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Hiring of a big-name actor to play a supporting role. The idea is usually that the actor's fame will draw in viewers, as it normally would if you put them prominently on the advertising; but you don't have to pay them as much if they only have to do a few days work.
Sometimes it's a compromise, for when the studio heads wanted big stars playing the main characters. This can also work for documentaries with the casting of the narrator.
Compare Non Actor Vehicle, One-Scene Wonder. If not done carefully, then may result in viewers crying WTH? Casting Agency. See also Billing Displacement. If the Stunt Casting is done in service of a film or other one-off project, expect the big-name actor in question to be Billed Above the Title. This happens so often in animation that it has its own trope: Celebrity Voice Actor.
Live Action Film
- The various Star Wars movies have played with Stunt Casting:
- Fantasy Mission Force was advertised as "Starring Jacky Chan" despite the fact that Jackie Chan played a minor role. Jackie reportedly appeared in it only because he owed a favor to the lead actor, Jimmy Wang Chu (who was rumored to have ties to organized crime syndicates).
- Marlon Brando as Jor-El in the first Superman film. He actually got top billing (and a star's wages) on that movie for several scenes that barely totaled thirty minutes in an almost two-and-a-half hour movie. He was cast in the role specifically so they could have a big name actor headlining in order to draw the audience.
- Indeed, the term "Brando Acceptibilty Yardstick" was coined by a reader as an entry in Roger Ebert's Little Movie Glossary in reference to this. Brando essentially made it okay for mega-stars to do comic book films - and like him, be paid extraordinarily well for it. Like him, they often don't play the lead roles (which are often given to up-and-comers); they usually play mentors (like Brando) or villains. The best known example of the latter might be Jack Nicholson being hired to play the Joker in 1989's Batman; he got top billing and a giant cut of the film's profits and merchandising revenue. The three sequels basically stunt cast all the major villains as a response to how well this worked, culminating in the disaster of Batman and Robin (Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy), while Batman himself was given The Other Darrin treatment.
- Geoffrey Rush gets third billing in Intolerable Cruelty for a character seen a grand total of three times, for maybe two minutes of screen time, whom an audience member might easily mistake for three separate characters on the first viewing.
- Much was made of Drew Barrymore appearing in the first Scream movie (top billing, appearing on the poster and other promotional materials) despite the fact that she is killed off in the first scene.
- The Crow 2 features Iggy Pop as one of the thugs. He was originally asked to play Funboy in the first film, but had to decline due to scheduling issues.
- Deadman features a variety of celebrities in bit parts, including Robert Mitchum, Billy Bob Thorton, Iggy Pop and Alfred Molina.
- Steven Seagal barely has two minutes of screen time in Executive Decision before dying with a heroic one liner.
- One of the most bizarre examples: Sean Connery in Highlander. The Scottish actor plays an Egyptian/Spaniard mentor, while the French actor Christopher Lambert plays the heroic Scotsman. Lambert even explains some of the finer points of Scottish culture (i.e. haggis) to an astonished Connery.
- The Meteor Man figures James Earl Jones, Bill Cosby (who has no lines), Marla Gibbs and Sinbad. Gibbs has the biggest role, as she plays the protagonist's mother. Also from the music industry, there's Luther Vandross (also no lines), Big Daddy Kane, Another Bad Creation, Cypress Hill, Naughty By Nature and jazz singer Nancy Wilson.
Live Action TV
- Highlander is famous for this, particularly in casting musicians in roles as immortals. These include Joan Jett, Roger Daltrey of the Who, Roland Gift of Fine Young Cannibals, Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet and Sheena Easton. Also notable are Marc Singer, Roddy Piper, and Nia Peeples.
- Sitcoms, such as Friends and Will and Grace, often cast famous actors to play the stars' parents.
- Caprica has begun the step into this world with James Marsters being cast into "Know Thy Enemy" as a major player within the Soldiers of the One.
