Character actor  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A character actor is an actor who predominantly plays eccentric or unusual roles rather than leading ones. Character actor roles can range from bit parts to secondary leads. However, character actors often play supporting roles: characters who do not undergo a major change in the course of the movie, and whose role is less prominent than the leading actors'.

Character actors such as John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, Steve Buscemi, and Kevin Bacon have built their careers around small, yet distinctive roles. Some character actors play essentially the same character over and over again, and become typecast, as with Andy Devine who often played humorous but resourceful sidekicks, Dennis Farina (tough cops or gangsters), Jason Bateman (smug, condescending jerks), Vince Vaughn (unhappy, incompetent complainers) and Joe Pesci (hot-tempered psychopaths).


Examples of character roles

Career paths

There are many reasons people might become character actors. Actors may also simply seem better suited to character roles than to leading roles. Another fact worth noting is that while any film has a handful of leading roles, it may also require dozens of smaller supporting roles, and that there are arguably more opportunities for professional success as a character actor than as a movie star. Some actors become character actors by choice. Others may find character work because they are seen as typecast (strongly identified with, or only suitable for certain types of roles), often due to an early success with a particular role or genre; J. T. Walsh and Dennis Hopper made a career of playing villainous characters, and Steve Buscemi has made a career of playing scheming deadbeats and offbeat villains. As well, some actors may become character actors because casting agents believe they lack some of the admittedly subjective physical attributes associated with movie stars: they may be regarded as too tall, too short, unattractive, overweight, or somehow lacking an ephemeral "star quality".

Some actors may have a perceived over-the-top style or presence which cannot be helped, that overwhelms or threatens to upstage other actors, which means that directors often choose to limit their screentime which in effect often gives more power and value to their performance. An example of strong screen presence is the talented Peter Greene, the New Jersey-raised actor who brings a strong vibe to the screen along with a striking, unique look. Some other well known examples include Christopher Lee due to his physical presence and distinctive voice and Malcolm McDowell due to certain idiosyncrasies associated with his style dating back to A Clockwork Orange. Actors may be deemed too old or too young for leading roles; being "too old" is more of a problem for women, who may find that their range of acting jobs drops precipitously after the age of forty (see ageism). Actors from marginalized or minority groups (such as certain ethnic or racial groups or women) might be barred from roles for which they were otherwise suited. Actors from outside of the U.S. may be famous in their own countries, but find their roles limited in the U.S. for any number of reasons (see Marcel Dalio, Cantinflas and Jet Li).

Some character actors have distinctive voices or accents which limit their roles. Actors such as James Earl Jones, Tim Curry, Gilbert Gottfried, 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. The stars of a movie that fails badly at the box office are often considered part of the reason it failed, and they may have trouble finding work later. Character actors are almost never blamed for these failures, and can continue to find work relatively easily.

Popular film character actors

Many character actors, including the following, have earned acclaim for their performances but have rarely been cast in leading roles:

Crossover to stardom

Some character actors have eventually gained star status and have become widely known, or perhaps even become lead actors or actresses. Examples include:


Occasional crossover to film directing

Character actors sometimes become film directors who have either made the crossover to acting or worked in front of the camera before, such as John Huston, Sydney Pollack, Paul Mazursky, Orson Welles, Mathieu Kassovitz, Lindsay Anderson, John Cassavetes, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Mark Rydell, Ben Stiller, and Tim Blake Nelson to name a few.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Character actor" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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