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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?"

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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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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist Envy can not only shapeshift but also change his voice. Unfortunately, he doesn't always get the mannerisms correct, though.
  • Kakegurui: The Hollywood actress Kawaru Natari is an Oscar-level actress that can utterly demolish everyone else in acting. She makes a gamble against Yumemite based on their talent in acting and can utterly demolish her with absolute control of her entire body, which includes even controlling her own reactions.
  • 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.
  • Toradora! has Ami, the Bitch in Sheep's Clothing, who acts nice and innocent, but eventually reveals her true nature.
  • 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.
  • In One Piece "Evening Shower" Kanjuro one of the Akazaya Nine spent years pretending to be a loyal comrade to the others and even risked genuine mortal danger many times just to maintain the act. He even admits that he'd have gladly died fighting alongside them for the sake of his role. This is because he's actually Kanjuro Kurozumi, a relative of Orochi's whose parents were killed during the purge of the Kurozumis. Having grown up in a kabuki theater, Kanjuro found meaning in his life by taking on role after role, honing his craft. When Orochi recruited him and ordered him to play the role of a Kozuki retainer, Kanjuro gladly accepted.
  • Assassination Classroom: Kaede Kayano is said to have incredible acting skills. When her identity is revealed, it's shown that she's a teen movie actress renowned for her ability to get into character seamlessly, such that she appears to be a completely different person on and off the set. The character the audience had seen throughout the series was a false persona she'd come up with and had been playing 24/7 for most of the year in an effort to catch Koro-sensei off-guard.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman to a ridiculous degree. He can switch between the roles of billionaire playboy, brilliant businessman, badass loner vigilante crimefighter and Gotham gangster 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.
  • Similarly, Dick Grayson also mentions being trained by Alfred. His actual personality is that of a good, passionate guy who happens to be incredibly personable. He's slipped into ditz, bad boy, racist tourist bro, gay French gym instructor, Irish gangster and pick-up artist before. The last four were all within one series, no less, when he was a spy and needed these skills.
  • Natasha Romanova is one, thanks to her nature as the master spy in the Marvel Universe, being able to pass unnoticed in almost any crowd without any serious effort, despite her stunning good looks and global fame as an Avenger.
  • After many a Hand Wave in the Silver Age said otherwise, Superman's modern interpretation presents this to be the real reason he can manage Clark Kenting. He meticulously maintains his image of a mild-mannered reporter not just by wearing glasses and oversized clothes, but by physically slouching and speaking in a higher-pitched tone than normal.

     Fan Works 

  • Child of the Storm has the canonical examples of Loki and Natasha, as well as Albus Dumbledore, who though benevolent, is nowhere near as harmlessly kooky as he pretends to be. Or rather, he is, but that's far from all he is, as he occasionally chooses to demonstrate.
    • Harry starts becoming this in the sequel, which makes it very hard even for people who know him well to know for sure what he's thinking. This is what makes Carol so important to figuring out his emotional state, as thanks to a Psychic Link created by some well-intentioned consensual but clumsy psychic surgery on Harry's part, the two of them have a connection, and she has a backdoor into his brain (meaning that she knows what he's really thinking/feeling).

