Enforced Method Acting

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Method Acting: noun -- An acting technique in which actors try to replicate the real-life emotional conditions under which the character operates, in an effort to create a life-like, realistic performance.


Enforced Method Acting: noun -- An acting technique in which actors give a life-like, realistic performance because no one warned them what was going to happen.


Enforced Method Acting is a cinematic concept in which the actors and actresses of a work give reactions that are unplanned and unscripted. This can occur for several reasons:

  • The director is trying to make a performance more realistic—the primary form of this trope. The applications of this range from not telling your actor that their love interest is returning to not warning them when the chainsaw-wielding maniac bursts through the door.
  • Another actor does or says something that causes the actors he's working with to react in an unplanned way—usually by trying not to burst out laughing.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot and an unforeseen accident results in a scene that is appropriate to the plot.

Enforced Method Acting does not mean long term method acting the director forces the actors to do.

Compare with Throw It In and Acting in the Dark. This often requires a Jerkass director, or at least one who doesn't mind their actors hating them. Fatal Method Acting is a lethal case of this. Contrast Lost in Character.

Examples of Enforced Method Acting include:


  • Hideaki Anno, the eccentric director of Neon Genesis Evangelion, infamously told Megumi Ogata to literally strangle Yuko Miyamura during the recording of the scene where Shinji tries to strangle Asuka in End Of Evangelion. Allegedly, the results were so realistic that Megumi Ogata profusely apologized to Yuko Miyamura in the aftermath.
  • In general, the directors of English dubs of anime seem to do this a lot to the actors, particularly when you consider that most anime is finished before the dub is even started on. If you read interviews with the actors and watch extras on the discs pertaining to how the dub was recorded, you'll find all sorts of anecdotes such as Vic Mignogna actually crying in reaction to things that happened in the final episode of Fullmetal Alchemist, to Chris Patton in the audio commentaries in Princess Tutu wondering aloud "why I'm being such a bastard" to many, many actors not being told that a character dies until they record the scene in which it happens, even when it's their character.
    • Speaking of Fullmetal Alchemist, Vic Mignogna was also not informed of what lay on the other side of the Gate prior to dubbing the scene in which Edward Elric passes through it. The surprise in Edward's voice upon seeing Zeppelins, therefore, is quite real.
      • Episode 8 is the first time it's really apparent. It seems to be the equivalent of what originally happened after the Tucker incident, and it's still a Tear Jerker.
      • It's more striking than that, actually—Vic wasn't given any more of the script than his own lines in chunks (which were recorded in chronological order) for the last three episodes. Now that's what you call enforced.
      • In a (somewhat) more lighthearted example, according to the commentary on episode 19, they really threw (or pretended to throw) a teacup at Aaron Dismuke's face in order to get his reaction (as Edward hits a teacup and it hits Al in the show). Not sure how much they were kidding, but when asked, Aaron said it bothered him, but was "really inspiring, though."
  • Shinichi Watanabe reportedly required, during the recording of Excel Saga, that Menchi's voice actress crouch on all fours to address a microphone 6 inches off the floor, and that the "Excel Girls" actresses actually wear costumes based on those worn by their animated counterparts.
    • DVD extras actually show the "Excel Girls" in said costumes.
  • As part of her voice actress training, an up-and-coming Megumi Hayashibara was once told to focus on the saddest event in her life. She couldn't stop crying even after the exercise was over.
    • Modern method acting explicitly leaves out relying on actual life experiences precisely because it can cause such trauma.
  • During the dubbing of Gundam Seed, Kira's voice actor Matt Hill actually asked the vocal director to kick him in the crotch to make his crying sound authentic. Fans more than appreciate his dedication, especially since it worked (and was head and shoulders above Soichiro Hoshi's "dying horse" crying).
  • The Hungarian voice actors of Sailor Moon weren't afraid to admit they had no idea what was going on in the story, so they pretty much had to guess what kind of emotional state their characters were supposed to be in. As the translation work was rubbish and the episodes dubbed out of order, this didn't always work out.
  • Code Geass contains an In-Universe example in Season 1 Episode 16: In order to keep the psychic Mao from learning about his rescue plan, Lelouch uses his Evil Eye on himself to erase his memory of the plan. Thus when he goes and faces Mao in a literally Unwinnable game of chess, his fear and anguish are 100% authentic; he realizes the truth after Suzaku busts in and says "Your plan worked perfectly!"
    • Real examples: Yukana was never told her character (C.C.) was gonna die in the first episode. In fact, nobody knew how long their character was going to last throughout the first season, so much of their death cries were probably real (don't fire me!).
  • Gen Urobuchi went right for the jugular with his cast in Magical Girl Deconstruction Puella Magi Madoka Magica, not telling them beforehand how harsh things would get. It was especially hard for Emiri Katou, who ended up playing the alleged main villain.
  • It's long been rumoured that female voice actors in both English and Japanese hentai are encouraged to masturbate while on mike. Of course, it could easily just be really good acting.
  • An in-universe example: Ten Little Gall Force is a Super-Deformed OVA that reimagines the cast of Gall Force as actors making a movie. At one stage, they're shooting the scene where Catty fries herself acting as the conductor for a broken power cable. Catty asks the director if he's sure the wire's not live, and the director shrugs, so she grabs the wire... and then the director activates it, electrocuting her for real. He seems thrilled with the "reality" of the scene. She gets her revenge at the end of the scene.


  • In the film Tears of the Sun there is a scene where the African refugees start to break down and cry while Bruce Willis leads his team of Navy Seals into to a village to stop an ethnic cleansing. The reason they are crying is that they are actual African refugees who are flashing back to actual ethnic cleansing they had endured.
  • During filming of The Silence of the Lambs, real-life FBI Agent John Douglas, whom the character of Jack Crawford was based on, played audiotapes for actor Scott Glenn to get an idea of the stress of dealing with serial killers. Those tapes were of real young women being raped, tortured and murdered by serial killers Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris. The tapes were so horrific Glenn refused to sign on to the sequels, so his character was cut out of Hannibal and replaced by Harvey Kietel in Red Dragon.
  • In The Expendables, during the fight between Sylvester Stallone and Steve Austin, in the basement of the castle, Stallone was actually thrown at the support beam and hit it very hard, and was pretty badly hurt by the impact. The reaction from that impact was very real.
  • In Alien:
    • The scene where the chestburster erupts from John Hurt's chest at dinner. The actors knew in theory what was about to happen but had not been told any specifics. For example, Veronica Cartwright did not expect to be sprayed with blood; her horrified "Oh, God!" is completely genuine. The blood was also not fake. This is all confirmed on the Collector's Edition release of the DVD. This Guardian article has some of the cast and crew reminiscing about the filming of the scene.
    • In the same film, director Ridley Scott placed a veiled cage with a German Shepherd in front of Jones the Cat, and unveiled it when he shouted "Action!!" Hence when The Alien rose up behind Brett like a phallic gargoyle, the menacing hissing of fear from the poor kitty cat was real.
    • In a lesser known example, Ridley Scott made sure that Bolaji Bedejo (the man who played the Alien in most of the scenes) did not take tea or lunch breaks with the rest of the cast so their fear of the alien would be more genuine.
    • Alien Resurrection has a semi-example as well. Winona Rider nearly drowned when she was a child, and the first scene they shot was the underwater through the canteen scene. Winona Rider had never been in water since her accident. The looks of anxiety before she goes in, and the utter terror on her face when they can't get out the other end? Yeah, those weren't faked. She had an anxiety attack on her first day of filming.
    • in Alien: Resurrection, Sigourney Weaver actually made that behind-the-back-without-looking basketball shot for real, and the shock and surprise the other actors show is genuine. Ron Perlman notably looked directly into the camera and said "Oh my God!"; they cut the audio for the final movie.
  • In American Beauty, Annette Bening is having a breakdown rant at the dinner table that Kevin Spacey is supposed to stop by dropping a plate of asparagus on the floor. After a few unsuccessful takes, he unexpectedly throws it at the wall, violently shattering a real glass plate. Bening and Thora Birch react with genuine shock (although you don't see the expressions on their faces in the shot).
  • William Friedkin used a lot of first takes for To Live and Die In LA in order to get across the most natural reaction from the actors, who were a little more casual for what they thought was a rehearsal take.
  • Knocked Up: Jay Baruchel is terrified of roller coasters and was initially not going to partake in the roller coaster scenes used for the opening montage. When one of the other actors was running late, director Judd Apatow convinced Baruchel to go on the coaster just once for a take. According to Apatow (and the behind-the-scenes footage), Jay's panicked "IWANNAGETOFF!" that made the final cut of the film is a legitimate Jay Baruchel freak-out and not him being in character.
  • In An American Werewolf in London, one of the extras in the zoo scene was told that the lead, David Naughton, was going to say a few words to her and move on. She wasn't, however, told that he was going to be completely naked when he did that.
  • In On the Waterfront during a pivotal scene between Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint, Saint accidentally dropped one of her gloves. Without skipping a beat Brando picked up the glove and procede to toy with it while doing the scene. The glove added both chemistry and romantic symbolism to the scene. The director has stated that the best directing he ever did was not yelling cut the moment she dropped the glove.
