One of the most overlooked, but incredibly important talent roles is that of the bit part. Many are familiar with the role of the extra and the role of a lead actor. But a bit part falls somewhere in between. They do not entirely steal the show, but they do not fall into the background. What is a bit part? And how has the role of a bit part allowed some cinema’s most iconic actors to breakthrough? Let’s take a look at the bit part.
Bit Part Meaning
First, let’s define bit part
There are many roles on the talent side of a production. Lead actors, supporting actors, extras, and of course, bit parts. To understand how a bit part differs from other roles, let’s take a look at the bit part definition.
BIT PART DEFINITION
What is a bit part?
A bit part, also called a bit character, is a small or unimportant role in a film, television show, or play. Actors who play a bit part have a minimum of one speaking line. Typically bit parts do not exceed six lines. An actor who plays a bit part is often referred to as a “bit player” or a “day player” as they are typically on set for one day.
What is a bit part used for?
- Comedic relief
- Background characters
- Authenticity of a setting
Bit Character Basics
Bit parts vs. Extras
Bit parts are often confused with extras, sometimes called background artists. Bit parts are defined by at least one speaking line. Extras on the other hand do not have any speaking lines.
Both bit parts and extras, however, do not influence the story of a film. Rather they are used to create a sense of authenticity in a scene by providing a realistic background and mise en scene for the main characters.
One of the most iconic examples of a bit character can be found in this scene from When Harry Met Sally. The woman at the far table who says “I’ll have what she’s having” is a perfect example of a bit part.
Fun fact, Rob Reiner, the director of When Harry Met Sally, casted his mother for the bit character in the scene. This is also a great example of bit parts provide comedic relief. It is important to note that bit parts typically do not exceed more than six lines. A role with more than six lines can be considered a supporting role in a scene.
Examples of Bit Part Characters
Famous bit character examples
Because they have a few lines, actors who play a bit role can showcase their talent a bit more than an extra. Recurring bit parts for an actor can also help them build snippets of work that they can showcase.
Some of cinema’s most iconic actors started with bit parts in a film. For example, one of James Dean’s first roles was a bit role in the film Sailor Beware starring Dean Martin. In the scene below, James Dean’s line “That guy’s a professional” is what separates him from being an extra.
Another icon that started with bit roles is Marilyn Monroe. Before she was the superstar phenomenon the world knew and loved, she was a bit player in the 1947 film Dangerous Years.
While it is easy to see her star quality in retrospect, Marilyn had a few bit parts before she broke in through larger roles. Bit parts are a common place for actors to start if they are looking to break into the industry.
Looking for bit character roles
How to find bit parts
Bit actors pay varies greatly depending on the production from $100 per day and up. How much they get paid also depends on if they are a SAG member as well as how many production days they will be working.
If you are looking for bit parts as an actor, networking is one of the best places to start for anyone in Hollywood. Utilizing online resources like Backstage will help you find bit opportunities.
The Best Free Casting Websites
Whether you are looking to cast a bit part for your film or you are looking to play a bit part, finding opportunities will require some online research. To get an idea of the best places to start looking, take a look at our complete list of the best casting websites in our next article.