2015 Oscars, Interlude: Acting vs. Imitation Games

One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just isn't the same.
Go ahead and take a look at the collection of this year's Oscars' Best Actor nominees above. Can you hear the song in your head about one of these things not being like the other? No? Well you're no fun. But take a look and think about it. Do you see it? Go ahead, look again. Okay, fine, I'll tell you.

Michael Keaton is the only one who played a fictional character.

You've got John DuPont, Chris Kyle, Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking... and Riggan Thomson.

But it doesn't stop there. If you take a look at the Best Actress nominees, Felicity Jones and Reese Witherspoon are both nominated for portraying real people. And on the Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress side of things, Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, and Laura Dern are all up for portrayals of real people. That means that, out of the 20 nominated actors, 9 of them were portraying real people. And the number jumps to 11 when you consider the controversy over whether or not David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo deserved nominations for their turns as Dr. and Mrs. King in Selma. This brings me to a question, dear readers, something my girlfriend and I talked about while watching the aforementioned Selma (where, by the by, I decided the controversy over that flick's lack of acting nominations is nonsense; yes, the cast was good, but they weren't as good as the people who were nominated, it's as simple as that), and the question is:

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but is it the same as acting?

Now obviously, imitation is a form of acting, if only just by the definition of acting. And I'm not trying to jump on anybody or put anybody down here. I'm just wondering if, for example, the way Eddie Redmayne studied and basically copied Stephen Hawking for his performance is the same as the way Michael Keaton had to create and bring his character to life basically out of whole cloth. Is one thing easier than the other? I mean, I learned from experience in a couple of high school plays that I can't act. But I can imitate Christopher Walken when the mood strikes. Could I do it for a whole movie and play him in a biopic? Probably not, but the point stands.

If I even have a point, that is.

But if acting and imitating are different things, should they be up for the same award? I mean, it seems to me it takes at least a bit of a different skill set to sort of breathe life into a character as opposed to becoming someone who already exists. Or does it, perhaps, depend on the story? Going back to Eddie Redmayne, for example, is the way he basically had to act with his eyes and face, emote the way Hawking does, different than the way way David Oyelowo basically just copied MLK's speechifying tones and posture?  Is that why Oyelowo wasn't nominated while the other "copycats" were (or was it because the other movies were 100% about the characters the actors portrayed, whereas Selma was about a situation the character took part in)?

And wouldn't it be interesting if the Oscar went to Michael Keaton, the only original character in that particular bunch?

I don't know what I'm going for here, folks. I don't particularly have a point, and like I said, I'm not putting anyone down; they're all talented actors who put in great performances. But I just feel like there's something to this, aside from the fact that the Academy is a bunch of suckers for true stories.

Anybody else have any thoughts on the subject they'd like to share?


  1. Having a theater background and having had to portray a real person before I can say that playing an actual person requires just as much if not MORE acting skill than playing a character you create. When you create a character out of thin air, you are able to put a lot of yourself into it and if that character has a lot of things already in common with you personally, well, that's even easier, but to have to drop your personage all together to take up the mantel of someone who really exists and that people (some who are still alive) know, care for and are able to say, "he wasn't like that all" is daunting and requires, not just acting but, an homage to that person. It's especially difficult if you are playing a real person who is so widely known as to have become almost a caricature of their actual selves. You have to be able to find that actual humanity and make that representative and accessible to the public at large.

  2. But that's my opinion from an actor's perspective.

    1. I can see that. But I suppose another actor might say the exact opposite, that they find it easier to perform as an actual person and not just a character because the blueprint is there, as opposed to creating someone new. Boils down to their comfort zone and method, I guess.

  3. And imitation is not the same as portrayal.

    1. Not by strict definition, no. But they're sort of linked, at least in this regard, as I would think any good performance would have a bit of both.

      And either way, it made for a clever title :p


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