The Art Of Imitation

Have you ever imagined how much time, energy and money go into an evening at the Oscars? How long do you suppose the women agonize over which dress to wear? How many hours are spent practicing and rewriting acceptance speeches? Actors and actresses become immortalized in our culture after taking a stroll down the red carpet. But what’s all the fuss about anyway?

My curiosity arose after I noticed some peculiar emotions welling up in me last weekend. First, it started after watching a live performance of the classic musical Annie, Get Your Gun. Perhaps it may seem a little silly, but every time I leave a theatrical performance, I find myself wishing I could be on stage. And, of course, after watching the Academy Awards, I can’t help but be moved by the passion that pours forth from every word of an Oscar-winning actor like Jamie Foxx. But then I ask myself, What’s the big deal? Is there really any value in acting? In the purest sense of the word, acting is being fake. Being something you’re not. Surely there are more important things in the world than acting out a role. Yet there is such power in films. Movies have become a tool of communication touching almost every part of the world. They bring stories to life. They give us glimpses into the lives of people we have never physically known, making us feel, in the end, like they could be our best friends. From Jesus to the Genius—as they call Ray Charles—actors take these characters in a script and transform them into living, breathing beings.

So then my mind wandered back to the idea of acting. Maybe defining acting as “being fake” is a little too rough around the edges. In more refined words, acting is imitating. And imitation takes work. Maybe for people like Robin Williams, imitation comes more naturally. When presenting an award, he must have changed character at least five times in his two-minute entrance, combining cartoon characters with the notable voices of different actors. But to truly take on the character of a person in a film, actors must spend countless hours researching and coming to know the person they must become. During a period of filming, good actors know that in order to pull off being the character they are portraying, they must become that person themselves.

Cate Blanchett, the winning actress for best supporting role in The Aviator, was almost obsessive when it came to playing her part as Katherine Hepburn. She studied Hepburn’s life to a t, perfectly emulating her voice, her walk, even taking on tennis as a hobby, knowing it was one of Hepburn’s favorite pastimes. In an interview after the show, she even confessed that she had one of Hepburn’s trinkets with her, keeping it as a good luck charm. Jamie Foxx won as best actor for his immaculate performance imitating Ray Charles. The turn of his head as he plays piano, the way he sings … sometimes your eyes play tricks as you’re watching the act, making you believe you’re really watching Charles himself. Hilary Swank must have gone through an incredibly intense training to learn her boxing skills, and Don Cheadle certainly did his homework taking on the voice of a Rwandan hotel owner. So then my wanderings went a bit further, wondering why people would go to such great lengths to imitate. Why do we give such high honor to imitation, rather than giving credit where it’s due, to the real thing? Sure, Hepburn and Charles were honored by the actors … Maybe what I’m trying to ask is, Why can’t we come up with something original?

Then it dawned on me. It suddenly made perfect sense why, deep down inside, I desire to perform a lead in a play. Now all the pieces fall into place as to why actors are placed on the pedestal of being America’s role models. We are all imitators. Being an imitator is the truest sense of what it means to be a human being. It all began with the first human to ever exist. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” We are designed to imitate. Yet somewhere along the way, we forget that we are meant to imitate God. Yes, unconsciously, everyone is imitating God by being a creator of some sort, whether it is in designing a new computer program, painting a picture or directing a film. But what about imitating God as Paul exhorts us to in Ephesians 5? “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Have you ever wondered that perhaps, when Jesus tells us to, above all else, love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, that it might look something like being an Oscar-winning actress, who has obsessed over the character she is playing? After all, if I am to be an imitator of God, I must seek to truly know Him.

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