Character actor

From Academic Kids

A character actor is an actor who predominantly performs supporting parts, often in similar roles throughout the course of a career. While some actors aspire to leading man or leading lady status, many notable actors have had enduring careers in less prominent, but important and memorable character parts. Character roles run the gamut from bit parts to secondary leads.

What defines a character actor?

Typically, character actors lack some of the stereotypical physical attributes associated with stars. A character actor may be very short or very tall, heavy or thin, balding, or simply unconventional-looking. Many older actors and actresses find their access to lead roles limited by age as well. Similarly, actors of colour were often barred from roles for which they were otherwise suited; some found work perfoming ethnic stereotypes. Foreign actors may be famous in their own countries but find themselves limited in the United States under the strict unofficial guidelines of Hollywood casting; Marcel Dalio, Cantinflas and Jet Li illustrate this. Some character actors have distinctive voices or accents which in the opinion of casting directors limit their suitability for most leading roles; actors such as James Earl Jones, Selma Diamond and Julie Kavner have been able to turn this to their advantage, often in voice-over work. Sometimes character actors have developed careers because they had specific talents that are required in genre films, such as dancing, horsemanship or swimming ability. Many up-and-coming actors simply find themselves typecast in character roles due to an early success with a particular part or in a certain genre.

See stock character and commedia dell'arte for a discussion of theatrical traditions.

Some character actors play essentially the same character over and over, as with Andy Devine's humorous but resourceful sidekick, while other actors, such as Sir Laurence Olivier have the capacity of submerging themselves in any role they play.

Crossover actors

Many character actors have, however, gained star status; some have become widely known lead actors. Examples include Peter Lorre, Gene Wilder, Tom Hanks and Lynne Thigpen. Other character actors have developed a cult following with a particular audience as well, such as the fans of Star Trek or The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This notwithstanding, a hallmark of many great character actors is that their names are not widely known yet their faces or voices are instantly recognizable; Paul Henreid, Sydney Greenstreet, or Barry Fitzgerald might serve as examples.

Examples of character roles

For a list of notable character actors, see List of character actors Komiker

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