How Are the Coen Brothers So Good at Casting Against Type?

'O Brother, Where Art Thou?'Credit: Buena Vista
The Coens are the masters of the unexpected. 

It's hard to believe, but in the mid-90s, George Clooney was most famous for being on ER. He was the handsome doctor everyone wanted to be with. He was also in a campy Batman, but still as a sex symbol. 

Then the Coen brothers got a hold of him, and cast him as the fast-talking redneck with a plan in O Brother, Where Art Thou? It was an inspired idea and allowed Clooney to break out of his type, instead of playing somewhat of a bumbling idiot whose adventurous spirit gets him in repeated trouble. 

The movie was lauded and went onto rave reviews, helping the Coens certify themselves as interesting auteurs who belonged with Hollywood royalty. 

But that wasn't the first time the Coens switched the way an actor was viewed from a movie. They had done it earlier with Tom Hanks in The Ladykillers, and they'd do it again with Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading

So what makes the Coens so good at casting against type? 

Check out this video from PopFluent, and let's talk after. 

It's interesting to see how the Coens perfected their casting against type so much with Clooney. I think what we actually learned from the process is that Clooney is a way more versatile actor than anyone gave him credit for in the '90s. 

I'm not sure by the time you get into the late 2000s you can assume he's going against type in Burn, playing the bohunk, because we sort of think he can do anything. But what I love about the Coens is that they still find a way to surprise us, making him lascivious and dastardly. Even in something like Hail Caesar, they let Clooney lean into being a handsome doofus who's also vulnerable. 

One thing directors can learn from this is being open to someone surprising. Casting against type does not always work, but it can often open things up in your story. You see the character from another angle, and you can have access to actors who might be interested in switching up things from the norm. 

It can allow you to have bigger stars who really want to take a risk as well. 

So take a page from the Coens, and try it out! 

What's your favorite Coens casting moment? Let us know in the comments.      

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