The Biographical Film - Good acting or Practiced Mimicry

Every time a new biographical film hits the big screen I find myself in a debate, both internally and with everyone with whom I come in contact. Is what I just observed good acting or just the ability of an actor to mimic what he/she has seen of the person whose story is being portrayed? Examples of this include Val Kilmer in the Doors and Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line. In interviews, both actors said that they studied hours of film in order to get every nuance correct. And, indeed, they nailed it. However, is that Oscar-worthy? Look at Daniel Day-Lewis, who played Lincoln. He did not have videos to examine, just small bits of written information about Lincoln’s demeanor. He nailed it as well, yet my reason for thinking so is that he met my expectations of what I had read about Lincoln. So, the Oscar goes to… To summarize — If an actor is able to replicate a well-known and documented historical figure’s every characteristic, is this good acting or good mimicry?

  • This would be an interesting topic but it might an idea to provide mimicry and acting clear definitions as a springboard to set up the piece being written. Also, I'm not sure good mimicry and good acting are mutually exclusive. Why not both? Wired have a pretty in depth series that might be a good point of reference - 'Critique Technique' (have a search on YouTube) - that touches a lot of the technical aspects (accent, facial posture, methods of portrayal etc) of actors' portrayals of real people. – JM 2 years ago
  • For anyone interested in taking this topic, I'd suggest taking a look at some of the acting master classes on You Tube. Michael Caine's contribution is particularly interesting. It's also worth considering just how far some actors will go to 'inhabit' their roles - even going to far as to remain in-character between takes and, in some cases, for the whole film shoot. What psychological effect could this have on the actor? Anyway, excellent topic suggestion. – Amyus 2 years ago
  • This is would be super interesting to look into. It's always interesting to look at the debate of an impression vs a good take on someone. There are a lot of good videos on this from that one guy that looks at accents from Vanity Fair I think? Again, very interesting! – tredmond 2 years ago

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