A character actor is one who totally changes his personality to play any character. It would probably be better
or easier if I were to give you examples of character actors in film. Three of the most obvious character actors in film are Eddie Murphy, Cicely Tyson, and Johnny Depp. These actors, and of course others, totally altar their own personalities to play characters that are much older and/or much more animated than they are personally. This takes a lot of imagination from the actor. Obviously, they have to do more outside research, as opposed to taking from within. As a matter of fact, unlike the emotional style of acting, the character actor's challenge is to lose or eliminate his own feelings or personality from the role. This is not saying that the character actor cannot "feel" his role, but it is a little more challenging because of the external qualities he must maintain. The character actor is not necessarily better at acting than any other type of actor, he just takes a different path to get to the same destination--believability.
The personality actor is one who, when doing a role, summons his own "personality" and idiosyncrasies. With this type of actor, you will most likely see who they really are in almost every role that they take on. This does not mean, in anyway, that they're acting any less than the character actor, but they just use themselves as the foundation of the role. A couple of examples of personality actors are Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Ashley Judd, and Morgan Freeman. Most of the time when you see these actors or others like them, you find yourself saying, "It seems like they're the same in every role." This is because they allow themselves to be vulnerable in order to show their own personality.
"Then there are those precious few, standing at the top of their profession, whose high gift it is to act themselves, to adapt their spirits to the spirits of the parts they are playing, to possess and then to be possessed by the characters they project, and to give them the benefit of their beauty and their intelligence, their sympathy and their virtuosity, their poetry and their inner radiance, their imagination and their glamour." --John Mason Brown
I really want to stress the point that one type of actor is not greater or has an easier time than the other. Also, I don't want you to take from this that certain actors or the actors that were previously mentioned are stuck in these particular types. For example, actors like Eddie Murphy, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jim Carrey have crossed the lines many times. As I mentioned before, the most important thing is to be believable in any role that you play. If the audience's disbelief is suspended without really trying hard, they will be comfortable, and this will be able to focus on the story and not you.
"Honesty isn't enough for me. That becomes very boring. If you can convince people what you're doing is real and it's also bigger than life -- that's exciting." - Gene Hackman
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