The essay undertakes an investigation of the concept of the supporting player, identifying the narrational, performative and cultural assumptions that underlie this dramatic category. Disentangling these intertwining constituents reveals certain dominant assertions about cinematic characters and the actors who portray them. Such dramaturgical norms implicitly suppress alternative conceptions of character, performance and narrative engagement. Consequently, the supporting player – as textual function, delimited bundle of traits, social type, performative category and professional designation – will be resituated as an agent that might prompt a contemplative reassessment of a fictional scenario.</p>
<p> The author’s contribution to performance studies is to suggest the means by which a supporting actor’s performative embodiment of a character opens up a textual construction for critical investigation. Supporting players are asserted here as figures that trouble narrative coherence. Rather than limit them to the structural position of an actant that assists or resists a protagonist, the performance of a secondary character can rupture the integrity of a narrative, throwing a story’s explicit concerns into critical relief.</p>
<p> Supporting players are often posited as a mere allies or adversaries, lacking complexity as “flat” characters or types, and their performance style seems devoid of star autonomy. However, they are not simply beholden to the demands of narrative economy, teleology and dramatic coherence. Contrarily, attendance to the minutiae of their gestures can alert viewers to narrative possibilities that transcend actantial functionality. Ultimately the essay demonstrates how an overlooked or “integrated” performance can redirect viewers’ narrative interest toward an associational contemplation of experiences that lie beyond the parameters of the dramatic.
This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in Quarterly Review of Film and Video in 2012, available at