Character Actor: Defined

I have often heard that my type is a “character actor.” I don’t really have much idea what that means. I think it might mean that I am able to transform myself into different characters or it could mean that I’m not the young ingénue. What does that term mean to you, in a general sense?

Most likely, it’s the latter of the two examples you suggested. When you are a young woman, you will often go out for the ingénue roles, especially if you are of small build, very attractive, and innocent-looking. If you’ve gone out for such roles in the past, but are now starting to hear that you’re a character actor, it’s possible that you have outgrown the age range of the ingénue or that, physically, you are built differently than most ingénue types.

If you’ve recently moved from a minor market to Hollywood or New York, you’ll find that there is less variance in each type classification. Whereas the range of looks among ingénues in a minor market may be great, in a major market there is often much more specific criteria defining each type.

I have an actor friend who should be, by all rights, a leading lady. She is amazingly talented, fit, beautiful, and equally skilled in comedy and drama. However, she has a character voice rather than the voice of a leading lady. So, there are times when it’s not even your look that shifts you into another category.

Certainly, as an actor, you are able to easily transform yourself into many different characters, but “character actors” generally make up the supporting roles that surround the leads. Don’t let that discourage you! There are plenty of character actors who become leading ladies and leading men. Just as actors have to market themselves within their specific type, get a certain level of success, and then show the world what else they can do, character actors tend to find success in supporting roles before getting a chance to be the star of the show.

Keep doing good work! Enjoy the characters!

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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