Classically Trained Extra
Guess which one of these actors played Hamlet four times on Broadway.

"Thank you for that "choice" role where I die in a fiery explosion right off the bat. Truly a character with all the rich complexity of Hamlet or King Lear."

The Classically Trained Extra is an actor, often on a Show Within a Show, who feels they're stuck in a lowbrow role that's somehow "below" them, agonizes over their talent being wasted, and aspires for greater things. Whether they're a has-been or an overly ambitious newcomer to acting, they tend to come off as an uptight blowhard, especially if they boast that they're a "classically-trained Shakespearean actor".

Particularly reviled roles seem to be a character on a science fiction program, the straight man on a Sitcom (a part many actors admit to hating, since it can be seen as standing there being "normal," while your co-workers get all the good laughs,) or the host of a broadcast TV kids' show. Bonus points for the last one, or any role where the Classically Trained Extra's personality (they're usually Comically Serious) is cast against type. If they have sufficient contempt for the role, they might Hate The Job Love The Limelight. If they express that contempt to the kids who love their character, it's Nice Character, Mean Actor.

Note, while the title is made to amplify the meaning of this trope, it happens whenever someone appears in a role that is really far, far below their ability and range. It may be a very important secondary role, but it is usually a pop culture type of production.

This trope is often Truth in Television, as even great actors can't always be picky about roles, as a side effect of skill not very often translating into popularity.

Compare WTH, Casting Agency?, All-Star Cast. For actual classically trained actors, see Shakespearian Actors.

Fictional Examples:

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  • One of the commercials in Sprite's "Obey Your Thirst" campaign is based on this; we're presented with three streetwise, tough-talking street basketball players telling us that they drink Sprite (fictitious) Turbo Sport 7 — until the director yells, "Cut!" at which point we find out that all three of them are Classically Trained Extras. Tagline: "Trust your gut, not some actor."

  • Jenna, one of the two porn actresses, from Hatchet. She went to NYU and is a serious actress.
    I was moving to Hollywood next month to be famous, now I'm going to die out here with all of you assholes!
  • Alexander Dane on Galaxy Quest. Although Alexander isn't exactly an extra — he's the #2 star of the show — he still regards it as a two-bit part in a two-bit piece of crap show, understandable given how painfully one-dimensional his character comes off as. He learns of his importance to people when an (alien) fan of his dies, and he finally says his Catch Phrase (which, until then, he hated) and means it.
  • Rob in Swingers mentions having performed Shakespearean roles but finds himself auditioning for Goofy at Disneyland.
  • Malibu Gangster had two well-educated, well-trained black actors who were always typecast as thugs. Ironically, they were both somewhat effeminate.
  • In To Be Or Not To Be, about a Polish theatre company during the war, one of the characters complains about how Mel Brooks' actor-manager "Frederick Bronski" hogs the limelight as Hamlet doing the titular monologue whilst he is relegated to the part of second off-stage Nazi, despite being a classically trained actor.
  • Bob in The Real Blonde lands a lucrative role on a soap opera. Despite the fame and wealth, he hates the role and recites Shakespeare in his dressing room. Ironically, the actor playing Bob was a soap opera actor himself.
  • Parodied in Wayne's World 2 when the actor playing the gas station attendant is replaced mid-scene by Charlton Heston. His brief performance brings Wayne to tears.
  • The American features an old man who gets shot dead within seconds of appearing at the start of the movie. That old man happens to be a Swedish actor who is not only a classically trained stage actor (they all are) but also well respected.
  • In Rubber, one of the extras wears a baseball cap with the words "CLASSICALLY TRAINED" on it. It's part of the movie's Breaking the Fourth Wall shtick.