  • In Medium Cool, a film about—well, shot during the Chicago 1968 riots, directed by Haskell Wexler with actors in the middle of real-life events. When the police started beating in the heads of journalists, it prompted one cameraman to shout, "Look out, Haskell. It's real!"
  • Robert Mitchum really slapping Jean Simmons in Angel Face may be a borderline case; supposedly, Otto Preminger ordered it not because Simmons's reaction was inadequate, but because Mitchum couldn't produce a convincing-looking fake slap.
  • In White Heat, most of the actors in the prison dining hall were not warned that James Cagney's Cody Jarrett was about to go ballistic. Their surprise at him running atop the tables and clocking guards is real. Cagney planned out much of this sequence without explaining it to the director. They were having trouble deciding how to play it out and shoot it, and Jimmy apparently said to just keep the cameras pointed at him.
  • At the beginning of Apocalypse Now, the character of Willard is in his hotel room drunk. During the filming of the whole scene Coppola was telling Sheen he was a worthless actor and father to keep him crying. (Sheen was drunk while filming the scene, but that's just method acting, not Enforced Method Acting.) In the same scene, Sheen started to bleed profusely after breaking a mirror. Coppola told him to work with it.
  • Winona Ryder said in an interview that, when filming Bram Stoker's Dracula, Coppola teamed up with Keanu Reeves to throw insults at her so she would cry more heartfully during a scene where Mina was supposed to break down, yet Ryder couldn't reach the emotional depths she required.
  • While shooting At Close Range in 1986, Sean Penn became aware of Christopher Walken's intense fear of handguns. In the midst of filming the climactic confrontation scene between the two, Penn ran off-set yelling to the prop guy, "Give me the other gun!" Walken was unsure if it was loaded and became extremely nervous. Cameras rolling, Penn threatened Walken with it. That take, complete with the close-up of Walken's fear-filled eyes, ended up in the film. He admits to being quite angry with his co-star to begin with, but then realized "what a favor he had done me" and actually thanked Penn later. The two remain good friends to this day. In fact, two years later, Walken pulled the same stunt on Matthew Broderick while filming the scene in Biloxi Blues where a drunken Sgt. Toumey threatens to blow a tunnel through Eugene's head. One must wonder if Broderick carried on the tradition.
  • In Thor, there is a scene where Loki (Tom Hiddleston) briefly tries to confess something he's done, but his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) shuts him up with a sort of Angrish roar that causes Loki to stumble back, blinking and silenced. According to Hiddleston, the roar was "unscripted genius[...] Terrifying. Magnificent." and his startled shrinking away was not acting.
  • In The Bad Sleep Well, actor Tatsuya Mihashi was nervous and stumbled over his words during the first take of his character's speech during the opening wedding scene. Akira Kurosawa didn't even bother to film the second take. The nervousness and awkward mistakes in Tatsuo Iwabuchi's wedding toast are all genuine.
  • The Godfather.
    • Actor Lenny Montana, as Luca Brasi, was so nervous about his scene with the great Marlon Brando that he stumbled and stuttered over most of his lines. Brando compounded the problem by making funny gestures and having message written on his forehead to unsettle Montana. When Brasi apologizes and asks to start again, that's actually an out-of-character moment that got kept in the final cut. Coppola liked the scene as it was and added an earlier scene with Brasi nervously practicing his lines to make his awkwardness more natural.
    • Also, when filming the infamous horse head scene, they used a realistic prop head for the filming. After a few takes, they replaced the prop with a real horse head without the actor knowing. His reaction was completely genuine.
    • In The Godfather Part II, director Francis Ford Coppola played a trick on the actor who played Signor Roberto by making it so the door to Vito Corleone's office wouldn't open. Signor Roberto's frantic babbling of "I wish I could stay!" and so on as he jiggles the door handle was all completely ad-libbed.
  • In Bad Boys 2, when Dennis Greene, who played Reggie, showed up for shooting, he was told by Martin Lawrence's bouncer that he mustn't look into Lawrence's eyes or talk to him, and Lawrence himself was subsequently nasty to him. It was all a ploy arranged by Michael Bay, who wanted the boy to be genuinely scared of Lawrence. Greene also wasn't told about the gun that he would be threatened with by Will Smith.
  • According to a long-standing but unconfirmed Hollywood legend, during the shooting of the 1959 remake of Ben-Hur, scriptwriter Gore Vidal and director William Wyler convinced Stephen Boyd to play the role of Messala as if he and Judah were estranged lovers, without informing Heston of this—the "enforced" aspect was entirely on Charlton Heston's part. This is corroborated by Gore Vidal in the documentary film The Celluloid Closet.
  • In the movie Date Night, during the Erotic dance scene, in order to make the actors feel as awkward as the characters would, he shouted obscure things at the actors. On a side note, most of the lines from the two main characters were improvised on the spot.
  • The actors in The Blair Witch Project were given no more than a 35-page outline of the mythology behind the plot before shooting began. All lines were improvised, and nearly all the events in the film were unknown to the three actors beforehand, and were often on-camera surprises to them all. For example:
    • In a scene where the main actors are sleeping in a tent at night, the tent suddenly shakes violently and they all get scared. This was unscripted and the director shook the tent; they were really scared.
    • The crackling sounds in the woods heard through the film were made by the director and friends walking up to the camp's perimeter, breaking sticks, and then tossing them in various directions.
    • To promote discord between actors, the directors deliberately gave them less food each day of shooting. As one of their messages to the cast read: "Your safety is our concern. Your comfort is not."
  • In Boyz N the Hood, director John Singleton didn't tell the cast when shots would be fired, to ensure that the actors' reactions to the sound of gunfire would feel authentic.
  • In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:
    • Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes, the actors playing Lucy and Edmund, had never seen the snowbound set until they walked onto it on camera. Their awe-struck reactions were authentic.
    • Similarly, Georgie Henley had never seen James McAvoy in his Mr. Tumnus costume before shooting their scenes together.
    • In a more subtle example, director Andrew Adamson shot the film in primarily chronological order. He did this in order to naturally create a sense of mature development from his young actors, which mirrored their real-life development.
    • Before and between takes during the scene in which Edmund meets the White Witch, Tilda Swinton flirted with Skandar Keynes (roughly thirteen years old at the time) so that there would be a genuine undertone of discomfort in his performance.
    • When they were first cast, Georgie Henley and James McAvoy were encouraged to spend a lot of time hanging out to build their friendship. Further into the shoot they were abruptly separated and purposefully kept away from one another so Georgie's tears at seeing his statue depicting him in anguish (and their subsequent reunion) would seem more genuine.
  • The Deer Hunter
    • Director Michael Cimino convinced Christopher Walken to actually spit in Robert de Niro's face. De Niro was completely surprised by it, as evidenced by his reaction.
    • The slapping in the Russian roulette scenes was real as well and genuinely heightened the actors' tension.
  • Attempted in The Descent. The crawlers were kept hidden from the cast until The Reveal and the actresses were given the sole instruction to stay in the same place for the shot. When it appeared, everyone got such a fright they went running to the other side of the set. At least the effort wasn't a complete waste, they did say that it shook them up pretty bad for the next take...
  • In the climactic scene of Die Hard where Hans Gruber falls out the building. Alan Rickman was suspended over 40 feet in the air and told that he was going to be let go on a count of 3 where he would safely land on the safety mat...except they dropped him on 2, and the look of panic on his face is definitely not acted; one is not surprised to learn that he was extremely angry with the director after that day's shooting was over.
  • In The Elephant Man, John Hurt in playing the title role needed to wear extensive prosthetics. This was before latex, let alone lightweight foam latex, came into much use—so his prosthetics were extremely heavy, about twenty pounds of weight glued to his head and shoulders. When he tried to lie down and sleep a few hours before going on-set the first time the makeup was applied... Suffice it to say that he was found in the morning sleeping sitting up, in the same manner Merrick was known to.
  • In Far And Away, one scene has Nicole Kidman peeking under a bowl covering Tom Cruise's genitals. For the first few takes, she didn't look surprised enough, so director Ron Howard had Cruise take off his underwear without Kidman's knowledge.
  • The Goonies
    • The kids weren't allowed to see the pirate ship until the filming of the scene in which they see it for the first time. Unfortunately, the first take wasn't used, as several of the cast blurted out an unscripted "Holy shit!"
    • Jeff Cohen, who played Chunk, was told that the scene where Sloth picks his chair-tied self up would cut before the actual lift occurred; it obviously didn't, and John Matuszak straight-out picked him up easily, leading to the kid's wails and cry of, "You smell like phys. ed.!"
  • D.O.A. used this. That long sequence where Frank is running through the streets? None of that was planned. They just sat the camera on the back of a car and had the actor run through the streets. Those times where he nearly gets hit by a car and a bus, the actor really could have been hit by a car or a bus. It really adds to how frantic he is.
  • The scene in Rocky where he runs around Philadelphia was shot on the fly. People are staring at him because they were wondering who was that guy jogging.
  • In the movie M*A*S*H, director Robert Altman had trouble shooting the scene in which Hot Lips is exposed in the shower when the tent flap is pulled up. On the first take, actress Sally Kellerman knew what was coming and was already lying on the ground during the reveal. For the second take, Altman and Gary Burghoff came onto the set and dropped their trousers in front of her off-camera to keep her distracted until the actual reveal.
