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Is Impersonating the same as Acting?


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#1 of 13 OFFLINE   Scott McGillivray

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Posted March 06 2006 - 06:53 AM

Hi Gang!

After another year of award winners who impersonated other real people, I am left wondering about the "art" of impersonation. Is it the same as acting? Should it be rewarded as such?

Now, don't get me wrong. I think Philip Seymour Hoffman is a super actor. No question. Same goes for Reese Witherspoon. However, do they deserve an award for doing an impersonation? Or Jamie Fox for impersonating Ray Charles? The list of highly regarded impersonations goes on and on.

As an actor, I am stumped. I just don't know if doing a great impersonation of someone in a movie is as worthy of the same praise and awards as someone who creates a character only from the written page.

Now, certainly any great performer "borrows" or uses things they have picked up from other characters or people in their lives and may use it in a role. But that is not really the same as doing a actual impersonation.

I am really interested in your feedback.
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#2 of 13 OFFLINE   Paul McElligott

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Posted March 06 2006 - 07:02 AM

Just impersonating is not acting, but Jamie Foxx's performance as Ray Charles, for example, went way beyond mere impersonation. I think acting is hard enough without getting the voice and mannerisms of a recognizable person down pat while still giving a convincing performance.
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#3 of 13 OFFLINE   mylan

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Posted March 06 2006 - 07:06 AM

I'm not an actor (and I don't play one on tv!) but I think
it is just the opposite. Acting from the written page requires great skill, no doubt, but to try to "portray" someone who is known to everyone requires greater skill. If you botch it, everybody will be saying that they came nowhere near the original, like a bad Elvis, but if you nail it, then they say "he channeled him, I forgot I was watching an actor and just got into the story".
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#4 of 13 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted March 06 2006 - 07:22 AM

Impressionists do "impersonations", but they don't do what actors are supposed to do -- namely, create a believable character who draws you in and takes you with them. Witherspoon, Hopkins, Foxx and Straithairn all did the latter, and that's why I'd call their work performances, not impersonations.

In some ways, I suppose it's easier when the model exists (in film, on videotape, or even -- with Ray Charles -- in person). But it's also more difficult, because (as others have noted) you have to "sell" the character to people who are also familiar with the original -- and you have to do that on top of giving a performance.

Think of it this way: Which do you think would have been easier for Jamie Foxx to play -- a flawed, brilliant, charismatic musician loosely modeled on Ray Charles, or one who the audience needed to believe was actually Ray Charles?

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#5 of 13 OFFLINE   Linda Thompson

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Posted March 06 2006 - 07:37 AM

George C. Scott as Patton, or as John Russell (in "The Changeling"), or as Gen. Turgidson (in "Dr. Strangelove"), or as Ebenezer Scrooge?

Gary Busey as Buddy Holly, or as the uncle in "Silver Bullet", or as Frankie in "Carny"?

Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn...or as Carrie?

Will Smith as Ali, or as Jim West, or...in the final minutes of a couple of Fresh Prince eps (most notably: Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse, Just Say Yo, and Bullets Over BelAir)?



Acting is acting, whether someone is creating a "new" character or re-creating a known one, be it a pre-existing fictional character (like Scrooge or Jim West), or a real person. The acting itself can be great, good, or bad...but it is all acting.

#6 of 13 OFFLINE   Hunter P

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Posted March 06 2006 - 08:04 AM

When most people think of impressionists, they think of a person copying another person in a certain scene. Like if someone were to do an impression of Michael Jackson, most would do a "Whoo" while doing a leg kick and a crotch grab, maybe throw in a moonwalk.

Playing a character in a movie requires so much more. You are playing that person in all kinds of situations. You are often seeing them in different emotional levels. The actor reacts to their environment the way they think that person would react. It requires much more than just knowing some superficial characture of the person.

Besides, most a lot of acting is borrowed mannerisms from people the actor has met, whether famous or a regular Joe. So in a way they are all impressions.

After another year of award winners who impersonated other real people
Well, in the late 80's-90's it was mostly mentally or physically handicapped characters so at least they are switching it up.Posted Image
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#7 of 13 OFFLINE   MarkHastings

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Posted March 06 2006 - 08:54 AM

As was mentioned, imitating someone (well known) has got to be the most difficult thing to do because the audience is going to scrutinize you MUCH more than if you played a character that was completely made up.
Quote:
Besides, most a lot of acting is borrowed mannerisms from people the actor has met, whether famous or a regular Joe. So in a way they are all impressions.
Yeah, a lot of actors put themselves into the character, so they're actually impersonating themselves. Posted Image

#8 of 13 OFFLINE   Hunter P

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Posted March 06 2006 - 09:03 AM

Is that a Keanu joke? I dunno but I think there's a Keanu joke hidden in there somewhere. Or maybe Kevin Costner?Posted Image
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#9 of 13 OFFLINE   Paul Padilla

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Posted March 07 2006 - 04:44 AM

I'd say they're two different, but related skills.