    Live Action TV 
  • A Frasier episode revolved around Frasier discovering his favorite Shakespearean actor as a boy was now playing Tobor the android in Space Patrol. It transpires he was actually a really bad Shakespearean actor, but Frasier was too young to know. Sir Derek Jacobi, who played the part, really is a classically trained actor and former RSC member. Jacobi won an acting Emmy Award for that role.
  • Beakman's World: Originally Lester, the guy in the rat-suit, was simply a trained actor with a bad agent, though this got played down for his more disgusting qualities later on.
  • The sitcom Cybill (1990s) was about a actress, Cybill Sheridan (played by Cybill Shepherd) who, not young any longer, only got minor roles (including voicing a singing toilet for an ad, and that was probably not her worst). She remembered her "golden age" as a scream queen, but grew to dislike the quality of her own horror movies, having done it only to pay the bills.
  • In Slings and Arrows, Ellen is a veteran Shakespearean actress who sells out by taking a lead role on a ridiculous sci-fi show.
  • Invoked in the "Gallimaufrey" episode of QI. Phill Jupitus mimics the "kind of out of work actor they would have on Call My Bluff'' when defining the word "grog blossom".
  • Parodied in The Young Ones where a postman who appears for a couple of minutes to deliver a parcel in one episode is apparently played by one of these; he roars his two-or-so lines with the same passion and intensity he would presumably give if he was playing the Dane. Even when he's gone, he can still be heard loudly delivering luvvie-style theatrical anecdotes backstage and generally annoying everyone present.
  • Inverted in Brit Com Vicious, where genuinely stellar actors Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi play two ageing hams looking back on less-than-stellar careers which inevitably involved many roles of this sort. Both knights of the British theatre gleefully play their over-egotistic and under-talented alternate personas for all they are worth.
  • In Garth Marenghis Darkplace, one of the in-universe actors, Todd Rivers, is a classically trained actor who ended up in the titular show, a terribly written and Author Tract-filled horror/sci-fi show. He clearly (and justifiably) views the show as beneath him and as a result all his lines are either cheap and over the top or dubbed over in post. The DVD commentary reveals that he never bothered to watch the show after making it, seeing it only as a paycheck, and when he sees it for the first time years later he's highly unimpressed.

  • The "Weird Al" Yankovic song "Skipper Dan" is about a former up-and-coming, critically acclaimed Broadway actor... who is stuck giving shows on the "Jungle Cruise" at Disneyland.

  • In the Cabin Pressure episode "Cremona", Hester Macauley is understandably bitter over the fact that her stage work and more serious film roles are overshadowed by her role as the Lady of the Lake in Quest For Camelot.
    Arthur: I'm your biggest fan!
    Hester: Oh really? Enjoy my Clytemnestra, did you? My career-defining Clytemnestra at Stratford? Or perhaps you preferred my Olivier Award-winning performance in A Doll's House? No? Maybe you're more of a film buff.
    Arthur: Oh, yes! I really loved—
    Hester: No, don't tell me, I'm keen to guess. A Light Shines Darkly? Tails You Lose? Fardle's Bear? Because I hope you were't about to suggest that you're my "biggest fan" based on two miserable weeks I spent up to my bosom in pondweed filming some ridiculous fantasy dreck I only agreed to because my little cat needed a dialysis machine!
  • Edwin Blackgaard in Adventures in Odyssey is a classically trained actor (albeit a somewhat hammy one at times) who is stuck in a small town and decides to bring a little culture to it by opening a dinner theatre. Unfortunately for him, simple small-town folk tend to appreciate popular crowd-pleasers like Willy Wonka and Life With Father far more than listening to his drawn-out soliloquies and one-man shows. In order to make ends meet, he will begrudgingly acquiesce and put on said crowd-pleasers. Doesn't stop him from doing Shakespeare in the Park every now and then, though.

  • In the musical adaptation of Struwwelpeter (or Shockheaded Peter), the "host" of the show gets increasingly frustrated as his acting talents are wasted on campy introductions of (gleefully grisly) children's songs. He actually tells the audience he's a classically trained actor and limps out as Richard III for a while before giving up in utter exasperation.
  • In the musical of ''Drood, in the show within a show, Bazzard laments his inability to get a larger part (including having an entire song about it). He is even a suspect in the murder, with his motive being wanting to increase his part.
  • In A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the opening number, "Comedy Tonight," notes that the actress playing Gymnasia "plays Medea later this week." (Forum, of course, is set in Ancient Rome and based on a classical play, but, as the number points out, not of the stuffy or serious kind.)