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    Film 
  • Played straight in Harry Potter with Barty Crouch Jr. whose only flaw in impersonating Mad-Eye Moody in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was a Character Tic of licking his lips. Deliberately averted in most other in-universe examples through the efforts of the cast and crew. Which means, for instance, that in order to portray Hermione Granger impersonating Beatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Helena Bonham-Carter watched Emma Watson perform the scene and then copied her mannerisms for the recording.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Trevor Slattery, aka The Mandarin in Iron Man 3. He may be a washed-up junkie and a Dirty Old Man, but by god he had everyone fooled when he played the role of the world's most terrifying terrorist!
    • Loki in various movies, as would be expected of the God of Lies:
      • Thor: He uses his acting talents to play Thor like a fiddle. Thus, when he visits Thor on Earth, Loki pretends to be sympathetic and sorry to say goodbye to his brother. Thor buys it.
      • Thor: The Dark World: Even when he is pretending to betray Thor in front of the Dark Elves and denounces his own mother to the person responsible for her death, he sounds completely sincere.
        Loki: Did you really think I cared about Frigga? About any of you? All I've ever wanted was you and Odin dead at my feet!
      • Thor: Ragnarok: He manages to successfully impersonate Odin for four years with no-one the wiser. His love for theatrics is stressed by the fact that during his reign, he wrote (as confirmed byinvoked Word of God) a play in his own honor.
    • Talos from Captain Marvel is very skilled at impersonating others, the trait not every member of his shapeshifting species possesses equally.
    • Mysterio from Spider-Man: Far From Home: While he may not be a professional actor like his comics counterpart, he still manages to flawlessly fool Peter and Nick Fury. The latter is notable because Fury was really Talos, a Skrull whose race's signature trait is deception through shapeshifting. In one scene, his henchman is secretly advising him on how to reply to the heroes and Mysterio declaims the scripted lines he's just been fed as if he is an actor on a stage.
  • Aaron from Primal Fear.
  • 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.
  • Wonder Woman (2017): Sameer's primary role is to fool people using his acting abilites. He would have been a career actor, but racism barred him from it.
  • 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." In the end, he saves the day with his acting.
    "He'll have to act fast!"
  • Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder is famed in-universe for his ability to become other characters. Kirk Lazarus as Lincoln Osiris as a lead-farming Indochinese infiltrator (and Robert Downey, Jr underneath it all).
  • Christine from Witness for the Prosecution
    • Leonard as well.

    Literature 
  • In the .hack//AI Buster novels, Hokuto's been giving off the idea of being a teenager, when, in actuality, she's a professional translator who's slightly older than the protagonist, Albireo. Heck, she's even referred to in a supplementary description as a skilled actor.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!."
  • Harry Potter
  • Barty Crouch Jr. He may have used Polyjuice potion but keeping the act up for most of a year would require considerable skill and focus
  • Voldemort/Tom Riddle: 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 title character of Horatio Hornblower, although he uses it for everyday situations rather than spying or infiltration. He sees himself as constantly playacting the role of the imperturbable captain. He can put on the appearance of a bloodthirsty tyrant as easily as putting on a hat. Moreover, he perfectly convinces his wife Maria that he loves her when he only proposed out of pity and grew totally indifferent—for twenty years she never suspects.
  • Fisk, from the Knight and Rogue Series. This is a result of much practice since he's a professional con man.
  • Richard Hannay novels (The Thirty-Nine Steps and sequels) by John Buchan: While the main character disguises himself frequently and successfully, it is more through acting than characterization. Buchan's thesis appears to have been that if you're a good enough actor you can disguise yourself from even people who know you well. "A fool tries to look different: a clever man looks the same and is different." Hannay's best friend Sandy is a particularly good actor and is always unexpectedly appearing in books, sometimes from behind the face of a villain. The actual villains of The Thirty-Nine Steps and Mr Standfast are similarly capable.
  • The Saint — Simon Templar's favorite role is the Upper-Class Twit, but over the course of the books, he plays lawyers, truck drivers, unemployed layabouts, American gangsters and Australian businessmen (just to name a few) with equal skill.
  • 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.
  • Kellhus in The Second Apocalypse is an Impossible Genius with virtually zero emotion. He has complete control over his entire body, including facial features and voice, so he can easily fake whatever emotion people need to see to get them to do what he wants. When someone figures it out and privately confronts him, every muscle in his face briefly goes dead, revealing that all of his facial expressions are an act.
  • 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.
  • Sherlock Holmes: In one story, Watson notes that Holmes's interest in crime solving robbed the stage of a fine actor.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire
    • Varys is a former mummer and current master of spies. His skill in disguise and acting allow him to play several different parts in the pursuit of his duties.
    • Arya learns that acting is very important to the Faceless Men, who teach her how to create a character and play a role.
  • Tomjon from the Discworld book Wyrd Sisters, as the somewhat accidental result of the gifts given to him by the Witches. (To make friends easily, always remember the words, and be whoever he thinks he is.)
  • X-Wing Series:
    • Wraith Squadron: Garik "Face" Loran 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.
  • In the Warrior Cats book Veil of Shadows, Bristlefrost is impressed multiple times at Tigerstar's acting abilities, as he hides his knowledge of the secret rebellion and pretends to act shocked at things he already knows.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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, etc. Michael went into the role of a soft-spoken fanboy 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.
  • 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.
  • In Gotham, both of the Batman prequel show's two main takes on the Joker are this. In the first season, Jerome, who is just a teenager at the time, convinces everyone he's an innocent victim and not the murderer, until Jim Gordon finds evidence otherwise, and confronts him about it. He promptly drops the innocent act, bluntly tells Gordon why he killed the victim, and starts laughing. In the fourth season, when the audience learns that Jerome has an estranged identical twin brother who appears to be his good counterpart, it becomes apparent that he was most likely so good at acting innocent because he was imitating his brother Jeremiah's mannerisms. Jeremiah is just as good an actor as Jerome, though, and after Jerome dies and drives his brother insane with his insanity gas, Jeremiah is able to imitate his brother perfectly in the supposed "post-humous" messages he sends to Jerome's former followers and enemies in order to manipulate them. He is also able to keep up a mask of sanity that is convincing enough to fool Bruce for weeks, to the point that Bruce trusts him enough to fund his clean energy project, even though Bruce has had multiple bad experiences with Jerome's terrorist activities, and Jeremiah's clean energy generators can be turned into bombs. Keep in mind that, despite the fact that this is a prequel show, and Bruce has a long way to go until he becomes Batman, he is not particularly naïve by this point, and shows signs of developing the intelligence and observational skills that will one day make him the World's Greatest Detective. Jeremiah is just that good at convincing people that he's harmless.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Several characters in Mission: Impossible, particularly Rollin (Martin Landau), Cinnamon (Barbara Bain), and Paris (Leonard Nimoy).
  • Sarah, Helena, and Rachel from Orphan Black are all surprisingly good actors, in sharp contrast to Alison i.e. the one who actually does acting as a hobby. Sarah especially seems to have a talent for mimicking tones and accents. In addition, the clones frequently have to imitate each other for plot reasons... or to get Alison out of trouble.
  • 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. She carries on with it after her Heel–Face Turn.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • This talent is part of what makes Neal Caffrey from White Collar such an effective confidence man, and later, CI.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • Odysseus gets to show off his acting chops several times, making this Older Than Dirt
  • The Devil from the Bible, supposedly this is one of his best abilities, he never appears to people as himself, he always appears as a friendly and non-threatening individual. It would be pretty hard to convince people to sin if he appeared as a horned monster.

