A character actor is an actor who is able to inhabit and make believable their characters. This requires a deep and profound understanding of the vast spectrum of emotions that the human mind can experience. These include the searing pain of heartbreak, the ecstatic joy of love, and everything in between. The ability to master these emotions is what makes an actor a force to be reckoned with on the screen and stage.
These actors are often not the leads, but they can still leave a lasting impression on audiences. For example, Emmy winner Margo Martindale is not a leading lady but she can still make an impact as the sassy and brash RoseMarie in Netflix's Unbelievable or the weary and compassionate owner of a trailer park in Leave No Trace, both directed by Debra Granik.
Unlike lead actors, who tend to rely on their charisma and camera presence to attract audience attention, character actors use their skills to flesh out the details of a role. For example, when Daniel Day-Lewis was cast as the judge in The Crucible, he lived on set in a 17th century village without running water and refused to wear modern clothing. This attention to detail paid off as he brought the role to life.
The best character actors are able to slip into the skin of their characters and become them completely, from their mannerisms to their body language. This is the kind of actor that casting directors crave.