A lesson on acting from Oliver Hardy

In making acting choices for your character, it’s valuable to consider how the character feels about themselves, and what the character chooses to project to the world. How does he or she want to be perceived by others in the story.

In the comedy team of Laurel and Hardy, Oliver Hardy was the fat one.  Oliver had an idiosyncratic way of moving his hands.  His signature move was this fiddling with his tie.

Overall, he tended to move his arms lightly.  He preferred hand poses that could be described as delicate.

It wasn’t constant, he could ball up his fists in anger, or occasionally choke Stan.  He also didn’t overdo the fluttery hands to the point of being effeminate, but it is atypical for a man of his size.  I bring up his size and weight because he didn’t like being “the fat one.”  The actor specifically moved his hands this way because he felt it made him less appear less heavy.  Now that I write this, I realize old-timey villains were often “heavies” so this was also a way to distinguish himself from them. The results are both non-threatening and sweet.  He’s more likable for that acting choice.

I have a friend who is very tall, 6 foot 7 inches.  He told me that tall people often slouch in an effort to be more “normal”  They become uncomfortable with all the extra attention they get for something they can’t help, so they try to ameliorate the situation by changing their posture.  Thinking about human nature can help inform your acting.

In animation, there is a tendency to try to make every element of a character send the same signal to the audience, to make it clear what they are all about.  But that can lead to oversimplification which can also be uninteresting.

Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp was a down and out character who walked about in a shabby suit of clothes.  But he usually moved with an unusual confidence and an air of sophistication.  He would carefully tidy up what clothes had and strike elegant poses.  His character either remembered what it was like to be a man of means, or at least hoped others would take him for one.

There is also something called “Playing against type”  That means there is a sizable disconnect between a character’s appearance and their behavior.  It is not uncommon in comedy.  While that is similar to this topic, I find it can be taken too far.  I wrote a short post about it some time ago.

So, find ways for your characters to not be stereotypical. Throw in some unexpected details that you can justify with a minor bit of psychology.  It doesn’t require a complicated backstory, just a little depth.


Leave a Reply