Character actor

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.

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]

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


The Wizard of Oz Margaret Hamilton Judy Garland 1939
Character actress Margaret Hamilton (left) in real life was a "sweet, gentle woman" who even taught kindergarten prior to working on Broadway and Hollywood, which was different from her on-screen persona of the Wicked Witch in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.[11]

Unlike leading actors, they are generally seen as less glamorous.[5][7][12][4] While a leading actor often has physical beauty needed to play the love interest,[13] a character actor may be short or tall, heavy or thin, balding, older, or simply unconventional-looking and distinctive in some physical way. For example, the face of Chicago character actor William Schutz was disfigured in a car accident when he was five years old, but his appearance despite reconstructive surgery helped him to be memorable and distinctive to theater audiences.[14] Generally, the names of character actors are not featured prominently in movie and television advertising on the marquee, since a character actor's name is not expected to attract film audiences.[15] The roles that character actors play in film or television are often identified by only one name, such as "Officer Fred", while roles of leading actors often have a full name, such as "Captain Jack Sparrow".[9] Some character actors have distinctive voices or accents, or they develop memorable mannerisms. A character actor with a long career may not have a well-known name, yet may be instantly recognizable.[16]

During the course of an acting career, an actor can sometimes shift between leading roles and secondary roles.[13] Some leading actors, as they get older, find that access to leading roles is limited by their increasing age. In the past, actors of color, who were often barred from roles for which they were otherwise suited, found work performing ethnic stereotypes. Sometimes character actors have developed careers based on specific talents needed in genre films, such as dancing, horsemanship, acrobatics, swimming ability, or boxing.[17] Many up-and-coming actors find themselves typecast in character roles due to an early success with a particular part or in a certain genre, such that the actor becomes so strongly identified with a particular type of role that casting directors steer the actor to similar roles. 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. That being said, some character actors can be known as "chameleons", actors who can play roles that vary wildly. One such example of this is Gary Oldman.[18] Some character actors develop a cult following with a particular audience, such as with the fans of Star Trek or The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Character actors tend to play the same type of role throughout their careers,[1] including Harvey Keitel as a "tough and determined guy", Dame Maggie Smith as an "upstanding lady matriarch",[19] Christopher Lloyd as an eccentric, Claude Rains as a "sophisticated, sometimes ambiguously moral man", Abe Vigoda as a "leathery, sunken-eyed" and tired hoodlum on the verge of retirement,[20] Christopher Walken as a "speech maker", Vincent Schiavelli as "the confused guy", Fairuza Balk as a "moody goth girl", Steve Buscemi as "a quirky, smart guy with a mind just outside of reality" and Forest Whitaker as a "calm, composed character with an edge and potential to explode".[1] Ed Lauter usually portrayed a menacing figure because of his "long, angular face" which was easily recognized in public, although audiences rarely knew his name.[21] Character actors can play a variety of types, such as the femme fatale, gunslinger, sidekick, town drunk, villain, whore with a heart of gold, and many others. A character actor's roles are often perceived as being substantially different from their perceived real-life persona, meaning that they do not portray an extension of themselves, but rather a character substantially different from their off-screen persona.[4] Character actors subsume themselves into the characters they portray, such that their off-screen acting persona is practically unrecognizable.[4] According to one view, great character actors are rarely out of work, and often have long careers that span decades.[4] They are also often highly regarded by fellow actors.[22]

See also

Further reading

  • Quinlan, David (1995). Quinlan's Illustrated Directory of Film Character Actors. USA: Batsford Press. ISBN 0713470402.
  • Voisin, Scott (2009). Character Kings: Hollywood's Familiar Faces Discuss the Art & Business of Acting. BearManor Media. ISBN 978-1-59393-342-5.


