currently, and is in a film that is currently in post production, and has been cast in yet another that should come out next year. In fact, it seems he has been in something or other every year since Potter wrapped up. Seems like he’s doing pretty well to me

  3. Bolo

    I’m surprised nobody went with any of the Bond actors. Connery got the role at the beginning of his career, and his career lasted long enough for him to get a second wind as a cool old man and establish himself as an actor beyond that iconic role. But I’d say the other guys will all be known first and last as guys who played James Bond.

    Brosnan got some good roles after the end of his time as Bond (I quite liked ‘The Tailor of Panama’ and thought the remake of ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ was a lot of fun). But those roles dried up and I find he’s been rather underserved. It’s a pity, because I quite like him as a movie star.

    Daniel Craig seems to be doing even worse. Which is surprising seeing as I’d say he could probably fit a wider variety of roles. I liked Fincher’s ‘Dragon Tattoo’ remake, and it sold plenty of tickets for the type of movie it was. The problem being that Fincher somehow managed to spend $100 million dollars making a movie that mostly involved non-famous actors standing around and talking indoors, so it wasn’t profitable enough to push forward with sequels. Craig’s other non-Bond attempts have been stuff like ‘Cowboys & Aliens’, a movie people forgot existed before it even came out.

      • Bolo

        Fair point. It was a popular show. I guess you could say the same about ‘Remington Steele’. I think that once those actors were cast as Bond, it defined their careers, but they had achieved some name recognition before landing their definitive role.

  4. Bigstik

    I feel like both Radcliffe and Grint have done a better job of breaking away from Potter than Watson. I get that some of her roles have been very high profile but I feel like the guys have done more interesting stuff than she has. They also have been on Broadway and The West End. I also can’t help but think Grints choice in deciding to remain in England and the fact that most all his projects are Britsh or European cause some to not give him the credit he deserves as far as acting abilities are concerned.

  5. charles contreras

    Robert Englund comes to mind. Here’s an actor who was classically trained, but once he delivered his performance as Freddy Krueger, well, can we say modern typecast? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Elm Street movies, but even other horror film icons such as Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, or even Lon Chaney Sr. got the chance to play a variety of roles, at least to a certain degree. At least Englund did have a chance to play an alien in the V made for tv mini series, which I thought were impressive productions at the time.

    • Thulsadoom

      When I was a kid, I saw ‘V’ long before any Freddy movies, so despite much more screen time and fame as Freddy, he’s always just the friendly-alien Willy, from ‘V’ for me. 🙂

    • Josh Zyber

      Leonard Nimoy might quality, but Shatner had several very successful TV series after Star Trek. He won Emmys for playing Denny Crane on both The Practice and Boston Legal, and was nominated five more times.

      • Nimoy also had a prolific singing career (his song about ‘Bilbo Baggins’ is excellent), multiple voice acting roles (including the classic ‘No! The world needs laughter’ in The Simpsons), and a super hilarious instruction video for LaserDisc in which he talks to a rock. A talking rock, yes.

  6. Radcliffe has been vocal about not finding his Potter performances satisfying and also about the laborious pace of shooting blockbuster films. I think he very much finds himself preferring the indie world.

  7. photogdave

    The entire cast of The Brady Bunch.
    The entire cast of Gilligan’s Island.
    The entire cast of M*A*S*H except for Alan Alda and Harry Morgan.

    Actually if you were an actor who became an iconic TV star in the 60s or 70s the only other gig you could really get was a guest spot on The Love Boat or Fantasy Island.
    Speaking of The Love Boat, Gavin MacLeod never really got past being Captain Stubing despite some interesting early roles and memorably portraying Murray Slaughter on Mary Tyler Moore. I actually met him when I worked on the real Love Boat. He and other cast members would cruise time to time and he was gracious enough to do photo shoots with the passengers.
    Speaking of Fantasy Island, Ricardo Montalban was lucky enough to have TWO iconic roles: Mr. Roarke and KHANNN!!!!

    • Judas Cradle

      David Ogden Stiers from MASH has been very prolific.
      He has been in about 6 Woody Allen Movies and like 20 Disney animated films (Cogsworth in Beauty and The Beast is one).

      • photogdave

        True, but Charles Winchester is still the iconic role that most people will remember him for. I think he’s great in the other films but “Charles” still pops into my head the first time I see him.

  8. I have to disagree with Brian Hoss about Matt LeBlanc. If you haven’t seen Showtime’s “Episodes” with LeBlanc playing a larger-than-life version of himself (for 5 seasons), you missed some of the best work of his career.

    • Csm10

      I’ve only seen the first two seasons of Episodes, but god did I love it. So hilarious and witty. LeBlanc was excellent as himself 😀.

  9. William Henley

    Well, to show how forgettable LeBlanc’s role was in Lost In Space, I thought it was Matt Damon for years. Seriously.

    I think Jodie Sweetin and Candice Cameron qualify. It was like after Full House, they completely disappeared, ocassionally showing up at charity events and stuff, but you really did not hear much about them (except the ocassional “where are they now” until Fuller House started, which is pretty much the same show that just took a 25 year break, so yeah.

    There seems to be a long list of child actors who only star in one or two movies, or a couple of episodes of a television show. Usually they seem to be great, but only a handful seem to get cast again and again. My guess is either the kid is burnt out, or the parents decided they didn’t like the schedules and demands on the family or the attention their kids got.

    There also seems to be a few kids who made quite a bit up until they turned 18, then suddenly disappeared. The Olsen Twins cranked out movie after movie well into their teens, then they turn 18, start a clothing company, and disappear. And Jonathan Taylor Thomas, other than a few cameros here and there, disappeared after Home Improvement.

  10. NJScorpio

    I like this round table topic, but I find it funny being tied to Mark Hamill. Sure, when I see him I see Luke, no matter what. But in my mind he is 50% Luke, 50% The Joker. Some voice acting roles are just so iconic they rank up there with the actors physical roles. Like Mike Myers…50% Austin Powers, 50% Shrek.

  11. Charles M

    Christopher Reeve didn’t star in another big role after Superman I think. He mostly got relegated to character actor roles.

    A lot of the actors in James Cameron movies seemed to have a hard time despite getting acclaim and staring a big hit Csmeron film. The bad ass woman from Aliens for example. Michael Beihn should’ve been bigger but that had more to do with Beihn turning down major roles simple because he didn’t understand the script.

    The guy who starred in Speilbrg’s Always was totally forgotten after that one film. That must suck.

  12. Matt Leblanc is awesome in Top Gear. Chris Evans ruined that show, but after they booted him it has come back nicely. Is it as good as the original, hell no, but it’s still fun to watch and worth the time.

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