In film, roles are typified by what they contribute to the production. A leading role is one that "leads" the story: That character is vital to the story. For instance, "Romeo" is a leading role in "Romeo & Juliet." In contrast, featured roles, also called supporting roles, are those roles that contribute to the action of the story.
Featured roles present situations to the characters in leading roles. They are the catalysts for their reactions of the leading role characters. What makes a role a "featured role" has nothing to do with the number of lines spoken, but everything to do with the reactions that character causes. For instance, the "bad guy" of a film or play is commonly a featured role.
The featured role requires the actor to balance his performance between brashness or comedy and the subtlety seen in a primary extra type role. The actor in the featured role has to make performance "big" enough to get a reaction and affect the storyline, but not so big that it overshadows what's happening in the story.
The featured roles in films have to maintain a balance between theatrical and meaningful, but they also have to elicit reactions from the lead characters. For this reason, featured roles tend to be memorable. Examples include Christian Bale's character in "The Fighter," Michael Douglas in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," and Mila Kunis in "Black Swan."
The term "featured role" is confined to live theater. In films, the term "supporting role" is used. Although the terms are different, their use is merely a tradition. The goals and purposes of a featured role and a supporting role are the same.
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