The Importance of Casting in Kibbe: Breakout Roles

One of the most important things I’ve learned from David Kibbe is that when trying to apply his system, people often miss the forest for the trees. They focus on an analysis of body parts, rather than trying to understand how a person can present themselves to the world most effectively. David’s work is heavily influenced by the idea of the MGM “star factory,” which, if you’re interested, you can learn about from listening to the MGM episodes of You Must Remember This, for a start. David even namedrops Louis B. Mayer in Metamorphosis. The sum total of the features is not as important as whether the type that seems to make sense on paper will actually unleash your own special, unique star qualities.

Unfortunately, it seems like many who have not had the privilege of learning from David directly are still stuck in this old, analytical way of thinking. Recently, in a Kibbe group, I saw January Jones declared as a Natural. When questioned, the person who put her in that category said that her roles have given the false impression that she is Classic, and that there is a lot of Natural in her bone structure.

If a person’s career is made by a certain role, and this role is one that the person will have to overcome, typecasting-wise, for the rest of their career, unless they have one that is even more major and iconic, I don’t think we can say that she was miscast.


Her role in Mad Men was to appear to be the ideal of the 1950s housewife, and later the late-60s Republican Political Wife. She is referred to as a “Grace Kelly type” by others in the show. (Kelly, by the way, also had clearly yang features, like her wide jaw.) She is never mentioned in the same sentence as Ingrid Bergman.


Besides the fact that anyone who has seen January’s offscreen fashion choices can attest to the fact that uncontrolled styles do not highlight her beauty as much as controlled ones do, the fact that she was so successful as Betty Draper, to the point that “Betty Draper” has become a shorthand for a certain kind of woman, disproves the fact that it is only casting that has given us a Classic impression of January Jones. Now, David hasn’t confirmed her as far as I know, but both Jon Hamm and John Slattery are confirmed Classics, and I would be extremely surprised if January Jones were anything else. If she actually were a Natural, her Betty Draper styling would look a little odd and constricting. She simply wouldn’t have been cast in that role.

A Kibbe verification that threw people for a loop is Mila Kunis, who is a Theatrical Romantic. True, she doesn’t have the “wasp waist” associated with TRs.


One piece of advice David gave when discussing Mila is to look at their breakout role–which applies to January obviously!–and for Mila, that was Jackie in That 70s Show, whom he called “the epitome of teenage TR.”

While this applies to what David refers to the “parlor game” of guessing celebrity types, I think we can apply it to ourselves as well. What would be your breakout role? What would cause your star power to be unleashed?

18 Comments on The Importance of Casting in Kibbe: Breakout Roles

  1. Shelby
    June 26, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    This, is the epitome of Kibbe. Circa 1950 Hollywood is a very different environment than the one functioning today (although your concept of a “breakout role” is something I deal with on a regular basis as an actor).

    I’m a Soft Gamine literally waiting for my breakout role – which will mostly likely be the little sister type, the best friend role, or your Shakespearean girl in boys’ clothes. No Ophelias, Juliets, or Hedda Gablers for me!

    • stylesyntax
      July 1, 2016 at 11:10 am

      Yep! This was something that made my type very clear to me even before I had access to the man himself and he told us how exactly this all works. I’ve only really been in one play in my life, and I played a skipping rainbow child in a glittery rainbow minidress. Haha. I would only be the leading lady if the leading lady was a manic pixie dream girl.

  2. Laurel
    June 28, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    Ha, I’ll tell you about my breakout role and I am a Gamine for sure. In high school every year they had a madrigal dinner and one person was chosen to be the “beggar”. The beggar was a little street urchin in rags and tatters who crawled around and begged for money. the money was then given to charity. There were auditions and everything. Guess who was the beggar? Why me of course. It was usually given to boys. What could be more gamine than playing a little male street urchin?

    • stylesyntax
      July 1, 2016 at 11:09 am


  3. Cory
    June 28, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    So true! I was definitely astray by the over-focus on details that’s so prevalent on the internet about Kibbe. Now I think it’s more like, if someone looked at you in motion for a split second, what guesses would their brain thin-slice about your persona? What stereotype box would they file you in? There you go, your archetype. Instead I definitely went down the tubes of “okay, but I’m too tall for the cut-off for this type, but too busty for the guidelines for this type” – now I see how ridiculous that was, but — the internet! Everyone is so loud and authoritative-sounding and there are quizzes!

    That January Jones story is unreal. People are too busy studying the minute details of the trees to see the forest.

    • stylesyntax
      July 1, 2016 at 11:07 am

      Yes, exactly! People were relying too heavily on the quiz and not enough on essence. What is the whole package communicating?

      • Cory
        July 1, 2016 at 8:24 pm

        Right – but I feel like it’s so pervasive that it just happens over and over! Like I think, at this point, that absolute height is not necessarily important, but PERCEIVED height is very important, and I think we read a lot of that perceived height, weirdly, in the face and head? eg I would think that Carey Mulligan is a Gamine person – but she’s actually not a petite person at all. It has started to seem to me that faces are perhaps more important in our mental thin-slicing and sorting into stereotype boxes than the body (and certainly I don’t think we spend much time dissecting peoples’ bodies, it’s the overall impression that matters).

        I know a couple of men who are very tall, and one of them seems “very tall”, there is a gangly aspect to him, and recently I realized that there’s something about the size of his head and the size of his facial features that is telling my brain “this is very tall”, versus another very tall man I know whose absolute size is probably the same (about 6’4″) but whose head and features are in very even proportion to that large body, so while my brain does think “yes, he is tall”, it assumes that he is 6″ or 6’1″, not unusually tall, not gangly or gawky. There must also be something about how they move. The man who seems very tall to me has more gangly movements and the man who seems less tall has more efficient (?) movements.