When Rich Little or Frank Caliendo are doing their schtick...they're doing impersonations...putting on a mask. Frequently, they're somewhat exaggerated versions of the person they're impersonating. Frank Caliendo's John Madden makes me LMFAO every time. But most of the time, these types of impersonators aren't doing the one key thing involved in acting...which is reacting. They're amazing performers and I'm sure they can adlib with the best of them, but that's not the same as working to create true, organic reactions. If you saw "Late Shift" on HBO about the Letterman-Leno fight, Rich Little played Johnny Carson, but it wasn't quite the same Carson he would do on stage. He had to bring it way down because he wasn't supposed to be just putting on that mask...he was supposed to be a friend of Letterman's...giving him advice as a real person...who just happened to be Johnny Carson.

Portraying a historical, real person goes way beyond superficial impersonation. Lots of people can put on some dark glasses, put on a big toothy grin, wave their head back and forth and sing Georgia. The good ones can look and sound nearly indistinguishable from Ray himself, but that's where it ends. The nuances of how he reacted in personal situations when he wasn't in front of a piano and a microphone are where the impersonation stops and a living person on screen begins. From that point on, developing a character has to be approached in the same way as any fictional figure, but it has the expectation that "Ray" is still layered in there. There has to be recognizable life in the actors eyes and face and it takes reasearch and a bit of extrapolation to decide how Ray would have felt and therefore reacted in different situations.

Denzel Washington has played lots of real people, but they haven't been stars that everyone in America and the world has seen dozens or even hundreds of times. Few people would argue that he was doing an impersonation. The best actors who take on these roles make you forget that you're looking at a portrayal of someone famous. They try to make you see the real person the public never saw.
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#10 of 13 OFFLINE   MarkHastings

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Posted March 07 2006 - 04:51 AM

Paul, what you describe almost sounds like the difference between impersonating and caricaturing.

With caricaturing, you're over exaggerating an aspect of someone in order to give the appearance of that person. With impersonating, you're doing more subtle gestures that bring out the 'essence' of that person.

#11 of 13 OFFLINE   Paul McElligott

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Posted March 07 2006 - 04:54 AM

Quote:
George C. Scott as Patton
I wouldn't necessarily put Scott's Patton under the heading of "impersonating".

He neither looked nor sounded anything like the real General Patton, whose frankly had a voice like a little old lady.
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#12 of 13 OFFLINE   Matt Gordon

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Posted March 07 2006 - 05:01 AM

I think that Paul's on to something.

To perhaps add to that a bit, I think the line is drawn somewhere depending on the expected suspension of disbelief.

For instance, when I watch Rich Little's classic take on "A Christmas Carol" every Christmas, I don't believe for one second that I'm watching Edith Bunker, Richard Nixon, and others in the show. Or when I'm hearing Frank Caliendo's superb Madden impersonation, I don't really begin to think it's John Madden... nor am I expected to.

But when we're watching "acting," like Jamie Fox in "Ray," for example, I'm expected to believe on some level that it actually was Ray Charles. For me, while watching that movie, that was pretty much the case. I completely forgot about Jamie Fox because that was Ray up on the screen.

So I think the intent of acting is suspension of disbelief, while the gauge of quality is how well the audience "bought" it. Impersonating doesn't try to fool you as much.
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#13 of 13 OFFLINE   Paul Padilla

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Posted March 07 2006 - 05:06 AM

I see what you're saying Mark, but both are masks...superficial. It could be said that impersonations mimick, whereas caracatures mock, but neither one is derived from genuine reactions. We can mimick the mannerisms, the voice, etc. but you can't convincingly mimick how someone felt, even if you witnessed it or discussed it with the genuine article. The camera doesn't lie. (Not even with CG Posted Image )

A Ray caliber performance entails genuine reactions on Jamie Foxx's part which are tempered by and layered with what he knew about the real Ray Charles.
I'm a ****ing idiot 'cause I can't make a lamp?
No, you're a genius 'cause you can't make a lamp.
What do you know about trigonometry?
I could care less about trigonometry.
Did you know without trigonometry there would be no engineering? Without lamps there'd be no light.





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