- - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

You may not know their names, but you recognize their faces. They are not usually the lead but very often the scene-stealing character actors.

Finally there is an award show that celebrates these known but perhaps not “name” talents. The “Carney Awards,” named after “Honeymooners” second banana Art Carney, celebrate these talented actors and actresses. On the red carpet at the event’s second annual vent Gary Cole (“Office Space”) Stephen Tobolowsky (“Californication,” “Groundhog Day”), Conchata Farrel (“Two and aHalf Men”) and Steve Buscemi (“Boardwalk Empire,” “Fargo”) discussed the challenges of being a “character actor.”

Question: What is your definition of a character actor?

Conchata Farrel: Me! (Laughs.) It’s [being] a supporting actor. The one you like the best in the old comedies. All I’ve ever been is a character actor.

Steven Tobolowsky: I would say we are all character actors. Every one of us. As a character actor we have to be more conscious of role playing. What role do we play in the story? You are part of a team, and [you have to] ask, “What do they need me to do?”

Gary Cole: I don’t know. That’s a nice phrase [that] brings things to mind. But I don’t know if I would put a definition on it.

I consider any actor a “character actor.” Any good actor. That’s what you try to tackle, period. Whether it’s the center of the story or not. That’s the job description: to build the characters that serves the story in its best form.

Q: Is it better to be a character actor than a leading man?

ST: Absolutely. Because when a film tanks, which sometimes it does, the leading actors take the hit [and] they are no longer commercial commodities. Whereas guys like me, as long as we are able to lose our hair at an early age, we can work a long time.

GC: That would depend on the project, I guess. At this point in my advanced years, I don’t really look at anything like that. The labeling comes from outside of what I do. I don’t even make a distinction between drama and comedy. We try to tell the truth. If somebody is supposed to laugh, hopefully they’ll do that. If they are supposed to do the other thing, hopefully they’ll do that.

CF: I think so. I don’t have to worry about getting older, because character actors come in all ages. I’ve never had to compete with the really beautiful girls. I play their best friend. They need me.

It’s been really terrific. When I was doing “Two and a Half Men,” I missed the recession. My daughter got to go to Yale. It was great gig.

As a character actor the pressure is off because you’re not carrying a show or film by yourself.

Q: When you do a hit TV show and play a well-known character, is it hard for people to see you as anything else?

CF: Oh yeah. For a little while. I did the show for 13 years. People have a tendency to always call me by my character name. They call me Berta. And it pisses me off! (Laughs.)

ST: Sometimes. But when you’re a character actor, that is usually eclipsed by a new roll. Right now everybody says “Hey, Jack Barker in ‘Silicon Valley’!” Or “Hey, Principal Ball!” You just get recognized for a lot of different things.

Q: Who is your favorite character actor?

CF: My favorite American actress is Viola Davis. But she does character work and leading lady parts, so she’s not specifically a character actress. She can do the hell out of both.

And I also like a very good friend of mine, C.C.H. Pounder. Those are my favorites.

ST: I probably would have said Jimmy Stewart, although he’s [more] considered a leading man. I love what he did with different rolls.

If you want to go character “character” actor? Walter Brennan.

GC: Just to pick one out of the air? The late great Charles Durning. I was lucky at the end of his life to do a couple of play readings with him. So I get to say I worked with him. He was in several of my favorite movies, including my favorite of all time, “Dog Day Afternoon.”

Q: What does this award mean to you?

Steve Buscemi: It means everything. I love Art Carney, and this is an honor and a privilege to be mentioned in the same sentence as him and be in the same business he was in. I love it.

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