        Anyway, it makes sense to me that Kibbe might fundamentally be reading faces+movement, and then those faces are typically – but not always – associated with certain body types, but that it’s really the face and the essence snapshot that counts.

        I definitely feel skeptical about analyzing based on body parts or points systems or whatever. I think that can really lead you astray. It’s more useful, in my experience, to think of Kibbe-type systems as helping you present yourself the way people stereotype you, so there isn’t a jarring discomfort.

        (Which is itself kind of a weird thought.)

  4. Anat
    July 9, 2016 at 10:49 am

    This really has me thinking – My shape, body and face are basically a longer Soft Classic. But when it comes to my personality – or any “roles” I could play – and was cast as during my short stint at my highschool’s drama club, the archtype is more of a funny lady, big on quips and comebacks (mainly because I’m like that in everyday life…) My drama teacher always compared me to Allison Janney as CJ Cregg on The West Wing, or to the charchters Katherine Hepburn used to portray in her big comedies – like The Philadelphia Story or Adam’s Rib… Both of which are definitly on the dramatic side… Help?

  5. H
    July 11, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    The only role I can think of that I’d ever have been cast in would’ve been something along the lines of stranger or outsider. someone you’re not quite sure what to make of or what their intentions are.

    I’ve been descibed as a dark horse more than once, and been told that if I were a man I’d be the ‘dark and mysterious stranger.’ The dark factor is a little puzzling, I’m very fair skinned with medium hair (dark blonde) but have often been described as ‘dark’, so it has be be relevant to how people percieve me. I’ve also been told by several people that before they knew me they were a bit intimidated by me, even found me a little bit scary. I’m not sure how much this is influenced by personality though. I am very reserved and tend to find people I don’t know a little scary, which would surely influence how I’m seen, even by complete strangers, because it creates a certain wariness that I’m sure at least some people pick up on.

    I’m not entirely sure what types that could suggest, but it does seem to eliminate some types (or at least make them very unlikely). I’d certainly never have been cast into anything along the lines of preppy princess, girl next door, little sister, or anything with a heavy romantic influence. The type that seems like the closest fit for that sort of role is somewhat unexpected, so it might be that my thinking is way off.

    • stylesyntax
      July 13, 2016 at 12:14 pm

      Sounds D to me 🙂

  6. Rachel R.
    July 13, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    I’m not sure we can necessarily rule out the need to overcome “incorrect” casting (probably more accurately stated as casting-against-type), because Kibbe has also said that Julie Andrews does NOT fit the mold she filled, although she played those roles to perfection. So hindsight might be misleading, once the “star factory” has created a given role or vibe. I feel like there are some stars who seem to always be playing “themselves,” and others whose roles leave them a mystery. (How would anyone figure out Leonardo DiCaprio from what he’s played?!)

    But I still find it really useful to think in terms of roles, because it not only gives an overall impression; it tends to remove a lot of our preconceived ideas. I’m not sure where I’d put myself, though. I am frequently described as “scary,” “dangerous,” like a “hurricane,” etc. and typecast as the villain. But I’m really *not* very villainous. I’m really a good girl at heart, just not a very tame one, and one who doesn’t suffer fools — even if those “fools” are social conventions. So maybe a character similar to Egret from GOT?

    • stylesyntax
      July 13, 2016 at 1:07 pm

      What I recall him saying is that she was often cast a different way, but that is not the same as a breakout role. The breakout role would be your first major movie that turns you into a star. So I guess for her, it would be Mary Poppins and then Sound of Music, if you don’t count her early theater/tv work. This would apply to Leo, too–a combination of star power and ability leads him to be cast in a wide variety of roles, but we’d have to look probably at something like Titanic.

      • Rachel R.
        July 14, 2016 at 12:47 am

        Do you think Titanic is the most fitting role for Leo? (I don’t know. That’s not the impression I get, but I have never actually seen the movie.)

        • stylesyntax
          July 14, 2016 at 6:15 pm

          I haven’t seen Titanic either, but Leo is a verified R.

          • Elisabeth (EC)
            July 21, 2016 at 1:23 am

            What’s more R than playing Romeo, I guess… 😉 (romeo + juliet). Though his role in Titanic is very R, without neglecting the big handful of trickster/youthful he possesses. Imo he actually is put into many passionate roles where he usually loves someone/something too much and whole-heartedly, or is a personality with unusual sensitivity or emotional intensity.

          • stylesyntax
            July 21, 2016 at 9:36 pm

            I think the only thing I’ve seen him in since Growing Pains and R+J is The Aviator…

  7. erth
    December 26, 2017 at 9:00 am

    Are you sure it’s Mila Kunis on this photo? Face looks sooo not like hers. Also, breast is quite big.
    Anyway, that’s true, her waist is not defined.. and still.. in right clothes she looks curvy. She looks TR for me. She’s smallish, delicate, narrow, soft, have large eyes, full lips. She is very yin with slight yang.
    I believe D. Kibbe intention was not to categorize women on their body measurements but on their general appearance and impression they create.
    Sorry for my english, I am not native 😉

    Greetings, love your blog!!

    • stylesyntax
      December 27, 2017 at 8:18 pm

      Yes, it is her. 🙂

      I think you are right; it is just hard for us to see because we have set ideas of what each Image ID looks like. This post was written some time ago, when we were still in shock over his revelations!


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