The category of supporting actor includes all actors who play secondary, supporting roles in films. These roles can be played by actors who also appear in leading roles in other films, or by character actors. Character actors typically play similar roles from film to film, and very frequently have a distinctive look, voice or manner which precludes them from playing leading roles in most mainstream films. George Clooney is an example of an actor who has played both leading roles ( Ocean's Eleven , 2001) and supporting roles ( Syriana , 2005). A more traditional character actor is Peter Lorre, who played similar supporting roles in films such as Casablanca (1942) and The Maltese Falcon (1941). While character actors frequently play supporting roles in films, they also occasionally play leading roles, such as Ruth Gordon in Harold and Maude (1971) and Peter Dinklage in The Station Agent (2003).
The system of leading and supporting actors used in American cinema is also found in other countries, where supporting actors serve the same function as they do in the United States. Great Britain's Dame Maggie Smith ( Gosford Park , 2001), Spain's Juan Diego ( El Séptimo Día , 2004) and France's Jean Carmet ( Les Misérables , 1982), are examples of actors who have earned critical praise and numerous awards and nominations for supporting performances in their native countries.