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The Power of Acting

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Baudelaire: Genius!
Master Thespian: No! ACTING!
Saturday Night Live, "Master Thespian" Sketch

When acting isn't just a skill, it's practically a superpower. For whatever reason, a character's acting can be just as effective against one's enemies as the powers of a Flying Brick.

It can be for the heroes, a Sidekick or even the villain, but with this trope, acting is something to be reckoned with.

Note that espionage often requires some acting skill, or just being able to bluff and con people, but those are not this trope. This is about acting as for the stage, film, etc. being a power itself — or at least, someone who is attempting a bluff or a con being explicitly referred to as an actor.

Despite how good the character's acting is said to be In-Universe, it's still as likely as not to be presented as Stylistic Suck (often for Rule of Funny, and/or to avoid an Informed Attribute).

Compare Charles Atlas Superpower, Awesomeness Is a Force, Master of Disguise, Consummate Liar, Master Actor. Sister Trope to The Power of Language.

Contrast Bad "Bad Acting".


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The basic concept of Private Actress is to prove this trope.
  • Airi from Those Who Hunt Elves: her experience makes her an expert at reading and manipulating people.
  • Great Britain in Cyborg 009, it's the reason he was chosen to be transformed into a cyborg.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Touma defeated the Reality Warper Aureolus Izzard by convincing him that his powers had no effect anymore since he believed it, it came true.
    • The above incident isn't the only case of this since Touma's shown to be quite good at BS-ing people when he wants to. Best shown by the fact that even after a dozen or more volumes, no one's realized that he's suffering from Amnesia (due to the events of the first arc).
  • In A Certain Scientific Railgun, Shinobu Nunotaba uses some excellent psychological warfare to convince the thugs who were threatening her that she had a Touch of Death ability. She barely even had to move and the thugs were soon terrified out of their minds Mook Horror Show-style.
  • Usopp from One Piece almost managed to trick a whole room full of marines he was a surprise inspector during the filler G8 Arc.
    • That is, until Robin showed up in the surprise inspector's uniform and didn't back him up when he said he lied about being the inspector. It was all good since it saved him.
    • He also used the power of BS on Thriller Bark to make Perona faint from sheer terror.
  • Mike (Satomi Keiko) in Umi no Misaki, when she gets really into a role, can make herself sound - and, in dim light, even somehow look - like who she's playing. Including, at one point, seeming to wear the other girl's eyeglasses, which there's no possible way she could have.