  1. ^ a b c d Digital Polyphony, Top 25: Great Character Actors, 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. ^ a b c d e A Practical Guide to Working in Theatre, Gill Foreman, 2009, A & C Black Publishers, [1], Retrieved 7 August 2014, (see page 48) "... much less glamorous effect on their audiences ... chameleon-like ability to play a great variety of roles ... subsuming themselves into the part until they are almost unrecognisable... good character actors are rarely out of work".
  5. ^ a b c 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. ^ LLOYD GROVE, ELISA LIPSKY-KARASZ, 13 January 2004, New York Daily News, [2], 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. ^ a b 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. ^ a b 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.
  11. ^ Susan King, May 28, 2010, Los Angeles Times, Hats off to the Wicked Witch of the West and Margaret Hamilton, Retrieved September 2, 2015, "...became one of Hollywood’s most dependable supporting actresses playing, as she once described, "women with a heart of gold and a corset of steel."
  12. ^ Craig McLean, 21 September 2013, The Observer via The Guardian, James McAvoy: 'There will be people who walk out of the cinema I'm sure', Retrieved 7 August 2014, "Would he rather be a leading man or a character actor?"
  13. ^ a b USA Today, Jude Law's new stage: Maturing lead, character actor, Retrieved 7 August 2014, " of Hollywood's most prominent rising stars ... the emergence of a great character actor ... beautiful men and women can have the public get past their looks ..."
  14. ^ 28 May 2009, Trevor Jensen, Chicago Tribune, William Schutz 1961-2009: Veteran character actor on Chicago theater scene, Retrieved 7 August 2014, "..When he was 5, a horrific car crash ... reconstructive surgeries followed, yet could not entirely match the right side of his face with the left..."
  15. ^ 23 March 2014, Brian Lowry, Variety, Chicago Tribune, James Rebhorn: Remembering the Quintessential Character Actor, Retrieved 7 August 2014, "Rebhorn worked constantly, but seldom above the marquee."
  16. ^ Staff, July 3, 2013, Indiewire, Oh, That Guy: 15 Character Actor Villains You Love To Hate, Retrieved 7 August 2014, "oversized personalities and penchant for playing villainous goons made them unforgettable (even if you couldn't quite place their names)"
  17. ^ Matt Schudel, 22 January 2014, The Washington Post, Tom Quinn, boxer and character actor, dies at 79, Retrieved 7 August 2014
  18. ^ "The best chameleon actors". IMDb. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  19. ^ Note: early in her career Maggie Smith played leading roles including her Oscar-winning performance as Jean Brodie in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Oscar-nominated role as Desdemona in Othello
  20. ^ Associated Press, January 26, 2016, NBC News, Abe Vigoda, Beloved Character Actor, Dead at 94, Retrieved January 26, 2016
  21. ^ Associated Press, 17 October 2013, USA Today, Character actor Ed Lauter dies, Retrieved 7 August 2014, "...long, angular face and stern bearing made him an instantly recognizable figure.."
  22. ^ Alvin Klein, 20 October 1985, The New York Times, THEATER; A LEADING CHARACTER ACTOR, Retrieved 7 August 2014, "..consummate professional who evokes admiration and awe in his colleagues..."
Amanchi Venkata Subrahmanyam

Amanchi Venkata Subrahmanyam (2 January 1957 – 8 November 2013), better known by his initials, A.V.S., was an Indian film; character actor, comedian, producer, director, and journalist known for his works exclusively in Telugu cinema. A.V.S. is regarded as one of the finest comic actors of Telugu cinema, noted particularly for his comic dialogue delivery, and expressions. A.V.S. starred in over five hundred feature films, and has garnered four state Nandi Awards, including Best Comedian, and Best character actor.

Biju Menon

Biju Menon (born 9 September 1970) is an Indian film actor who predominantly appears in Malayalam films, and also has few Tamil and Telugu film credits. He made his debut in 1995 in Puthran. In a career spanning over two decades, he has appeared in over 130 films, and has won two Kerala State Film Awards and two Filmfare Awards South.Biju Menon's popular characters include Mahendra Varma in Mannar Mathai Speaking (1995), Akhilachandran in Krishnagudiyil Oru Pranayakalathu (1997), Uthaman in Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu (1999), Vishnu in Madhuranombarakattu (2000), Rajeevan in Meghamalhar (2001), C.I. Bhadran K. Menon in Shivam (2002), Jose in Marykkundoru Kunjaadu (2010), Philip Idikkula in Seniors (2011), Suku in Ordinary, Rishikesh in Run Baby Run (2012), Shibu/Fr. Sebu in Romans (2013), Mamachan in Vellimoonga (2014), Lt. Zachariah in Anarkali (2015), Kuttiyappan in Leela (2016), Baiju in Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu(2017) and as an IRS officer P.L Thomas/Sherlock Toms in Sherlock Toms (2017)

Bit part

A bit part is a role in which there is direct interaction with the principal actors and no more than five lines of dialogue, often referred to as a five-or-less or under-five in the United States, or under sixes in British television.

A bit part is higher than that of an extra and lower than that of a supporting actor. An actor who regularly performs in bit roles, either as a hobby or to earn a living, is referred to as a bit player, a term also used to describe an aspiring actor who has not yet broken into supporting or leading roles.

Unlike extras, who do not typically interact with principals, actors in bit parts are sometimes listed in the credits. An exception to this practice is the cameo appearance, wherein a well-known actor or other celebrity appears in a bit part; it is common for such appearances to be uncredited.

In MGM's 1951 screen version of the musical Show Boat, the role of the cook Queenie (Frances E. Williams) was reduced from a significant supporting role in the stage version to a bit part in the film. Williams, whose appearance was not intended as a cameo, was not listed at all in the credits. On the other hand, William Warfield, whose role as Joe, Queenie's husband, was also drastically shortened in the film from the stage original, did receive screen credit because he sang Ol' Man River.

