Types of Actors

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  • Topic: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Acting, Actor
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3.4 Types of Actors

Figure 3.2 Types of Actors and Some Current Actors Who Fit Each Category Impersonators
Dustin Hoffman brings Lenny Bruce to life. The performance is so convincing and Lenny so gritty that today’s audiences may think they are seeing Lenny Bruce himself.Photo by Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/courtesy Everett Collection The term impersonator is considered somewhat demeaning in the acting world, suggesting that the actor has simply copied the manner, dialect, and behavior of a character, instead of creating the character. There are times when such a skill is useful—when a filmmaker needs a portrayal of a recognizable historical figure, for instance, but doesn’t want to distract the audience by casting a recognizable actor in the role.

Better still are the actors who can play a famous character and yet go beyond a mere impersonation. Think of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, in which he convincingly played author Truman Capote, right down to the trademark lisp. Yet he was also able to bring something of himself to the role (for which he won an Oscar). The physical resemblance helped, of course (as it did for Helen Mirren in her role as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen or David Strathairn, who played famed television reporter Edward R. Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck). But it’s not essential. Anthony Hopkins looks nothing like Richard Nixon, but he brilliantly captured the former president’s essence in Nixon—the paranoia, the self–doubt, and the political brilliance. See Figure 3.1 for current examples of impersonators and other types of actors.

Interpreters and Commentators
While Hopkins was some form of an interpreter in Nixon, this description more typically refers to actors who take material and put their own stamp on it. Often this involves actors interpreting well–known roles. There have been countless portrayals of the title character in William Shakespeare’s Richard III, for instance, but the performance of Laurence Olivier in...
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