A supporting actor is a person who plays a part in a television show, movie, or stage production. He or she plays a role other than those of the lead characters, and a supporting actor is usually not part of the primary focus of the plot. He or she can "support" the lead actors by taking part in key plot movements or character developments, but the supporting actors should never upstage the leads or become the primary focus instead of the leads. In some productions, these actors are often characters that are outlandish or otherwise notable for certain specific characteristics.
Unlike actors known as extras, a supporting actor can be pivotal to the story and may have a significant amount of time on the screen or stage. It is an important job, and it is often recognized as such by award-granting institutions. Playing a supporting role in a movie can be difficult because the supporting actor must be compelling and interesting without upstaging the lead actors or becoming the primary focus of the plot, so the actor must have great skill and an ability to balance his or her acting with that of the leads.
A person who is a supporting actor in one film or stage production will not necessarily be a supporting actor in other films. The title is production-specific rather than actor-specific, so a particular actor can play a supporting role in one production and the leading role in another. Actors are often chosen for roles based on their merits as performers or based on their physical similarities to the fictional character. While a specific actor may be suitable for a lead role that fits his or her personality and acting ability, he or she may only be suitable for a supporting role in another production because the lead role does not fit that actor's age, appearance, voice, style, and so on.
To become a supporting actor, many performers start by participating in local plays or performances. This is a great way to start building one's acting skills. Some performers may attend schools that teach acting skills, and these institutions may even be degree-granting colleges and universities. The job market for a trained actor is a difficult one, however, and the pay is usually not very good unless the actor is very well-known or experienced. The success of an actor may rely on his or her talents, but also on luck or the ability to make valuable connections within the industry.