Classically Trained Extra

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"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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    Advertising 
  • 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."

    Film 
  • 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's Most Wanted 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.

    Music 
  • 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.

    Radio 
  • 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.

    Theater 
  • 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 
  • 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.
  • Star Wars:
    • Alec Guinness seems to have felt this way about playing Obi-Wan; in 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.
    • Far more disgruntled was Temuera Morrison, who seldom misses an opportunity to explain how beneath him it was to play Jango Fett.
  • While Patrick Stewart was 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.
  • 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.
  • Once, while hosting Saturday Night Live, Sir Ian McKellen gave an opening about how 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!"
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. note  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.
  • Doctor Who 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".
  • 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."
  • 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"


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