Confusing the Role With the Actor

Years ago, I lived close enough to work that I could bike home for lunch. The young female clerical staff of our group ate a packed lunch in the building where they evidently had access to a TV set. We both watched the same soap opera, The Young and the Restless, as we ate. Later, we would often discuss the plot that, of course,  moved at the pace of a glacier.

The plot at the time (as I remember it) was about a rich, elderly couple, the Chancellors, and Jill Abbot, an 18-year-old manicurist intent on stealing the affections of Mr. Chancellor. (In the mix somewhere was Snapper, played by a young David Hasselhoff.) It was a good-guy, bad-guy plot with Jill as the bad-guy. Very, very bad.

One of our young clerks said, “Oh, that Jill! If I saw her in the street, I would punch her face.”

“Whoa, whoa,” I replied. “She’s an actress playing a role.  She is probably a very nice person.”

“Oh, no she’s not! She must really be that way.”

I left it at that, taking it as a complement of the acting ability of the actress who played Jill so realistically. But since then, I have seen many instances of how people assume the actor’s role is their real personality.

(As an example of how our memory fails us, I was so sure Jill’s name was “Lori, ” I only Googled the show to check the spelling.  That was my “Oops” moment.)

One of the more famous examples is the actor Art Carney and his role of Ed Norton on the old TV series, The Honeymooners. Carney often said his real personality was very shy, the exact opposite of Ed Norton. Late in his career, he played the lead in my all-time favorite movie, Harry and Tonto, where an elderly Harry doted on his beloved cat, Tonto. Carney hated cats, and only slowly learned to tolerate the several cats who played Tonto.  He said appearing to like cats was his greatest achievement as an actor.

But now I see it again in comments on my posting about Megan Messmer, the actress who plays Kim, the Ford matchmaker. Several have said they could not stand her hyperactivity. They can’t stand the hyperactivity of the character she plays. She, herself, seems very pleasant and grounded. Her hyperactivity is required by her role. An advertising agency director was probably standing behind the camera, telling her, “Bigger smile! Move faster, talk faster! Give me over-the-top!”

(Some want to know what she gets paid.  Lots, I’m sure.  More than a retiree blog-writer will ever see, but I have no problems with that.) (the old and the tired)

About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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