“Character” Actors

I loathe this term. It demeans supremely talented individuals assigned roles that may not land them on the Walk of Fame, but which are executed supremely. I’m thinking of Michael Emerson, Dean Norris, Michael K. Williams, Michael C. Hall, Peter Dinklage, Patrick Fischler, even Kevin Spacey, who’s often included in this “group,” yet is likely on par with Daniel Day-Lewis as the premier American actor, stage, screen, or big screen. It’s a term applied to actors and actresses who perform a character role phenomenally well qua character, Emerson as Ben Linus in Lost, Dean Norris as Hank in Breaking Bad, Michael K. Williams as the unforgettable Omar in The Wire and Chalky White on Boardwalk Empire, Michael C. Hall as both David Fisher in Six Feet Under and especially as Dexter Morgan in Dexter, Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones and Fischler as Phil on Lost and Jimmy Barrett on Mad Men. You get the point.

I understand that television and film are ultimately businesses interested in turning profits. Having performers like Angelina Jolie and Shia LeBouf in blockbusters bring the tickets to the yard — and while there are plenty of quote-on-quote superstars like Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Leo DiCaprio who are genuinely extremely talented actors capable of performing any number of roles (that list isn’t meant to be all-inclusive btw), the label “character actor” seems to demean those actors and actresses listed above (again, not all-inclusive) for doing what the acting profession purports to be all about. I.e. becoming a character. Not just portraying one, mind you, but fully stepping into the persona of a fictional or fictionally-written human being. The role of an actor is to make the fiction an apparent reality. Robert de Niro was Travis Bickle. Michael Emerson is Benjamin Linus. Making the character real and fully believable and beloved is the highest calling of anyone in the acting profession. Adding the depth and fundamentally tangible real-ness to a character is what good actors do; and I just hope serious media critics recognize that being described as a “character actor” should be taken as a mark of pride, and that box office success is not the be-all and end-all of professional achievement.

~ by Benji on February 4, 2013.

One Response to ““Character” Actors”

  1. Yes indeedy. You should not overtake your role…


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