    Video Games 
  • Sam And Max: Situation — Comedy features Philo Pennyworth, the stuck-up actor who plays the neurotic landlord, Mr. Featherly, on Midtown Cowboys. Also, he's a talking chicken. Interestingly, though, Philo is actually an aversion of the trope — he is indeed classically trained, but far from thinking that his role in a critically-panned sitcom is beneath him, he believes true professionalism lies in taking any role you're given and playing it to the best of your ability.
    • Of course, the professionalism flies out the window once the show becomes a massive hit in Germany and he starts making some serious bank.
  • Used with a series of increasingly unfortunate twists in the first Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game with Jack Hammer, an actor on the children's sentai show Steel Samurai. He was blackmailed out of a successful star career and into playing bad parts for very little pay, after accidentally killing a costar.
  • Claude Maginot in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a classically-trained actor who is incredibly peeved about how he is best known as the star of the sitcom Just the Five of Us, which he calls "commercial dross." In an interview on K-Chat, he tries to steer the subject toward his interpretive dance show, In the Future, There Will be Robots, and breaks down into a rant when Amy keeps trying to push the subject toward his show.
  • In The Movies, the radio announcer for early part of the game (1920-1950) is William MacDuff, a snooty, Ambiguously Gay stage-actor-turned-newsreader who insists that moving pictures are just a passing phase.

    Web Comics 
  • Freefall invokes the trope for comedy: a robot is programed with all the works of Shakespeare and has to play Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars for nearly twenty years.
  • Horse Power, in "Tears of a Clown", portrays Dupree Constance Kenshire this way. She's best known as Derpy Hooves—a cross-eyed background character from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic—and she's pissed that so many fans depict her as a klutzy simpleton.
    Dupree: I was my high school's valedictorian! I studied at Juilliard! I've performed Shakespeare at the Globe!
    Audience: Do the line! Yeah, we want the line! Do it!
    Dupree: [sigh] I just don't know... [sob] what went wrong...

    Western Animation 
  • On South Park, Phillip of Terrance and Phillip was like this in the episode "Terrance and Phillip: Behind the Blow".
    • In a real life example, Jerry Seinfeld expressed interest in doing a voice for the show and was offered the role of "Turkey #4" in their Thanksgiving special. Seinfeld's agent didn't quite understand the joke and turned it down.
      • This is actually pretty common on South Park. Henry Winkler performed the growlings of a monster; Jay Leno voiced the meows of Cartman's cat, and George Clooney said "bark bark" as Stan's gay dog.
  • While not trained as an actor, Sideshow Bob of The Simpsons fits the trope perfectly, with his high culture elitism and past as a clown on Krusty's show. His replacement, Sideshow Mel, is even more over the top with his dramatic behavior, but seems satisfied with his current role. Also, Bumblebee Man is actually an intelligent and dignified actor who approaches his absurd slapstick antics with professional gravitas, and moans about his situation to his wife.
    • Sideshow Mel was later upgraded to a full blown Classically Trained Extra when he revealed to Lisa that he won the Entertainer of the Year award for playing "serious" roles, such as Biff from 'Death of a Salesman'. Mel also makes it perfectly clear that he is in fact not satisfied with his current role.
    • In the episode "I Love Lisa," Lisa's Large Ham thespian classmate Rex is outraged when the part of George Washington, in the school Presidents' Day pageant, goes to Ralph Wiggum instead of him. He ends up playing a bit part, with visible resentment, as Washington's verbally-abused servant.
  • In the Looney Tunes short "A Ham In A Role", a canine actor quits Warner Brothers to study William Shakespeare.
  • In the short-lived Greg the Bunny, Warren the Ape was a Classically Trained Extra. To a lesser extent, Junction Jack is as well.
  • On the episode of The Ren & Stimpy Show where Stimpy goes on strike, one of the replacements Ren auditions was a Shakespearean actor who "played Stimpy for the Queen."
  • A recurring character in the British animated sketch show Monkey Dust is a man who can only speak in a calm, clear voice, and so mostly does voiceovers despite being a classically trained actor.
  • Mr. Pricklepants in Toy Story 3 takes his "role" as a toy incredibly seriously, even though it involves nothing more than not moving when humans are around, something every other toy can do with ease.
  • The ogre in the bloopers of Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus.

