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3 Different Types of TV Acting Roles for Actors Looking to Break Into Television


Whether you’re a career film actor transitioning to TV, a stage actor trying to get on screen for a period of time or you’re on your first acting job, the hierarchy of TV acting can get a bit confusing.

Unless you’re a series regular, day player or recurring role, how is everyone else defined? It comes down to the size of the role, the rate of pay, and logistics. Here’s a quick overview of extras, co-stars and guest stars if you need a refresher on some of these tv series acting roles.

Extras

Also known as background actors, extras are the largest group of actors and the lowest-paid. Unlike day players, who are hired on a daily basis (think of the people who have a line or two on one episode of your favorite cop show), extras generally don’t interact much with the other talent.

Extras are also organized separately from other talent. They are usually non-speaking roles, and are often grouped together on set during waiting hours. Extra work can be booked with or without an agent, and they aren’t always actors, let alone professional actors. Becoming a background actor is a good way to get a feel for life on set and can be one of the many ways to become SAG-eligible.

If you are working as an extra, remember that your role is to support the bigger picture. You want to blend in, not draw focus. Be respectful, stay alert and above all, follow directions. This is not the time to exercise creative freedom (save that for co-star roles or any of the larger roles when you’re working across the entire series).

That being said, sometimes extras will get upgraded from a background role to a principal actor, which can bump up your pay and boost your SAG eligeability.

Co-Star

Sometimes providing a scene’s comic relief, a co-star role is the next level up in your TV acting career. Co-stars are paid more and might support a scene or two — waiters, grocery store clerks, etc. They often have lines, but there can be non-speaking co-stars as well.

If you are a co-star, you are a supporting role where your major goal is to do your character’s job. You’re filling the scene, helping the main characters, and unless directed, probably don’t have much of an emotional story arc. A co-star might get a trailer, but it would usually be very small. The film equivalent of a co-star would be a “supporting” role.

Guest Star

Guest stars are the acting job above co-star, and the meatiest of these three. They are generally larger roles and better pay, closer to a supporting lead in film. While a guest star role doesn’t have to be recurring or even a regular role, that’s sometimes the case. Guest stars normally have multiple scenes, a character arc, and may appear in opening credits.

The more you work your way up the ladder, the better exposure, more money, and better opportunities you get. However, many people make an excellent living staying in one role and excelling there. That being said, some actors make careers out of these kinds of roles. There are talented actors who are career extras and others who regularly book co-star roles (many are also film actors).

Whether you’re on a pilot episode or featured in an entire series, the main thing is to be specific about your purpose in the on-set hierarchy. Contracts and the types of roles you obtain may vary from project to project, but the purpose of each role remains more or less consistent.

The better you understanding these aspects of the acting business, the more effective you will be, and the easier you will be to work with. At the end of the day, that is what your casting directors will remember.

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