Character actor

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

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 supporting actor is an actor who performs a role in a play or film below that of the leading actor(s), and above that of a bit part. In recognition of important nature of this work, the theater and film industries give separate awards to the best supporting actors and actresses.

A character is a person or other being in a narrative. The character may be entirely fictional or based on a real-life person, in which case the distinction of a "fictional" versus "real" character may be made. Derived from the ancient Greek word χαρακτήρ, the English word dates from the Restoration, although it became widely used after its appearance in Tom Jones in 1749. From this, the sense of "a part played by an actor" developed. Character, particularly when enacted by an actor in the theatre or cinema, involves "the illusion of being a human person". In literature, characters guide readers through their stories, helping them to understand plots and ponder themes. Since the end of the 18th century, the phrase "in character" has been used to describe an effective impersonation by an actor. Since the 19th century, the art of creating characters, as practiced by actors or writers, has been called characterisation.

A leading actor, leading actress, star, or simply lead, plays the role of the protagonist of a film, television show or play. The word lead may also refer to the largest role in the piece and leading actor may refer to a person who typically plays such parts or an actor with a respected body of work. Some actors are typecast as leads, but most play the lead in some performances and supporting or character roles in others.

Contents

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 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 background actor or extra is a performer in a film, television show, stage, musical, opera or ballet production, who appears in a nonspeaking or nonsinging (silent) capacity, usually in the background. War films and epic films often employ background actors in large numbers: some films have featured hundreds or even thousands of paid background actors as cast members. Likewise, grand opera can involve many background actors appearing in spectacular productions.

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]

Television Telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images

Television (TV), sometimes shortened to tele or telly, is a telecommunication medium used for transmitting moving images in monochrome, or in color, and in two or three dimensions and sound. The term can refer to a television set, a television program, or the medium of television transmission. Television is a mass medium for advertising, entertainment and news.

Film sequence of images that give the impression of movement

A film, also called a movie, motion picture, moving picture, or photoplay, is a series of still images that, when shown on a screen, create the illusion of moving images. This optical illusion causes the audience to perceive continuous motion between separate objects viewed in rapid succession. The process of filmmaking is both an art and an industry. A film is created by photographing actual scenes with a motion-picture camera, by photographing drawings or miniature models using traditional animation techniques, by means of CGI and computer animation, or by a combination of some or all of these techniques, and other visual effects.

The Stage is a British weekly newspaper and website covering the entertainment industry, and particularly theatre. It was founded in 1880. It contains news, reviews, opinion, features, and recruitment advertising, mainly directed at those who work in theatre and the performing arts.

Overview

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. The Wizard of Oz Margaret Hamilton Judy Garland 1939.jpg
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 .

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]

Marquee (sign) signage

A marquee is most commonly a structure placed over the entrance to a hotel or theatre. It has signage stating either the name of the establishment or, in the case of theatres, the play or movie and the artist(s) appearing at that venue. The marquee is often identifiable by a surrounding cache of light bulbs, usually yellow or white, that flash intermittently or as chasing lights.

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 .

Ageism is stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. This may be casual or systematic. The term was coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler to describe discrimination against seniors, and patterned on sexism and racism. Butler defined "ageism" as a combination of three connected elements. Among them were prejudicial attitudes towards older people, old age, and the aging process; discriminatory practices against older people; and institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about elderly people.

In television, film, and theatre, typecasting is the process by which a particular actor becomes strongly identified with a specific character; one or more particular roles; or, characters having the same traits or coming from the same social or ethnic groups. There have been instances in which an actor has been so strongly identified with a role as to make it difficult for them to find work playing other characters.

Andy Devine actor

Andrew Vabre Devine was an American character actor known for his distinctive raspy, crackly voice and roles in Western films. He is probably best remembered for his role as Cookie, the sidekick of Roy Rogers in 10 feature films. He also appeared alongside John Wayne in films like Stagecoach (1939), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and How the West Was Won. He is also remembered as Jingles on the TV series The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok from 1951 to 1958, as Danny McGuire in A Star Is Born (1937) and as the voice of Friar Tuck in the Disney Animation film Robin Hood (1973).

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]

Harvey Keitel American actor

Harvey Keitel is an American actor and producer. He has starred in films such as Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), The Duellists (1977), Bugsy (1991), Thelma & Louise (1991), Reservoir Dogs (1992), The Piano (1993), Pulp Fiction (1994), From Dusk till Dawn (1996), Cop Land (1997), Red Dragon (2002), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), and Isle of Dogs (2018).

Christopher Lloyd American actor

Christopher Allen Lloyd is an American actor, voice actor, and comedian. Lloyd came to public attention in Northeastern theater productions during the 1960s and early 1970s, earning Drama Desk and Obie awards for his work. He made his screen debut in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), and gained widespread recognition as Jim Ignatowski in the comedy series Taxi (1978–1983), for which he won two Emmy Awards. Lloyd also starred as Emmett "Doc" Brown in the Back to the Future trilogy, Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), and Uncle Fester in The Addams Family (1991) and its sequel Addams Family Values (1993).

Claude Rains English-born actor

William Claude Rains was an English–American film and stage actor whose career spanned several decades. After his American film debut as Dr. Jack Griffin in The Invisible Man (1933) he appeared in classic films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), The Wolf Man (1941), Casablanca and Kings Row, Notorious (1946), The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957), and Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

See also

Further reading

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References

  1. 1 2 3 4 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, "...an actor who plays unusual, strange, or interesting characters instead of being one of the main characters..."
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 A Practical Guide to Working in Theatre, Gill Foreman, 2009, A & C Black Publishers, , 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. 1 2 3 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, , 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. 1 2 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. 1 2 Stephen Tobolowsky, Discovery, What does it mean to be defined as a character actor? Archived 11 August 2014 at Archive.today , 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. 1 2 USA Today, Jude Law's new stage: Maturing lead, character actor, Retrieved 7 August 2014, "...one 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..."