Real Life examples:

    Real Life 
  • Maurice Evans, pictured above went on a slow descent from Broadway Shakespeare to Batman and Bewitched...
  • Robert Reed, who really was a serious actor and had done Shakespeare in the past, reportedly hated playing Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch because he felt the role was "beneath" him. This resulted in numerous disputes with producers over the course of the series, even to the point where Reed's character was written out of the series finale.
  • Alec Guinness seems to have felt this way about playing Obi-Wan in Star Wars; a letter to a friend at the time of filming describes the film as "fairy-tale rubbish", the dialogue worse, and his character unclear. He predicted that it would be successful (cannily negotiating a share of the profits), and considered it a well-made film, but he stipulated he wouldn't do any promotion of it and claims to have been in favour of the Obi-Wan Moment at least partially out of a desire not to return for a sequel.
    • Another Star Wars example is Ian McDiarmid, who played Palpatine. He's a successful theatre actor, and won a Tony Award. He actually enjoyed the role, though, and came back on board for the prequels.
    • Far more disgruntled was Temuera Morrison, who seldom misses an opportunity to explain how beneath him it was to play Jango Fett.
  • Real world inversion: Patrick Stewart was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company before he went on to play Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He reportedly considered it good practice. (He did dip his toes into science fiction with the David Lynch adaptation of Dune and the Space Vampire movie.)
    • While with the RSC he reportedly advised Lalla Ward not to take the role of Romana in Doctor Who as doing sci-fi would damage her career.
    • Stewart has noted on at least one occasion that he's glad he took the role because it drew more people in to see his performances on stage and helped teach people about Shakespeare.
    • The Star Trek series have managed to get some surprisingly talented actors over the years. Avery Brooks, aka Cpt. Sisko, has played in Othello and King Lear, and is an extremely talented stage actor as well as a tenured drama professor.
    • William Shatner was trained as a classical Shakespearean actor, played several Shakespearean roles at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada, and debuted on Broadway in Tamburlaine.
    • Dame Judi Dench is a similar case; she has said that she wants to continue playing M until she dies, just because the movies are so much fun to make. This was not to be, however.
  • Similarly to Stewart, Vincent Price had a lot of Shakespearean villain in the Large Ham characters he tended to play. In fact, in one film, Theatre of Blood, his character actually is a hammish Shakespearean actor who murders the critics who panned him. Price had been a member of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre Company early in his career, performing both classical and modern roles.
    • Supposedly, Price took that role precisely because he wanted to show everybody he could do Shakespeare. Every time he'd tried previously, he ended up being rejected because of his Type Casting as a Mad Scientist or Evil Sorcerer.
    • Before he became known for horror roles, Price played a swashbuckler matinee idol in His Kind of Woman, a humor-tinged action movie. He gets a rush from a taste of real-life danger and leaps into the fray, belting out Shakespeare in wonderful Large Ham mode.
  • Werner Klemperer. Concert pianist. Broadway actor. Appeared in serious dramas like The Wrong Man and Judgment at Nuremberg. Best known for playing the hapless and monocled crowning example of a Wacky Nazi. He genuinely enjoyed the part after initial misgivings over the premise, and even kept the monocle for years after the show ended.
  • Betcha didn't know Jim Varney, who played Ernest P. Worrell, was a respected stage actor.
  • Frank Kelly, who played Father Jack Hackett in Father Ted, was a trained stage actor, whose lines were limited to saying 'Feck' and 'Girls' whereas the two leads were stand-up comedians. Frank Kelly would often mutter "feckin' amateurs" during takes.
    • One trailer purported to show the cast rehearsing their catchphrases, while Dermot Morgan addressed the viewers. At the end, Frank Kelly interrupted him in a plummy "classically-trained actor" voice.
    • Jim Norton, who played Bishop Brennan, is also an acclaimed stage actor who has won multiple awards, including a Tony. In an unusual twist, people in the United States are more likely to know him for his extensive Broadway work while people in his native Ireland would know him only as Bishop Brennan.
