Brow Beat

When Actors Play Actors Acting: A Video Essay on Meta-Performance

Back in January, Sight and Sound ran an insightful piece on Birdman, in which the author, Nick James, praised the film for its focus on “the intimacy of acting,” noting that it featured “an actor (briefly) playing bad acting, a superhero movie star reaching towards a high-tone stage performance, and a Method actor who’s brilliant and an asshole; they’re all switching between playing themselves and playing their stage roles…it’s astonishing anyone tried to pull it off.”

That analysis spurred Phil Whitehead to make the above video, which, in compiling dozens of instances in which actors play actors, supplies a fascinating gloss on how performers italicize what’s “real” or “scripted” or “good” or “bad” through a subtle calibration of their craft. It’s a challenge evident in everything from Seinfeld to Shakespeare; you can find a full list of the featured clips here.