Bit parts are often significant in the story line and sometimes pivotal, as in Jack Albertson's role as a postal worker in the 1947 feature film Miracle on 34th Street. Some characters with bit parts attract significant attention. Konstantin Stanislavski remarked that "there are no small parts, only small actors."Dabbs Greer, a bit actor, once said, "Every character actor, in their own little sphere, is the lead."

Charles King (character actor)

Charles Lafayette King (February 21, 1895 – May 7, 1957) was an American film actor who appeared in over 400 films between 1915 and 1953. King was born in Dallas, Texas, and died in Hollywood, California, from cirrhosis of liver.

Joju George

Joju George is an Indian film actor and producer who works in Malayalam films. He began his acting career as a junior artist in the Malayalam film Mazhavilkoodaram (1995) and later began appearing in supporting roles. He played the lead role in the 2018 film Joseph, which was a box office success and his breakthrough role. He went on to win the 2018 Kerala State Film Award for Best Character Actor for his performances in Chola and Joseph. He also co-produced the 2015 film Charlie.

Kerala State Film Award for Best Character Actor

The Kerala State Film Award for Best Character Actor is an award, begun in 2015, presented annually at the Kerala State Film Awards of India to an actor for his performance in a Malayalam film. It replaced the Kerala State Film Award for Second Best Actor, which was discontinued in 2014. The winner receives a certificate, statuette and a cash prize of ₹50,000.

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Nandamuri Harikrishna

Nandamuri Harikrishna (2 September 1953 – 29 August 2018) was an Indian film actor, producer and politician. He was known for his works in Telugu cinema. Harikrishna was the fourth son of Telugu matinee idol, and former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, N. T. Rama Rao. Harikrishna was the father of actors N. T. Rama Rao Jr., and Nandamuri Kalyan Ram.Harikrishna made his acting debut in 1964 as a child artist in Sri Krishnavataram, in which he played Krishna. It was directed by Kamalakara Kameshwara Rao. He then starred in Thalla? Pellama? (1970), which was followed by Tatamma Kala (1974), Ram Raheem (1974) and Daana Veera Shura Karna (1977). After long years of sabbatical, and political stint he then started as a Character actor in works such as Sri Ramulayya (1998), followed by a full length role alongside Nagarjuna in Seetharama Raju (1999), Lahiri Lahiri Lahirilo (2002) and Seetayya (2003). In 2002, He received Nandi Award for Best Character Actor for his work in Lahiri Lahiri Lahirilo. Harikrishna died in a road accident on 29 August 2018 at age 61. He served as the member of Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly during 1996-1999. He became a Cabinet Minister for Road Transport in 1996. In 2008, he was a candidate of the Telugu Desam Party and was elected to Rajya Sabha.When NTR began his innings in politics, Harikrishna became the ‘charioteer’.

On reel, he played Arjuna, but when his father N.T. Rama Rao began his political innings, Nandamuri Harikrishna took charge of the wheel. He became the ‘charioteer’ of NTR’s Chaitanya Ratham to raise awareness about Telugu pride.

Driving almost non-stop except for pit stops and stump speeches for eight months during which NTR was on the road before 1983 elections, the vehicle reportedly logged 75,000 km.

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Sam Elliott

Samuel Pack Elliott (born August 9, 1944) is an American actor. His lanky physique, thick moustache, deep and resonant voice and Western drawl have led to frequent roles as cowboys and ranchers. His accolades include an Academy Award nomination, two Golden Globe Award nominations, two Primetime Emmy award nominations, and a National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Elliott began his film career with minor appearances in The Way West (1967) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and guest-starred on television in the Western Gunsmoke (1972) and the television films Murder in Texas (1981) and The Shadow Riders (1982). His film breakthrough was in the drama Lifeguard (1976). He then appeared in several Louis L'Amour adaptations such as The Quick and the Dead (1987) and Conagher (1991), the latter of which earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film. He received his second Golden Globe and first Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Buffalo Girls (1995). Other film credits from the early 1990s include as John Buford in the historical drama Gettysburg (1993) and as Virgil Earp in the Western Tombstone (also 1993).

In the 2000s, Elliott appeared in supporting roles in the drama We Were Soldiers (2002), and the action films Hulk (2003), and Ghost Rider (2007). In 2015, he guest-starred on the series Justified, which earned him a Critics' Choice Television Award, and in 2016 began starring in the Netflix series The Ranch. He subsequently had a lead role in the comedy-drama The Hero (2017). The following year, Elliott was cast in the musical drama A Star Is Born (2018), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, a Critics' Choice Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award and won a National Board of Review Award.

Suresh Oberoi

Suresh Oberoi (born 17 December 1946) is an Indian character actor. He is the father of Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi. He was born in Quetta, Balochistan, and is a recipient of the 1987 National Film Award for Best Supporting Actor. He started his career in radio shows, modelling and later moving to Bollywood, making him a popular character actor in the 1980s and much of the 1990s.

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