  • There were two of these in Are You Being Served?. Arthur Brough, who played Mr Grainger in the first five seasons, was a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the founder of multiple repertory companies. John Inman was both a stage actor and a renowned pantomime performer.
  • Once, while hosting Saturday Night Live, Sir Ian McKellen gave an opening about how (now Dame) Maggie Smith had once gotten Laurence Olivier to see a performance of theirs when they were in a minor stage group together, which ended up with both of them being drafted into his Shakespearean troupe, where they met "a talented young actor by the name of Anthony Hopkins." He then went on to talk about the irony that, after playing the classics, Hopkins was now famous for "eating people's faces off", Smith was now "that Harry Potter lady", and "they've made me into an action figure twice!"
    • Sir Anthony Hopkins is an interesting case, and possibly an inversion of this trope; once touted as the Next Big Shakespearean Actor, he deliberately chose to come to Hollywood to make loud, stupid movies because that's what he likes to do. In his own words, "I have no interest in Shakespeare and all that British nonsense... I just wanted to get famous and all the rest is hogwash".
    • Same for Sir Ben Kingsley. One of the most respected actors around, he says he enjoys tackling non-serious movies and big Hollywood blockbusters, comparing them to a big Roman performance spectacle. He even signed onto BloodRayne simply because he always wanted to play a vampire and wear fangs on camera.
    • Even Olivier is no stranger to this trope as he spent much of his last few decades appearing in fare so he could have money to leave to his family (famously becoming the Trope Namer for Money, Dear Boy in the process). He seemed to be okay with that or at least didn't make any apologies for making his family a priority above his career, and he would still treat his roles like they were golden, as seen by his portrayal of Zeus in the original Clash of the Titans.
  • Dan Lauria, famous as the father on The Wonder Years, is a Shakespearean actor who was initially hesitant to audition for the show, or any television show for that matter. He even went as far as to correct one of the writers at his audition, when they commented on what a great role it would be.
    • Although it's possible that that's why they chose him for the role: a father whose glory days are over, who is now stuck at a dead-end job where his talents go to waste.
  • The above mentioned Abe Vigoda (famed for his portrayal in The Godfather) and his role in Good Burger. Abe Vigoda was even in North, where he was sent away on an ice floe due to his age.
  • Garret Morris, of SNL and The Jamie Foxx Show, is a Julliard-trained singer. He sang a few times on the former, but felt he was being typecast.
    • When Walter Matthau hosted, he was aware of Morris's talent, and insisted he get a spot singing an opera aria perfectly straight.
  • Jason Narvy, best known for playing Skull on Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, is a Shakespearean trained actor with multiple degrees, including PhD in Theater Studies and now works as a college professor. However he gained all this after leaving the show but this makes his role as the dim-witted Skull funny in retrospect.
  • The Adam West Batman series received quite a few famous actors in roles as one-time villains. A famous example is Neil Hamilton as Commissioner Gordon, who was a contemporary and even a sort of mentor to Humphrey Bogart.
    • The MAD parody of the show has a throwaway line where Batman says "I thought this week's guest villain was Laurence Olivier!"
    • Adam West himself qualifies, he was initially seen as "too serious" of an actor for the role until someone saw a ridiculously silly commercial for Nestle Quik he did.
  • Samuel L. Jackson is a classically trained Thespian who is best known for being a Jedi Master who has had it with motherfucking snakes. However, he doesn't regret any of his roles and has said that he acts for the pleasure he gets from acting, regardless of whether or not he thinks the movie will be good.
  • Timothy Dalton was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and had done considerably more stage acting than film acting when he was cast as James Bond.
    • He actually did play this trope straight in Toy Story 3, as Mr. Pricklepants.
    • Dalton treated Flash Gordon like it was a lost Shakespeare play, contrasting wildly with the camp around him. As any connoisseur of B-grade schlock knows, this is a very risky tactic. It worked.
