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."


digitally404 said...

A debut actor or book author doesn't necessarily mean that it's the first time they've acted or written. Wouldn't it mean that it is just the first time they have made themselves publicly known? As a blogger, you may eventually write your first book and win the Booker, but I'd say you have had a handful of experience :)

Eva said...

Thanks for your comment. When I say 'debut role', I mean that the actor did not previously act in any public plays/films/shows, etc. (according to the Oscar website).

What I'm curious about is not whether they've ever acted in ANY private production (like say, a high school play), but why they don't always need graduate training or prior experience in a similar medium (film) the way physicists and biologists do.

There aren't many physicists or biologists who could do their best work straight out of high school science classes.

shiva said...

"all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."

the world is round and a stage is flat


Eva said...

The world is round? But that would mean Thomas Friedman was wrong!

Luc von Carrot said...

excellence in arts and humanities often reaqiures talent, something that a person is born with, whereas excellence in sciences reauires a long and strenuous learning process. that's one factor. another factor, perhaps a more important, may be the theme of the movie and the nature of the role. does this movie draw attention to any particualar issue or topic that someone wants people to pay attention to? does it convey any specific message that people should be made aware of?