On Acting

On acting

Or, nine things non-actors may not know about actors.

I am not a professional actor, in the sense of supporting myself with my craft. I have worked with professional companies, and I have been paid for my work, and I have acted most of my life, so I will call myself “an actor” even though it is not what I do for a living.

  1. Actors may actually be terrible liars.  You see, when you are acting, everyone—even the audience, KNOWS you are faking. We’re all in on the joke, so it is OK to say things that are not true. I am at ease acting, but wracked with emotional pain when I have to tell an untruth, because with lying you are deceiving someone, and with acting you are all on the same team.
  2. We can take our clothes off faster than you can imagine.  Years of quick-changes mean I can get in and out of an outfit in seconds.   In a quick change, the actor has to have a completely different outfit from one scene to the next, often to indicate the passage of time.  I LOVE quick changes and got good at them, both as the actor and as the techie assisting an actor. This caused some puzzlement in my college years, when I had the experience of dating a physics major, a sort that does everything slowly and methodically.
  3. We may be shy, or introverted.  It is unusual that people realize I am an introvert, because I spend so much time on stage.  But bear with me: when I am acting, NO ONE is looking at ME. People are looking at the character, which is probably a person very different from me.
  4. We may be terrible at public speaking. I am not a good public speaker, because as a public speaker, I am myself, and cannot hide behind the person I portray. I am quite certain Colbert created the character Colbert so he can say the things he wants to but pretend he isn’t saying them.  Similarly, Sharon Stone created a character called “her” that she would send to auditions, a confident, sassy woman where Stone knew she was really insecure and shy.
  5. We may be obsessive.  I never get tired of rehearsing. Doing the same scene over and over again makes me secure and happy. When I was a teen taking ballet, it was the same thing: doing the same steps a hundred-some times until they are as close to perfect as my body could make them was comforting, never tedious.
  6. We are rarely satisfied. But that’s what happens when you like to do the same thing a hundred times.
  7. We admire good actors.  I never met a good actor, a truly good actor, that didn’t have admiration for other people who do this well.  I have certainly seen the nastiness but that is usually from people who don’t really know what they are doing.
  8. We have good reason to obsess over our bodies. In my case, being average height, average weight, fair complexion, and straight hair that takes a curl has meant I can play any part I want. When the menopause weight happened and I was no longer average, I was no longer the chameleon I had been for forty years and a big part of my self-identity and worth was gone.
  9. We will do what we do, no matter what.  When Shelley Winters gained the menopause weight, she knew her blonde bombshell days were over and re-created herself as a character actor. You’ll see really good actors in carp films, not just for the money but because we can’t stop ourselves. We can’t live without it. Someone once said, “You don’t pay an actor to act. An actor will do that free, because we love it. You pay an actor to wait to act.”
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