How to Determine Whether or Not You're Watching a Quality Actor


What separates a good actor from a bad one? What elevates a thespian from the mires of mediocrity to the heights of exceptionalism? In the end, all art is subjective; what is good for you might be bad in someone else’s eyes, and vice versa. Nevertheless, there are a few things an audience member should consider when determining the quality of an actor’s performance…

Good Actors Make You Believe

The world is full-to-brimming with actors for hire. One of the biggest differences between the good ones and the bad ones is that the good ones make it easy to forget you’re watching an actor at all. Verisimilitude is essential in the arts; a good actor has to make you believe the character you’re seeing is a real person, not just a performer playing pretend.

Bad Actors Don’t Let You Forget

On the other end of the spectrum, bad actors are the kind of actors who will never let you forget. Forget what? That you’re watching a piece of fiction. That the person in front of you is faking it. That the stakes are real. That any of what you’re seeing matters at all. Sure, there are plenty of actors who are so famous that it can be hard looking past their celebrity. A good actor, though, can do just that.

Good Actors Will Surprise You

Good art challenges its audience; it doesn’t just regurgitate the same things they’ve seen a thousand times before. Likewise, good actors are always trying to surprise you. Sometimes it’s to make you rethink your preconceived notions. Sometimes it’s to expose you to previously unplumbed depths. Sometimes it’s just to get a rise out of you. Whatever the case, a good actor never rests on the tried and true.

Bad Actors Rely on Tired Clich├ęs

Bad acting doesn’t always come from a lack of skill. Sometimes it comes from a lack of interest or imagination. Even a technically competent performer can still be “bad” if they never take chances. If an actor doesn’t bring something new to the table, the role could have been played by anyone. Bad actors don’t portray characters. They mimic stereotypes.

Good Actors Inspire Real Emotions

In film and theater, there is a concept called “the fourth wall.” This refers to the separation between the audience and the action on-screen or on-stage. While the fourth wall can never fully be removed, it can be blurred enough that the emotions the characters are going through ripple out and are felt by the people watching them. Good actors can make you feel real emotions in regards to fictional creations.

Bad Actors Just Leave You Numb

Bad actors, by contrast, never pierce the fourth wall. Their emotions never become the audience’s emotions. They don’t make you feel anything. They just leave you feeling numb. If you can’t relate to or empathize with a character, you’re not experiencing a piece of art as it was intended. You’re passively watching, rather than becoming actively involved.

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