Acting in the Dark
When an actor is not told something that will happen later to avoid having it possibly affect the way they play the character currently. For example, an actor in a Spy Drama receives scripts only an episode ahead as shooting proceeds. They are playing as a goodie and do not know why other characters are dying. Then another script comes along — and they discover that they were evil all along. In most shows the writers have at least an outline of what's going to happen, if not a complete set of scripts. This trope is for when even that outline is not communicated to actors. It covers cases of things their character would know (see above) and cases where their character wouldn't know the later developments (such as their character getting hit by a bus.) Another reason to do this would be to prevent a disgruntled or loose-lipped actor or crew member from letting slip major spoilers. Compare Enforced Method Acting and Writing by the Seat of Your Pants.
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Anime and Manga
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Vic Mignogna has told fans that he did this on purpose while filming so his reactions as Edward are genuine; for example, his shock at arriving in our world in the 2003 anime version's penultimate episode. He did it again in Code Geass.
- An in-universe example: It's what the director in the movie Perfect Blue does to his actors, making the parallels between the main character and the character she plays in the movie even creepier as both start to suspect they are the killer.
- Gen Urobuchi, writer of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, did not inform Emiri Katou, voice actress of Kyubey, show's mascot, of her character's true nature and kept character designer Ume Aoki in the dark about show's dark storyline. He either wanted to make sure the viewer was fooled, in which case it was this trope, or he really wanted to see their faces once they found out, in which case he was just trolling.
"Did, did I just...did I just DIE?!"
- Something similar happened with the English dub regarding the Wham Episode of Mami getting mogu-mogu'ed in Episode 3. What made it especially shocking for the actress was that she was still scheduled to do her character's lines the next day - she certainly wasn't expecting to die so suddenly.
- Slim Pickens, who famously played the B-52 bomber commander and pilot in Dr. Strangelove, was not told that the movie was a comedy during filming, and played his part straight.
- And he's still hilarious, because Slim Pickens is just that funny.
- The movie also provides a slight variant for George C. Scott: he was told to ham it up for a "practice take" before the real takes. Guess which takes wound up in the actual movie. Scott was not happy, and vowed never to work with Kubrick again.
- Ben Hur: A hilarious and confusing example occurred in the epic. The film features a very deliberate subtext suggesting that the two main characters, Judah and Messala, were lovers in their youth. Stephen Boyd, who played Messala, was told about this dynamic between the two characters. Charlton Heston, who played Judah, was not told about the relationship for fear that he would freak out.
- Which is a brilliant example (and mentioned in) Enforced Method Acting: Messala comes across as someone trying to rekindle the relationship while Judah is uncomfortable because he'd prefer to forget it happened and doesn't want to be reminded of it.
- Inverted for the Harry Potter movies. Alan Rickman (Snape) was one of the few people in the world who Rowling told about the ending ahead of time so that he would know the true motivations behind his character. It has been suggested that Rickman only took the role because of this: rather ironically, he has an aversion to always being cast as the villain, so he needed to know that Snape had major sympathetic qualities for him to accept.
- In The Blair Witch Project, actors weren't given instructions until the beginning of each day of filming (most dialogue was improvised). They also weren't told when they would be "attacked" at night, so those moments were genuine surprises.
- Blazing Saddles: Mel Brooks used a musical version of sorts when he got Frankie Laine, who originally sang the Rawhide theme, to sing the theme. Brooks wanted Laine to sound like this was a genuine, dramatic cowboy movie, and so completely "forgot" to tell him about the comedic nature of the film, to the point that Laine didn't realize the truth until he actually saw the film at his local cinema. He consequently produced such an epic cowboy movie song that it's sometimes played alongside other classic cowboy movie themes non-ironically.
- One such example is in the "Frontierland" section of Disneyland, which plays "cowboy" music as background music. The Blazing Saddles theme is part of the rotation.
- Scream 4: During initial filming, the actors only read the first 75 pages of the script so that not even they would know the identity of the killer until the time came to shoot The Reveal.
- Craven also hid the final pages of the second movie's script.
- In The Empire Strikes Back, no one was told about Darth Vader's revelation until just before shooting the scene. And by "no one", we mean James Earl Jones (who initially thought it was a lie) and Mark Hamill (who was pulled aside and told the truth, and also didn't believe it): George Lucas wanted so badly for this to be a secret that the scene was filmed with David Prowse saying, "No, Obi-Wan killed your father!"