  • At the end of Kes, the director told the young main actor that they'd killed the kestrel he'd been filming alongside in order to get a convincing performance out of him. In actual fact, they'd got another dead bird from a sanctuary before filming.
  • In Memoirs of a Geisha, according to the director's commentary, in the scene in which Mameha (played by Michelle Yeoh) admonishes Sayuri (played by Ziyi Zhang) for her lack of caution which led to her assault at the hands of the Baron shortly before her virginity is to be auctioned off, Zhang was not told beforehand that Mameha, her character's mentor and one of her only friends, would quickly exit after hissing her final line: "...if you are found to be worthless..." as a vicious threat, leaving Zhang to deliver Sayuri's lines, to declare "I am not worthless. I am not worthless!" to only herself, with no one to hear her. Zhang/Sayuri broke down at this, quite nicely.
  • Child actor Jackie Cooper was goaded into crying for a scene by a director who threatened to shoot his dog. Cooper was so traumatized by the memory of that event that when he later wrote his autobiography, he entitled it, Please Don't Shoot My Dog.
  • In The Kid, Jackie Coogan was told he would be sold to an actual workhouse if he did not cry convincingly in the scene where the little boy is taken away from the Tramp. Needless to say, it worked.
  • While filming Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, Mark Hamill was only told Darth Vader was Luke's father a few minutes before the scene was filmed. David Prowse, who was playing the physical half of the Darth Vader part, wasn't told at all. In order to make sure that no one on the crew would leak the surprise, Prowse was given the line, "No, Obi-Wan killed your father!"
  • In Straw Dogs, to get the perfect "shocked reaction" from the villagers when Dustin Hoffman's character walks into the pub, director Sam Peckinpah had him walk in without any trousers on. It worked. If you watch the reaction shot of the town drunk, his eyes go wide and immediately drop down, apparently to stare at Hoffman's naked lower body off camera. The next shot starts at Hoffman's shoes and pans up to justify the eye motion.
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory:
    • None of the cast, child or adult, was allowed to see or even know about the "candy gardens" room until the filming—the wonder and amazement on their faces at the moment the door opens is genuine.
    • In the documentary on the same disc, Gene Wilder admits he did not tell Peter Ostrum just how furious he would be when he declared Charlie had violated the contract by stealing Fizzy Lifting Drinks earlier in the movie and thus wouldn't win the lifetime supply of chocolate. Since it was key that Charlie be shocked, Wilder didn't unleash the character's rage until the cameras rolled in order to get the most natural reaction possible.
    • Similarly, the scene when the Oompa Loompas walk out for the first time was unscripted; all the reactions that the actors have to them are real.
    • And Gene Wilder's raving on the boat came as a complete shock to the actors aboard, who all genuinely thought that Wilder was going insane.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean films,
    • In the second film, all the actors were told that The Reveal at the end was that of Anamaria, a minor character from the first film. The looks of shock as Barbossa appears are genuine.
    • Also done when Elizabeth kisses Jack near the end of the same film. Orlando Bloom wasn't told that that would happen, so Will's expression upon seeing the two kiss was genuine as well.
    • Not to mention the crew's collective looks of confusion at Jack's "Jar of Dirt" song.
    • The actors were also not told until the moment that the bone cages would actually be swinging.
  • The documentary The Fear of God: The Making of The Exorcist revealed some of the shocking enforced method acting used by director Friedkin in The Exorcist. He refrigerated the room to make Max von Sydow and Jason Miller shiver convincingly. He assured the actresses that they would be treated gently when hooked up to wires, and then yanked them around so violently that he caused them minor injuries. Firearms would be discharged between takes every once in a while to keep everyone jittery. Jason Miller was not told that he was going to be sprayed in the face during the vomiting scene. And when the actor playing Father Dyer wasn't getting the final scene, where he administers the last rites to Father Karras, just right, Friedkin took him aside, slapped him hard across the face, and then resumed shooting. In the documentary, O'Malley testifies that his shaking hands during that scene are due to fear of Friedkin.
  • In Exorcist 2: The Heretic, when Regan is about to walk off the edge of a building, there were no safety measures in place. One wrong step and she would have plummeted.
  • In Transformers
    • One scene had Shia LaBeouf's character clinging to the side of a building while above him are the spinning blades of a helicopter with explosions all around him. As admitted by the actor, the fear he expresses is genuine as the copter was real.
    • When Scorponok attacks the soldiers in the desert the actors were told to run and not to stop no matter what. That was because Scorponok's "tracks" were being made by detonating buried strands of primacord. So the panic in that scene is quite genuine.
    • And when Sam's on the hood of a car, and Barricade slams it, demanding to know where the glasses are? One of the first pieces of movie-related video released to the Internet was a clip of that scene being filmed, complete with Shia LaBeouf screaming afterward that they didn't tell him the car was going to jump up.
    • The very large explosion during Revenge of the Fallen's desert battle climax where all the actors and actual service personnel are running away? That was real panic on their faces. And they had only one take.
  • X-Men
    • When Wolverine first confronts Magneto, the initial look of shock at Magneto's entrance was a result of Hugh Jackman's fear of the sparks that were flying all around him.
    • Also X-Men: When Sabertooth throws Wolverine off the Statue of Liberty, the next scene is Wolvie slamming his claws into the side of the torch to stop falling. In an interview with Wizard, Jackman says the harness slipped and pinched him in a very uncomfortable place, as a result his screams of rage are actually genuine screams of pain.
    • In the above-mentioned scene, Hugh Jackman was told Magneto would tear open the train car. He thought this meant ripping off the door, not half of the train being literally pulled apart by hydraulics. He mentioned having to study that shot when doing the reaction shots so he could reproduce all the various twitches and tics he went through.
  • In E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, director Steven Spielberg didn't allow the child actors to see the E.T. puppet until their scenes were filmed. Thus, their screams are genuine. Additionally, the scenes were filmed chronologically, so that by the end, their tears during E.T.'s departure were part of a sincere sadness that the shooting was over.
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
    • When Cary Guffey's three-year-old character is supposed to be reacting to aliens, Spielberg had two crew members in a clown and gorilla suit appear suddenly and then remove their masks. The boy is at first afraid, then smiles.
    • And when Guffey's character is abducted later, Melinda Dillon was not told the extent of the special effects that would be going off around the house, making her panic authentic. In particular, when he looks into the sky and says "toys" (presumably in reference to the alien spaceships), Spielberg had gotten onto a ladder with a large box and opened it up to reveal actual toys.
    • When Spielberg told Guffey to say goodbye to the aliens "like your friends are going away forever". The four-year-old actor misunderstood and thought Spielberg was saying that his real life friends (there were other children on the set) were going away forever. Those tears are real.
  • Jurassic Park films:
    • In the scene with the kids in the car, the glass wasn't supposed to break. Those screams were for real.
    • The commentary track to Jurassic Park III, after describing the machines used in one scene added, "So when the actors look frightened, they're not acting." They were conditioned to react to dinosaurs realistically via someone shoving a dino head on a stick in their face and going "grr" just so they'd be more scared when they actually used real models.
    • During the scene where the T-rex is pressing its snout against the the pane of glass with the children underneath. The robotic t-rex was being controlled by a puppeteer with a scale model rather than a programmed set of movements. The puppeteer was given plastic stops to tell him how far he could go with the robot before he crushed the actors; needless to say, the pressure being put on both actors was very real.
  • During the filming of a basic training scene in the movie Stripes, director Ivan Reitman quietly told the actors to pull Warren Oates, who played their drill sergeant Sgt. Hulka, down into the mud with them—when they did so, Oates chipped a tooth. Oates subsequently berated Reitman in front of everyone, shouting, "If you want to push me into the mud I'll get pushed into the mud, but don't pull that kind of shit again!" After that, Ivan Reitman never attempted to use Enforced Method Acting in any of his films.
  • In Vera Drake, the director and the actress playing the title role managed to keep the character's big secret from the actors playing her family until the scene where they find out, to get genuine reactions out of them.
  • In The Celebration, Thomas Vinterburg kept the awful revelation during the speech a secret. The shocked reaction of the crowd, who had become quite in-character by that point and saw their host as a cordial, lovable gentleman, was very real.
  • In The Rocky Horror Picture Show,
    • All of the actors except Tim Curry were left in the dark of the fact that Eddie's corpse was under the tablecloth. Patricia Quinn's hysterical laughter in that scene, and Richard O'Brien subsequently yelling at her to shut up, were also genuine reactions.
    • Also in the dinner scene, when Susan Sarandon jumps a mile when Barry Bostwick slams his hand on the table—real. He accidentally slammed his fist down on top of her fingers. If you keep an eye on her you can see her mouth 'Ow' and subtly rub her hand as she moves it under the table.
    • Janet knees Frank N. Furter in the groin. Apparently Sarandon wasn't a big fan of Curry's off-set behaviour. Happens again when they're in the pool, if you watch Curry's face you can find the moment, but that time it really doesn't have anything to do with what's going on.
  • In Garry Marshall's 1991 film Frankie and Johnny, Marshall wanted Al Pacino to show a genuine amount of surprise when opening a door at a key point in the movie. To get authentic emotion from Pacino, Marshall arranged for William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (who were shooting the sixth Star Trek VI the Undiscovered Country movie nearby) to make an appearance on the other side of the door just off camera in full costume as Kirk and Spock!
