An actor, actress, or player (see terminology) is a person who acts, or plays a role, in a dramatic production. The term commonly refers to someone working in film, television, live theatre, or radio, and can occasionally denote a street entertainer. Besides playing dramatic roles, actors may also sing or work only on radio or as a voice actor.

An actor usually plays a fictional character. In the case of a true story (or a fictional story that portrays real people) an actor may play a real person (or a fictional version of the same). Occasionally, actors appear as themselves, as in John Malkovich's performance in the film Being John Malkovich.



The word "actor" refers to one who acts, whilst "actress" refers to a female who

acts. This is due to Latin origin, where the suffixes -or and -ess are used, regardless of occupation, to describe the sex of the person. "Actor" is derived directly from the masculine Latin noun actor (feminine, actrix) from the verb agere "to do, to drive, to pass time" + the suffix -or "so./st. who performs the action indicated by the stem". Alternatively from Greek ἂκτωρ (aktor), leader , from the verb ἂγω (agō), to lead or carry, to convey, to bring .

However, despite the different gender usage in the Latin root words, "actor" is

sometimes used as a gender-neutral term in English. As "actress" is a specifically feminine word, some feminist groups have claimed that the word "actress" is sexist. This is a minority view, almost unheard of outside of the United States. "Actress" remains a commonly-used word; However, whilst it was traditionally used in the context of the performing arts to refer to male performers only, it is now frequently used to refer to both men and women.

The gender-neutral term "player" may also be used. It was commonly used in film in the early days of the Production Code, but is now generally deemed archaic.

However, it remains in use in the theatre, often incorporated into the name of a theatre group or company (such as the East West Players).



The first recorded case of an actor performing took place in 534 BC (probably on 23 November, though the changes in calendar over the years make it hard to determine exactly) when the Greek performer Thespis stepped on to the stage at the Theatre Dionysus and became the first known person to speak words as a character in a play. Prior to Thespis' act, stories were told in song and dance and in third person narrative, but no one had assumed the role of a character in a story. In honour of Thespis, actors are commonly called Thespians. Theatrical legend to this day maintains that Thespis exists as a mischievous spirit, and disasters in the theatre are sometimes blamed on his ghostly intervention.

Actors were traditionally not people of high status, and in the Early Middle Ages travelling acting troupes were often viewed with distrust. In many parts of Europe, actors could not even receive a Christian burial, and traditional beliefs of the region and time period held that this left any actor forever condemned. However, this negative perception was largely reversed in the 19th and 20th centuries as acting has become an honored and popular profession and art. Part of the cause is the easier popular access to dramatic film entertainment and the resulting rise of the movie star — as regards both their social status and the salaries they command. The combination of public presence and wealth has profoundly rehabilitated their image.

In the past, only men could become actors in some societies. In the ancient Greece and Rome and the medieval world, it was considered disgraceful for a woman to go on the stage, and this belief continued right up until the 17th century, when in Venice it was broken. In the time of William Shakespeare, women's roles were generally played by men or boys. The British prohibition was ended in the reign of Charles II who enjoyed watching female actors (actresses) on stage.



Main article: Acting


Actors and actresses employ a variety of techniques that are learned through

training and experience. Some of these are:

The rigorous use of the voice to communicate a character's lines and express emotion. This is achieved through attention to diction and projection through correct breathing and articulation. It is also achieved through the tone and emphasis that an actor puts on words Physicalisation of a role in order to create a believable character for the audience and to use the acting space appropriately and correctly Use of gesture to complement the voice, interact with other actors and to bring emphasis to the words in a play, as well as having symbolic meaning Shakespeare is believed to have been commenting on the acting style and techniques of his era when Hamlet gives his advice to the players in the play-within-the-play. He encourages the actors to “speak the I pronounced it to you,” and avoid “saw[ing] the air too much with your hand” , because even in a “whirlwind of passion, you must...give it smoothness.” On the other hand, Hamlet urges the players to “Be not too tame neither.” He suggests

that they make sure to “suit the action to the word, the word to the action”, taking care to “o'erstep not the modesty of nature.” As well, he told the players to not “...let those that play your clowns...laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too,” which Hamlet considered to be a “villainous” and “pitiful” tactic.

The English critic Benedict Nightingale discussed and compared great classical actors of the long dead past, and the present, and their magical effects upon audiences, in this 1983 article from the New York Times, available online.


As opposite sex

Historically, acting was considered a man's profession; so, in Shakespeare's time, for instance, men and boys played all roles, including the female parts.

This was the case until the Restoration of the theater in 1660, the first occurrence of the term actress in the OED being by Dryden in 1700.

