I personally am completely obsessed with the concept of the ‘character actor’, they’re like the secret agents of the acting world – going from set to set, always working, always in a different quirky role. I think there’s something so refreshing about that. They’re always a fascinating bunch – usually with an eclectic background and extensive training history.
Admit it – there’s something so cool about Character Actors. For a start they ALWAYS seem to be working. Think, Bill Camp, Jennifer Coolidge, Dale Dickey, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Jason Mantzoukas. They just bring truly mesmerising energy to the screen. They are truly and unapologetically THEMSELVES and it’s beautiful to watch.
So what sets Character Actors apart?
Character Actors aren’t usually the most ‘conventionally’ attractive person in the room. But regardless, they have carved out a VERY successful place in what can be a very superficial industry.
It reminds me of the Stella Adler quote: “You have to understand your best. Your best isn’t Barrymore’s best or Olivier’s best or my best, but your own. Every person has his norm. And in that norm every person is a star. Olivier could stand on his head and still not be you. Only you can be you. What a privilege! Nobody can reach what you can if you do it. So do it. We need your best, your voice, your body. We don’t need for you to imitate anybody, because that would be second best. And second best is no better than your worst.”
It’s very true. These performers have figured out how to be ‘them’ truly and uniquely.
So don’t worry about your physical imperfections, worry about being able to turn up on set and dependably carry a role. These actors turned their imperfections into mesmerising character traits, using THEMSELVES as their biggest asset.
Yep, there’s no way around it, they’re usually very well-educated performers. But good news – often their training is a little more eclectic than a standard university degree. Resourceful people take advantage of learning opportunities wherever they can get them. Reading background biographies of character actors will have you come across a litany of unusual jobs – from Robin Willians as a street mime, Whoopi Goldberg’s time as a morgue makeup artist and phone sex operator and John Hamm as a pornography set-dresser.
They don’t wait for the role to create the character.
Character Actors create characters by making big and bold choices. They don’t wait for the audition before working on these characters, they create them independently based on what they enjoy doing or portraying or find funny. They then cultivate these characters over a number of months or years. This results in a number of personas that they can slip in and out of at will. Check out Barry Humphries characters including Dame Edna or Sir Les Patterson, or the (late?) Andy Kauffman’s characters Tony Clifton and Foreign Man. You will see these characters took time to grow and change with the performer’s evolution.
How can you be more like them?
Working on different aspects of your Acting Training and finding out what carbonates you creatively is a great place to start. Movement or dance classes, voice classes, improvisation workshops will all help you to become this kind of well-rounded performer.
Do impressions! Impersonate your favourite characters, try out their mannerisms and accent. You’ll get better with time.
Voice work is essential. Often this kind of comedic/character acting lends itself to big choices and loud moments. Spend some time on voice work to make sure you don’t strain your voice when you need it the most.
Get out of your comfort zone. Sign yourself up for a different activity, swing dancing, an improv class, karaoke. A great rule of thumb, if it makes you slightly nervous and uncomfortable it’s probably great for your craft.
Check out my course Character Chameleon to help you learn bold character interpretation techniques that will make you shine in the audition room. In this online course we delve into creating characters that align with roles you are most likely to get cast in, so you can make bold choices that show on screen and catch the attention of directors, producers and casting directors.
In summary, while leading actors take on central roles and often enjoy more recognition and fame, character actors are celebrated for their ability to portray diverse and unique characters, adding depth to the storytelling. Both types of actors contribute significantly to the success of movies and TV shows, and their skills complement each other in creating memorable on-screen experiences.
They just ARE, they just EXIST and sink into roles like their favourite outfit whilst simultaneously bringing truly mesmerising energy to the screen. They are truly and unapologetically THEMSELVES and it’s beautiful to watch.
Check out Character Chameleon Here