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Common Misconceptions about Acting
August 1999

These questions are based on a few I've heard through the years from people about actors.

All actors are exactly like their characters (or actors are their characters).

This is a common misconception that almost everyone has subconsciously, and a few have consciously. When we're seeing a character portrayed on a TV show week after week, we become accustomed to the actor behaving in that fashion. So when we do meet him in person, or see him in an interview, we may be a little surprised to see that they may be somewhat different than the character.

One of the problems with this perception occurs when the same actor plays a villain or a suspicious character in another show or movie. People who have gotten so used to the hero role he'd been playing week after week, or film after film, may not like this new character because they've grown so accustomed to that hero and have equated it to the actor himself. This is the reason actors like to take different roles that are a departure from usual thing. It allows them a chance to break out and explore new challenges. It's fun and not as repetitive as playing the same role over and over. This also can show their fans and others in the industry that they are capable of a wide range of parts.

It's one thing to portray a character in front of a camera. They are being someone else with a scripted dialog and directed movements. Sure, they try to put as much of themselves into the role, but only to a point. They try to make the character their own, but the character is not them. The scripts aren't written about the life of the actor. They're about the character which the actor brings to it. They immerse themselves and become that “person” and put as much of themselves into that character, but it is not the actor's life we are seeing.

This is not to say that all actors are drastically different from their characters, but one has to keep in mind that there is an element of fantasy. Characters are heroes and villains living out a story of fantasy and imagination. How close to the character the actor's personality is depends upon the actor and the character. The more we understand this, the more the talent of the actor is appreciated.

Items such as watches, rings and other accessories worn by the actor on camera are their own items and not supplied by wardrobe.

Not usually. In most cases everything right down to a ring is accounted for by the wardrobe department. It's their job to dress the character to fit the personality type he is. And that includes the watches and jewelry he may wear. Sometimes actors may want to wear their own jewelry, and if the director agrees, they can. However, it's not a usual occurrence.

Often times when a production wraps (closes down) for hiatus or for good, the actors may want to buy certain articles from the wardrobe department. Watches, however can sometimes be fake, not being able to run at all, and may only be worn for appearance sake. Again it depends upon the wardrobe department and the watches used. If it's a contemporary program, then the watches might have been bought or obtained for the show from designers. Films and TV shows that take place in another era, might use prop watches. Granted one can still find a pocket watch, but at times, if they're not needed for close-ups, they don't really need to be functioning devices.

Actors are fully trained on the job they are depicting on screen.

Not always. While it sometimes may be the case that actors are well versed in the characters job or activity, not all are. They do their homework and research the part, but they may not have the luxury of time to learn the job from start to finish. So an actor playing a doctor would never think of performing heart surgery, despite playing a cardiologist on screen. He might learn the terminology and be taught how to hold a scalpel when making an incision, but that's about it. He wouldn't be able to perform the operation in real life. Remember there are others involved behind the scenes who help make it seem so believable. They're called Technical Advisors, and they're on hand to coach the cast and the director on what to do. This is not to discount the actor's ability. On the contrary it is impressive to see how they pull it off with believability. It's what makes them good actors.

Actors should bring their other talents into every role they do.

It depends on the character. If the character is the type who would want to sing, then he should sing. However, if the character is known to be a bad singer, the actor either has to sing off key or not at all, despite being a famous singer in real life.

And while it's nice to see, if an actor played a martial arts pro in one film, he shouldn't be expected to use it in his current and future roles. It's more fun to be pleasantly surprised if he does do some fancy moves in another project, rather than wait for it to happen.

Actors do their own stunts.

That depends on the actor and the stunt. Stunts are dangerous and many producers and agents sweat bullets when their actors do stunts. Even fight scenes are worrisome because an actor can pull a muscle, land funny or even get punched and beaten up by accident. Sure it's nice to see them do the stunts, but I'd rather they be alive and well to do another role than risk an injury that could stall their career.

Actors don't care about their work if they can't remember scenes or episode titles from their TV series.

Of course they care about their work. However, when you do it day in and day out for 12 - 14 hours a day for eight months a year, it gets to the point where all the scenes run together. What's more, scenes are filmed out of sequence. In the case of a TV series sometimes different scenes from different episodes are filmed in a single day, especially when they have to reshoot a scene from a previous episode for one reason or another. So it can be confusing matching the scene to the episode. Unless an actor has time to see the final work on screen, he gets to a point where he can't remember what scene went where or what happened in a particular episode. The busier the actor (the happier we are, and) the more likely for him to forget certain aspects. And sometimes the episode in question might be re-titled, or it might not have had a title during production, instead being referred to by an episode number. And if those episodes are aired out of order and without numbers for the viewers to follow, then there is a disconnect between what the viewer knows it as and what the actor recalls it being.

Conclusion.

Reading this all over I'm left with one conclusion, actors are very good at what they do. If fans can believe the above misconceptions, he must be doing something right. However, fans do have to know that acting and reality are different. If you can separate the actor from the role - even for a little while - and see that he is a person just like the rest of us - it makes it much more fun to watch him in different roles in the future.

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