- Star Trek has had this on its more modern series:
- Star Trek: The Next Generation has had James Cromwell play a role (He returned to play Zefram Cochran in Star Trek: First Contact).
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Vanessa Williams, Chris Sarandon, and Iggy Pop each guest star in an episode.
- Star Trek: Voyager: Jason Alexander and Dwayne Johnson both guest starred.
- Doctor Who has always done this, but the revived series generally makes more publicity out of it. Stunt Cast actors in Doctor Who are not usually heavyweight actors, but are well-known soap actors, comedians, quiz show hosts and other more minor celebrities. Oh, and Sir Derek Jacobi
- This troper would argue that many others featured in DW are heavyweight veteran actors of British film and television, including Oscar nominee Pauline Collins (as Queen Victoria), Penelope Wilton ("My name is Harriet Jones, former Prime Minister"), Bernard Cribbins and June Whitfield, to name but a few.
- Don't forget James Bond, evil mastermind of Hot Fuzz, and overall smug bastard actor Timothy Dalton.
- Speaking of Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg!
- Veteran actress Clare Bloom also appeared in The End of Time, parts 1 and 2.
- Speaking of Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg!
- When John Nathan-Turner was producer during the 1980s, Doctor Who also had a tendency towards Stunt Casting; however, whereas most of modern attempts to do this at least try to match the character to a vaguely appropriate character, many of the earlier efforts ended up being spectacularly miscast, resulting in some truly WTH Casting. For example, Beryl Reid as Ellen Ripley-esque space freighter captain in "Earthshock", a role that was... not quite what you'd expect to see Beryl Reid playing (although Your Mileage May Vary as to whether it works or not).
- Another Nathan-Turner example; 1950-1960s Broadway star Dolores Gray shows up in the middle of "Silver Nemesis" as Mrs. Remington, a wealthy American lady. She's not exactly miscast; the WTH factor comes from the fact that there is literally no point whatsoever to her being there. She shows up, gives two of the characters a lift somewhere, and buggers off again. It's also a bit of a WTH moment in that it seems to have been intended as a Stunt Casting moment despite the fact that relatively few of the watching audience would actually have any idea who she even was.
- Sir David Jason was cast as Death's manservant Albert in the Made for TV Movie of the Literature/Discworld novel "Hogfather". In the UK, this resulted in the film being promoted as though he were the main character, rather than the mostly-unknown actress playing the heroine.
- Britney Spears in How I Met Your Mother is a prime example. For two episodes, no less. The show does this a LOT, though, and Britney just got the most hype about it.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer attempted to cast Britney Spears as Warren's android girlfriend April in "I Was Made To Love You."
- Much later, they attempted to cast Miss Spears in a one-off villain role for Season 7. The part eventually went to Ashanti.
- Both 60s spy series The Man From UNCLE and its Spin-Off The Girl From UNCLE were given to stunt casting; e.g. Sonny and Cher (in "The Hot Number Affair"), Nancy Sinatra (in "The Take Me To Your Leader Affair") and Elsa Lanchester (in "The Brain Killer Affair") in The Man From UNCLE and Boris Karloff (in "The Mother Muffin Affair") in The Girl From UNCLE.
- Snow White and The Three Stooges. After realising their figure-skating lead Carol Heiss couldn't carry the film, the producers brought in The Three Stooges.
- SCTV, against their wishes, had special guest actors Sir John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. In his book on the series (titled, appropriately enough, SCTV), Dave Thomas said they were both extremely difficult to work with and did not understand their brand of comedy. Later on, they welcomed Bill Murray to guest star, who was an active booster of the show. Notable musical guests, who also acted on the show, ranged from Hall And Oates, Dr. John, Wendy O. Williams & the Plasmatics, The Boomtown Rats, Tony Bennett, Roy Orbison, Talking Heads, Jimmy Buffett, John Mellencamp (when he was still John Cougar), America, Joe Walsh, Dave's brother Ian Thomas (who was semi-successful in the late '70s with his song "Painted Ladies", and would go on to play Dougie Franklin on The Red Green Show, on which Dave guest-starred as his brother Ben Franklin), and classical violinist Eugene Fodor.
