Sometimes there's a simple explanation for one-hit wonder actors: they just aren't any good. But what about those actors who honed their craft at prestigious acting schools or rushed themselves from one open-mic night to another in perpetual hope of finally being discovered? Sometimes, it turns out their big break was actually a curse.
In the acting community, there can be no bigger shame than seeing exceedingly talented actors who are typecast into just one role. Even worse, it's usually the result of that actor doing such a standout job playing that role. Directors and casting heads then see them as being able to play only that one role, which can royally f*ck over an actor's career if that role is monumentally idiosyncratic.
So while, yes, there are some one-hit wonder actors who hit pay dirt with a role that was magically fitted to who they were in real life, there are a number of instances in which actors who are only remembered for one role are extremely talented and therefore miss out on receiving their due praise. Check out some really talented actors who could never break free of their iconic role below.
Narcissistic, self-loathing, cheap, egomaniacal: these are just a few adjectives describing the memorable George Costanza from NBC's hit Seinfeld. He has eaten from the trash (though, to be fair, the pastry was on top) and has pushed children out of the way to save himself from a fire. Such acts of depravity have clung to Jason Alexander in his post-Seinfeld career, plaguing him in his struggle to land another substantial TV or film role.
In fact, Alexander is perhaps the most iconic skilled actor to be typecast thanks to his recurring role in Curb Your Enthusiasm's second season, in which he (playing himself) and Seinfeld co-creator Larry David (again, playing himself) attempt to scrap together a sitcom based the troubles of a talented typecast actor.
If someone drops the name Mark Hamill at a party, there's a good chance many won't know who the hell that is. But drop Luke Skywalker, and nearly anyone could describe the swashbuckling Jedi whose fearless tactics saved the Rebellion from being squashed by Darth Vader and the Sith Empire.
Before the first Star Wars film, Hamill had been a middling actor who worked steadily from the start of the 1970s. After the initial Star Wars trilogy ended, however, the leading man of one of the most successful films series failed to land a standout leading role. Instead, he stuck to providing voices for animated series. This might be due to a car crash between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back that left him with some facial scars. In fact, Hamill didn't have another remarkable appearance on the silver screen until he reprised the role of Skywalker in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), a role that he will continue to play in movies to come.
It can be argued that Dwight Schrute was the one consistently side-splitting character on The Office while Michael Scott left for Colorado, Pam and Jim's relationship ebbed and flowed, and Ryan the temp underwent random, unexplained disappearances from time to time. Much of the credit for this should be awarded to Rainn Wilson, who played the zany naturalist and aspiring regional manager with a core of compassion under a brick-hard exterior.
Before The Office, Wilson notched several important small roles in Almost Famous and Six Feet Under. Despite these skillful turns, he was a relative unknown when cast as the assistant to the regional manager in the American take on The Office.
Despite his nuanced turn as Dwight, Wilson failed to gain more substantial roles after The Office ran its course, arguably because his character was so perfectly idiosyncratic that it's hard to imagine him as anyone else.
Although the entire Star Trek cast has had difficulty outrunning the shadow cast by the series, William Shatner is perhaps the most notable. In fact, few are even aware of his rigorous technical roots.
The son of an elocution teacher, Shatner pursued an acting career early on. He was able to establish himself as a prominent Shakespearean actor in addition to handling other serious fare, including as Alexei Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov.
Then Shatner assumed the life-changing role of the independent though arduously loyal Captain James T. Kirk. He was an intergalactic heartthrob who could skillfully navigate his crew through any problem, a skill Shatner didn't own as he became forever married to the character, thanks to the series' somewhat obsessive fan base and his distinct intonation.