    Fan Works 
  • Played with in The Read Through in which the Harry Potter characters are essentially actors playing themselves in various pieces of fan fiction, but are nothing like the characters they portray. For one, Dobby is actually over six feet tall and has a deep voice, but he can ACT short.
    The door opened again allowing Draco Malfoy and Dobby Elf into the Read Through room.
    "Greetings Fellow Thespians!" Dobby called in a deep cultured baritone that would make James Earl Jones green with envy. "I do hope everyone is ready for today's foray into the theater of the mind."
    Molly and Ginny joined them all sitting around the table. Behind Dobby and Draco came several interns carrying copies of the day's script and started placing them at each place around the table, along with pens and highlighters.
    One of the interns stopped in front of Dobby. "Mr. Elf, sir, I've been a fan of the series since the beginning, you've always been my favorite character."
    "Well thank you…" Dobby eyed the intern's nametag, "Stephen, I am but a humble player among this great ensemble cast, playing my part as best I can."
    "Oh, you're the best sir… but I was wondering, you don't look anything like your character."
    "Ah, I see, you expected an emaciated two-foot tall golem with huge eyes did you?"
    "Yes sir Mr. Elf, I never would have recognized you. How do you do it?"
    "How else Stephen?" Dobby struck a dramatic pose "By ACTING!"
    Stephen the Intern blinked, standing before him was the Dobby from the books and movies, two foot tall, huge eyes, clad in a threadbare pillowcase, he blinked again and Mr. Elf was back, six foot four clad in a Thousand Pound Saville Road suit, the picture of the Shakespearian actor. "That's amazing Mr. Elf, I had no idea someone could 'act' short."
    "Only after years of training young Stephen. Fetch me a cup of tea and half a bagel with cream cheese would you? Good Lad."
    The intern scampered off and Dobby took his seat at the table. Draco looked up from the script in front of him. "You insufferable ham."
  • In DC Nation, Hugo Anders was armed only with this and a Desert Eagle if something bad happened. At one point, he was armed with nothing more than a Tamaranian disguise and his acting skills and infiltrated a secure prison to reach Starfire and smuggle her a UV light.
  • Sean Bean Saves Westeros: When Sean Bean, in the place of Eddard Stark has to rouse the armies of the North against the Lannisters, he delivers a Rousing Speech. The reader will recognize it as a mosaic of vaguely adapted Shakespeare quotes, but the effect of The Bard's words, delivered by a trained Shakespearean actor, on people who don't know the speech is stolen is truly a sight to behold.
  • Seta Suzume District 4 victor Theo Goff is a talented actor who does a masterful job of playing the role of a dashing romantic hero in the games, while pretending to nearly fall to his death while climbing a mountain so the cameras wouldn't get bored following him.
    He is so skilled that the Capitol all but believes him when the Third Quarter Quell is interrupted and he says he and Song, present as mentors, didn't know anything about it. All but.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Discworld:
    • This happens to the protagonist of Moving Pictures: being a movie star somehow allows him to defy physics so that he can save the day. Because, due to magic, he was using Hollywood (or rather, Holy Wood) Physics and Magic instead of the normal kinds.
    • Tomjon from Wyrd Sisters, due to his godmothers' gifts, can remember every role he's ever played, is able to perfectly slip into any role he's given (meaning his acting will always be completely sincere) and is extremely good with people. One of his friends describes him as being able to use the Discworld's equivalent of the St. Crispin's Day Speech from Henry V to start a revolution in an Ankh-Morpork alehouse and have the people inside storm the palace and install him as king.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Double Star, an extremely unemployed but exceedingly competent actor who happens to be Identical Stranger to a prominent politician must fill in for said politician in order to stave off a diplomatic incident between humans and Martians.
  • Baroness Nicola Ceausescu in Paul Park's Roumania series is a former renowned stage actress who uses her talents to seduce and charm people and also to impersonate others when she wants to travel in disguise. She is skillful enough to disguise herself as nearly anyone, regardless of differences in gender, age, and social class. In the climax of the third book, she impresses the elite of her country with an opera she has written about her tragic life in order to get people to sympathize with her. Even her enemies who despise her as a corrupt, power-hungry vamp and wannabe-empress are impressed with how superbly she puts on an act to impress people in various situations.
  • Star Wars Legends: In the Wraith Squadron books of the X-Wing Series, Garik "Face" Loran fills this role in the Wraith Squadron commando unit. When it comes to infiltration, he tells the other members of the team how to not draw attention and seem inconspicuous, while he gets everyone to pay attention only to him and feeding them his made up stories. Having a galaxy-wide famous actor on a covert operations team never becomes a problem, as he's just so good that nobody ever recognizes him if he doesn't want them to.
    • It helps that he was famous for his child acting, and went into hiding before he became an adult. It also helps that he has the advantage of a great deal of advanced makeup.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One of (if not the) most awesome moments of Cordelia's in Angel was when she bluffed Angelus into thinking that a jug of bottled water was actually holy water.
    • Also when she pretends to be a police detective to infiltrate, alongside Wesley, a demon fight club.
  • Skyler White, from Breaking Bad, has used this to her advantage a number of times: faking going into labor to avoid getting arrested for a shoplifting her sister committed, faking a panic attack to convince a locksmith to get her into Walt's home, faking being a dumb blonde to help an old boss get off the hook for cooking his books, just to name a few examples.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Second Doctor is a Master Actor, which is his main ability gimmick. See The Highlanders and The Enemy of the World for particularly dangerous uses of his acting skills.
    • "The Shakespeare Code", where theatrical performance both summons and banishes the Monster of the Week.
    • In the Expanded Universe book Managra, the main villain is a profoundly untalented 17th-century playwright whose stage shows incorporate mind control effects, and whose writing can possess people into becoming his actors. Part of the Doctor's plan to combat him involves performing Shakespeare soliloquies in a Time Lord-technology version of the Globe Theatre that responds mimetically to the performance of the actors, expanding the space and creating illusions of the setting.
  • In an episode of Jonathan Creek, Carla reminds Jonathan that all the suspects are trained actors who will naturally be able to put up a convincing show of grief for the murder victim. As it happens, they're not faking their grief (since they were genuinely fond of their dead co-star) but are instead pretending to fight with each other in order to make the real killer think he's escaped their suspicion. This, of course, leads to them successfully murdering him.
  • Used by Sophie in Leverage, despite her being a terrible actress when not running a con.
  • "Master Thespian" from Saturday Night Live aspires to this. His teacher, Chin-Hua, was able to look like Carl Weathers for a production of Othello (despite being an 80-year-old Chinese man) through "acting!"
  • This is the skill-set that popular screen actor Lito Rodriguez contributes to the cluster in Sense8. On more than one occasion he (or one of his clustermates allowing him to use their body) manages to bluff, flirt or otherwise trick his way out of a difficult situation.

