Quite a while ago, I was reading an article on secret tips of the trade that different professions have which had the following quote:

Actor

Every actor eventually is called upon to act drunk. Most do this by slurring their speech, stumbling around, and perhaps drooling a bit. This is what a freshman drama teacher calls “indicating.” A better way to appear drunk is to act very, very sober. Walk very carefully, and try not to let anyone see that you’re inebriated. This is much more subtle and will register on a level the audience won’t immediately recognize.

How do we spot people who are drunk? They’re the ones who are acting sober. Drunk people behave like how they think sober people behave. We understand this instinctually and subconciously and we’re incredibly attenuated to it although we often can’t articulate why we feel something is off.

This applies to other aspects of human behaviour. We can spot when rich people are pretending to be middle class because they act like what they think middle class people act. We can spot unintelligent people trying to sound intellectual. Because in all these cases, these people are acting sober.

The converse side of this is that you can only spot acting sober if you’ve actually been sober before. If you’re a rich person, you’ll totally be convinced by another rich person pretending to be middle class because that’s totally how you think middle class people act.

Understanding acting sober allows you to see the various masks that people put on and, more importantly, it’s an inner lens on how they internally represent the world. It can be a window onto someone else’s soul.

Of course, there’s acting acting sober (which is what professional actors do) and acting acting acting sober and so on ad infinitum as well.

Responses

  1. David Thompson says:

    October 31st, 2008 at 9:14 pm (#)

    I have a flatmate L— who’s an actor, and was recently called upon to play Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. The “Queen Mab” scene in the play required him to act drunk – and he’s never been drunk in his life.

    Watching his performance, I think he did it quite convincingly. Our other flatmate S— has a tendency to get happily drunk when he can, so L— channelled those observations into the performance. As you noted, the convincing nuance was not in the slur and the sway, but in acting the correction for it when you do.

    One thing that annoys me here in New Zealand is actors trying to play Americans. Most people ham it up horrendously based on a stereotypical American (of whichever type – anything from redneck yokel to New York cabbie), despite seeing a lot of Americans all the time on television.

  2. David Thompson says:

    October 31st, 2008 at 2:14 pm (#)

    I have a flatmate L— who’s an actor, and was recently called upon to play Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. The “Queen Mab” scene in the play required him to act drunk – and he’s never been drunk in his life.

    Watching his performance, I think he did it quite convincingly. Our other flatmate S— has a tendency to get happily drunk when he can, so L— channelled those observations into the performance. As you noted, the convincing nuance was not in the slur and the sway, but in acting the correction for it when you do.

    One thing that annoys me here in New Zealand is actors trying to play Americans. Most people ham it up horrendously based on a stereotypical American (of whichever type – anything from redneck yokel to New York cabbie), despite seeing a lot of Americans all the time on television.

  3. Robin Hanson says:

    May 9th, 2009 at 12:10 am (#)

    Nice!

  4. Robin Hanson says:

    May 8th, 2009 at 4:10 pm (#)

    Nice!

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