Character actor

Actor Claude Rains (right) was sometimes a leading actor, sometimes a character actor, often cast as a sophisticated, sometimes "morally ambiguous" man.[1]

A character actor is a supporting actor who plays unusual, interesting, or eccentric characters.[2][3][4][5] The term, often contrasted with that of leading actor, is somewhat abstract and open to interpretation.[6] In a literal sense, all actors can be considered character actors since they all play "characters",[7] but in the usual sense it is an actor who plays a distinctive and important supporting role.[1][8]

A character actor may play characters who are very different from the actor's off-screen real-life personality, while in another sense a character actor may be one who specializes in minor roles. In either case, character actor roles are more substantial than bit parts or non-speaking extras. A character actor can also be the leading actor in their films, such as Wallace Beery, whose major silent film career exploded during the sound era.

The term is used primarily to describe television and film actors.[9] An early use of the term was in the 1883 edition of The Stage, which defined a character actor as "one who portrays individualities and eccentricities".[10] Actors with a long career history of playing character roles may be difficult for audiences to recognize as being the same actor.[5]

  1. ^ a b Digital Polyphony, Top 25: Great Character Actors Archived 13 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved 7 August 2014, "...often in supporting roles - rarely are they leading men or leading ladies, and often times they're put into a certain type of role over and over again..."
  2. ^ Oxford Dictionaries, character actor, Retrieved 7 August 2014, "...An actor who specializes in playing eccentric or unusual people rather than leading roles...."
  3. ^ Macmillan Dictionary, Character actor, Retrieved 7 August 2014, " actor who plays unusual, strange, or interesting characters instead of being one of the main characters..."
  4. ^ Cite error: The named reference twsForeman was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  5. ^ a b 28 April 2013, The New York Acting School, Ten Best Character Actors of All Time, Retrieved 7 August 2014, "..a breed of actor who has the ability to be almost unrecognizable from part to part, and yet play many, many roles convincingly and memorably. .."
  6. ^ Grove, Lloyd; Lipsky-Karasz, Elisa (13 January 2004). "Busting on the 'Cult Buster'". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on 30 December 2013. Retrieved 7 August 2014. ... definitions for acting are always very tricky. What is a 'character actor'? What is a 'lead'? What is 'supporting'? ... It drives me nuts...
  7. ^ David Knox, 4 April 2014, TV Tonight, Good cop, bad cop and Jack Irish, Retrieved 7 August 2014, "... co-leads and cameos ... character actors. But every part plays a character..."
  8. ^ Adam Pockross, 28 March 2014, Yahoo! Movies, Jon Polito: That Guy From That Thing (Who You Definitely Know), Retrieved 7 August 2014, "..Jon Polito: I think a character actor ... is someone off to the side ... the baddie ... the best friend. A mother role ... stuff that fills in the plot from the center of the movie..."
  9. ^ Stephen Tobolowsky, Discovery, What does it mean to be defined as a character actor? Archived 11 August 2014 at, Retrieved 7 August 2014, "In theater, they almost never use the term "character actor." ... leading actors have two names, like, Captain Jack Sparrow ... Richard Kimble -- parts I play ...Officer Johnson"
  10. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., character, n., 19.