  • Tomlane Belaroth in Hello, from the Magic Tavern is a stage actor who, over the course of the series, uses his skills to infiltrate the Dark Lord's army under multiple identities. When one of his identities is discovered, he covers himself by having another persona kill that one. In front of witnesses. And he's so good they believe it.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, a Bard's effectiveness at bamboozling opponents or making his allies tougher is in direct proportion to his powers of performance.
    • There was also a prestige class introduced which was essentially a stage magician who could produce actual magical effects by convincing his audience that he could do a given feat and presumably through the power of their belief.
  • Grave Robbers from Outer Space blends character/in-movie elements with movie-making ones, so a few cards reference how good or bad someone’s performance is; making someone else’s Character a “Third-Rate Actor” for example makes them easier to kill.

  • So crucial a trope in Hamlet that it becomes a plot point. Realizing that "the play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king," Prince Hamlet has a theatrical troupe visiting the Danish court stage The Murder of Gonzago, whose plot mirrors almost exactly the backstory of Hamlet. Upon hearing the line "None wed the second but who killed the first," Queen Gertrude becomes uneasy (and remarks "The lady doth protest too much, methinks,"). Then, when Lucianus pours poison into the ears of the sleeping King Gonzago, King Claudius is so stricken with guilt that he abruptly gets up and leaves. This is proof enough for Hamlet that Claudius is responsible for the murder of his father.

    Video Games 
  • The very concept of piloting the Humongous Mecha in Sakura Wars is that performing in a theater troupe helps prepare one for this.
    • There's really more to it than that. The acting is not only regarded as good training for the troupe, it actually helps defend their city, by giving the people hope and spirit and producing something of its own mystical power. It's noted by one of the characters that theatre in Japan started as a religious ritual to placate the spirits (and the same is true of theatre in Europe, incidentally).
    • Also, in one of the anime episodes, Sumire uses her knowledge of acting to placate the vengeful spirit of an actress at a movie studio. It's actually quite a Tear Jerker to see the ghost finally happy again.
  • In Unavowed, one of the Player Character's possible backgrounds is having worked as a stage actor, in which case their primary way of solving social situations becomes using their acting talent to deceive and distract people with tall tales, and they turn out to be extremly good at it. So good in fact, that even Mandana, who is a supernaturally empowered Living Lie Detector, admits that she has serious problems sensing it when they spin one of their stories.


    Web Original 
  • Whateley Universe: If Mephisto the Mentalist's claims are to be believed, 99% of his career as a Super Villain consisted of a bunch of old Vaudeville tricks and illusions backed up by a lot of Genre Savviness and the judicious use of mind-altering powers which were taught to him by masters of the Ancient Conspiracy he serves. He was consistently able to pull a fast one over even his cleverest opponents, convincing them of everything from alien invasions to his own seeming apotheosis decade after decade. As for the less brilliant Super Hero types, such as the Champion, well, in his own words,
    “Oh MAMA! Some of the things I pulled on him…? I ought’a be ashamed of myself…I gotta admit, I would’a gone after Champ, orders or no orders. It was… It was just so much FUN! I mean, it was like we were kids on a playground, and I just couldn’t help fucking with him; it was so EASY and so FUN. I mean, it wasn’t like I disliked Champ, or that I wanted to hurt him, it’s just that he was so much fun to heckle! He was like Elmer Fudd to my Bugs Bunny.”
  • In his Really That Good episode on Superman: The Movie, Bob Chipman describes this trope as being how Superman was able to pull off Clark Kenting, specifically pointing to the scene where he takes off his glasses, stands more upright, and speaks in a more authoritative tone as he prepares to reveal his Secret Identity to Lois Lane — only to seamlessly slip right back into his dweebish Clark Kent personality when Lois steps out and he realizes he's not ready to do it.

    Western Animation 
  • Man-E-Faces from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) specializes in acting when not on duty. His main gimmick is being able to switch between three personae with various abilities, but his ability to act has also proven useful for him.
  • The Simpsons, "Flaming Moe": A one-off character summons a thunderstorm with acting. As he said:
    Other: How did you do that?
    Actor: Classical training.
  • In the second Rose Petal Place special, Sweet Violet gets Horace so into character during an acting session she's able to slip away and warn Rose Petal about Nastina's plan.

    Real Life 
  • Benedict Cumberbatch once used this to act his way out of a kidnapping in South Africa; he persuaded his attackers that he had a medical condition that could cause him to die if he was stuffed into the boot of their car. They let him go.


Video Example(s):


The "Metal Man"

When Kent manages to get the Iron Giant's location out of Hogarth, thus bringing in the army the next morning, Dean plays up his "scrappy beatnik" persona everyone in town thinks he has, and has the giant sitting in a lotus meditation pose to look like a giant art piece. The only person who doesn't fall for the ruse is Annie, Hogarth's mother, but even then she doesn't feel suspicious enough about it to directly call the act out.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / ThePowerOfActing

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