For the acting community

Defining acting roles on your résumé
Total posts: 38
Joined: 11 year(s) ago
Posted 8:09 PM Jul. 7, 2013

I just posted a new television credit to my résumé, which again raised the issue of billing and how to officially define a role. Résumé credit terminology can be dizzying shades of gray and for years the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) had different terms for similar roles.

There are clues. If you’re working a union television contract, your billing should be spelled out specifically in your contract. If you have no contract or deal memo for your work, you can check the original breakdown for the project, as the billing for the role is often listed after the character description. You can also check with your agent or someone in production.

This is what I came up with, broken down by genre:


Lead (Star): The actor appears in most scenes in a role that is central to the story and without which the film would not exist. His/her name is often in the on-screen credits at the beginning of the film, in addition to appearing in the complete end credits.

Principal: In film, this term refers to a speaking role, without getting too specific about how central the actor’s character is to the story. It has also been used to denote non-contract players who have five or more lines.

Supporting: The actor fills a principal role and appears in one or more scenes. Although important to the storyline, the role is not a lead character.

Featured: The actor has one scene with one or more lines; not big enough to be a supporting role and easily cut from the final version of the film. If the role stays in, the actor’s name appears in the end credits.

Cameo: A term that designates an established star in a stunt-cast role.

Background: The actor fills a non-speaking role with no on-screen credit given. Background should not appear on an acting résumé.


Series Regular: The actor is under exclusive contract with the show to appear (or be paid regardless of appearing) every week.

Recurring: The actor returns as the same character over multiple episodes, either on a standing contract or contracted periodically, with payment based on the terms negotiated and the number of appearances.

Guest Star: The actor appears as a one-episode guest whose character's storyline is central to that particular episode. The actor works at the standard union weekly rate, even if filming takes place over only a day or two.

Co-star: The actor appears as a one-episode guest whose character may or may not be central to that episode’s storyline. Co-star billing is typically negotiated and is unrelated to the size of the role.

Contract Role: This is an AFTRA contract term for a series regular or recurring character on a daytime soap opera.

Under 5: This is an AFTRA contract term for a role with between one and five lines. You could also use the term “Featured,” but it is so often applied to a role as an Extra, where you appear prominently in a scene but without lines, that it may be misleading if you have lines.

Cameo: A term that designates an established star in a stunt-cast role, i.e. Brad Pitt appearing in an episode of Friends.

Extra: A non-speaking role with no on-screen credit. This billing should not appear on an acting résumé.

THEATRE Theatre credits on a résumé typically include only the character name, as the role size is generally known. If the production is an original work or a recent play, however, an actor may note "lead" or "supporting" after the character name. Also noteworthy is whether the actor originated the role, especially if the play later becomes well known.

Understudy: A stage term for an actor who will only appear in a principal role if the primary actor cast in that role (and for whom the actor is understudying) cannot perform. It should be noted however that some theatres guarantee a certain number of performances for understudies. Weigh in if you've heard otherwise on this. Actors are often accused of "creative marketing" when it comes to defining roles, but it's a murky issue.

Total posts: 245
Joined: 11 year(s) ago
Posted 11:01 PM Jul. 9, 2013

While this is an Extensive list Dozens of other "Titles" can apply. Years ago Hollywood Agents that could not get more money for the Talent they represented, Started Creating New "Titles" and Name placements in the credits as a Status symbol .

1 thing to keep in mind is that YOUR CONTRACT usually states what you are for that Production- Your Resume should reflect THAT exact status if it does

Total posts: 1
Joined: 8 year(s) ago
Posted 8:21 AM Jul. 10, 2013
How would one define a role in reenactment television work?
This post has been deleted.
Total posts: 38
Joined: 11 year(s) ago
Posted 4:11 PM Jul. 10, 2013
Reenactment work is relatively new so that's a good question. If you have audible lines and/or on-screen credit I would think "Co-Star," "Featured," or "Under 5" would apply, whichever is the best fit. But if you have no lines or credit, but have a significant on-screen role, perhaps a new term "reenactment" should be used. Perhaps Brian Dragonuk will weigh in on this.