  • Orson Welles spent plenty of time directing, starring in, and sometimes rewriting classical plays with the Mercury Theatre and throughout his career... and concluded his career by playing Unicron in Transformers: The Movie.
  • Robert Englund is a graduate of the Academy of Dramatic Art, has done a hell of a lot of stage acting and was given a ten-minute standing ovation after a screening of Il Ritorno di Cagliostro at the Venice Film Festival. Freddy Krueger can act you under the table.
  • Tony award winner Ron Leibman is more well-known nowadays as Rachel's grouchy father in Friends.
  • Shizuma Hodoshima. Japanese Shakespearian stage actor. If you've ever heard of him, it's because he is also the voice actor for Final Fantasy IV's Cecil in remakes and Dissidia: Final Fantasy.
  • Similar to the above Shizuma Hodoshima example, Satoshi Hashimoto is a somewhat prolific actor in most fields of entertainment, ranging from stage plays (The Engineer in Miss Saigon, Jean Valjean in Les Misérables) to live-action movies to TV dramas. However the role that is most synonymous with this name is none other than Terry Bogard, the face of SNK and probably the most memetastic character in all of fighting game history. Up until The King of Fighters XII, he also voiced fellow Fatal Fury alum Kim Kaphwan. Also, did you know that he led the Autobots on one occasion?
  • While not being a Shakespearian actress per se, Junko Takeuchi (of Naruto fame) is also a classical trained stage actress and former ballerina according in a recent interview. And yes, just like everyone else (both in- and out of universe) she also agrees that Naruto is an annoying brat at first.
  • While not classically trained, Graham Chapman was a very intelligent (he was a fully-qualified MD and deadly serious about itnote ) and talented actor whose straight laced persona was used to hilarious effect for Straight Man roles. The other Pythons considered him the best and chose him for the lead roles in Holy Grail and Life of Brian.
  • An Aversion. Jim Broadbent, a well respected Oscar winning actor, not only thoroughly enjoyed his role in Hot Fuzz, but had actually asked Edgar Wright for a part in his next film after meeting him. Timothy Dalton also appeared and gleefully made a ham of himself, and Cate Blanchett had an uncredited cameo as Nicholas' ex-girlfriend in one scene, where the entirety of her body and face was obscured aside from her eyes.
  • Averted with Alan Rickman who, while a very acclaimed stage actor who has turned down film roles to focus on theater, gets equal praise for film roles and thoroughly enjoys being able to play characters like Snape and Hans Gruber. He liked Chasing Amy so much that he sought out a role in Kevin Smith's next film, Dogma.
  • In Homicide: Life on the Street, Andre Braugher, Reed Diamond and Yaphet Kotto were all professional actors, with Braugher and Diamond both having attended Julliard. Subverted in that they were not only massively acclaimed, but Homicide is cited as one of the best acted shows on television.
  • Alec Baldwin, who once wrote a 65-page thesis on method acting, was in the nineties considered one of the best dramatic actors around, mainly due to roles in Malice and — most famously — Glengarry Glen Ross. He is best known now for playing Jack on the sitcom 30 Rock. Subverted in that he is not only enormously acclaimed for it, but has spoken positively about it on numerous occasions.
  • John Laurie, best known for playing The Eeyore Private Frazer on Dad's Army and rather bitter about the fact as his theatrical work was much less well known.
  • The Observer, or "that creepy bald guy who shows up in the background of every episode" on Fringe, is played by Michael Cerveris, a Tony-winning Broadway leading man who has played John Wilkes Booth and Sweeney Todd. And he doesn't even sing in the Musical Episode!
  • Believe it or not, Phil Mitchell is a RADA graduate.
  • Top British stage actor Sir Antony Sher, in a rare movie role, plays Hitler in the comedy flop Churchill: The Hollywood Years.
    • He was also virtually an extra in an episode of One Foot in the Grave (he plays a man in a waiting room and doesn't speak a single line)
  • Rupert Everett played hammy baddies in the dumb kiddie comedies Inspector Gadget and Dunston Checks In.
  • Playwright and stage veteran Steven Berkoff played 2-dimensional baddies in Octopussy, Beverly Hills Cop, Rambo: First Blood Part II and The Tourist.
  • Charles Dance slums it as the dastardly Deputy Prime Minister in Ali G Indahouse where, at the end of the film, he has get into tight, skimpy womens clothes. And once before he sacrificed his dignity to play a cyborg space pirate with a chainsaw-like motorised penis (complete with rip cord) in Space Truckers.
