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How do you determine if someone can/can't act? (1 Viewer)

Howard Williams

Supporting Actor
Mar 7, 2001
Ok, I gonna try to keep this short and simple. The topic question is straight forward enough I believe, but here just a few ideas before you respond. My impressions.
You can take almost any actor/actress and some people will say he can't act and others will say he's a great actor. What does that really mean besides the obvious, that people have different taste. More specifically, how do you know its wasn't poor writing or poor directing or that the original author didn't mean for the character to come off exactly the way they did?
I asked my self these same questions. I thought of who I thought were good actors and who I thought were not. My conclusion showed my choices were extremely biased. People I liked, I liked their work and I liked their movies and I think they can act. People I don't like, I dislike their work and I dislike their movies. Some people you just like and some people you just don't. For example, I used to just hate Julia Roberts. Hate her as an actress that is, of course. Period ! For no good reason. I think it had a lot to do with her becoming a star because of Pretty Woman. I absolutely hated her in that so I've hated everything she's done since, almost. I avoided most of her movies. My wife insisted I go with her to see a few. One was Knotting Hill or something like that, which just reinforced my hated for her. Then I saw her in Erin Brokovich, which I was literally dragged into a theater and forced to sit through. I did a complete 180. I thought she was great. It was the character she played that made me like her and therefore feel as though she can act. I haven't seen anything she's done since (The Mexican etc.) but now I think she's a good actress.
What really got me thinking about all this was a thread on Will Smith. A lot of people just hate everything about him and say he can't act. Arnold Schwartzenegger too. I wonder if people just don't like him for what ever reason and then conclude they don't like his work and therefore he can't act or is the director molding him into giving a performance that makes his audience end up just hating him, or exactly what is it? You know what I'm driving at? After some thought I think the topic question best addresses my inquiry. When I determine if someone can act, I ask myself, can this actor convincingly display a wide range of emotions and characters with their face and body? Can they convince me that the character they are playing is real. Not just can he cry on cue, or remember his lines perfectly in one day. Those might be very important to the director but not the final audience.
So I repeat, how do you determine if someone can or can not act?
"A film, by Oleg Razgul"
"How was that?"
"That was great"


Senior HTF Member
Jul 24, 2000
Interesting question, which I think should actually go in the "Movies" section (even though it might not be specifially limited to movies).
About Julia Roberts, I felt exactly the opposite of what you did: I liked her in pretty much everything before "Erin Brockovich", but I hated her character in that movie. Yet, I think she did a decent job (not Oscar-worthy though).
My main criteria are: do I believe in this character? Do I start think of the character not as the actor, but as a character in the movie? Do the motivations for the character seem plausible, at least for the moment?
If yes on those questions, I would say that I think that character was acted well. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger has never made me answer "yes" on all those questions (mostly question number 2 fails). Will Smith makes me answer "yes" on all three. Adam Sandler fails the test. Jim carrey passes it.
Of course, this is probably individual as well, but at least it's some kind of answer to your question...

Mike Broadman

Senior HTF Member
Aug 24, 2001
Howard, you made an important distinction between "liking" and actor and recognising ability. It's the same with writers, artists and musicians. Just because someone is technically skilled, it doesn't mean you're going to enjoy his/her work.
The example you gave of Julia Roberts is great. She has talent. She has played various roles and has made them believable. I don't like her. I think it's just because I don't like any movies with her in it, even though she herself was fine, and she has become a vehicle for selling tickets, rather than an actress in a film.
Scharzenegger is a crummy actor. I mean, come on folks, let's be honest. But I like a few of his movies. His crappy acting is part of the charm. Again, I'm seperating ability with personal taste.
And, yes, directors have a huge role. I think some of the actors in Kubrick's movies, for example, complained that Kubrick made them overract, and then caught slack for bad acting.
Al Pacino is an example of someone who I just like, but who is also a great actor. He IS Michael Corleone. If you ever want to figure out what it means to be a good actor, that's a great example. The movie was written and directed well, of course, but Pacino made the role come alive.
My mother, a real film buff, says that a good criteria for determining the quality of an actor is to see the differences between roles. I think she has a point. She always slams Nicholas Cage for this: every movie he's in, he's Nick Cage, not the character.

Bill Catherall

Aug 1, 1997
My criteria is "natural." Does the actor give a natural appearance? Are lines delivered natural? Is his/her reacton natural?
I think that directors can have a huge impact on how we perceive the actor. Usually they are the ones giving direction to the actor on how to portray the emotion they should be feeling at the time, and how to deliver the lines. Since many scenes are shot out of sequence, they have to clue the actor into the character's state at that time of the film. Then, the director has the final say in keeping the scene or doing it again.
Geena Davis is an actress that seems to be influenced by either the director or the writer. When she was in A League of Their Own I thought she was great. I also thought she did a decent job in Beetlejuice (all things considered). But when I saw her in her own sitcom I was really turned off. She did a terrible job in that show.
Then there's people like Tom Hanks and Jodie Foster who are a director's best friend and can nail a scene in only one or two takes. Their acting is so incredibly natural that you don't think of them as an actor playing a character. All you see is the character.


Jonathan Burk

Second Unit
May 31, 1999
Castaic, CA
Real Name
Jonathan Burk
I'm always more impressed by actors with a wide range, although I enjoy many actors who only do "one thing", but they do it well. I think Leonardo DeCaprio is a good actor, not because of what he did in Titanic, but what he did in Titanic and What's Eating Gilbert Grape. I think he's shown a pretty good range in his abilities. I just watched Forrest Gump the other night, and I hadn't seen it in years. It was amazing to me that in spite of the many huge roles Tom Hanks has had in the last 10 years, I didn't once look at Forrest as "that Apollo-13, Castaway and Saving Private Ryan guy". It never popped into my mind that that was Tom Hanks acting like Forrest Gump. It was just Forrest Gump. For comparison, I don't get the same feeling when watching Rainman or Regarding Henry. Dustin Hoffman and Harrison Ford just appear to me as "the Graduate guy" and "Han Solo" acting like they have a disablility.
Then you take Arnold, where he hasn't shown that wide of a range (although I think he deserves more credit than he's given), and I still enjoy his movies, because for what he does as an actor, he does it well (poor choice of scripts and directors notwithstanding).
I'm also dissappointed that Eddie Murphy didn't get more credit for The Nutty Professor 2. While I haven't seen the movie (but let me comment anyway), from what I did see, he really became those different characters. I never saw a clip from the film and thought "Oh, there's Eddie Murphy dressed up and acting like a woman". If that's not a wide range, I don't know what is.

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