- Prowse was very upset after the premiere, and told director Irvin Kershner his body language would have been completely different if he'd known the truth. As a consequence, the overdubbing for the scene is rather terrible; it looks like Vader has palsy or something, because his gesturing for emphasis doesn't fit the overdubbed line at all while you can pretty clearly see that it would fit "No, Obi-Wan killed your father" perfectly.
- In the film Smile, none of the actresses playing the pageant contestants were told who the winner was until the scene was being shot.
- In The Shining, Kubrick was able to film the whole movie without Danny Lloyd, the young actor playing Danny Torrance, being aware that he was in a horror film. Pretty amazing, considering the ever-darkening tone of the film and some of the horror scenes he is in.
- The actresses for the main cast of The Descent were not told about the crawlers. When they finally met one in the movie the first take was of them all running off the set screaming.
- Legend has it that during the filming of Casablanca, after each scene was filmed, Humphrey Bogart and the writers would sit down together and decide what should happen next. Ingrid Bergman had no idea until the very last scene was filmed whether her character would leave with Victor or stay with Rick.
- According to Kevin Spacey, none of the actors were told of the ending of The Usual Suspects while filming.
- Gabriel Byrne was led to believe that his character was Keyser Soze. After he saw the finished product, a reporter asked him who Keyser Soze was. He replied "All throughout filming and up until tonight, I thought I was."
- Serenity: It didn't actually happen in filming, but in the DVD commentary, Joss Whedon jokes about doing this to Alan Tudyk, whose character infamously and suddenly dies in the climax.
Joss: ("Wash" voice) "Hey, Joss, my script doesn't go past page 120..." (normal voice) "No, that's it, they... land safely, it's a happy ending."
Live Action TV
- Harper's Island: The actors were not told who the murderer was, with the murderer's portrayer himself being kept in the dark until about half-way through. Co-executive producer Karim Zreik, had the job of informing the actors in this death-laden 2009 Mini Series just when their time was up. The actors gave him the nickname Karim the Assassin.
- Specifically, the actor who turned out to be the murderer (Henry, played by Christopher Gorham) wasn't told until eight episodes into a 13-episode season.
- 24 thrives on this one. Notably, Sarah Clarke was not told that Nina would be the Season One mole until about episode 12.
- Matthew Fox (who plays Jack Shepherd) has stated that he was the only actor on the show who knew how the series would end before the production of the final season.
- In an interview with Michael Emerson, Emerson confirms that the cast was Acting in the Dark. One assumes that getting answers like "I can't discuss that" happened early and often on the Lost set. Emerson's role in particular grew from a random guest role, who had only an initial three-episode contract, to a Breakout Villain once his performance was approved by the producers.
- Terry O'Quinn was not informed that he was no longer playing Locke in season 5 because he was meant to act consistently with what was known until the reveal.
- Parodied in the Hancock's Half Hour TV episode "The Bowmans", where Hancock is a radio actor and is shocked when he gets a script that kills off his character. (He gets his own back in the end.)
- House: During the season 4 "reality show" where House was whittling down the candidates as the episodes went on, those who would not make the final cut were not told until the week of filming for that episode began.
- Babylon 5 did this with, well, everybody. Specifically to avoid the actor getting influenced by Character Development, since these changes were caused by organic growth. It was supposed to be a gradual change, and it worked. Characters weren't "revealed as suddenly evil" so much as gradually became as such.
- In Season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the actor playing Ben wasn't told the exact nature of Ben's relationship to Glory until very late in the game.
- Similarly, on Dollhouse, Harry Lennix wasn't told that he was the Big Bad until the middle of the second season.
- M*A*S*H did this with the departure of Henry Blake. The whole episode was filmed with the entire cast being under the impression that Blake was going home to America. After they filmed Blake's departure, the cast was given a changed script for the last scene: Radar delivers the news that Blake's plane was shot down with no survivors.
- Justified: During most of Season 1, the audience was wondering if redneck racist Boyd Crowther had really Found the Lord and become a (fairly nutty) backwoods preacher, or was just scamming everyone. It turns out Walton Goggins, who played Boyd, didn't know either. In this case the writers/producers did this to force him to play it ambigiously.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Alexander Siddig only found out that his character was actually a Changeling impersonator for several episodes until the episode where it was revealed.
