Question: What does it mean when an actor is "uncredited" for a film? Ashton Kutcher, for example, is listed on IMDb.com as uncredited for his work in Cheaper by the Dozen — does this mean it's not counted for him? — Richard

Flickchick: I'm not sure what you mean by "not counted," but all "uncredited" means is that an actor who appears in a film isn't listed in the credits. Why an actor isn't credited is another matter, one I've written about before; this is what I wrote in my column of Dec. 25, 2003, on the subject:

The short answer to why an actor would not take credit for his or her work is because the actor (or someone speaking for him or her) asked not to be. The short form of the long answer is that when well-known actors like Ashton Kutcher, Emilio Estevez or, to choose another recent example, Meryl Streep in Stuck on You, go uncredited, it's generally because they couldn't get the billing they wanted and/or to which they've become accustomed. Billing refers to the way in which an actor's name appears on the screen; whether it comes before or after the title, whether it's on the screen alone or with one or more other names, whether it's the first of two etc. This is partly a question of ego, but it's also partly a question of maintaining one's professional standing in a ferociously competitive business.

Professional standing, a very subjective thing, has a direct effect on how much money an actor will make for his or her next role, and money is everything in Hollywood. And one of the things that affect how much money an actor can get for a role is how he or she has been billed in the past. Billing is a measure of power, and above the title billing is the most prestigious of all. If you got above-the-title billing on your last movie, you've got real clout, because above-the-title billing means that someone believes your name can sell a movie regardless of the story or director or anything else. Single-card billing is more prestigious than sharing the screen with another name (let alone two or three), but being billed at the beginning of the movie, no matter how far down, trumps being billed only in the end credits. Agents do a lot of wrangling over billing, because getting a lesser billing than a client has received in the past can impair his or her earning power — it implies a career on the skids. And sometimes when agents can't get their clients the billing they want, they'll advise taking no credit at all. It was because of an impasse over billing that Havana (1990) has three stars — Robert Redford, Raul Julia and Lena Olin — of whom only two, Redford and Olin, are credited. Anywhere. Back-and-forth negotiation over billing also produces things like the character credit: "... And Jan Martin as Sister Agatha" or the like. That's a compromise billing: The actor wanted to be billed higher up than his or her agent could negotiate, so they accepted the last actor credit (the actors' names are always followed by the principal filmmakers, leading up to the director), with a distinguishing fillip — the character name. The thinking is that viewers will remember the last name they see better than the ones in the middle, and the addition of the character name will make them think the role must be really important, and therefore the actor playing that character must be really important too. The equivalent in European movie billing is the "... and with the participation of Marcello Mombaldi" — sometimes even the gracious participation.