For as long as actors have been on the big screen they have looked larger than life. Camera tricks and special height-increasing footwear can make an actor who is shorter than average height appear over average height on the screen. This is one of the reasons why when considering an acting career the subject of height is often discussed, and the debate remains open.
So, does height matter in acting?
For film and television acting a lack of height can be compensated for. Picture Ironman or Jack Reacher, who are fictional characters both standing over 6 feet tall, played by actors who are below average height. Special tricks such as elevator shoes, camera angles, character spacing and boxes are all used for actors to appear taller.
On stage, height is a factor as camera tricks are not possible, but again, special footwear can solve this problem if an actor is a few inches below the required height.
The Role Being Played
The required height for a acting depends on the role the actor is being cast for, as the best height for an actor suits the character.
That being said, if the actor falls within the average range of height then he/she will have a broader range of roles to apply for, as the height can be negated through special tricks which can help the actor to look considerable taller, and in some cases shorter than they really are.
Is it Better to be Taller or Shorter in Acting?
Height does matter in acting for casting calls which will often give height requirements for roles. For instance, if a taller person is playing an average height character in a movie then the cast needs to fit around this character to make him appear of average height.
This would require altering the cast to do so, which in many cases it would be easier to just hire somebody of average height. However, in Hollywood, this isn't as much of an issue due to larger budgets.
So we have established that the grouping of subjects, camera angles, and special footwear can sometimes negate height issues, but this is not always the case. Camera tricks can only account for so much. If somebody is vastly below average height then they are going to find it hard to be able to get cast in a role where the character is meant to look tall, and vice versa.
For instance, for a romantic lead, if you are a man considerably shorter than your romantic interest in a film, you will most likely not get the part. The same applies if the woman is considerably taller, as it is socially accepted that the man should be taller than the woman on screen.
For stage acting, it entirely depends on the cast and the required heights for the characters. If, for example, you are playing one of the Dwarfs in the story Snow White then the actors are going to have to be very short in height. So, there remains a bias that is determined by who the actors are portraying.
Both taller and shorter actors have their place in the acting world and can have lucrative acting careers both on and off-screen.
Pros and Cons for Being Taller in Acting
One idea is that a taller height conveys authority, and this translates into the workplace, where taller people on average earn more money (1). As acting is a job, then height also relates to this idea. Take for example the top 10 earning Hollywood actors of 2020, of which 5 of them were over 6 feet tall and 5 were around average height (2).
The shortest was Jackie Chan, who stands within the average range for a man at around 5'8 (172.8cm). There were no actors who would be described as short, so we can see that in this instance, average to tall actors get paid the most.
There will also be roles that only very tall people can apply for, as imposing figures or portraying 'larger-than-life' characters. that a shorter actor simply couldn't portray. In this sense, the phrase 'bigger is better' comes to mind.
These may include villains, giants, and superheroes. This is not always the case, and sometimes having a contrasting height can complement other characters, such as when David defeated Goliath, emphasizing David's strength.
If someone is taller they can have a harder time finding acting roles on the big screen, as they can look too elongated when next to their average height counterparts. They may also need to have larger props and spacing surrounding them in order to look balanced on screen.
There will also be some roles that require smaller people, which will be ruled out for taller actors. In the case of a powerful leading character, his aide (supporting actor), is usually (but not always) going to be shorter than him, to help him look dominant.
Pros and Cons for Being Shorter in Acting
There are some roles specifically designed for shorter people, whether that be a leading role, or more commonly a supporting role. You may be presented with the opportunity to play younger characters which can lead to a greater range of roles accessible to you as you get older.
For comedy roles we often see smaller people being cast. Whether their stature has anything to do with helping them emphasize the characteristics of being funny, such as laughing at yourself and being open is debatable, but as taller people are often seen to be dominating, shorter people may appear to be more fun and relaxed, and the bridge bringing people together, thus suiting the comedy setting.
Being especially short, such as having dwarfism can open your chances to playing unique roles and also see great success. Take, for example, Peter Drinkage who played Tyrion Lannister in Game Of Thrones, with a central role, surviving until the end of the series. He has won awards for his performances and has had a successful career.
Aside from romantic leads, for roles that require dominating, larger than life figures, being short will usually not be an option, even in Hollywood, where height enhancing tricks are at their peak.
Does Height Matter in Hollywood?
Hollywood is seen as the big stage and the peak of success in the acting world. However the answer is similar to any casting call, and it depends on the role you are applying for. Some actors will suit taller roles, and others shorter roles.
Although, you can argue that height matters less in Hollywood because film companies have the best of the best in terms of equipment and talent, with the greatest minds working on projects so they can use state-of-the-art tricks to enable the actor to appear at the desired height.
Money is another factor, and Hollywood film companies often have huge budgets which can negate height concerns if the actor otherwise fits the role.
This is because the talent, physical appearance, and the sound of a voice play a central role in Hollywood casting, so if a short actor is otherwise perfect for a taller role they can hire a shorter cast so he can still give off a larger than life impression compared to the supporting actors.
An example of this is when Hugh Jackman played the character Wolverine, who is a tall man. So to balance this out they made the supporting cast around him taller through platforms and camera tricks.
Shorter Successful Actors and Actresses
- Warwick Davis: 3'6" (106.7 cm)
- Peter Dinklage: 4'4 (132.1 cm)
- Danny DeVito: 4'9" (144.8 cm)
- Rob Schneider: 5'3.5"(161.3 cm)
- Daniel Radcliffe: 5'4.5"(163.8 cm)
- Linda Hunt: 4'9" (144.8 cm)
- Kelly Stables: 4'10" (147.3 cm)
- Judy Garland: 4'11.5" (1.51 cm)
- Jada Pinkett Smith" 4'11.5" (151.1 cm)
- Hayden Panettiere: 5'.25"
Taller Successful Actors and Actresses
- Conan Stevens: 6'11" (210.8 cm)
- James Cromwell: 6'6" (198.1 cm)
- Tim Robbins: 6'5" (195.6 cm)
- Vince Vaughn: 6'5" (195.6 cm)
- Dwayne Johnson: 6'2.5" (189.2 cm)
- Gwendoline Christie: 6'3.25" (191.1 cm)
- Geena Davis: 6' (182.9 cm)
- Uma Thurman: 5'11 (180.3 cm)
- Sigourney Weaver 5'10.75" (179.7 cm)
- Nicole Kidman: 5'10.5" (179.1 cm)
The Curtain Call
Yes, height does matter when it comes to acting. Casting directors can turn you down if you don't fit the character description, but in general, there will be a minimum and maximum height stated in these cases. Yet, there are some exceptions to the established rules, and with modern society becoming more open-minded in general, the established "norm" is constantly being reworked into a new, acceptable standard.
So, the truth is there is no best or worst height for acting, as it is dependent on a number of factors which sometimes require shorter, and other times taller actors. From this we can conclude that if you fall within the average height range your options for acting roles might be larger as your height can be worked around to look both taller or shorter.
If you have other things going for you such as a back catalog of acting experience and talent then you may be seen as a bankable star, and the director will work around your height if it is not ideal for a role. So, the bottom line is that you should not let your lack of, or ample height stop you from perusing your dreams.