Are Actors Good Liars?

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
Pronunciation: \ˈlī(-ə)r\
Function: noun
: a person who tells lies
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/liar

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:

http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/310388
Q – Do you think actors make great liars?
A – Yes. After all, they get paid to pretend to be who they’re not.

http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090818174151AAtMZFx
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!

http://www.blurtit.com/q407483.html
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.

16 Comments

  1. Okay, you could’ve made this up. It’s just a lot too similar and the title as well.

    Slimy, if you did. Will be watching for any other copyright theft, and will prosecute if see another.

    Always do.

  2. Thanks for the comment “d.”

    This is all mine, my own, my precious, er… Where was I? Oh, right! Content. It’s all my own except for the content I link back to other sites.

  3. Really liked this post. It’s true, I am an actress and also a terrible liar.

  4. @Kate It’s great to know there are other people like me out there.

  5. Hi, I’m glad that I was able to find a refutation of the “actors are liars” meme, at least because it is so immensely widespread and so frequently used to automatically discredit (in a Parker/Stone “Team America: World Police”-like fashion) the opinions and reputations of politically-active or opinionated actors/actresses, particularly those who are most representative and expressive of so-called “Big Hollywood”.

    I’m not saying that social conservatives are incorrect in their assumptions about such professions (after all, I don’t think that Hollywood or the film industry has yet completely forgotten or moved on from the McCarthy-era blacklisting of various artisans, and it seems that alot of social conservatives are stuck in similar ruts), but it seems rather easy and cheap to target and attack, if not scapegoat, actors, writers and other artisans (let alone their works) by way of their livelihoods as shapers and presenters of alternate realities or conceptions of reality whenever they dare to make commentary on this reality in which we and they live and breathe.

    So I think that such a meme about actors has become as politically potent over the years as it has become a useful tool of the U.S. culture wars, but at least someone on the Web dissents with this meme at its core and most basic assumptions about an entire professional field. I hope that the emotional and intellectual gulf between the acting profession and the rest of the U.S., which allows this meme to be perpetuated, is at least somewhat reduced in the future.

  6. @Rayne I’m so happy you found my counter position to this idea that is floating around in our culture. It frustrates me a great deal, as you saw. When I read Shia LaBeouf’s quote from 2007, all I could do was sigh and drop my head. He said: “Acting is a con. At the end of the day, you lie for a living. You’re deceitful. That’s my goal. To be the best possible liar.”

    )Sigh(

  7. Hi – It’s good to find such topical stuff on the Web as I have been able to discover here. I agree with most of what is written here and I’ll be coming back to this website again. Thanks again for posting such great reading material!!

  8. I still dont really see why an actor can’t be a good liar. I know there is a difference between acting and lying and I’m not trying to take anything away from you guys or demean you. It just makes sense to me that in a situation where an actor wanted to lie, he/she would be far more convincing then I can be. Is that really a misconception? A good actor should be convincing right?

  9. Isn’t it run the gamut? Gamut is like a “full scope” “Entire range”…..gambit is a Scheme or Tactic. I believe it’s gamut.

  10. Im my personal opinion I believe what you reference, actors would be better at lying, is a misconception. While playing (performing) actors are not lying. It is the truth of the moment that they’re presenting. If that character is telling the truth or not is still the truth of the moment. Some people can lie really well. Some cannot. Whether they are actors, bankers, politicians, web developers or bus drivers it’s all up to the individual whether they are a good liar or not, in my opinion.

  11. Thanks for pointing out the brain to finger failure. Unfortunately I cannot find any reference to “gambit” in this post. Hmm.

    I searched my blog database and replaced one reference to gambit/gamut thanks to your comment. =)

    The definition of gambit, for those interested, according to Merriam-Webster, is:

    1 : a chess opening in which a player risks one or more pawns or a minor piece to gain an advantage in position
    2 a (1) : a remark intended to start a conversation or make a telling point (2) : topic
    2 b : a calculated move : stratagem

    Thanks again, Sebastian.

  12. All bullshit actors are big liers … that their profession… fake/pretend … befor movies I guess actors did scam ppl selling worthless stuff and “magic” potions … at least that what they do all time to pretend and if you practise at something you can master it … how simple is that… 

    So actors dont need to lie if they dont like, but they are best at that NO COMPETITON …. and they use it if it helps them.

  13. That doesn’t make any sense. If actors need to lie constantly (not pretending when on set) to the media, family, or friends then they are insecure. It’s one thing to rehearse and become another person, but I hardly know any actors who I would say are “good” liars. You can line up random people on the street and ask them a question and more then likely you wouldn’t know if they are telling the truth. I find the saying “actors are good liars” a bit offensive and demeaning. It just goes to show how people can’t distinguish pretending and lying (untruthfulness). Maybe that’s were America’s education system has failed – it has failed to encourage critical thought and analysis. That’s why I think people should read  more.  

    And what’s with the run-on sentences?

  14. It’s more accurate to say actors are deceivers. Telling a lie is usually a willful act. Passing off a lie can be willful or unintentional. And that is deception. A liar is someone who tells a lie and a deceiver is someone who fools others. We are all fools.

    When we watch movies or similar forms of entertainment, we are being toyed with emotionally. We are being deceived. Actors make a job out of deceiving and are part of a larger conspiracy for the sake of feeding their own ego. They praise one another for what they do. It’s a form of idolatry of the worst kind.

    What do you get when you put a prostitute and a video camera in a room? A porn star. But is there a different perception between a prostitute and a porn star? Of course. But they are both exactly the same. We are fools.

    Many so-called “great” actors have admitted that their soul was lost when they became an actor. They are dead already. What we are on the inside, as humans, is made up of what we witness from day to day. The walk we walk. The talk we talk. And our overall environment. None of us are above this. Not even actors.

    They spend every waking hour sacrificing who they really are (giving up soul) for the sake of a falsified persona. Fakery. Even when they go on talk shows to “be themselves”, they aren’t real. They put on an act 100% of the time because they are profit minded. They are walking salesmen. Anyone who sells a product based on a fake name or a face is a deceiver who isn’t interested in reality, which in itself is truth. They gave up truth for deception.

    Yet, we look up to actors. We are fools. Take someone like Steven Spielberg. He is a master deceiver. He’s closer to the throne than an actor. He more closely serves the biggest deceiver of them all…SATAN. Spielberg works for him. He gets paid to create false pictures and use them to influence people. That’s not a job. That’s a conspiracy. Does he have to know he is a deceiver to be one?

    NO.

    A liar knows he is a liar. But a deceiver can be a pawn. Nevertheless, actors are big fools like the rest of us.

    The bottom line is this. When we live our life serving our SELF, we become the big fool. When we put our own interests aside to see the innocent people in the world that need our time and commitment, we are no longer fools. And it’s no coincidence that we lose interest in how glamorous actors are. We should feel sorry for them.

  15. John, your grasp on deception is rather limited; it doesn’t exist just in “walking salesmen”, or SATAN, but all around us in almost every aspect of this world. One example: every solid that you lay your hands on is by a far majority made up of a vacuum in space – nothing is there, but yet you’re holding it.. Nature and animals use deception to survive. You’re deceived in seeing only what some actors present to the world – you don’t see personally what they witness every day, the experiences they amass and the individuals that they are. I don’t know the next thing about you, so could go and say all sorts of pejorative things, point the ‘deception’ finger at you too; but that would make me an ass.

  16. ‘vacuum in space’

    I don’t think you know what that actually means.

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