    Roleplay 
  • Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
    • Finn is a manipulative boy and previous member of the Acting Club, which gives him great skill in putting on a false face.
    • Sarah Travers, the agent that's hounding the main characters, is shown to be an excellent actor when she takes on the role of a substitute teacher. Everything from her walk to the expression in her eyes changes to seem friendly and innocuous.

    Video Games 
  • The World Ends with You: Joshua is a supreme example, considering he was acting like a normal human during his week with Neku, when he was actually a God.

    Visual Novels 
  • Halloween Otome: The Count, due to his quick costume changes and ability to fool everyone (well, except Mr. Bandages) to not knowing that he’s Erik.
  • Going on WMG, Battler Ushiromiya of Umineko: When They Cry 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.
    • Yasu is definitely one.

    Web Comics 
  • 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 Lucrezia Mongfish, though the acting we see her do is rather unimpressive (granted, she knew nothing about the person she had to imitate).

    Web Original 
  • Helen, from Twig, is an exceptional actor out of necessity, as in her base form she's an Emotionless Girl due to her emotional responses being disconnected from her physical ones. This has the side effect that her friends consider her not showing emotion to be an indication of genuine affection, and they're confused and disturbed when she displays emotion when it's just them in the room.

    Western Animation 
  • Prince Hans from Disney’s Frozen. When he first meets Anna, he is polite and awkward and they even sing a duet together. Even when she is no longer around he is polite and princely. It’s not until he finds out Anna is dying that he drops this act, shocking everyone.
  • 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.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Double Trouble is a shapeshifting spy who prides themselves on not just looking like the people they imitate, but becoming them. They study their mannerisms and personalities very closely to get it exactly right, and are always looking for constructive criticism. This is part of what makes them so dangerous; they can imitate almost anyone with no apparent "tell," with most characters being unaware that shapeshifters even exist. As such, they manage to fly under the radar for quite a while before anyone catches on.

Alternative Title(s): Master Actress

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