With all the death of TV characters lately, the art of playing dead on TV may become a lucrative part of an acting career. If that sounds garish to you, consider that acting out death in a character can be a truly fulfilling experience that haunts viewer minds. Nobody will ever forget the stunning death face of Lane Pryce on “Mad Men” or King Joffrey Baratheon on “Game of Thrones.” And those are just two of the most recent ones. Playing cadavers on the “CSI” franchise and playing walking dead on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” have brought extensive employment to character actors just getting started in the acting business.
In an earlier era of TV acting, that would have been considered the ultimate low. But now, there’s a lot of prestige having your face done up to look like a corpse in a pivotal scene. With a recent profile on one actor who made a career of playing corpses on TV, how do you become successful playing a character that’s been dead for more than a few hours?
Can You Have a Career Just Playing Dead People?
A site called The Awl did a piece about actors who’ve portrayed dead people on TV and in movies, with one actor noted on managing an extensive career playing corpses. This actor’s name is Chuck Lamb, and he pulled off a marketing scheme to get acting jobs playing dead people simply by starting a website promoting his ability. His website had so many convincing pictures of him looking dead that he was hired to play a dead person on shows like “What I Like About You”, plus numerous others.
Since then, he’s gone on to playing speaking parts, which may tell you that playing dead is the new perfect audition tape for your acting ability. What does it take to play dead so convincingly nowadays? In TV’s past, there’s been a few daring attempts at playing dead in real time rather than freezing the screen or covering one’s face in unrecognizable makeup.
When you’re playing a person who’s died recently, it takes considerably more skill to keep yourself focused.
The Test of Playing Dead
Chuck Lamb above says that his approach to playing dead is just concentrating and going into a near sleep mode while lying on the floor. He keeps his eyes half open and doesn’t concentrate on anything in his sight to give any sense of eye movement. In many cases, closing one’s eyes is detriment, because you’ll be more apt to blink or make muscles in your lids move when reacting to light.
There’s also the issue of having to wear makeup to make your look blue in the face. If you have allergies to makeup, it could become a major hazard to any success here, because it’s rare to play dead nowadays without makeup application. That’s a bit different from the earlier days of TV when a dead body would turn up for a few minutes in a murder mystery show. In those days, the actor who got bumped off just looked like he was taking a nap rather than looking like someone who’d really died.
With realism being the name of the game today in TV, some death scenes might even have to happen in real time rather than the viewer not seeing what happened before. Jack Gleeson in “Game of Thrones” played the choking death scene of King Joffrey in a stunningly believable way that TV audiences will likely remember forever. It set a high bar for portraying a violent death scene in every detail of its horror.
It’s ironic that Gleeson is going to retire from acting for a different career after portraying one of the most memorable death scenes in TV history. He’ll probably always be remembered for his depiction of death while others will attempt to emulate it.
The question is whether portraying death on TV will breed more people who use death as a main career. With plenty more deaths of pivotal characters in TV shows likely to come, even A-list actors may have to consult with those who’ve been experts in playing dead.
Good luck on marketing if you ever start a fake death consultancy business for the TV industry.