- Leonard Nimoy as William Bell in the season 1 finale of Fringe
- NBC's Chuck started doing this heavily in season 2, though season 1 had its moments. Some, like Scott Bakula and Jordana Brewster appeared in multiple episodes, while others, like Robert Picardo and Fred Savage, were only in one. Granted some NBC shows have been known to do this, but Chuck also tends to Lampshade it with the actors referencing their famous roles, such as Bakula uttering, "Oh boy."
- Christopher Lloyd as a psychiatrist who Chuck kept addressing as "Doc."
- Chuck takes this Up to Eleven by doing it all the time. Villains Of The Week have included Michael Clarke Duncan, Nicole Richie, Steve Austin, Robert Englund and Mark Sheppard (a.k.a. Romo Lampkin).
- Linda Hamilton as Chuck's mom and Timothy Dalton as the villain "Volkoff".
- Olivia Munn, Isaiah Mustafa (The Man Your Man Could Smell Like), Stacy Keibler, and Summer Glau as "Greta," secret agents working at the Buy More at different times. Mustafa and Keibler were later given character names and appeared in another episodes
- Criminal Minds sometimes casts unsubs with this method. Most, however, are either unrecognizable (James Van Der Beek, Jamie Kennedy) or so creepy that the Hey, It's That Guy! factor is the last thing on the viewer's mind (Keith Carradine, Jason Alexander).
- Often, the recognition of the unsubs (generally played by supremely benign actors, when this trope is in play) only serves to make the roles creepier, or more tragic. James Van Der Beek's character is a good example of that, as is Frankie Muniz's.
- In general, Stunt Casting in a legal or cop drama always brings Narrowed It Down to the Guy I Recognize into play (whether straight or subverted). CM usually averts this by having the unsub commit his crimes onscreen in full view of the audience. "Paradise", in turn is an exception to this rule, where we don't see the unsub actually commit a crime until after they find out who it is...thus playing Narrowed straight (Wil Wheaton played the unsub in the ep.)
- Although Criminal Minds fans have become critical of this method of casting guest stars as unsubs, even when they are good, because it had been used too often during a weak sixth season. They feel that guest-star unsubs are showcased to the expense of the original cast and story suspense (by showing the unsubs's from the very beginning of the episode, rather than keeping them obscured). By giving more time to the unsubs and their evil deeds, it makes the profiler characters look like stupid slow-pokes, and possibly glorifying the serial killers (which is NOT the point of the show).
- Legend of the Seeker pulled in Angel's Charisma Carpenter, but put her in skintight red leather and shouted it from the rooftops. They also got Star Trek: Enterprise's Jolene Blalock to play a semi-major character.
- The re-imagining of Hawaii Five-O has been playing with this, with recent appearances by Dane Cook, Sean Combs and Nick Lachey. Not forgetting semi-regular Jean Smart.
- Subverted brilliantly in Homicide: Life On the Street. When famous actors such as Robin Williams, Vincent D'Onofrio and Steve Buscemi appeared, they were given real acting challenges to work with. Williams' performance as a man whose wife has just been murdered stands as the first major subversion of his persona and a real glimpse of dramatic depth.
- Big Brother 13 brings back three "Dynamic duos". It becomes pretty obvious that they just set it up so that one of the six returnees would win, given how, when it was reduced to two, a mysterious stroke of luck bailed them out.
- When the 60s' Batman took off, all of a sudden many big name actors who normally wouldn't do television wanted a chance to play a Bat-villain. The second season especially is loaded with this, name actors playing one-shot villians created just for them, with the network playing up the guest-villian bit. Among these performers were Shelley Winters, Van Johnson, Liberace, Michael Rennie, Tallulah Bankhead, Zsa Zsa Gabor... and many more.
