An actor (actress is sometimes used for females; see § Terminology) is a person portraying a character in a dramatic or comic production; he or she performs in film, television, theatre, radio, commercials or music videos.〔
Actor, ''(hypokrites)'', literally means "one who interprets";〔''Hypokrites'' (related to our word for hypocrite) also means, less often, "to answer" the tragic chorus. See Weimann (1978, 2); see also Csapo and Slater, who offer translations of classical source material using the term ''hypocrisis'' (acting) (1994, 257, 265–267).〕 an actor, then, is one who interprets a dramatic character.〔Interpretation pertains to the role played, whether based on a real person or fictional character. Interpretation occurs even when the actor is "playing themselves", as in some forms of experimental performance art, or, more commonly, as in John Malkovich's performance in the film ''Being John Malkovich''; to act, is to create, a character in performance: "The dramatic world can be extended to include the 'author', the 'audience' and even the 'theatre'; but these remain 'possible' surrogates, not the 'actual' referents as such" (Elam 1980, 110).〕 Method acting is an approach in which the actor identifies with the portrayed character by recalling emotions or reactions from his or her own life. Presentational acting refers to a relationship between actor and audience, whether by direct address or indirectly by specific use of language, looks, gestures or other signs indicating that the character or actor is aware of the audience's presence. In representational acting, "actors want to make us 'believe' they are the character; they pretend."〔
Formerly, in some societies, only men could become actors, and women's roles were generally played by men or boys. In modern times, women occasionally played the roles of prepubescent boys.
After 1660 in England, when women first started to appear on stage, the terms ''actor'' or ''actress'' were initially used interchangeably for female performers, but later, influenced by the French ''actrice'', ''actress'' became the commonly used term for women in theatre and film. The etymology is a simple derivation from ''actor'' with ''ess'' added.〔 Within the profession, the re-adoption of the neutral term dates to the 1950–1960s, the post-war period when the contributions of women to cultural life in general were being reviewed. ''Actress'' remains the common term used in major acting awards given to female recipients.
With regards to the cinema of the United States, the gender-neutral term "player" was common in film in the early days of the Motion Picture Production Code, but it is now generally deemed archaic. However, "player" remains in use in the theatre, often incorporated into the name of a theatre group or company, such as the American Players, the East West Players and so on. Also, actors in improvisational theatre may be referred to as "players".
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