We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

What Is a "Bit Part"?

By Mark Wollacott
Updated: May 23, 2024

Bit part is an idiomatic phrase used to denote someone who has a small role to play. This usually refers to an actor in a play, television show or movie. It is also used to refer to someone who had a small part in a project or to a sportsman or woman who made a small contribution to the team. In some cases, the term is used to denigrate someone or is used by the bit part player in order to complain about his or her relatively small role.

Idioms such as “bit part” and “kick the bucket” are non-literal phrases. Native language speakers often understand idioms when second language learners do not. This is because idioms are often culturally specific, and learners lack the contextual awareness to understand them.

The term, “bit part” comes from Old English and proto-Germanic. A bit refers to two things: a drill piece that makes holes and the small bits such a drill or implement create. Over time, the small parts created came to be known as bit parts, and this collocation was attributed to other areas such as actors with minor roles.

There are various types of bit part roles and actors. Some actors are able to make a career out of such roles, while others do it as a hobby or as a means of funding college or to get themselves noticed for larger roles. Bit part actors are sometimes called Under Sixes, meaning they have fewer than six lines; other supporting actors may have more lines, but would still not be considered a main actor or character.

Supporting actors often have more than six lines. Such bit parts are more important than extras, but are far less important than the major characters. They can still make a big impression as a major character. Some important minor characters include Pete Hornberger from “30 Rock” and Tariq Masood in “Spooks.”

Cameos and extras are also different than bit parts. A cameo is a guest appearance, often a small part played by a famous actor or celebrity. Examples of cameos include Peter Jackson playing Santa in “Hot Fuzz.” An extra has a non-speaking background and in no way affects the story.

Such bit part actors often hope to secure better parts in other shows, films and plays or hope their character will be promoted to the rank of a major character. The term “bit part” is often used in this context as a form of complaint. Some supporting characters do gather an online following, with viewers wanting to know more about them. This is most true of television shows that have the opportunity to grow and develop over time.

In sport, bit part players, in soccer, for example, tend to be bench warmers. They spend a lot of time on the sidelines watching games and playing a small role as a substitute. When such players ask to leave the team, they tend to express their frustration at being a “bit part player.”

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By mrwormy — On Feb 09, 2015

I think there's a rule in the actors' union about the number of lines that a non-union actor can perform in a movie. That's why bit parts go to actors who are not part of SAG or AFTRA. Once they speak more than a certain number of lines in a film, they become eligible for union membership and can no longer be hired by local filmmakers without signing a lot of paperwork.

A friend of mine had a bit part in a movie that flopped, but he included the scene on his audition reel. He actually booked a few national commercials based on that one small part in a movie hardly anyone saw.

By Inaventu — On Feb 08, 2015

A friend of mine was trying to break into the acting business, so she went to an open audition for a major movie that was filming near our town. The ad said they were only looking for extras in non-speaking roles, but she thought it might give her an opportunity to meet some real professional actors and get some advice.

The casting director knew there was a bit part available for a waitress in a diner, and my friend had that kind of look, apparently. She was sent over to a trailer to get a waitress uniform, and then get her hair and make-up done. She only had two lines, but she got to deliver them to the actor Richard Gere. She still talks about it, and every time that movie shows up on TV, she points out her big scene.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.