  • In Monty Python's Life of Brian
    • The extras who play guards in the "Biggus Dickus" scene were told to stand stock still and look serious, and that if they so much as giggled they would be fired. You can see them genuinely straining not to laugh when Michael Palin gets into his bit. Seriously, you try to watch the scene with a straight face. Another highlight is the Oh Crap look on the guards' faces when he says, "He has a wife, you know..."
  • In the "burn the witch" scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail when John Cleese held his pause for an extremely long time (far longer than in the rehearsals), Eric Idle had to bite on his prop scythe to stop himself from laughing.
  • In Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, many of the extras in the famous Mr. Creosote scene had no idea what was going to happen, and their disgusted reactions to the scene are genuine. In an interview, Carol Cleveland revealed that her line about bleeding all over her seat was met with particular revulsion—one of the extras screamed "Who the fuck wrote this?!"
  • In Star Trek: Nemesis, in the scene where Riker is fighting the Reman Dragon on a catwalk that suddenly collapses beneath them, Riker's panicked cry is for real because they didn't tell the actor ahead of time.
  • Another Star Trek example: In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, in the scene where Kirk first confronts Khan, Kirk says "Here it comes" to Khan before transmitting what is supposed to be classified data but is actually a signal to make Khan's ship drop its shields. William Shatner kept delivering the line in his usual acting style, making it too clear that Kirk was tricking Khan, so director Nicholas Meyer had Shatner do the scene multiple times until he was tired enough to do a more appropriately subdued take.
  • In the German movie Das Boot, one of the actors (Jan Fedder) fell off the bridge of the submarine set. One of the other actors shouted "man overboard" and the director remarked that it was a good idea and they should run it one more time with the fall as part of the plan, not realizing that Fedder had broken several ribs and had to be hospitalized.
  • Alfred Hitchcock was fond of this type of acting.
    • When he made the film version of Rebecca, the story called for Joan Fontaine to be nervous around the other actors. To achieve this, Hitchcock told her that no one else on set liked her. (Which was true in Laurence Olivier's case; he had wanted his bride-to-be, Vivien Leigh, for the female lead and was not pleased when Fontaine was cast instead.)
    • The climax of The Birds was filmed with five days' worth of live birds thrown at actress Tippi Hedren, instead of the mechanical birds she had been promised. The blood from the birds hitting her and the terror she expresses was genuine, and she was ordered a week's rest after breaking down crying onset, when she reported "nightmares filled with flapping wings".
    • In Rear Window, one elaborate set involved the outside of a bunch of buildings, and one scene where a man and a woman on the "back porch" were supposed to go back inside through one of two windows, carrying the mattress they had out back in, when it started to rain. Hitchcock told them to go into different windows, so when the scene came, their confusion was real, but it made for a very convincing portrayal of people surprised by the rain and trying to get back inside in a hurry.
    • Guides at the Universal Studios tour tell the story that when shooting the shower scene in Psycho, Hitchcock switched off the hot water and made it ice-cold, ensuring that Janet Leigh's screams would be real. Leigh, however, has denied this.
  • Mel Brooks movie example: In Dracula: Dead and Loving It, when Lucy Westenra is staked after becoming a vampire, "Harker" actor Steven Weber wasn't told the massive amount of stage blood that would come from the dummy. In the movie, he's clearly struggling not to laugh as he delivers his lines. The line "She's dead enough" was reportedly ad-libbed by Weber on the spot.
  • In the scene from the movie Shine where concert pianist David Helfgott (played by Geoffrey Rush) was jumping on a trampoline naked except for an open trenchcoat, Lynn Redgrave's shocked and amused reaction was genuine because at the last minute, Rush covered his privates with a bouquet of plastic flowers.
  • When directing Shirley Temple, ruthless Western director John Ford needed her to cry. So he asked the stage manager to inform her that her dog had been killed by a car, right before flipping on the cameras. What is captured on film is one of the best moments of Miss Temple's career.
  • John Woo reveals on the commentary track of Hard Boiled that, in the scene where Tequila outruns an explosion and leaps out a window holding a baby, Chow Yun-Fat was not given any warning before the pyrotechnic charges were set off behind him.
  • James Bond films:
    • The scene where Bond is in a pool with sharks in Thunderball was meant to be filmed with the sharks in a plexiglass tunnel. When it turned out not enough glass was available and there would be a hole in the tunnel, the filmmakers elected not to tell Sean Connery, as he was terrified of the sharks and they knew they would never be able to get him in the pool if he was aware of the problem. Hence the terrified look on his face when the shark comes after him, and then his practically doing a vertical leap out of the water.
    • In Tomorrow Never Dies, in the Saigon scene where Bond and Lin steal a motorcycle, the director instructed each of the actors separately that they would be driving the bike, resulting in the desired scuffle over who would sit in front.
    • During the boat chase on the Thames at the beginning of The World Is Not Enough, two traffic cops writing a ticket and attaching a parking clamp to a car at the riverside get a lot of water splashed onto them when Bond slams his boat round a corner. Apparently the actors were told they would get a bit wet and the rest of the crew was worried to get the scene right the first time, because the reaction just wouldn't be the same in the second take.
    • Goldfinger:
      • When James Bond electrocutes the Mook by dropping the fan in the bathtub right at the start of the film, the special effects included high-pressure steam jets, which scalded the leg of the actor, unable to escape due to the way the cable of the fan had wrapped itself around his leg. The look of pain was real.
      • When Oddjob knocks Bond to the floor by smashing the back of his neck, Bond is thrown sideways, contorted in pain. Being an athlete and not an actor, the blow was genuine, as the actor playing Oddjob hadn't yet mastered the art of pulling blows. Apparently, Sean Connery was quite badly hurt.
      • When Bond electrocutes Oddjob on the bars of the gold depository, Oddjob was getting badly burned by the spark effects, which were wilder than initially planned by the special effects department. The look of pain on his face and concern on Bond's face were real.
      • The laser scene. The scene was shot with special effects technicians crouched under the table, burning through it with a blowtorch. There was a mark to show where they needed to stop burning. They didn't. Sean Connery's distress is extremely obvious and he was apparently furious once filming was over.
    • In Octopussy, Roger Moore decided last minute it would be much more dramatic if he was sitting in the chair instead standing behind it when the gun underneath the dining table was fired. The special effects team had only reinforced the back of the chair for the original planned shot, which meant Moore risked serious injury if he didn't leap away in time.
  • In REC all the shock when Alex is thrown down the stairs is genuine because the directors didn't inform the rest of the cast about it.
  • In Mary Poppins
    • The young actors playing Michael and Jane weren't told that it was Dick Van Dyke playing the elderly Mr. Dawes. In an interview included on the Mary Poppins DVD release, Karen Dotrice said that she didn't find out until seeing the credits of the finished movie in the theater.
    • Also, in the scene where the children are to take their medicine, a bottle with several internal compartments is used to dispense several colors of elixir. The children were not informed of this, so when Jane shrieks in shock at the changing color, it's real.
    • The children were also not told that Mary Poppins was going to be pulling hatracks and floor lamps and large potted plants out of her carpetbag. Although since this was done as a split-screen effect it might have been hard to conceal the trick while shooting.
  • Roman Holiday features a moment where Gregory Peck's character pretends his hand has been bitten off by a statue. Peck didn't tell co-star Audrey Hepburn beforehand and her reaction is genuine.
  • From an article on the making of the film The Journals of Knud Rasmussen: "The way (filmmakers Norman) Cohn and (Zacharias) Kunuk work, the scene starts, everyone gets into character and the camera rolls. It was a challenge for the Danes, (producer Elise) Lund Larsen says. She mentions a scene of a party, when Kunuk unexpectedly pointed the camera at (actor Jakob) Cedergren and urged him to drum dance. That's not in the script. The point is to get a reaction that matches how Mathiassen must have felt. "
  • Stanley Kubrick was apparently a fan of this technique.
    • When filming his adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining, he verbally abused Shelley Duvall and notoriously made her do 127 takes of a single scene in order to render her performance as Jack Torrance's meek and increasingly terrified and hysterical wife Wendy more compelling.
    • He did this all over the place in Doctor Strangelove:
      • He wanted a "cowboy" actor to pilot the Leper Colony nuclear bomber, but all the ones he contacted refused because of the anti-war source material. So he finally decided to contact Slim Pickens, show him nothing but his parts, and never told him he was making a comedy, implying that his character was the hero of the film, "heroically" delivering the bomb that ends the world. Pickens was okay with it in the long run, spinning the publicity into a highly successful career.
      • On the other hand, George C. Scott wanted to play General Turgidson as a dignified Well-Intentioned Extremist, so Kubrick tricked him by telling him to do a few over the top takes as "practice" and that they would never be put into the real movie. Kubrick used all of them. Scott eventually admitted it was better that way.
  • A mild case took place during the filming of The Sound of Music: the reconciliation scene between the children and Captain Von Trapp was filmed last, ensuring that the tears were genuine. One story has it that Christopher Plummer deliberately enhanced the effect by deliberately distancing himself from the actors playing the children so they all thought he didn't like them. But then, he somewhat infamously didn't like them. He even insisted a stand in be brought in when he carries one of the children on his back because the real actress was "too fat".
