As children, many of our most talented actresses looked doe-eyed at their parents and announced, “When I grow up, I want to play a deranged killer’s victim.” Every Best Actress Oscar winner has first dreamed of being supremely beautiful and inspiring in death. Lying still and pretending not to breathe is a rewarding profession. But of course, not all dead female characters have the same merit, and the true greats look for nuanced carcass roles that challenge them artistically. Here’s a few of those creme-de-la-blood that all performers with a double x chromosome cherish…
Unnamed Prostitute in Every Crime Show
The classic cadaver! And a rite of passage for any beginning actress (or, in industry parlance, “corpse-ess”). This is the lowest yet noblest rung on the dead girl totem pole, but every dedicated starlet knows there’s no small parts, unless the body you’re playing was chopped up by a particularly macabre villain.
Strangled Victorian Servant Girl in a Period Drama
These roles are treasured for the corsets alone. They offer the rare opportunity to show off those years in drama school learning to expire with perfect ringlet hair and elegantly blood-spattered alabaster skin. She may be a victim of Jack the Ripper or have died at the hands of a wealthy married landowner determined to keep their lovechild an unspoken secret. No matter what her backstory, her face invokes a repressed necroticism with a joie de death.
Hero’s Ethereal Dead Wife or Mother
She’s angelic and nurturing, the very image of blissful domesticity. The kind of lady you want to protect and yet still vague enough that the audience will love her without knowing any details about her beyond the men she’s connected to. The memory of her selfless support will provide the hero guidance enough to guard the galaxy or build his 1870s railroad or whatever complicated, confusing things men do. As a bonus, this character even gets a name! No one will remember it, but that’s not the point.
The Relatable Corpse
It takes breadth and nuance to portray this unsung role meant solely to bring counterpoint to the prettier lead. Audiences see themselves as the dead bestie. They know the pain of the boring high school friend who wore tragically bad sweaters and met a terrifying, lonely demise like being eaten in a parallel universe by a flower-headed demigorgan. And this one is particularly artistically fulfilling. If you can make even one audience member feel less alone in the world, it compensates for existing only as a motivating force for your best friend who’s not only impossibly attractive but can shoot guns, too.
Hot Small Town Sweetheart with a Secret Dark Side
The gold standard! These are once-in-a-television-series parts. Actresses spend entire careers hoping to portray a dead teen so mysterious that her memory powers a TV show for at least two seasons. This hometown honey may be deceased at the pilot’s start, but she lives on in flashbacks and gorgeous yearbook portraits as her loved ones grapple with the tortured truth that no one truly knew her. All she has to do is be the wet dream of every boy and statutory-rape-fantasizing-man in her fictional town, have multiple lovers, a secret coke habit, an even more secret moonlighting gig as an escort, and a terrifying history of being molested and then murdered by her own demon-possessed father. Actresses chase this dream role, asking themselves, “Who do I have to kill to get killed like Laura Palmer?”