aka: Master Actress
The Master of Disguise is a character who can slip in and out of costume at the drop of a hat, who is such an accomplished actor and makeup artist that no one can identify them until they reveal themselves. This trope is just about the "accomplished actor" part. When they want to, they can change their mannerisms, their voice, and every other non-physical aspect to seem like a completely different person. Usually done by evil characters, in a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing sort of way. This is the kind of character that causes fans to cry "wait, is that even the same character?" A Required Secondary Power for most Shapeshifters. Otherwise, how could they pass as - for example - the President of the United States? Of course, much humor can be had if they don't fall under this trope. A sub-trope of Master of Disguise. An in-universe version of He Really Can Act. Can overlap with The Power of Acting. Contrast Hugh Mann, for when a shapeshifter doesn't get this as a secondary power.
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- In Fullmetal Alchemist Envy can not only shapeshift but also change his voice. Unfortunately, he doesn't always get the mannerisms correct, though.
- Light Yagami of Death Note actually convinces most of the cast that he isn't Kira and is able to win people's trust with a few practiced smiles. In the data book his acting skills are rated 10/10.
- Captain Aizen in Bleach to the point it's no longer a spoiler. He even fooled his subordinate Gin who spent a century plotting Aizen's death and acting as his subordinate to get close enough to him to help him find a way to kill Aizen. When Gin finally makes his move, Aizen reveals that he knew all along that Gin was plotting to betray him and, while Gin did manage to spring a couple of surprises on Aizen regarding the nature of his power, all it did was play right into Aizen's plan, which had been to use Gin's desire for vengeance as a stepping stone to even greater power. Gin had no idea until Aizen told him that Aizen had been onto him for years.
- However, Aizen being Aizen, it's possible he just made that up.
- Kaede in Kämpfer is secretly the Big Bad and behind nearly everything in the series—including, quite possibly, the main character's stupidity. Very few people saw this coming, and those that did assumed it would be a case of Split Personality.
- Airi in the anime Those Who Hunt Elves is a supreme actress; in addition to being a master of disguise, she can manipulate just about anyone with the right act.
- Keima in The World God Only Knows is very good at putting on an act to get girls to fall for him provided they fit certain archetypes seen in dating sims. Even if the girls don't fit those types, he's still able to improvise very quickly. Haqua is briefly disturbed when she sees him immediately shrug off one such persona as easily as most people take off masks.
- Toradora! has Ami, the Bitch in Sheep's Clothing, who acts nice and innocent, but eventually reveals her true nature.
- Grelle Sutcliffe of Black Butler is introduced as the shy, bumbling, unassuming, and thoroughly incompetent servant of Madame Red. When she's caught red-handed in the middle of a murder, she grins, changes her entire posture, manner, and (in the anime, at least) cadence of voice, and thanks the ones who caught her for complimenting her work. "I'm an actress, after all— and a top-rate one, at that!" And the only physical things she changed were rinsing out the ink in her hair and putting her makeup back on. It's usually forgotten about because from that point on Grelle's persona stays fairly consistent, but the transformation is incredible.
- Ciel could also be considered an example, since the Circus arc, though he's a bit one-note. He's learnt to flawlessly adopt a loving, naive Cheerful Child persona when he needs to throw people off his scent, though when in private he'll immediately revert to his misanthropic, Wise Beyond His Years, cold self. The act has already served him well in the Circus, murder mystery, and Weston Academy arcs so far.
- Batman to a ridiculous degree. He can switch between the roles of billionaire playboy, brilliant businessman, and badass loner vigilante crimefighter in the blink of an eye. His real personality, which his extended surrogate family of sidekicks and his butler have to occasionally remind him still exists, is simply a good and generous man who is driven to help others. He even mentions he took acting lessons from Alfred when he reveals to a villainess who tried to manipulate him romantically that he hadn't fallen for her act and he was just playing along.
- Superman. It helps that Christopher Reeve himself was such an accomplished actor that he could make it plausible that people who knew both Superman and Clark Kent wouldn't realize they were the same person.
- Gary Johnston is recruited for Team America: World Police specifically because the team needs a brilliant actor. When he leaves the team, they're destroyed in their next fight: "Without an actor, they were like pigs to the slaughter." At the end, he saves the day with his acting.
"He'll have to act fast!"
- Christine from Witness for the Prosecution
- Leonard as well.
- Aaron from Primal Fear.
