We have all been told to “do unto others” so good things will happen for us. We’ve also grown up hearing how it is important to have a great character, for character is really everything. Frankly, after observing so many films for so many years, I’d have to say, indeed, character is everything.
Some of the greatest films were great because of their character actors. Leading men and women come and go and have a short shelf life. Although leading men have a longer shelf life, I believe that both leading people worry constantly about how the ageing process will affect their appeal and their position in Hollywood.
But character actors never have to worry about that. Think James Cagney, Laird Cregar, Edward G. Robinson, Peter Lorre, Thelma Ritter, Diane Wiest, Danny DiVito, Jeffrey Jones, James Cromwell, Jon Favreau, Harry Dean Stanton, Agnes Moorehead, Seth Green, Gary Oldman, Edie McClurg, Zooey Deschanel, Miguel Ferrer and his father, Jose Ferrer and Kathy Bates – the list goes on and on with these phenomenal actors. Honorable mention should also be given to those wonderful actors on TV in “The Big Bang Theory”, Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar.
Whether they add the spark of light like Thelma Ritter, or the spark of dark, like Edward G. Robinson, every movie these character actors have ever been in, they have made the films better by their sheer presence. Without these people, the movies they were in would have fallen flat; something would have been missing. Many times, these actors are the unsung heroes. The success of their films largely depends on their personalities filling the screen, whether we realize it or not. Character actors are also lucky, in that they never have to worry about ageing, so that ensures them many years of work where leading ladies, many times, find their careers going much more slowly in their 30s than in their teens and 20s.
So to all the actors out there who want to be successful, and I don’t say “stars”, never despair if you do not look like Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor. It is a great joy to be able to know that you’ll be able to work for your entire life and your work doesn’t depend on your youth or your beauty. And many of these people are very attractive, like Celeste Holm or Kathy Bates and while many of these people can look very attractive, they are not hired for that. But more power to them. I just had the privilege of watching Edward G. Robinson in “Key Largo”. With all due respect to gorgeous Lauren Bacall and magnificent Humphrey Bogart, where would the movie have been without Edward G. Robinson? And Humphrey? Frankly, you were a leading man and a character and we miss you!