late Middle English (originally denoting an agent or administrator): from Latin, 'doer, actor', from agere 'do, act'
In the time of Shakespeare female roles were played by boys or men, and women did not appear on stage in England until after the Restoration of 1660. Female performers were then called either actors or actresses—it was only later that actor became restricted to men—and it seems that we are returning to the original situation. Although there is still an awards category at the Oscars called Best Actress, some people are again using the gender-neutral term actor for both sexes. See also -ess1 (usage).