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A character actor is an actor known for playing unusual or interesting characters in supporting roles. The term is somewhat abstract and open to interpretation. While all actors play "characters", the term character actor is often applied to an actor who frequently plays a distinctive and important supporting role. In another sense, a character actor may be also be one who specializes in minor roles.
A character actor may play a variety of characters in their career, often referred to as a "chameleon", or may be known for playing the same type of roles. Character actor roles are more substantial than bit parts or non-speaking extras. The term is used primarily to describe television and film actors, as opposed to theater actors. An early use of the term was in the 1883 edition of The Stage, which defined a character actor as "one who portrays individualities and eccentricities". Actors with a long career history of playing character roles may be difficult for audiences to recognize as being the same actor.