The question “Are good actors good liars?” bothers me a great deal.
Stepping beyond the fact that I am an actor, the implication that a profession exists entirely in falsehood is baffling. Are we as a culture willing to believe actors live to pretend, and accept that is all they do?
Before I begin let’s look at the definition of the word liar.
Main Entry: li·ar
: a person who tells lies
Now, let’s look at another piece of the pie.
Are you ready? A eureka moment awaits just ahead…
Where do actors use to guide them to do or say anything? …A script. Without it a play would be pretty boring – I’m not touching on improvisation in this post. But, wait, who wrote the script? … A writer. BAM!
Wait-a-minute, wait-a-minute, wait-a-minute. Did I just imply that actors are not lying but it is actually the writers who are lying?!
Step back from the ledge. Easy now. Okay, now to answer the question: No.
Writers channel life into text. That text says something that they want heard and/or experienced by an audience. The actor’s job is not to lie to the audience. What good would that be to the writer’s work? Eek.
The actor’s responsibility to represent life physically &/or audibly, just as the writer did. The joy, pain, glee, nervousness, etc. It’s all in there.
In a speech I gave at the 2008 Sarah Lawrence College Commencement I spoke about this topic. I said…
Hamlet tells a group of players, about the act of playing (aka acting), that the “…purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”
View my commencement speech:
What does this highfalutin Shakespeare guy mean? Don’t worry, it’s not binary code and it’s not rocket science. All he is saying, more or less, is that an actor’s goal, then and now, was and is, to reveal the world as it is, the good, the bad, and how it has all come to be.
So, in short, no. Actors are not good liars. Actors reveal truth.
Now, how much they believe, of the text, is up to them. If you don’t believe something but play a character believes that does believe… Well, that’s where the craft comes in. Everyone has their own way of “getting there.”
Recently I held “the mirror up to nature” in a short comedy called “Time’s Up.” Watch it here:
Now, the important question: Do you think I was lying?
Someone might ask me “Gary, did you really lose a wife and child on the way home from the hospital?” because that’s what you said happened to you in “Time’s Up.” The fortunate answer to that is “No! No! No!”
My question to them would be “Did you believe I lost my wife and child?” If so, I did my job. If not, I did my best.
To reiterate, actors are not lying but are in fact revealing the truth. Except for when they’re lying. 😮 Not all characters tell the truth. 😉 Consider Iago in Othello. Now that is one amazing liar!
Sadly the misperception continues on the web. Here are some answers I found to similarly phrased questions:
Q – Do you think actors make great liars?
A – Yes. After all, they get paid to pretend to be who they’re not.
Q – …would me being a good liar be good with acting?
A – …But I think I am such a good liar because I rehearse what I am going to say and know excactly what say or how to react to a certain question/statement.
Happily one person stood up and shouted from the rooftop. Thank you!
Q – Are Actors Just Great Liars?
A – No, the popular misconception of actors is that they are lying, they are pretending. However, the greatest actors do not lie, instead, they tell the truth, they reveal the truth to the audience through their performances. Acting isn’t about concealing or impersonating, instead, it is an art of revelation. Lying is mainly deliberately not telling the truth.
Visit My Acting Page to see my resume, photos, and videos of shows and films I’ve done.
Gary Ploski is an actor, blogger, and instructional technologist living and working in the CT and NY area.