- Loki, from the Thor and Avengers movies is this, as would be expected of anyone who earned the title of God of Lies. Unusually for an evil example, his ability to cover up his true motives in Thor actually has the effect of convincing several people that he has worse motives than he really does at the time. He does, however, still use his acting ability to play Thor like a fiddle.
- Kellhus in The Second Apocalypse is a man of near-god level intellect and virtually zero emotion. However, he has complete control over his entire body, including facial features and voice, so he can fake emotions very well. When someone figures it out and confronts him, it's mentioned that every muscle in his face just goes dead, like a switch was flipped.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's Double Star, Lorenzo Smythe is shown to have this ability, to the point that someone who actually knows him doesn't recognize him because of his acting ability.
- The character Varys is a master of disguise in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, and uses this skill in the course of his duties as the king's spymaster.
- Silk of The Belgariad is shown to do this multiple times in the series through a combination of acting talent and contorting his face to change its apparent shape.
- Professor Quirrel from Harry Potter.
- Also Barty Crouch Jr. He may have used Polyjuice potion but keeping the act up for most of a year would require considerable skill and focusnote . Even more so in the film continuity where the potion doesn't alter the user's voice.
- Voldemort/Tom Riddle could be here, too. When he was in school, he convinced everyone except Dumbledore that he was just a normal, if precocious child for seven years, even though he was a sociopath even then. He was such a good actor and a liar that he actually got away with committing murder while he was in school, and later, managed to pretend to be friends with an eleven-year-old girl for an entire year, even though he had nothing but disgust for her.
- The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn, one of Thomas and Dorothy Hoobler's Judge Ooka mysteries, has Tominio, a Kabuki actor whose ability to impersonate women is eerie, and also a Chekhov's Gun.
- In The Shakespeare Stealer, it is revealed that Simon Bass, the Big Bad, is a former member of Shakespeare's troupe, and a gifted actor, leading to the revelation that Falconer is Simon Bass in disguise.
- Players of Gor. Tarl falls in with a Commedia dell'Arte troupe, one of which is a classicly trained actor who never appears on stage. Then in the book's climax he saves Tarl's life by acting the part of an Imperious General, much to Tarl's surprise, who says "You can act!."
- Jack from the Dragonback books. When he does a radio response pretending to be a nasty mercenary called Chiggers, his method acting was so perfect that to Draycos, he looked like he had flipped a switch and somehow become the guy.
- Tomjon from the Discworld book Wyrd Sisters, as the somewhat accidental result of the gifts given to him by the Witches.
- Megan Drake in Dark Jenny. Up until the climax she's mentioned but apparently never seen, until it's revealed that she's a master of disguise who's shown up as at least four different characters. With no makeup or other external aids, though it's unclear whether magic is involved.
- In Dragon Bones, the protagonist, Ward, can imitate anything and everyone. This saves his life, as his Obfuscating Stupidity is very convincing. He plays the role of the stupid Gentle Giant with such perfection that he later has difficulties to convince people he is, in fact, not as stupid as he seems. He is also worried that, due to all the acting, he doesn't know who he really is.
- Fisk, from the Knight and Rogue Series. This is a result of much practice, since he's a professional con man.
- Sir Percy Blakeney, of The Scarlet Pimpernel. It comes in handy during his daring rescues, and even more the rest of the time in preventing anyone from thinking of him as the kind of person who might be responsible for the daring rescues.
- Garik "Face" Loran, of Wraith Squadron, styles himself as a "master actor". He actually was a child actor of considerable talent, and his skill has not diminished since those days. In the course of three novels, he plays no fewer than five major roles, generally as part of The Infiltration, coaches his squadmates in the same, and employs his knowledge of makeup and disguise to similar ends.
- In Mercy Kill, Loran is the team's Big Good and semi-retired, so he recruits another actor — in this case, a noted stage actor named Turman Durra, who is actually a minor shapeshifter (his species can rearrange its facial structure and has chameleon-like skin). True to form, Durra winds up performing everything from Imperial officers to their own quarry to the specter of a long-dead Wraith, and even a completely fabricated alien species thanks to some handy biotechnological prosthetics.
Live Action TV
- Sarah, Helena, and Rachel from Orphan Black are all surprisingly good actors, in sharp contrast to Alison. Sarah especially seems to have a talent for mimicking tones and accents.