- Doctor Who:
- Tom Baker held himself to this. He only read and learned his lines in his scripts, because he viewed his role as to react to events in the way the Doctor would (and, with his usual thought processes, felt that knowing anything about what other characters were doing in the story was "invasive"). You'd be hard-pressed to say this made his acting any more naturalistic, as would be the usual intention for this technique - but it certainly helped Tom Baker stay in character. It also led to him interrupting and stepping on the lines of the guest cast due to a genuine unawareness of when he was supposed to say his line, although since the Fourth Doctor is a scene-stealing Attention Whore Insufferable Genius it usually works.
- Alex Kingston was the only person aside from Steven Moffat that knew the extent of River Song's arc and the events which occurred in it before the readthroughs. David Tennant had no idea what was going on and was forced to come up with own ideas as to who the Doctor believed River Song to be. Similarly, Matt Smith (Eleven), Karen Gillan (Amy), and Arthur Darvill (Rory) were completely unaware and were given the heads-up only when filming was about to happen for the scene in which River's identity was revealed in "A Good Man Goes To War".
- On Curb Your Enthusiasm, the actress Cheryl Hines is usually unaware of what the character Larry David has gotten himself into during an episode.
- Twin Peaks. David Lynch had planned out the identity of the killer of Laura Palmer long before the big reveal, but he didn't tell the actor until the time came to actually shoot said reveal.
- The writer of Forbrydelsen wrote as he went, so that neither he nor the actors knew who the killer was going to be until the final episodes.
- In season six of Dexter, only Edward James Olmos knew that his character Professor Gellar was Dead All Along and a delusion of his "student" Travis. Even the directors were kept in the dark, leading to a few instances where Olmos had to gently nudge them away from filming a scene in a way that the reveal wouldn't make sense.
- How I Met Your Mother is structured as a Flashback as a father telling an amazing story to his kids about a complicated series of events that surround how he met their mother. The creators were adamant that the last episode would be the official meeting, but had to adjust their writing plans because they never really knew how long the show would go on. As a result none of the actors really knew what was going to happen from one episode to the next and Josh Radnor, who plays the younger version of Ted the narrator, commented that having Bob Saget voice his future self helped him focus on playing the character in the moment rather than playing both sides.
- The Finale Season has the Mother join the cast, always on the sidelines and interacting with everyone but Ted in the present story. But to keep the hype around the character even the actress doesn't know her name.
- One notable example from Breaking Bad: Bryan Cranston did not get the script for the finale of Season 4 until the preceding episodes had all been shot. He did not know that Walter's argument to Jesse about Gus' responsibility for Brock's poisoning had been based on a lie — and so Walt's performance in the penultimate episode was more convincing than usual.
- In the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Brett Dalton (playing Ward) was only told when it was necessary for him to know that Ward was a HYDRA mole, and the rest of the cast kept in the dark slightly longer. Bill Paxton, on the other hand, was told right from the start that Garrett was the Clairvoyant but none of the other cast were, allowing him the opportunity to play the Large Ham Big Bad pretending to be a good guy right from the start with the others in the dark.
- In the first season finale of Dark Matter, one of the team turns out to be a mole for the Galactic Authority. The cast were not told who this was - even in the script stage (which solely referred to The Mole) until being informed by the showrunner just before they shot the scene. The video of them finding out can be found here
- In Doubt, the only people who know whether Father Flynn is guilty of the molestation charges that form the crux of the plot are the actors who played him in the original stage and film versions, since they were told so by author John Patrick Shanley himself.
- Ryukishi07, creator of Umineko: When They Cry, told Sayaka Ohara (who played the series initial villain Beatrice), of her full identity and motives, but did not inform Daisuke Ono (Battler) or Rie Kugimiya (Shannon). According to him, there was no need to tell Kugimiya because the Shannon personality was not the culprit.
- Seemingly done to Lewis in Full Frontal Nerdity. He and Nelson get the bright idea to make a movie about their wacky hijinks in Frank's house. One scene involves Lewis rolling a natural one and blowing the die away with a handgun. Shame nobody told him the gun was a real pistol firing real gas-main-puncturing ammunition!
Frank: Live bullets?!Nelson: It was easier than rigging a die to explode. It also guaranteed a more natural reaction. I didn't think it'd push Lewis into sci-fi-swear mode, though.
- During the finale event of the Silo arc in AJCO, A_J's player invoked this upon Pythos, Frances' player, by spontaneously walking out after Egg, whom she had just expelled into a deadly radioactive landscape above. Pythos had no idea this would happen, and as a result Frances' frenzied reaction was entirely unscripted and from the heart.
- A_J's player also told Pythos that she and Egg's player would be playing brand new characters as a result, leading Pythos to really believe that both characters died.