An actor is a person who acts, or plays a role, in films, television, theater, radio, video games or even on the street. In addition to playing dramatic roles, actors may also sing or dance. A female actor is sometimes called an actress.

See: List of male movie actors, List of female movie actors, List of male theater actors and List of female theater actors

For information on the artistic craft, see  acting


The first recorded case of an actor performing took place in 534 B.C (probably on November 23rd, though the changes in calendar over the years make it hard to determine exactly) when the Greek performer Thespus stepped on to the stage at the Theatre Dionysus and became the first person to speak words as a character in a play. Prior to that, stories were told in song and dance and in third person narrative, but no one had assumed the role of a character in a story. In reverence to Thespus, actors are formally referred to as thespians. Theatrical myth to this day maintains that Thespus exists as a mischeivious spirit, and disasters in the theatre are sometimes blamed on his ghostly intervention.


In the past, the term "actor" was restricted to men. Women did not begin performing commonly until the 17th century. When they did the term "actress" was used. In the ancient and medieval world, it was considered disgraceful for a woman to go on the stage, and this belief continued right up until the 17th century, when in Venice it was broken. In the time of William Shakespeare, women's roles were played by men or boys, though there is some evidence to suggest that women disguised as men also (illegally) performed.

Today, the term "actor" is frequently used by some to refer to both men and women, considering the term "actress" to be sexist. However, the term actress is still in widespread use.

An actor usually plays a fictional character. In the case of a true story (or a fictional story that involves a real person) he or she may play a real person (or a fictional version of the same), possibly him- or herself.

See also: gender-specific job title, non-sexist language

Actresses in Male Roles

Women actors sometimes play the roles of prepubescent boys, because in some regards a woman has a closer resemblance to a boy than a man. An adult playing a child occurs more in theater than in film. The role of Peter Pan, for example, is traditionally played by a woman. The tradition of the principal boy in pantomime may be compared.

Mary Pickford played the part of Little Lord Fauntleroy in the first film version of the book. Linda Hunt won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in The Year of Living Dangerously, in which she played the part of a man.

Having an actor play the opposite sex for comic effect is also a long standing tradition in comic theatre and film. Most of Shakespeare's comedies include instances of cross dressing, and both Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams appeared in hit comedy films where they were required to play most scenes dressed as women.

Acting awards

See also: stunt work, actors' hobbies and other careers

In graphical video games, an actor is a character uncontrolled by the player, except for his mimic and movements. In the computing sense, especially in the Unified Modeling Language, an actor plays a role.

In Greek mythology, Actor was the father of Menoetius and Astyoche. He was king of Opus in Locris.