    • When the kids fall out of the paddle boat and the oldest daughter drags the youngest to the surface by her collar, she had to do that because the youngest kid couldn't swim.
  • Scream
    • In order to get the appropriate fear reaction from Drew Barrymore, director Wes Craven reminded her of a story she had read about a man who got rid of a litter of unwanted puppies by lighting them on fire.
    • In the scene where Sidney dresses up in the Ghostface costume and stabs Billy with an umbrella, the stunt woman in the costume couldn't see very well and ended up stabbing the actor who played Billy in the heart- right after he had heart surgery. The screams of pain from him are real.
  • Frankie Laine was not informed that Blazing Saddles was a comedy, so he sang the theme song straight, which makes it even funnier. According to Mel Brooks, Mel was looking for a Frankie sound-a-like, and when the genuine article came in, he just didn't have the heart to tell the guy that it was a parody movie after hearing his effort.
    • Another enforced method acting moment was when Cleavon Little can't keep a straight face after Gene Wilder delivered the "You know... morons" line. Little was not told about the line in advance.
  • As early as the first Terminator crew members wore T-Shirts emblazoned with "You can't scare me. I work for James Cameron."
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger's entrance into the bar in Terminator 2 gets a lot of reactions from the patrons, mainly staring as his pelvic area. Arnold was wearing gaudy boxer shorts to draw their gaze.
  • In the Adam Sandler remake Mr. Deeds there is a scene where Sandler invites John Turturro's character to hit his foot with a fireplace poker to prove he has no feeling in it. While Sandler doesn't even shrug at the first two strikes, at the third Deeds screams in pain before revealing he was joking to get a rise out of the butler. As you might have guessed, the scream wasn't in the script, Sandler and the director threw it in at the last minute to get an amusing reaction out of John Turturro.
    • The end of the movie involves Sandler using that foot to save Winona Ryder from drowning. See the entry for Alien: Resurrection above to see why this is significant.
  • Back to The Future films:
    • In his memoir Lucky Man, Michael J. Fox recounts that while filming the scene where Marty is lynched in Back to The Future Part 3, he actually didn't get his hand in the right place on one take and actually blacked out. The director soon realized that the swinging was too realistic.
    • Marty's gasp in part 2 when Biff kicks him in the gut is real. Robert Zemeckis is apparently big on real reactions, and runs the mantra "Pain is temporary, film is forever" with his actors.
  • In Empire of the Sun, there was a scene where a maid smacks Christian Bale's character across the face. They had practiced the scene with a fake slap, but Steven Spielberg told the actress playing the maid to really slap him for the real take. Christian Bale's shocked reaction was completely real.
  • In the scene in Withnail and I where Withnail drinks lighter fluid, the liquid in the bottle was vinegar, not water as previously rehearsed. The look on Richard E. Grant's face is completely unfeigned.
  • Between takes in The King Of Comedy, Robert De Niro made antisemitic comments around Jerry Lewis in order to make Lewis's anger toward DeNiro's character more real.
  • In The Thomas Crown Affair, the 1999 remake, the director told Pierce Brosnan to keep kissing Rene Russo even though she was pulling away, during a kissing scene near the end of the film. Rene was not told of this, so during the scene, she was really trying to stop the kiss.
  • In the comedy Run Fatboy Run, director David Schwimmer said that in the scene where Simon Pegg and Hank Azaria are talking in the locker room, Simon's shocked reaction to Hank dropping his towel was very real. Apparently, Hank was supposed to wear a modesty patch over his genitals, but it didn't fit, so he did the scene without it.
  • The Last House on the Left
    • In the 2009 remake, actress Riki Lindhome has a brief topless scene near the beginning when the girls first see her character, as she quickly changes shirts ripping off her old one in plain view. Sara Paxton was not informed that this would happen, causing her shock to be more genuine.
    • On the original movie's special edition DVD actors commentary track, the actors playing Krug and Weasel boast about how they terrorised the actresses playing Mari and Phyllis, right down to hinting during the filming of the rape scene that they'd go ahead and actually commit the act if they didn't think the actresses' performances were convincing enough. They seem to think this is awesome.
  • In Fight Club, the first punch in the first fight between Edward Norton and Brad Pitt was supposed to be awkward as neither character had fought before. It was agreed beforehand that Norton would punch Pitt in the shoulder, but the director changed it at the last minute. Brad was not informed.

Tyler Durden: Ow! Christ, why the ear, man?!

  • In the film version of The Cat in the Hat, Mike Meyers is standing in the hallway amidst the house falling down, and one particular beam falls, and Mike jumps and starts looking around, because no one told him it was going to happen.
  • For the film When Harry Met Sally..., director Rob Reiner often encouraged Billy Crystal to improvise his dialogue to evoke more realistic reactions from Meg Ryan. The most noticeable example is in the famous "too much pepper in my paprikash" scene. At one point, while trying to figure out what Harry is saying, Sally laughs and looks away. This was Ryan looking to Reiner for some idea of what to do, but Reiner decided to keep it because it makes her character more endearing and lovable (at the exact moment in the film when the characters' love relationships starts).
  • Akira Kurosawa did this in Throne of Blood, in the climactic sequence where his Macbeth analogue is being fired upon by dozens of archers. The arrows that actually hit Lord Washizu, or miss narrowly, were pulled by strings behind the walls; the ones that miss by a larger margin were actually shot at him by expert marksmen on the set. Needless to say, Toshiro Mifune's display of blind terror is not entirely acted.
    • Using expert marksmen was standard practice in Japanese cinema at the time. If the character was supposed to be struck by the arrow, the actor wore a wooden block under his costume and prayed really hard that the archer was having a good day.
    • The Adventures of Robin Hood used the same technique with a professional stunt archer.
  • When filming the pie fights featured in several Three Stooges shorts, directors such as Jules White would avoid anticipation or flinching with misleading timing; e.g., telling an actor they would be hit with a pie on the count of three, while secretly instructing the person hurling the pastry to throw it on two.
  • During the carrying-his-cross scene in The Passion of the Christ, Jim Caveziel dislocated his shoulder when he collapsed and the cross fell on him. He insisted that the take be kept in the final film, so that the pain Jesus was supposed to be experiencing would seem more real.
  • In the film Tora! Tora! Tora!, a radio-controlled aircraft was supposed to roll down the runway past a bunch of extras, and then blow up. It went out of control and swerved toward the extras, who then really did start running for their lives.
    • They are wire-controlled replicas of P-40 fighters, but with real Allison engines in them. And both takes are seen in the finished movie. One where the plane runs into a row of parked planes, and the other that explodes and spins to a halt in the middle of the runway.
  • During the fascist dream sequence in Pink Floyd's The Wall, actual neo-Nazis were employed as extras. Thus the intensity and brutality shown is as real as it can get.
    • At one point, the character Pink phones his wife, knowing she's with another man. The phone call? Real. The operator's confused reaction ("There's a man answering...") is genuine. They had to do the call several times before they found one who realized what the situation was. The exact same phone call was originally featured on the album of the same name (See under Music.)
    • In the scene where Pink trashes his hotel room, the actress playing the groupie had just been told to watch him. She got genuinely shocked when he started throwing things at her.
  • Tommy Lee Jones hated the script to the first Men in Black movie so much, he re-wrote all of his own lines. Of course, he didn't tell Will Smith of any of his changes, so Smith had to constantly ad-lib to keep up.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, while preparing for the shoot actors whose characters had close relationships were often paired up (though Peter Jackson complains on the DVD that when they were sent out in canoes to learn to work together they spent most of their time trying to sink each other). The actors playing Merry and Pippin have mentioned that they spent most of their time together during principal photography for the first two films, and were then kept apart for Return of the King. They apparently didn't appreciate the last part.
    • In Fellowship of the Ring Billy Boyd was not aware that Gandalf's firework actually was going to flare. Pippin's scream is real.
      • Billy Boyd also admitted in the film's commentary that he got so freaked out by the firework that he peed his pants. Dominic Monaghan actually called him 'Pissylegs' for the rest of the production because of it.
    • When Bilbo is giving his farewell speech to the fellow Hobbits, he sounds drunk because Ian Holm was for the scene. Later, he was unable to replicate his own manner of "drunk speech" for the ADR, so the sound team spent a lot of time clearing the on-set recording from all the background noises.
    • When Merry is given the orc brew in The Two Towers they used all sorts of ill-matched ingredients for the brew and since Merry is unconscious when it's given to him it was more or less forced down the actor's throat. Apparently it made him actually vomit in a few takes (like the one used in the film).
    • Also, while filming the scene where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are examining the pyre of Uruk-hai bodies, believing Merry and Pippin has been burned along with them, Aragorn kicks a helmet lying on the ground and screams in anguish over his hobbits friends most likely being dead. The intensity of the scream was due to Viggo Mortensen (who played Aragorn) breaking two toes when he performed the kick, but Peter Jackson liked the shot so much that is was left in the movie.
    • There was something of a rivalry between the extras playing Elves and the extras playing Uruk-hai. The Uruks coined the nickname "cupcakes" for their Elven counterparts. This apparently started because the Elven extras (who were largely local college students) weren't getting into character as soldiers, so the Uruk-hai decided to start taunting, jeering, and otherwise acting like actual members of an opposing army. This got the Elven actors riled up enough to be in character.
