Paradox of the Actor

What is the Paradox of the Actor?

The Paradox of the Actor is a puzzle about acting. It asks if actors should really feel the emotions they show, or if they should be good at pretending. To make it simple: imagine you have to act scared, but instead of actually being scared, you just show fear very well. That’s the idea behind this paradox. So, let’s think more about what this means with two definitions.

First, the Paradox of the Actor says that you can be an amazing actor without feeling the same things as your character. You could be laughing on the outside while playing a joyful character, but not actually be happy inside. This idea suggests that acting is more about skill and control than about real feelings.

Second, this paradox argues that if actors get too caught up in their characters’ emotions, they might not be reliable. So, an actor could be really sad one day and not act out a happy scene very well, because they aren’t feeling happy themselves. Consistency is key for actors, and if they’re always swayed by their own emotions, they can’t guarantee a good performance every time.


The Paradox of the Actor comes from a French man named Denis Diderot who lived in the 1700s. He was both an actor and a writer and he started to wonder how actors can make people believe they are someone else. He noticed that the best actors seemed calm and in control, even when playing parts that were full of emotion. This made him think that maybe being a good actor is about managing your feelings and not just getting lost in them.

Key Arguments

  • A smart actor can show a character’s feelings to the audience without really feeling them themselves.
  • Being able to control your own emotions makes sure you can give a consistent performance every time you’re on stage or in front of the camera.
  • Actors who become too emotional might not be able to act out the same scene the same way every time, because their own feelings get in the way.
  • If an actor relies too much on their own emotions, then their performance might change with their mood, which isn’t good for acting professionally.
  • Still, some people think that actors need to feel some real emotions to make their characters truly come to life. They believe a little bit of real emotion helps make a performance better.

Answer or Resolution (if any)

This paradox doesn’t have a clear answer. It’s more about exploring different views on what makes a good performance. Some actors dive deep into their characters, using their own life experiences to make the role feel real. This is called “method acting.” Others focus more on acting techniques, like the way they speak or move to show the character’s emotions without getting too personal. Both ways are about trying to find the right balance for the actor.

Major Criticism

Some people aren’t fans of the idea that actors don’t need to feel real emotions. They think that without true feelings, a performance might not connect with the audience. They also say Diderot’s ideas are old and acting has changed a lot since his time. They believe that as long as the actor is skilled and the performance is well-built, the audience will be drawn into the story, whether or not the actor’s emotions are real.

Practical Applications (if any)

  • Method Acting:

    Actors use their own memories and feelings to make the character’s feelings seem real. They believe that actually feeling the emotions helps the audience believe the story.

  • Classical Acting:

    This style of acting is more about using proven skills, like how to say your lines and move, to bring the character to life. Actors focus on the words and actions rather than how they feel inside.

  • Acting Training:

    Acting students often study this paradox. They practice finding the balance between showing real emotions and using acting skills to create a believable character.

Important Considerations

It’s important to think about how different actors work. Some kinds of training, personalities, and roles might make actors act in different ways. Also, what people in different places think is good acting can change how actors perform. This paradox isn’t about finding the one right way to act, but rather it shows us how complex acting is. It includes many skills and there’s more than one way to create a character that feels real.

Another thing to think about is what this tells us about feelings. If someone can show an emotion they’re not feeling, it makes us wonder about how we understand and share feelings. These ideas can lead to bigger questions about life and how we connect with each other.

In summary, the Paradox of the Actor is a really interesting challenge that’s at the center of the art of performing. It shows that acting is both about having control and skill, and also about expressing deep human feelings. With new ways to act on stage, in movies, and on digital platforms, understanding this paradox is still really useful. It helps us think about how we show true emotions and connect with people through acting.

Related Topics with Explanations

  • Empathy:

    Empathy is about feeling what someone else feels. Actors use empathy to understand their characters. This can help them act out emotions in a more realistic way, because they “put themselves in someone else’s shoes.”

  • Emotional Intelligence:

    This is about knowing and managing your own emotions and understanding other people’s feelings. Actors with high emotional intelligence might find the Paradox of the Actor interesting as it relates to controlling their emotions for different roles.

  • Suspension of Disbelief:

    This idea is about how people can forget that a story isn’t real while they’re reading a book, watching a movie, or seeing a play. Good actors help people “suspend their disbelief” and get lost in the story.

  • Cognitive Psychology:

    This study of the mind looks at how we think, learn, and remember. Actors may use this knowledge to figure out how to remember lines and cues, as well as how to get into character.

  • Performance Theory:

    This looks at how performances work and what they mean. It’s about more than just acting; it’s about how people behave in everyday life and in different cultures, a bit like the Paradox of the Actor, which is about behavior and emotion in acting.