  • This can even happen in Shakespeare productions. After all, someone has to play the guards, handmaidens, and servants from the stage directions.
  • This is becoming much more common in American TV. More and more American movies and shows are being produced in other countries, often for budget reasons (Canada and New Zealand being the most common). They will usually hire local actors for various parts, and you can end up with some very high-profile Canadian, Aussie and Kiwi actors playing relatively small parts that local audiences might see as way below their caliber. Although, more often than not, the actors themselves love it. Since the American production teams don't have any perceptions of their acting ability, the actors have a greater chance to spread their wings and play against type.
  • Similarly, this trope literally occurs when major Hollywood movies or TV shows are filmed on-location in places like Atlanta GA, Richmond VA, Dallas TX, Wilmington NC, etc. Many accomplished actors working on stage in those areas wind up as background actors or with very small speaking parts at best, with most major roles going to actors with agents in New York or Los Angeles.
  • Gemma Arterton feels this for Clash of the Titans. She refused to sign on to the sequel, and her character, Io, got killed off. However, she rather enjoyed making Quantum of Solace and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
  • Canadian actor John Vernon was a RADA graduate who once played Malvolio at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. He's best known in the United States for playing the hardass Dean Wormer in Animal House.
  • Peter Lorre was seen as a coming actor on the Berlin stages, particularly working with Bert Brecht, but went into movies, where he often played small supporting or villainous parts after appearing in M. Which he might not have done had Brecht's "A Man's a Man" been more of a success in theatre.
    • Speaking of M, Theo Lingen, who appears there as the pickpocket and has a similar role Fritz Lang's next film, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse was a prominent member of Brecht's troupe (he also married Brecht's first wife, Marianne Zoff) but got sidetracked into playing servants and the like in countless movies.
    • Otto Wernicke was another theater star in the '20s, before playing Kommissar Lohman in both of the Lang films. He spent the rest of his career stranded in minor supporting roles, possibly because his Jewish wife caused difficulties during the Nazi era.
  • William Atherton is a veteran stage actor who has starred on Broadway, worked with Arthur Miller and won numerous awards for his performances. He's best known to the public for playing Walter Peck in Ghostbusters (1984) and Richard Thornburg in Die Hard.
  • Jeffrey Jones, a graduate of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic art and trained Shakespearian actor, once lamented that he was far more likely to be remembered for playing Principal Rooney in Ferris Bueller's Day Off than for playing the emperor of Austria in Amadeus. Of course given later controversy and scandals, Mr Jones should probably consider himself lucky if that's what he's remembered for.
  • Tom Bosley, whose formidable stage career (including a Tony award for the musical Fiorello!) has been overshadowed by playing Howard Cunningham on Happy Days. It's not all bad though, as Bosley enjoyed working on the show.
  • Richard Boone, who's best-remembered for Westerns like Have Gun — Will Travel and Hombre, trained at the Actor's Studio and acted in Shakespeare and Euripides plays onstage before moving into film and television work. He even taught acting at university level later in life.
  • Bela Lugosi considered himself to be the Hungarian Barrymore, forced to give up fame on the Budapest stage and flee to Hollywood as a refugee of the Hungarian Revolution, where his thick accent consigned him to be typecast as a villain in B (and C and D) movies. (Most of this is pure bullshit, by the way; while he actually was a member of the Hungarian National Theater he only played small roles and bit parts.) But he truly was a critically acclaimed stage actor before he originated his most famous role, playing Dracula in 274 performances on Broadway to rave reviews before heading west to play him in the film. Rumors that he could not act likely stem from his rival Boris Karloff, with whom he was always fighting for top billing.
    • Lugosi's favorite role was in Ninotchka, where he got to have his desired romantic role, albeit not the lead.