- Burn Notice: Michael Westen, Fiona, and a few other characters. In the middle of season four, Michael was caught in the house of a Mad Bomber with a hatred against homeless, criminals, ect. Michael went into a soft spoken fanboy facade who admires the bomber's work. It got him out of there. After speaking with Michael on the phone when he used his deeper voice, the bomber didn't realize the fanboy and man trying to stop him were one and the same.
- Several characters in Mission: Impossible, particularly Rollin (Martin Landau), Cinnamon (Barbara Bain), and Paris (Leonard Nimoy).
- Person of Interest: Root, a major antagonist is extremely fond of this trope, using it to get the better of the protagonists several times over the course of the show.
- The Pretender was based on this. Jarod was taken from his family at an early age because he showed potential for being able to slip into the identities of others unnoticed. After escaping from The Centre, he used his talents to help people in need.
- Saturday Night Live: Jon Lovitz's "Master Thespian," if only in his own mind.
- Horatio Hornblower: Kitty Cobham is an actress who was impersonating The Duchess of Wharfedale, and for a long time nobody had the slightest suspicion. She does such a good job acting her part that if Archie Kennedy and later de Vergesse hadn't recognised her as a Drury Lane actress, she would have been escorted home with absolutely no one suspecting she wasn't who she seemed. When Horatio wonders who the real Duchess is, Kitty says that she exists, and exactly as she played her.
- Sherlock: Due to the creators finding the idea of the Consulting Detective pulling off wacky disguises in modern day London to be too corny, Sherlock Holmes ended up with this trope. Sherlock is able to change his physical mannerisms, accent, and his vocal pitch when necessary to get information. His whole demeanor changes entirely and he is able to slip into and out of character at the drop of a hat. He even cries on cue no less than twice.
- Doctor Who:
- This is the Second Doctor's main skill gimmick in Doctor Who (due to being played by a character actor with an absolutely incredible range). He does the Wig, Dress, Accent routine whenever he gets the opportunity to, but costumes are strictly a bonus to his gift for different voices and mannerisms. He fairly frequently convincingly imitates officials and orders people about despite being dressed in a scruffy tuxedo.
- The Master is usually too vain to do more than Wig, Dress, Accent, but in "The Time Monster" he lures Benton into a trap by speaking to him over the phone in a perfectly convincing impression of the Brigadier's voice.
- The Fourth Doctor had his moments, though his knack for acting was strictly limited to convincingly faking evil (anything else he was usually awful at). He hams it up ridiculously when pretending to be a moody, power-mad, treacherous President Evil in "The Invasion of Time" (obviously having a great deal of fun doing so), and when he's stuck Impersonating the Evil Twin in "Meglos" he suddenly becomes heartless and psychotic and everyone else is taken in by it. He's also able to turn off his overpowering charisma when acting like a servant in "The Deadly Assassin", speaking in a higher-pitched and more neutral voice and using invisible body language to a degree so extreme that the other Time Lords don't even seem quite sure he was there at all, even though he'd been talking to them.
- Every member of Leverage is a good grifter, but Sophie's acting takes the cake. Played with in that, though she thinks she's also this when not running a con, she's actually Giftedly Bad.
- Methos from Highlander is so good at convincing people he's harmless that he is able to keep up the pretense of being mortal for years while infiltrating an organization dedicated to watching immortals. He's so good that he actually gets himself assigned to tracking himself down.
Mythology and Religion
- Going on WMG, Battler Ushiromiya of Umineko no Naku Koro ni might be this. Throughout the sixth arc, he acts like an incompetent mess, getting himself trapped in a Logic Error for years until Kanon saves him. But a WMG theorizes that he planned the whole thing in order to revive Beatrice, which if true means that he managed to not only fool Erika and Bernkastel, he managed to fool the readers, most of whom thought he was just being an idiot.
- Zola "Heterodyne" of Girl Genius takes this to truly impressive levels, along with Obfuscating Stupidity, fooling everyone (especially the audience) into severely underestimating her. Repeatedly. Even after being warned not to. Even after warning each other not to. Even against the Big Bad.
- This is also an Informed Ability of the Lucrezia Mongfish, though the acting we see her do is rather unimpressive (granted, she knew nothing about the person she had to imitate).
- Zartan and Zarana from G.I. Joe. Zartan, especially, is such a master of disguise and language that he is able to perfectly copy someone's voice after hearing them speak once.
- Samurai Jack: Aku, being a shapeshifter, is good at this as a Required Secondary Power. He once traveled with Jack for a good period of time without getting found out, while in the form of a humanoid woman.