Do actors need to be clever?
assumption that professional actors are not clever is a very common
one. Perhaps this has come about because the profession requires
grown adults to play all day. While other adults are earning their
livings in smart clothes, sitting at desks, making executive
decisions, or generally behaving like responsible grown ups,
professional actors are pretending to be someone else, not to mention
getting stuck in to the dressing up box. I have never understood how
what someone chooses as a career marks a measure of their intellect
and I certainly do not think that any professional in the performing
arts business is stupid. Actors and performers may not need to be
academically smart but I think that we have to be smart in many other
may consider actors to be stupid because performing is not an
academic subject. Despite this actors need to be able to interpret
roles, research their character and need to create emotions that they
have not necessarily experienced. It may be true that the more
experience an actor has in life the better their performance but just
because a young actor has not experienced a particular emotion yet
does not mean that they cannot project themselves and try to imagine
what it would be like to be in that situation.
Peake was interviewed about her part as a mother who's older son goes
to fight in the First World War and is eventually court marshalled
and killed as a deserter in BBC's 2013 production of The Village. The
interviewer asked her if she was confident of being able to play the
part of a mother suffering this kind of loss to which she simply
replied “It's acting!” Miss Peake is completely right. A good
actor should be able to understand and empathise with her character.
acting parts require the actor to do a great deal of research.
Historical parts may require an understanding of life in a different
time, geographically or ethnically different settings may require a
feel for a different culture and an understanding of its rituals,
customs, habits and beliefs and a completely objective understanding
by the actor without any criticism or rejection. A lot of actors
spend months reading and researching their character's occupation,
for example, or their domestic situation.
need to observe people. I like to watch people as I travel on the
train to college especially as they are unaware that they are being
observed. I can learn a lot about emotions by watching them talking
on the phone or chatting to friends sitting next to them. People
watching is a great way to learn how to perform, how to be in a
certain situation. I watch the different ways people laugh, how they
shrug their shoulders.
well as watching people I enjoy studying human psychology which I
believe is useful for an acting career. It gives me some insight into
people's behaviour, reactions, differences and attitudes towards
themselves and other people.
an understanding of human nature is very important but that is not to
say that many well known and successful actors are not academic. On
the contrary, many studied and met at university. Cambridge
Footlights dramatics society at Cambridge University has been a
wonderful breeding ground for many household names. The society was
founded and is run by the students and includes people such as
Stephen Fry who studied English Literature and Hugh Laurie who
studied Archaeology and Anthropology. The list of alumni is filled
with well known names. Most of the Monty Python team and all of The
Goodies met through the Footlights.
Emma Thompson, Trevor Nunn (director of the National Theatre), Steve
Punt and Hugh Dennis who are still a double act. These people started
their drama careers at one of the best universities in the world,
forming lasting friendships with people who often became life-long
work mates. These people were academically gifted and became
successful people in the performing arts world.
actors need to be clever? I believe they do. Acting is not simply a
matter of learning lines and dressing up. Actors need to be
observant, understanding, empathetic, critical, have analytical
brains and the ability to put themselves in the situation of their
character and make it their own for a while by using all these
processes. They need to project themselves into a character who more
often than not is completely different from their own personality and
may even be a despicable person altogether. Acting is not an easy
job. It can be heart wrenching and emotionally draining, take hours
of research, a life time of observing, and a lot of hard work but it
could quite possibly be one of the most rewarding careers in the