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An actor (often actress for females; see terminology) is a person who portrays a character in a performance . The actor performs "in the flesh " in the traditional medium of the theatre or in modern mediums such as film , radio , and television . The analogous Greek term is ὑποκριτής (hupokritḗs), literally "one who answers". The actor's interpretation of their role pertains to the role played, whether based on a real person or fictional character . Interpretation occurs even when the actor is "playing themselves", as in some forms of experimental performance art or, more commonly; to act, is to create, a character in performance . Formerly, in some societies, only men could become actors , and women 's roles were generally played by men or boys . When used for the stage, women occasionally played the roles of prepubescent boys .