No But I Played One on TV

Catherine Bennett has a very funny piece in the Guardian today mocking the Big Read by suggesting further installments of the idea. Favorite religion, animals’ favorites (why did no one ask them, anyway?), best operation, greatest tits, Cherie Blair’s best PR move – and my favorite favorite, ‘She’s just an actor, OK?’

Stevenson is a fine actress, but who, until now, would have thought she could be convincing enough to be taken by Channel 5’s current affairs team for the real thing? She was not, after all, regarded as a spokesperson for grief-stricken young widows or expert on ghosts following a brilliant performance in Truly, Madly, Deeply. This is not the first such confusion. Around the time of The Deal, the actors Michael Sheen (Blair) and David Morrissey (Brown), both so much more handsome and amenable than their originals, were treated, rather wistfully, as if they might be able to offer genuine political insights. On Saturday’s Big Read, an actress who played Miss Bingley in 1995 appeared as an expert witness for Pride and Prejudice.

No, this is certainly not the first such confusion. Look at all the deeply convincing, sincere-looking, craggy, strong-jawed actors who have played US presidents. Martin Sheen, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Harrison Ford, Henry Fonda – how much more reliable, sensible, confidence-inspiring they seem than the shifty-eyed, lip-biting, stammering, forgetful, whining, paranoid crew who fill the office in real life. Oh if only the real ones could be more like the pretend ones – or in fact if only the pretend ones could just replace the real ones. We keep trying that, and it doesn’t seem to work out all that well, but – maybe if they had better script-writers…

After all, communication, persuasion, conviction are hugely important aspects of most jobs, aren’t they? Of course they are. Doctors perform their expertise and confidence. Scientists dress up in lab coats so that people will take them seriously. Government officials always have a lot of subordinates standing around looking subordinate when they give press conferences so that everyone will know how important they are. Right? Obviously. Display is what it’s all about. So why shouldn’t really good, convincing actors play the parts of all these experts and bossy people? Wouldn’t they do a better job of it than the shlubs with bad haircuts or squeaky voices who do it now? Naturally. And actors are just as likely to be right about anything as anyone else is, aren’t they? It’s all a crap shoot after all. Am I right? You know I am.

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