Something that's always mystified me about movies is how the term "character actor" signifies a lower class of performer. You see I was always under the impression it is an actor's job to re-create the character that either the playwright or script writer had created. Silly me; people don't want to pay money to see Tom Cruise trying to be someone else, they want to see Tom Cruise fighting Martians War Of The Worlds or being a brave German army officer trying to kill Hitler Valkyrie. In fact, if the character's name isn't in the title of a film, I'd bet most audiences would only know his character as "the guy Tom Cruise played".
Nothing personal against Tom Cruise, you could replace his name in the previous paragraph with that of almost any other current or former movie star and it would be that same story. I say almost because there are some actors out there today who do create characters to play on screen, and aren't content to only play a variation of themselves. However, even when you do get someone creating a character for a movie, you often get more of a caricature than a real person. Most of the time what you'll see is a something along the lines of a few emotions passed off as a person: this is my character angry, sad, happy, and horny. Or even worse, what you see on screen is a mish-mash of stereotypes that identify a type but bear little or no relationship to a human being.
It's been years since I've seen any of Tracey Ullman's television work, so I had forgotten her skill at creating characters and bringing them to life. However, after watching the new release from Eagle Rock Entertainment, Tracey Takes On, her talent is indelibly etched into my brain. The release is a triple-disc DVD set of the third and fourth seasons of her HBO show of the same name, What makes her work so memorable is the fact her characters are multi-dimensional, and the more you see and get to know them, the more human they become.
Each segment of Tracey Takes On features Ullman's characters acting out what everything from "Obsession" to "Hollywood" means to them. Ullman introduces each collection of vignettes by citing an example or two of her own experiences and then we immediately segue to the first of her characters with something to say on the subject. Now I haven't seen any episodes from the first two seasons, but I have to assume that the collection of characters we meet over the course of these three DVDs have appeared throughout the history of the show, so some of you might already be familiar with names like Ruby Romaine the make-up artist; "Chic" Middle Eastern taxi driver; Trevor the gay airline steward; Sydney Cross the loud mouthed attorney; Chris and her lover Midge, a pro on the LPGA tour; Fern Rosenthal a Jewish retiree from Long Island living in Florida; Linda Granger ex star of the television show VIP Lounge; and the rest of Ullman's menagerie of characters.