An actor (alternatively actress for a female; see terminology) is a person who acts in a dramatic or comic production and works in film, television, theatre, or radio in that capacity. The ancient Greek word for an “actor,” ὑποκριτής (hypokrites), means literally “one who interprets”; in this sense, an actor is one who interprets a dramatic character.

This is true whether the character than an actor plays is based on a real person or a fictional one, even themselves (when the actor is ‘playing themselves,’ as in some forms of experimental performance art, or, more commonly, as in John Malkovich’s performance in the film Being John Malkovich); to act is to create a character in performance: “The dramatic world can be extended to include the ‘author’, the ‘audience’ and even the ‘theatre’; but these remain ‘possible’ surrogates, not the ‘actual’ referents as such” (Elam 1980, 110).