  • Classic Doctor Who is well associated with this. While the modern show is a well-respected and much-loved institution that can attract top actors who speak fondly of their roles, the Classic series was regarded as trashy ill-made nonsense and stocked with often intensely skilled London theatre actors standing around in silly hats simply for the promise of some cash. Sometimes you'll get truly execrable performances by actors whose other roles have demonstrated them to be talented enough to know better, and other times you'll get generic stock characters played with the quality and intensity of a Hamlet. Still at other times you'll see extremely talented actors deliberately acting badly for the fun of it, seeing the show as akin to Panto - while at other times, you can hear side characters reeling off technobabble with Iambic rhythms. The effect of this is part of what makes Classic Doctor Who so stylistically distinctive and bizarre, especially to American viewers less familiar with the BBC and its tendency to do this.
    • The Doctors themselves were all played by trained and highly creative Shakespearean Actors, and yet, due to the contempt in which the show was held, the ability of those playing the part has only been commonly recognised by critics after the New series remarketed the franchise as a thought-provoking SF drama and British cultural institution rather than as mildly scary children's nonsense to watch until the soaps came on. You're much more likely to read an article praising the skill of Tom Baker's, Patrick Troughton's or Peter Davison's performances - always beloved, but not until recently technically well-regarded - dating from 2007 than from 1997.
    • One of the more beloved recurring actors was Philip Madoc (best remembered in Who for his star performance as Gothic Horror Mad Scientist Mehendri Solon in "The Brain of Morbius"), a classically-trained and quality actor who ended his decades-long association with the programme due to his anger over the tiny, badly-written part he got in Writer Revolt episode "The Power of Kroll".
  • John Carradine. He was a prolific Shakespearean actor on stage, was a member of John Ford's "stock company" and worked with other prolific directors like Fritz Lang and Cecil B. DeMille. Ninety percent of his film career however was spent appearing in B-grade (or worse) horror movies.
  • June Foray is a classically-trained Shakespearian actress. Today she's mostly known for her voice acting roles in Rocky and Bullwinkle, Looney Tunes, and The Smurfs.
  • Crispin Freeman has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre from Williams College, a Master of Fine Arts in Acting from Columbia University, and performed on Broadway, at the American Repertory Theater, and on-stage in Los Angeles and Chicago, but he's mostly famous for his voice acting roles in anime and video games.
  • Christopher Sabat is a trained opera singer, which at least came in handy for his many screaming Dragon Ball Z roles.
  • Many anime and video game voice actors working for FUNimation and ADV Films are accomplished stage actors in the Houston and Dallas areas, many of which have performed in Shakespeare. This did help when the anime adaptation of Romeo and Juliet was dubbed into English.
  • Ian McShane, a highly respected actor with a long history of prestigious roles, joined the monster hit fantasy series Game of Thrones at age 73 purely for the chance to work with his old friends Charles Dance and Stephen Dillane. Trouble is, his disdain for the show had kept him from learning that their characters had both been killed off, and upon discovering this he came very close to walking off on the job until he figured it was only going to be one episode anyway. He promptly set about making his hatred for the show and all its fans abundantly clear in all pieces of promotion for it, including the memetic line "Get a fucking life, it's just tits and dragons." Though rather awesomely, none of this has actually appeared to have the slightest impact on the fans themselves, who are still just thrilled that he's finally making an appearance after long being pegged as a perfect fit for the show.
  • Mentioned in the episode commentary of an Invader Zim episode. The commentators joked about the awkwardness of asking classically trained and notable Star Trek actor John de Lancie to play a bit character named "Agent Darkbootie"
  • In general this tends to be true with older black actors/actresses. Many of them are highly qualified and have a lot of theater experience. However, due to the lack of roles available for black actors, many of them ended up waiting a long time before having their Breakthrough Hit.