    • David Wenham mentions on the commentary for the third film that his horse often refused to cooperate, and after a while he found out it had been bought for $200. He ponders that this might have been done on purpose - give Faramir the lousiest horse, no one loves him anyway.
  • While filming The Fall, Lee Pace spent twelve weeks in a wheelchair pretending to be unable to walk while filming so the child actor he was working with would deliver a more realistic performance. An extra on the DVD shows the moment where he and the director admitted to the crew that he could actually walk and got up out of his wheel chair. Also, most of the girl's lines were only loosely scripted and she ad-libbed most of her lines in reaction to what was happening in the scene, and everyone referred to Pace by the name of his character, Roy.
    • Also, the scene when five-year-old Alexandria, hysterical already, comes to find that Roy is alive after he attempts suicide with what he thinks are morphine pills Lee Pace was frustrated by the number of takes it had taken to get the scene, Tarsem's insistence on repeated takes and the actresses inability to get her physical movements quite right. Tarsem had infamously been calling CUT right before Roy was supposed to react to waking up meaning Pace had by the 30+ take built up quite a lot of tension. When Tarsem finally let the scene continue after Alexandria draws the curtain back, Lee unleashed Teh Rage and lost his f** ing mind, screaming hysterically (in character). The child actress was totally terrified and genuinely wet herself in fear. Tarsem, in the commentary described her as being like a giraffe; when scared she goes very still and pees.
      • He also cast her after meeting her, at which point she barely spoke a word of English and telling a fellow crew member "We have to make this film now, in six months she'll be a different person." All the hospital scenes were shot in sequence so that Alexandria's grasp of English developed naturally, taking her from one or two confused words a scene to complete English language conversations with Pace.
        • Also, in the scene depicting the finale, where Roy tries to kill off the hero of the fairy tale he has been telling Alexandria They had another difficult day of shooting and Pace, once again, got quite wound up. His frustrated, angry telling of the story is fueled by quite genuine anger not to mention, in the moment when he lifts his hand to mime punching someone as in the story, the child actress once again flinched totally realistically as she genuinely thought he might hit her.
  • An accidental case of this occurred during the filming of the original Godzilla. The original suit that the actor wore in filming was so stiff and inflexible, that the suit could, quite literally, stand upright by itself. This forced the actor wearing the suit to move in ways which were not like those of a human, making the monster that much more real and terrifying.
  • Stand by Me
    • To get the appropriate reaction from Wil Wheaton and Jerry O'Connell, who were children at the time, for the train scene, director Rob Reiner yelled at them until they cried.
    • In the movie, Kiefer Sutherland's character is a bully who terrorizes the younger boys in the town. Sutherland is a method actor himself, so he picked on the boys off-set to scare them.
  • Fritz Lang utilized this often, though it's hard to say where this trope ends and outright abuse begins. The best-known example was while filming the cellar scene of M; star Peter Lorre was kept working to the point of exhaustion while suffering real physical blows in order to increase his pain, fear, and desperation. The shot where he is kicked with an iron boot was filmed dozens of times in succession.


  • In The Film of the Book Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix, they were in the process of filming the dramatic scene in which Sirius falls through the veil. To help get Daniel Radcliffe to the proper emotional state, Gary Oldman asked him if he could do something a little physical with him, then shook him violently and screamed in his face. So those tears are apparently real.
    • The moral of this story, kids: If Gary Oldman asks if he can help you get into a distraught emotional state, the answer is a polite no unless you are really dedicated to your art.
    • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire a cannon was fired to start the First Task. When the scene was filmed the director had the cannon fire on the line before the prompt from the rehearsals so the actors jumped for real.
      • Also on Goblet, Harry was supposed to be rubbish at the big Yule Ball dance scene. So the director had the rest of the cast practice that sequence during the month Dan Radcliffe was shooting the long underwater Second Task, and then gave him a week to learn the dance.
  • Dustin Hoffman tells a story that when they were filming Marathon Man, Laurence Olivier's acting was way too big and theatrical for the scene, but the director was unwilling to tell SIR LAURENCE OLIVIER to tone it down. So Hoffman went back over and told Olivier that they already had all the film of him they needed, but they wanted more of Hoffman's half of the scene, so could he do a few takes just reading his lines, as if they were in rehearsal. Apparently Olivier saw through it, but appreciated his tact.
    • And when Hoffman's character was supposed to be exhausted by being kept awake for three days, Dustin, being a method actor, stayed awake for three days before shooting—to which Olivier remarked "Try acting, dear boy...it's much easier."
  • In Soylent Green, just before the shooting of the euthanasia scene, Heston was told by Edward G. Robinson (playing Sol Roth, the character dying) that he was dying of terminal brain cancer. Heston was the only one in the cast that had been told. The crying that Heston gives in the scene (while he watches Robinson's character die, appropriately enough) is thus quite real. Robinson died 12 days after shooting finished.
  • In Twilight, when Carlisle bites Edward, he whispers in Edward's ear. The in-character "I'm sorry" failed to get the right terrified reaction, as did the equally in-character "My son", but when he whispered "You're sexy", RPattz actually breaks into a broad smile as if he's about to laugh. But that's the take they used.
  • In Cocoon, the scene where Hume Cronyn's character punches out the orderly wasn't all acting. Cronyn, who was a Golden Gloves boxer and lacked sight in one eye, actually knocked the guy out because he (Cronyn) lacked depth perception.
  • The Usual Suspects. Redfoot threw a cigarette at Mcmanus's face which was meant for his chest. Stephen Baldwin's reaction is real, as is Benicio del Toro's look of panic.
  • There's Something About Mary. When Ted (Ben Stiller) is being loaded into the ambulance, he really is dropped.
  • During filming of the climactic dinner scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the stench of the food got to everyone so much that some of them (including the man playing Leatherface) started to hallucinate that they were really their characters. One actor, who had fought in the Vietnam War, describes filming that scene as the worst experience of his life.
    • Marylin Burns' finger was cut for real when the prop blood sprayer wouldn't work properly. The obvious cut immediately afterwards is so the actor playing the grandfather wouldn't have to suck on a real bleeding finger.
  • When James Woods and Sean Young starred in an otherwise forgettable movie, The Boost, the off-camera tension between the two of them got so bad that when the script called for Woods' character to slap Young's, Woods slapped her for real.
  • According to the interviews in the BONUSVIEW content of the Ghostbusters Blu-Ray (known as "Slimer Mode") the actress who played the maid at the hotel was only told of a "bang". She had no idea that there were pyrotechnics in her cart, so when they went off (in the scene where the Ghostbusters fire their proton guns for the first time), her "What the hell are you doing?!" was genuine.
  • In The Last King of Scotland, the director decided to use local Ugandan children as extras for a scene where James McAvoy's character is giving vaccinations. Of course, the director did not tell the children or their parents/other adults with them that the syringes were just props. Many of the children thought they were really going to get shots, so their apprehension and nervousness is completely real.
  • Apparently on a day when Zac Efron was filming a scene that involved him being angry for 17 Again, the movie's director decided to be a total dick to him in order to make the emotions more real in the scene.
  • American Pie Presents Band Camp. While filming the scene where Matt Stifler strips naked during a trivia game with some girls, actor Tad Hilgenbrink actually did just that on the set. As he had not informed the actresses that he would be naked (they had assumed his bits would be covered in some way), their surprised reactions are genuine.
  • For a brief scene in Shattered Glass where a woman runs away crying from a crowd of harassing Young Republicans, director Billy Ray instructed the actors to glare at the actress silently before filming and not respond to her attempts at conversation. The look on that poor woman's face is all real.
  • John Ford reportedly abused Victor McLaglen to no end on the set of The Informer - he would change the shooting schedule without warning, tell him they were rehearsing when they were actually doing a take, make him perform drunk, and for the climactic scene he promised McLaglen the day off only to wake him up early and have him act through a raging hangover. The result: one near-homicidal Irishman, and one brilliant, Oscar-winning performance.
  • In Mystery Men, The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo) touches the hand of the recently-killed hero Captain Amazing in an attempt to get his pulse. When the hand breaks off, her shriek of surprise sounds entirely genuine—no one told Garofalo the prop was designed to fall apart when touched.
  • In the film adaption of the novel Eragon, there is a scene where Eragon (Ed Speleers) is snooping around in Brom's house, looking for information on dragons, when Brom himself (Jeremy Irons) comes out of the shadows and shouts at him to get out. According to the DVD commentary, Speleers didn't know that Irons was there until he appeared, to produce a suitably startled response.
  • In It's a Wonderful Life, during the run-on-the-bank scene, George convinces most of the Bailey Building and Loan clients to only withdraw a small amount to tide them over instead of taking their money from Potter's banks. After a few people ask for twenty dollars, one lady asked for an odd amount, $17.50. Turns out that Frank Capra had asked her beforehand to ask for an odd amount instead of the twenty that everyone else said in order to surprise Jimmy Stewart and get a reaction from him. His reaction was, after a moment's surprise, to hug her.
    • Also, when Uncle Billy stumbled drunkenly from a party and walked off-camera, he tripped and shouted, "I'm all right, I'm all right!" What really happened was that a stagehand had accidentally dropped some equipment just at that moment, and Capra decided to keep the scene in. He also slipped the stagehand an extra $10 for "improving the sound".
