What exactly is a "character actor?"

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Cameron Yee, Apr 1, 2004.

  1. Cameron Yee

    Cameron Yee Executive Producer
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    Sometimes I see this used to describe actors I consider "B" grade. What does this really mean?
     
  2. Cameron Yee

    Cameron Yee Executive Producer
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    Here is what Google gave me:

    "an actor who specializes in playing supporting roles"
     
  3. Alex Spindler

    Alex Spindler Producer

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    I wouldn't consider that a bad way to put it. I would call character actors those who bring a unique life to the script important characters. Those secondary roles that seem to really bring out the most in a film, and often because their non-A-list face and name don't bring a great deal of baggage with it. They seem to have the ability to just mesh with the role, somehow making it a real highpoint (and sometimes unforgettable) while still being able to mesh into their next role.

    Everyone has their favorites. For my money, you can't get much better than John Turturro. Steve Buscemi and Brad Douriff are also high on my list.
     
  4. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
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    Clint Howard. [​IMG]

    M. Emmet Walsh.
     
  5. dannyB

    dannyB Stunt Coordinator

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    Three words: Philip Seymour Hoffman

    [​IMG]
     
  6. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Whit Bissell.
     
  7. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    I wonder where the term "character" actor comes from. Is it because, especially in the days of the studio system where the same actors appeared in the same kinds of movies all the time, those are the performers whom audiences would likely remember as particular characters in particular movies, as opposed to the stars who bring people in specifically to see them?

    Since I was watching the Casablanca SE commentaries again in the last few days, let me use that as an example. Here's my guess as to the origin of the term "character actor": most movie-goers at that time would say, "I liked Karl the waiter in Casablanca," probably not knowing that the actor's name was S.Z. Sakall. They would probably have a similar reaction after Yankee Doodle Dandy, "I liked the theater impresario who backs their first Broadway show," played by the same actor. They were associating him with the specific characters, one movie at a time. But when it came to thinking about actors, they would go to Yankee Doodle Dandy to see Cagney, and to Casablanca to see Bogart and Bergman, whom they would remember as particular instances of those star personas, more than as "Rick Blaine" or "Ilse Lund."
     
  8. Michael Patrick

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    My father used to tell me about character actors in all the old films he used to watch. He always told me to watch how the stars use the same ones all the time. Good character actors make the stars shine.
     
  9. Holadem

    Holadem Lead Actor

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    John C Reilly
    William H Macy

    --
    H
     
  10. Yee-Ming

    Yee-Ming Producer

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    I thought the term refers to actors (or indeed actresses) who don't have "movie star looks" but can act; many good examples have been brought up already, but the epitome in a sense could be someone like Dustin Hoffman, by no means a GQ model-type, but he sure can act. [​IMG]

    But I suppose Hoffman is also a "star", just that he got there solely because of his acting chops, and not because of good looks, cf Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt (not that these guys are bad actors, but their good looks certainly contributed to their popularity).
     
  11. Nick Sievers

    Nick Sievers Producer

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    Jeremy Piven
    J.T. Walsh
    Adam Goldberg
    John C. McGinley

    If someone asks me what a character actor is I usually just say, an actor whose face you recognise but not the name. [​IMG]
     
  12. JohnRice

    JohnRice Lead Actor

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  13. Matt Pelham

    Matt Pelham Screenwriter

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    Steve Buscemi takes over any movie he is in. Yes even IMHO Monster Inc [​IMG]

    Regards
     
  15. Max Leung

    Max Leung Producer

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    And don't forget Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. [​IMG]
     
  16. Bob Spears

    Bob Spears Stunt Coordinator

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    MR. HARRY DEAN STANTON

    the king of all character actors...IMO

    bob[​IMG]
     
  17. Rex Bachmann

    Rex Bachmann Screenwriter

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    Haggai wrote (post #7):




    I've always thought that "character actors" play not just "supporting characters" in all their roles, but the same character in film after film, role after role, with only a change of name and wardrobe. The actress that comes first to mind as such is Thelma Ritter
    from the 50s movies or Mary Wickes, who, if I'm not misremembering, is probably best known for playing "Jane(?) the plumber" in the tv commercials of the 60's. [Or was that someone else?] Both of these ladies basically played the same character (sassy irreverent women, often service personnel) over and over and over.
     
  18. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    Yeah, that probably has something to do with it too, Rex. Then again, sometimes the stars play very similar roles over and over. Everyone always knew what to expect from John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, plus other examples I'm sure we can all think of.
     
  19. Rob P S

    Rob P S Cinematographer

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    Joe Morton
    Chris Cooper
    J.T. Walsh
    James Cromwell
    Ed Harris
    William Sadler
    Peter Boyle
    Bruce Davison
    CCH Pounder
     
  20. DonRoeber

    DonRoeber Screenwriter

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    What about Jim Broadbent? One of my favorites that hasn't been mentioned yet.
     

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