Critically-acclaimed acting: Born or bred?

If you follow entertainment news, you might have heard about a fancy little awards ceremony called the Oscars. This year, one of the Best Actress nominees was Gabourey Sidibe for her performance in Precious.

What makes Sidibe's nomination interesting is that Precious was her acting debut; Sidibe had no prior formal acting training or experience. In addition, Sidibe is not an isolated case when it comes to actors acclaimed for debut roles. In the Best Actress category, four performers won and ten performers were nominated for "their first (substantial) screen roles or during the first year of their film career". These statistics are even more pronounced in the Supporting Actress categories.

It's surprising that actors can attain the height of prestige
for debut roles; in many technical fields, there's little hope of renown without years of formal training and research.

Perhaps this 'fast-track to success' is peculiar to the humanities. For example, consider the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, a prestigious award granted to the "very best book of the year". In the 40 year history of the prize, four debut novels have won a Booker and many more were nominated.

It makes sense to me that debut novels can achieve critical acclaim. We practice writing skills from our first days in school, English and literature courses are frequently compulsory and many people maintain a blog or journal. In effect, we receive writing training all our lives. By contrast, acting isn't as commonly trained (at least formally). Few school programs have compulsory drama classes and most people do not participate in performance groups.

My thinking is that the issue goes deeper than simply acting being 'easy'.

One explanation might be that performance prowess is simply a matter of fitting the right person to the right role. Who needs formal training if the character you're playing is indistinguishable from your everyday persona? Perhaps Gabourey Sidibe didn't need to act so much as portray her own quirks and nuances.

Alternatively, maybe acting training comes from our day-to-day interactions with others. In a way, aren't we are all actors performing in the drama of our lives? If acting is the art of deception, we might get plenty of practice from years of putting on our game-face or telling little white lies. Sidibe might simply be better at "becoming the other" than most of us.

At the end of the day perhaps "all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."