The Different Types of TV Acting Roles
From series leads to cameos, here are some of the types of acting roles you should know. Roles can vary by contract and in some cases actors can negotiate the way they are credited, so these classifications are a general overview of the various types of acting roles in television.
Background Actors (also called extras, atmosphere, or background talent) are performers who appear in a non-speaking role, often in the background of scenes. They help TV shows look and feel more authentic.
At Central Casting, we cast Background Actors and other roles to appear in our TV shows, movies, and other productions. Our article, What Do Background Actors Do?, has more information on background acting and how to register with us.
A series regular is part of the main cast and is contracted to work on a show for a period of time, often for multiple years even if the show has not been picked up for that many seasons.
Actors may be credited as series regulars even if they don’t work on every episode. For example, Mandy Moore has not been in every episode of This is Us, but she is still credited as a series regular. The opposite is also true. Even if an actor appears in most episodes of a season or if they are part of the main storyline, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are series regulars.
Recurring actors appear in multiple episodes, either over the course of a season or the entire series. Sometimes these actors are under contract for a specified amount of time or are brought on as the story demands. On Orange is the New Black, Laverne Cox’s character Sophia has been heavily featured as a recurring character appearing in 36 of 91 episodes.
Guest stars are actors who appear in one episode (sometimes more) whose characters are often in multiple scenes and play a significant role in the story. If the role is particularly meaningful, a show may cast a well-known actor as a guest star, like Sterling K. Brown appearing in an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Co-stars and day players play characters with a limited number of lines allowed and are typically only in one or two scenes. The term co-star is used more often when describing the screen credit while day player is more commonly heard when referring to the type of contract or role. Some examples of day players are a person being interviewed at a crime scene on Blue Bloods, a customer asking for help on Superstore, or a bartender giving advice to Liza on Younger.
Sometimes actors will refer to each other as “co-stars.” In this context, they mean “co-worker” instead of a day player who appears on a show.
A cameo is when a well-known actor or celebrity briefly appears in a scene. Depending on the reason for the appearance, the actor may or may not have a line. Cameos are used for many reasons, from creating a fun moment to honoring creators like Stan Lee in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Knowing the types of acting roles and who does what on set helps you be successful the next time you’re booked as a Background Actor, Stand-In, or double on a TV show. For more about who works on set, check out our articles Who’s Who on a TV and Film Crew and The Three Stages of Production.