In Japan, men (onnagata) took over the female roles in kabuki theatre when women were banned from performing on stage during the Edo period. However, some forms

of Chinese drama have females playing all the roles.

Today, women sometimes play the roles of prepubescent boys, because in some

regards a woman has a closer resemblance to a boy than does a man. The role of

Peter Pan, for example, is traditionally played by a woman. The tradition of the principal boy in pantomime may be compared. An adult playing a child occurs more in theater than in film. The exception to this is voice actors in animated films and television programmes, where boys are generally voiced by women, as heard in The Simpsons where the voice of Bart Simpson is provided by Nancy Cartwright.

Opera has several 'pants roles' traditionally sung by women, usually mezzo-sopranos. Examples are Hansel in Hänsel und Gretel, and Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro.

Mary Pickford played the part of Little Lord Fauntleroy in the first film version of the book. Linda Hunt won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in The Year of Living Dangerously, in which she played the part of a man; this was the only Oscar ever awarded for playing a role of the opposite sex.

Having an actor play the opposite sex for comic effect is also a long standing

tradition in comic theatre and film. Most of Shakespeare's comedies include instances of cross-dressing, such as Francis Flute in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and both Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams appeared in hit comedy films where they were required to play most scenes dressed as women. The movie A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum stars Jack Gilford dressing as a young bride, among other slapstick comedy. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon famously posed as women to escape gangsters in the Billy Wilder film Some Like It Hot.

Cross-dressing for comic effect was a frequently used device in most of the thirty Carry On films. Several roles in modern plays and musicals are played by a member of the opposite sex, such as the character "Edna Turnblad" in Hairspray--played by Divine in the original , Harvey Fierstein in the Broadway musical, and John Travolta in the 2007 movie musical. Sometimes the issue is further complicated through the role of a woman acting as a man pretending to be a woman, like Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria or Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love.


Acting awards

Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, for film

Cannes Film Festival Awards, international French festival for world wide

films and documentaries

Golden Globe Awards for film and television

Emmy Awards for television

Genie Awards for Canadian film

Gemini Awards for Canadian television

British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award for film and television;

also known as BAFTA

Tony Awards for the theatre (specifically, Broadway theatre)

European Theatre Awards for the theatre

Laurence Olivier Awards for the theatre (named in honour of actor Sir Laurence


Screen Actors Guild Awards for actors in film and television

Indian National Film Awards for the Indian cinema.

Filmfare Awards honors excellence in the Indian Film Industry (Bollywood) -

limited to Hindi language films only.

César Awards for French film

AFI Awards for Australian film.

Berlinale German film festival in Berlin (Golden and Silver Bear)


See also


Leading actor

Supporting actor

Character actor


Bit part

Stunt work


Movie star

Pornographic actor

List of male film actors

List of female film actors



Q Score

Act (theatre)

Method acting

Presentational acting

Improvisational theatre

Konstantin Stanislavski

Michael Chekhov

Showcase theatre (performing arts group)

Mammy Lou



Entry aktor at Liddell & Scott

Entry agō at Liddell & Scott

Entry actor at open-dictionary

Entry actor at infoplease

Women Actors in Ancient Rome 27 December 2002, BBC

New York Times


Further reading

An Actor Prepares by Konstantin Stanislavski (Theatre Arts Books, ISBN

0-87830-983-7, 1989)

A Dream of Passion: The Development of the Method by Lee Strasberg (Plume

Books, ISBN 0-452-26198-8, 1990)

Sanford Meisner on Acting by Sanford Meisner (Vintage, ISBN 0-394-75059-4,


Letters to a Young Actor by Robert Brustein (Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-00806-2,


The Alexander Technique Manual by Richard Brennan (Connections Book Publishing

ISBN 1-85906-163-X, 2004)

The Empty Space by Peter Brook


External links

Look up actor, actress, player in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.Actors'

Equity Association (AEA): a union representing U. S. theatre actors and stage


American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA): a union

representing U. S. television and radio actors and broadcasters (on-air

journalists, etc.).

Career Advice: an online guide for beginning and professional actors, from the

performing-arts trade publication Back Stage.

British Actors' Equity: a trade union representing UK artists, including

actors, singers, dancers, choreographers, stage managers, theatre directors

and designers, variety and circus artists, television and radio presenters,

walk-on and supporting artists, stunt performers and directors and theatre

fight directors.

Casting Call Pro: search 12,000+ UK professional actors by film, TV and

theatre credits.

Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance: an Australian/New Zealand trade union

representing everyone in the media, entertainment, sports, and arts


Screen Actors Guild (SAG): a union representing U. S. film and TV actors.

Los Angeles Acting School (EMAS): Acting School specializing in Meisner

Technique Training.