Harold Pinter once said that there are two types of silence: one where nothing is spoken, and one where a ceaseless torrent of conversation effectively takes meaning away from the words. Under normal circumstances, a huge part of an actor's performance is dependent on the dialogue they are given. That's how we determine the type of person that they are, and without those words, actors have to work even harder to develop characterization in a way that the audience can understand. So to play a character who, for one reason or another, does not speak, creates quite a challenge. When you don't have the luxury of words, you have to use your face and your body as the only way to communicate with not only the other characters in the film, but with the audience as well. Anyone who has seen particularly dated silent films knows how easy it is to fall into a pattern of overacting in an attempt to be understood. But in a way, it can be quite liberating to play a character who is free from meaningless chatter, and communicates in a more organic and genuine way. There are a number of actors who have risen to the challenge, and created really interesting characters that deserve to be recognized.
10. Lurch - The Addams Family
Lurch is one of the most enduring figures in popular culture, and he never even said a word. He didn't have to. Other men may fill their days with meaningless chatter and empty words. Not Lurch. He could communicate perfectly well without dialogue. Well, OK, Lurch spoke in the 1960s sitcom, but that's only because Jim Cummings ad-libbed the famous, "You rang?" line and they decided to stick with it. But in the original comics and the theatrical films, there's no talking. So he still counts. Since the 1930s, Lurch has been the faithful butler of the wildly macabre Addams Family. Absurdly tall and silent as the grave (except for the occasional well-timed grunt), he took on the day to day minutiae of running the spooky Addams household, which mainly consisted of opening the front door when visitors rang the bell and glaring menacingly at people. His role was limited, to be sure -- out of necessity, characters like Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, and Uncle Fester got the lion's share of screen time. After all, deadpan sardonic humor is much easier to pull off when you can actually speak. But Lurch will always have a special place in our hearts, and the Addams Family wouldn't have been the same without him.
Audrey Fox is an ex-film student, which means that she prefers to spend her days in the dark, watching movies and pondering the director's use of diegetic sound. She currently works as an entertainment writer, joyfully rambling about all things film and television related. Add her on Twitter at @audonamission and check out her film blog at 1001moviesandbeyond.com.