What we should be learning from Character Actors.

What can you learn from Character Actors?

I have a personal fascination with the concept of ‘character actors’. Whatever way you look at it, they’re pretty cool. They’re like the secret agents of the acting world, consistently working in different quirky roles. It’s so great to watch Actors bring a unique energy to a role. Bill Camp, Jennifer Coolidge, Dale Dickey, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Jason Mantzoukas are some of the brilliant character actors who always captivate audiences with their performances.

But what sets these character actors apart?

Physical Traits:

Character actors often don’t fit the conventional standards of attractiveness, but they have succeeded in an industry that can be very superficial. They embrace Stella Adler’s excellent 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.”  

These performers have figured out how to capitalise on their unique qualities and turn them into captivating character traits.


These performers are usually well-educated, but their training tends to be more diverse and resourceful than a standard university degree. They seize learning opportunities wherever they can find 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.

Creating Characters:

Character actors don’t wait for auditions to develop their characters. They make bold choices and cultivate these personas over time. Iconic examples like Barry Humphries’ Dame Edna and Andy Kaufman’s Tony Clifton took time to evolve alongside the performers themselves. If you love creating, then it’s important to create. Waiting for someone to come to you with your dream role pre-written is likely to only result in frustration. Create those characters for yourself and learn to enjoy your craft.

How can you be more like them?

  • Work on different aspects of your acting training to become a well-rounded performer.
  • Practice doing impressions and impersonate your favourite characters to improve your skills. 
  • Focus on voice work to handle big choices and loud moments without straining your voice.
  • Step out of your comfort zone by trying new activities that challenge and develop your craft. Sometimes the best way to stretch and grow as a performer is to step out of your comfort zone and into something new. 
  • 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, character actors possess an authentic and mesmerising presence on screen. They celebrate themselves and their uniqueness while bringing remarkable energy to every role they play. Emulating their boldness and dedication to their craft can elevate your own acting journey.