- Most Game Shows tend to do this in the form of "Celebrity Editions" in their waning years in a last-ditch effort to round up some bonus viewers before they inevitably sink into the drain. Most notable are Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and The Weakest Link, whose final primetime seasons were almost nothing but celebrity editions.
- Transformers Animated does this a lot with voice casting. Blurr is voiced by the original Blurr's voice actor John Moschitta (the world's fastest-talking man), Master Yoketron is voiced by George Takei, and Wreck-Gar by "Weird Al" Yankovic (who did the original Wreck-Gar's theme song).
- An interview has Marty Isenberg stating that hiring Weird Al was just an idea he had after Eric Idle (see below) wasn't available that ended up working out.
- Transformers: The Movie took this to an extreme in '86. Almost all the new characters had big name voice actors. Leonard Nimoy was Galvatron, Eric Idle was Wreck-Gar, Robert Stack was Ultra Magnus, etc. Most impressive of all, Orson Welles (in his last performance) was absolutely AWESOME as Unicron. None of them stayed on for the TV series though.
- That last bit was rather justified with Orson Welles, of course, being that he died about a month after recording his lines for the movie.
- On the subject of George Takei, he was a one-off villain in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
- The casting of Aya Hirano as Dende in Dragon Ball Kai is largely seen by the fanbase as this. the image song doesn't help waver this opinion.
- Similarly, Aya Hirano was also cast as Shinobu the vampire in Bakemonogatari even though Shinobu never spoke a single word in the entire series. It must be noted, however, that with the recently announced prequel anime, maybe this was a case of extreme foresight in the case of the casting company.
- Most, if not all Dreamworks Animation films are riddled with stunt casting.
- The educational kids' series Liberty's Kids is known for this. Walter Cronkite had a recurring role as Benjamin Franklin; other celebrities playing revolutionary heroes included Dustin Hoffman as Benedict Arnold, Annette Bening as Abigail Adams, Billy Crystal as John Adams, and Michael Douglas as Patrick Henry, as well as General Norman Schwarzkopf, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ben Stiller, and Whoopi Goldberg.
- The Simpsons features a "special guest star" -- who isn't even always an actor -- almost every episode nowadays, and of course most of the promo is devoted to their part, however small it might be. (Example: "Elementary School Musical" had a lot of emphasis placed on the appearances of three of the cast of Glee while - at least in the UK - pretty much ignoring the stars of Flight of the Conchords, whose roles were much more important to the episode.)
- HA HA HA! Final episode stunt casting!
- Leonard Nimoy narrating on the History Channel.
- Don't forget In Search Of!
- The documentary series, Through the Wormhole: With Morgan Freeman.
- Yu-Gi-Oh the Abridged Series parodied and this trope in episode 49 and pointed out the widespread egregious use of Morgan Freeman for his deep sultry tones.
- Let's face it, they wanted him for March Of The Penguins because they wanted even penguins to get a Magical Negro voiceover.
- Interesting point about Sir David Attenborough's documentaries. In the UK he is nearly synonymous with good quality and he has been producing, commissioning and writing for natural history documentaries for decades and is widely knowledgable about his subject and a driving force on all his projects (and was knighted for it). Outside the UK, maybe Canada, not so much thus his replacement narrators in other territories tend to be big entertainment names.
- Life got narration by Oprah Winfrey in the US.
- Sigourney Weaver, as a more familiar face of conservation work, was brought in on Planet Earth
- When a Broadway show becomes a Long Runner, it's likely to fall victim to a revolving door of Stunt Casting. The stage version of Chicago is the most notorious example.
- The revival of Grease may have something to say about that one. I mean, seriously, Rosie O'Donnell as Rizzo?
- The 2007 Las Vegas staging of The Producers cast David Hasselhoff as Roger De Bris, the Flamboyant Gay director, and even gave him top billing.
- Toward the end of its run, the Toronto production of The Phantom of the Opera cast Paul Stanley as the Phantom. He was generally well-received and got some KISS fans interested in musical theatre as well.