I’ve been thinking about acting lately. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about something that has always bothered me. Have you ever noticed that when people talk about great ACTING! they always talk about someone doing a scene where they are depressed and angry. You know exactly what I’m talking about. The actor clenches their fists and stumbles against something and proclaims that all hope is lost because little Jimmy wasn’t found at the bottom of a well after all, and now their sham marriage will fall apart. End scene. Critics applaud like trained seals and actors tear up and start gushing about how brave the actor was for making it through that scene.
Look, these people are handing you a cliché. Somewhere along the way, probably in 1934, some actor came up with this routine. They used it in some movie that everybody saw... The Maltese Lupus. By 1935, it was all the rage and everybody was doing it on screen. Since that time, everyone has done it and only it. It’s become the go-to way to handle drama. So whenever drama is called for, the actors don’t summon some knowledge of human nature from within, they just copycat... this... same... damn... scene. There’s no skill in that. There’s no talent required. It’s impossible to do it better than anyone else either. And yet, they get praised for it like they just invented acting. It’s a massive Hollywood circle-jerk.
If you really want an acting challenge, then convince me you’re in love. And I don’t mean doggy-style love... “oh boy oh boy, the master’s home!”
Something about that doesn’t sound right. Let me try again.
If you really want an acting challenge, then convince me you’re in love. And I don’t mean the meeting of lost lovers scene where everyone jumps into each other’s arms. No. I don’t mean the post-sex scene where someone says, “I love you.” No. And not a “you saved me from that giant robot, I love you” moment either. I’m talking about two characters minding their own business with nothing special going on at that point in the film... just two people hanging out (in a fully clothed way), and make me believe that those two people love each other in that moment.
That’s a real challenge.
It’s the same thing with comedy. Comedies never win awards because they get looked down upon by critics. But comedies require skill. They require timing. They requiring aligning your behaviors with the need to hit the right comedic notes. I would suggest that few actors can do comedy. Yet, weepy gets the awards even though everybody can do weepy.
I think back to Ayn Rand at times like this. Shut up, yes I do. As I read The Fountainhead, Rand is talking about “those who cannot” and how they creep into positions of authority like professorships and regulatory positions. Then they warp the rules to punish the true creative geniuses so their own flaws can’t be exposed. Basically, since they lack genius, they redefine the rules to declare what they can do as genius and to stop geniuses from showing otherwise.
I suspect there is something similar going on here. I suspect that most actors in Hollywood can do the cliché weepy stuff, but they would be completely lost in things like comedies and where genuine emotions like love need to be shown. The result is that they look down on the things they cannot do as beneath them and they instead elevate the things where no real talent is needed and no true distinction is possible. Call it the tyranny of the mediocre. They essentially make themselves gatekeepers of legitimacy by telling you to look down on the things where people with superior skill can shine.
That’s how I see it.