Characters of Carnivàle

There are several main characters in Carnivàle, an American television serial drama set in the United States Depression-era Dust Bowl between 1934 and 1935. It aired on HBO from 2003 to 2005. It follows the disparate storylines of an ensemble of fictional characters, with the two central characters of Ben Hawkins, a young man working in a traveling carnival; and Brother Justin Crowe, a Californian preacher.

Promotional photograph of the Carnivàle cast. From left to right, front row: Lodz, Lila, Libby, Caladonia and Alexandria, Apollonia, Sofie, Ben Hawkins, Gabriel, Iris, Brother Justin; back row: Dora Mae, Rita Sue, Stumpy, Ruthie, Gecko, Samson.

Carnivàle has a large cast, with eighteen regular actors over its two-season run. Most of them are introduced in Ben's storyline: Samson, a little person co-running the carnival with management; Jonesy, Samson's right-hand man with a crippling knee injury; Apollonia and Sofie, two fortunetellers working a mother-daughter act; Lodz, a blind mentalist, and his lover, Lila the Bearded Lady; the Dreifuss family striptease act; the snake charmer Ruthie and her son Gabriel, a strongman; and many other sideshow performers. The supporting characters of Brother Justin's storyline are his sister Iris, his mentor Reverend Norman Balthus, the radio show host Tommy Dolan, and the convict Varlyn Stroud. Several characters appear in mysterious dreams and visions connecting the slowly converging storylines.

Show creator Daniel Knauf's original story pitch to HBO included elaborate character biographies, which he gave to the actors, the writers and the studio as an overview of the series' intended plot. These biographies were rewritten before the filming of the first season began. Receiving little to no mention in the series afterwards, the original character backgrounds were summarized on the official HBO website. After the show's cancellation, the writers revealed future character arcs and forwarded all original biographies to fans as part of the show's so-called "Pitch Document". Due to their nature, these sources do not offer canonical information as such, but provide a frame for the characters' motivation throughout the series.

The thematic and period setting of Carnivàle required an unusual casting approach. While some actors were hired for their genetic disabilities, most actors were specifically cast for their unique and distinct looks to fit the series' 1930s setting. Award-winning costumes and make-up enhanced the illusion. Reviews generally lauded the actors and characters, and several actors received awards for their performances.