    • Also, in the same film, the famous telephone conversation was the first take of the scene and the first scene that James Stewart had recorded since returning from WWII (in which he flew something like 50 bombing missions). Apparently the scene wasn't even rehearsed and the outpouring of emotion from Stewart is quite genuine; you can see how nervous and uncomfortable the actress playing Mary was and this flood of emotions apparently scared the crap out of Frank Capra too, who didn't even try to film the scene a different way and of course it is one of the most famous scenes in the film.
  • The film Lucky Number Slevin features a scene where Lucy Liu accidentally stumbles in and sees Josh Hartnett completely naked as he adjusts the towel he's wearing. In the original script, that bit wasn't supposed to happen, but as a practical joke Josh took off the towel just as Lucy walked in, flashing her. Lucy's giggle and quiet "sorry" were genuine before she continued delivering her lines.
  • In Goodfellas, in the scene where Paulie admonishes Henry and tells him to stop selling drugs, Paul Sorvino (Paulie) slaps Ray Liotta (Henry) for real, in order to really elicit a scared and cornered reaction.
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had a couple of examples:
    • In the circus scene, Kate Winslet was asked to suddenly disappear without Jim Carrey's knowledge. The result was poignant; in the final cut, Jim can clearly be seen saying "Kate?" with a very saddened expression on his face.
    • When Mark Ruffalo scares Kirsten Dunst, Mark was asked to hide in a different spot for each take to genuinely scare her.
  • In Sommers' The Mummy Trilogy, Jonathan Hyde (the Egyptologist in the rival expedition) was genuinely surprised when his donkey took off full tilt in the race to reach Hamunaptra first.
    • Although hopefully not intentional, Brendan Fraser gave Kevin J. O'Connor some genuine bruises when Rick roughed up Beni for information in the doomed Egyptologist's office; likewise, Fraser was able to bodily lift O'Connor uncomfortably close to the spinning ceiling fan. Apparently, he doesn't know his own strength.
  • In The General, director Buster Keaton did not tell leading lady Marion Mack what was going to happen when he pulled the spout off the water tank during the return chase. He wanted her reaction when she got drenched by a torrent of water to be authentic.
    • In the scene where the bridge collapses under a locomotive, the face of the Confederate officer is genuine: he was not informed of this event. The bridge and the locomotive were real, not just models.
    • Buster practically built a career around these; In one film he's being washed down a lake, but Buster had a hidden harness on which kept him from actually being washed towards the rapids and waterfall. The harness broke, naturally, and it's glaringly obvious when Buster's waves and swimming to safety suddenly become faster and more pronounced. He actually looks and shouts at the camera several times. He had to cling on to rocks before he was rescued.
      • In the same film Buster swung into a waterfall to rescue 'the maiden'. He inhaled enough water to need resuscitation efforts.
    • In yet another film, Buster leaps from one building to another, misses by a hair and slams into the side of the building before falling. Buster performed this stunt, for real, slamming at speed into a solid brick wall. He took a hot rub down then an ice bath and was back at work within two hours.
    • He inverts it a lot, too, by not flinching when he KNOWS a hit is coming; when the house famously falls on Buster in Steamboat Bill, Jr., the wall was a real, incredibly heavy part of a house. Crew members had walked off the set, refusing to be part of what they knew would be the actor's demise. The stunt went perfectly and Buster managed to act not even a little bit scared or aware the wall was about to crush him to death.
  • It's quite alarming the number of times the actors in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly nearly died while making the film, with Eli Wallach suffering the most abuse.
    • In the scene when Tuco severs the handcuffs by lying on the train track, Eli Wallach got almost decapitated by the low, sharp metal steps jutting out of the side of the train, and his expression of terror as he realises this is real.
    • In the first hanging scene, the horse got significantly more spooked than anyone besides Leone expected, and it galloped for literal miles, Wallach tied helplessly to its back, before any of the crew went out to get him. He was understandably furious when they found him again.
    • In the torture sequence, many of the blows Tuco received were genuine.
    • There are rumors that Eastwood and Wallach were forced to share a room and a bed (not like that - in shifts) in order to encourage their initially prickly attitude towards each other and their eventual bonding.
    • The Man With No Name's squint comes from Clint Eastwood's allergy to horses (and too-bright set lights), and his scowl comes from his hatred of smoking (Clint said the bitter taste helped him feel the role better).
      • He actually picked out the nastiest-tasting cigars he could find, on purpose, as an aid.
  • In Escape from New York during the boxing ring fight, the professional wrestler Ox Baker, who never acted before, got a little too intense and struck Kurt Russell very heavily with some of his blows. So Snake Plissken's expressions of fears you can see are genuine. At the end Russell had finally had enough and asked Baker to take it easy, tapping him in the groin to let him know he was serious. Baker then calmed down.
  • In 1968's Oliver!, there is a scene where Oliver discovers Fagin's hidden cache of pilfered treasure. The director, Carol Reed, was not getting the right results from his young star when he was shown a box of fake jewelry and gold. Instead, Reed produced a white rabbit from the pocket of his coat, offscreen, just as the reveal happened on camera. Thus, young Mark Lester's reaction of surprise and delight is genuine.
  • In Looking For Eric, Steve Evets (who plays Eric Bishop) had not been told that Eric Cantona would be here - they smuggled him on set while Evets was smoking a cigarette and hid him. However, they didn't use his enforced take. Other scenes of enforced method acting include an armed police raid omitted from the actors' scripts, and the gangsters' first reactions to seeing dozens of United fans in Cantona masks raiding their house.
  • In Andrzej Wajda's French Revolution film Danton, he created distance between the two different factions by having Robespierre's supporters all be Polish actors, and Danton's all French, so that they came from different backgrounds and could barely even talk to each other off-set.
  • While shooting School Daze, Spike Lee had all his lighter-skinned actors in better accommodations than his darker-skinned ones to increase the tension between the two camps on set. During one scene, a unscripted fight broke out and Lee had the cameras keep shooting.
  • Charlie Chan actor Warner Oland was an alcoholic; his director. "Lucky" Humberton, at times encouraged his drinking, because he found the actor's slightly slurry speech better conveyed the sense of one struggling with a foreign language, as well as mentally groping toward the solution of a crime.
  • Meet the Parents. Ben Stiller once described de Niro making him uncomfortable off-camera to this end: "Whenever I made it clear I didn't want to go to first base, he made sure he went to second."
  • In The Monster Squad, Ashley Bank had not seen Duncan Regehr in his full Dracula costume and makeup (complete with eerie red eyes) until they shot the famous "Give me the amulet, you bitch!" scene. Cue a Blood Curdling Scream from the young Miss Bank. Upon completing the shot, Regehr grew very upset about how badly she'd been frightened and flatly refused to do so much as one more take.
  • Back in the silent film era, G.W. Pabst had two characters in his film Pandora's Box who are attracted to each other, but one character keeps screwing the other's life up and it gets messy. The actor apparently had some disdain for the actress playing the other character and would not even speak to her. Director Pabst let the awkward, antagonistic undercurrent fuel their tonally uncomfortable scenes.
    • Also in Pandora's Box (which is by the way still a good and complex film, even compared to modern sound movies), there's a lesbian character. The actress was adverse to playing a lesbian (this was the 1920s, after all), but Pabst cast her anyway, resulting in this character who almost always looks uncomfortable at everything even when showing affection - looked strangely authentic from here.
    • The actress Louise Brooks reported that Pabst deliberately destroyed her favorite dress to ensure her look of dejection during the final scene with Jack (the Ripper).
  • The movie Starship Troopers has several examples. Key cast members participated in a pre-production 'boot camp' to prepare them for the film's training sequence. Verhoeven stood in for the CGI aliens during filming, running at the actors and screaming like a madman to get more realistic reactions (footage is included on the Special Edition DVD extras). And to make the cast feel more at ease during filming, Verhoeven himself stripped down for the co-ed shower scene (footage is not included on the Special Edition DVD extras).
  • During a dinner scene from Finding Neverland, the boys are supposed to be laughing—what the audience doesn't hear is the fart machine in the background, garnering genuine laughter from the young actors.
  • To make the actors more at ease during a love-making scene in Mannen som slutade röka (The Man Who Quit Smoking), director Tage Danielsson as well as the whole production team were naked during the shooting.
  • In the remake of The Amityville Horror, Ryan Reynolds stayed up late all night, on several occasions, to accurately capture the insomnia and mental break down his character was going through. In one particular scene when he tortures his stepson by making the boy hold chunks of wood Reynolds is chopping with a huuuge axe, he has a close confrontation with the boy and ends up giving him a fairly hard slap on the face. Reynolds has since admitted this wasn't scripted, at all, and came to him naturally through the character. He has expressed shock and some disturbance at his own actions as he never thought he'd be the type to hit a child, but here, in the heat of the moment, he did. Makes the scene A LOT more intense knowing that.
  • In the film of The Name of the Rose, when the ceiling of the burning library collapses on Jorge, it is actually solid oak that hits the actor, the 81-year old Feodor Chaliapin. The set people had overlooked that part of the script and hadn't obtained lightweight balsa wood to hit the actor, and were only reminded of it on the morning of the shoot by director Jean-Jacques Annaud. So, not having any balsa wood on hand, they set up the ceiling collapse using solid oak. The scene was filmed, and this enormously heavy piece of wood lands on Chaliapin. Annaud realizes what has happened and shouts "Cut!" and everyone rushes to see if Chaliapin is all right. Chaliapin's first words were, "Is the take OK?" Annaud asks, "Never mind that. Are you all right?" Chialapin replies, "I'm 81 years old. I can die. Is the take OK?", which probably counts as a real life Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • While filming the first Predator, most of the cast and crew caught a severe case of diarrhea from drinking unpurified water. This resulted in very tense performances on film as the cast members were trying to hold it in until the scene was done and they could run to the toilet.
  • In Predators, Oleg Taktarov received a minor head wound after accidentally hitting his face against a steadicam. However, he decided to keep filming because the bleeding helped add to the film's atmosphere.
  • That scene in Flash Gordon when Dale looks shocked after Prince Vultan walks past and gooses her? Brian's idea.
  • According to the director's commentary on the Sleepy Hollow DVD, in the scene in the church where the doctor is killed by a blow to the head, they accidentally hit Ian McDiarmid so hard that he ended up having to go the hospital.
  • In the first Phantasm movie, after Reggie is stabbed to death by the Tall Man, he is seen writhing on the ground shivering as his lifeblood ebbs out. The scene was filmed on a very cold night in the middle of winter, with a airboat engine blowing on the actors to simulate the Tall Man's space gate collapsing, so the uncontrollable shivering was real.
  • In the credits for The Quiet Man, there's a bit where Maureen O'Hara whispers in John Wayne's ear and he gives her a quick, shocked expression before they stroll back to the cottage. Director John Ford gave O'Hara a line to shock the Duke in an unscripted moment. His facial expression is real.
    • Only three people ever knew what was said: John Ford, Maureen O'Hara, and John Wayne. And none of them ever said what the line was.
    • Furthermore, the scene where John Wayne is dragging her off to see her brother, Ford and some of the crew scattered sheep, uh, dung on the ground, and some of the crew cleaned it up at the request of O'Hara. This went back and forth until shooting, at which point there was sheep crap scattered around the field. O'Hara was really trying not to fall in that scene.
  • John Wayne's final film, The Shootist, involves an aging cowboy dying of cancer. Sadly, this required no acting on Wayne's part.
  • During the filming of Black Swan, Director Darren Aronofsky would try to pit Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis against each other to make their antagonistic scenes together more authentic. Unfortunately for him, both of them caught on to what he was doing very early and instead sent congrats to each other by phone when Darren told one of them the other was doing great.
  • Alejandro Jodorowsky considered his film-making to be a sort of magical ritual in and of itself, and as a result, used this approach to an alarming degree. For example, it was not uncommon for him to instruct actors to take psychedelic drugs.
    • In the course of this interview he claims that the scene in El Topo where Mara hits El Topo, and then he rapes her was not acted.
  • In Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts' hysterical laughter while watching old I Love Lucy reruns is genuine, because the director is tickling her feet.
    • In the scene where Richard Gere's character gives Roberts' character a diamond necklace, he snaps the lid of the jewelery box on her fingers, causing her to jump, then shriek with laughter. The lid-snap was spontaneous on Gere's part, and Roberts' reaction is real.
  • In The Fabulous Baker Boys, when real-life brothers Beau and Jeff Bridges have a fight, Jeff very nearly actually broke Beau's hand. They planned to come up with a "safe word" in case things went too far, but Jeff forgot himself and Beau went to the hospital directly afterward. When he yells "my hand, my hand!", it's totally genuine.
  • During the production of A Walk to Remember, the actors playing Mandy Moore's popular classmates were told to distance themselves from her for a period of time, so she would feel unpopular and disliked. According to Mandy Moore, it didn't go as planned, as they caught up and became close when they were told they could be civil to her.
  • During the filming of Blue Valentine, actors Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams actually shared a home and lived more or less as a married couple, like their characters. They have both stated that they tried to pick fights with the other, as their characters' marriage is falling apart, but had a hard time of it due to their mutual fondness for one another. Director Derek Cianfrance even encouraged Gosling to go into Williams' bedroom and try to make love to her. It didn't work.
    • In the scene where Dean and Cindy are on the bridge, and Dean climbs up the railing, Williams was told she had a secret and to keep it under lock and key, while Gosling was instructed find out this secret by any means necessary
  • Sam Raimi did this in Drag Me to Hell, purposely neglecting to tell Alison Lohman that a dummy animated corpse was going to vomit in her face.
  • Averted in Halloween 4. During filming, much care was taken to ensure that Danielle Harris, who played Jamie, was not frightened, most notably by the actor playing Michael, who repeatedly removed his mask in order to reassure her that he was not going to hurt her.
  • A scene in Tron had Bruce Boxleitner performing a difficult 'behind the head' frisbee catch while expressing defiance and anger. The director got Bruce riled up by accusing him of not practicing, saying he was unable to do the required shot and finally picking up the prop frisbee and challenging Bruce to prove it. He did, and the director yelled cut, having filmed the whole thing.
  • While filming Carrie, Sissy Spacek deliberately did not fraternize with the rest of the cast.
  • During the famous chase scene in The French Connection, prior permission for filming wasn't obtained, which meant that the panicked reactions from passers-by were genuine.
  • An early scene in Holiday Inn shows Fred Astaire dancing drunk at a party. Before beginning the shoot he drank two shots of whiskey, and between takes he drank another. It took seven takes to film the entire thing, and the footage used is from the last take.
  • According to actor Sean Patrick Flanery, David Della Rocco's reaction to the gunshot on the table in the first Boondock Saints is real. He'd purposely been told by Flanery and director Troy Duffy that it would make no sound and that he would have to improvise his reaction. It's stated that on the original take, which ended up being used in the film, he panicked because he thought something went wrong.
  • In Come and See, director Elem Klimov fired live gunshots over the heads of the actors to get genuine looks of terror in the battle scene.
  • The Giant Claw: Be sure to check out the furious look on Jeff Morrow's face when huge chunks of flaming debris land inches from his head.
  • The Laurel and Hardy shorts have a Running Gag where Ollie reacts to Stan's stupidity by looking exasperated into the camera. Apparently these shots were always filmed as the last shots of the day, when Oliver Hardy was dead tired and just wanted to get out on the golf course. They rarely needed more than one take.
  • In Grand Prix director John Frankenheimer was not satisfied with the crowd's reaction to a dramatic on-track incident and realised that they were looking forward to their tea break. He reshot the scene and at the critical moment had the special effects man blow up the tea van. Result: a convincingly shocked and stunned crowd.
  • You know all that weed they smoked in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny? Yeah, that wasn't fake.
  • The three lead actors in Project X were sent to Disneyland together and spent a weekend up at a cabin in Big Bear City so as to make a more believable friendship between them. Also, during filming of the party scenes, the music kept playing even when cameras weren't rolling so as to maintain the party atmosphere among the extras.
  • There's an iconic scene in Casablanca where the Nazis at the bar start singing "Die Wacht am Rhein," a German patriotic song, but are drowned out by a singing of "La Marseillaise," the national anthem of France. To make sure the bar was authentic in the film, actual French refugees were cast as extras, and the song ends with some very real crying that wasn't in the script, but was left in the film. Keep in mind this was filmed in 1941, when the Nazis had the upper hand and French refugees were unsure if they'd ever see home again.
  • J-horror director Koji Shiraishi shot the entirety of his 2010 Mockumentary Shirome this way. It purports to be a collection of shelved footage from a Most Haunted-style TV program, in which real-life Idol Singer group Momoiro Clover are sent to a supposedly haunted location and apparently encounter genuine supernatural phenomena. None of the group were told the real nature of the shoot until filming finally wrapped, and the bad case of nerves exhibited by the cast throughout most of the film is real.
  • In Miracle, to make the scene where coach Herb Brooks drills the team all night (after their 3-3 tie with Norway) as realistic as possible, the director filmed the real actors skating the drills for three 12-hour days. Their reactions (including collapsing from exhaustion and experiencing dry heaves) were genuine.
  • In Apollo 13, the scenes where the spacecraft had become very cold were shot on a soundstage that was actually made freezing cold via the use of massive fans and refrigeration units. The visible breath onscreen is real. And a few of the space scenes were actually shot in NASA's KC-135 'Vomit Comet' to depict weightlessness.
  • In Planet of the Apes, Charlton Heston's famous 'get your stinking paws off me' line was made all the more realistic because Heston was suffering from a nasty cold-the director liked it because he felt it made Heston's voice sound more authentic.
  • Speaking of Heston, his costume in The Ten Commandments resulted in many of the local extras thinking he *was* Moses...they were heard saying "Mosiah! Mosiah!".
  • Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Werner Herzog wanted Aguirre to be the epitome of Tranquil Fury, but actor Klaus Kinski wanted to produce a raving madman more akin to his actual personality. To get his wish, Herzog would intentionally provoke Kinski into unleashing all his fury off-camera. By the time shooting began, Kinsky was exhausted, creating the performance that Herzog desired.
  • An accidental case in Saw. In Saw 4, when Riggs (Lyriq Bent) is exploring the school and finds the man and wife suspended from the ceiling with spikes poking through their major (the man) and minor (the wife) arteries, they're still with their heads down. When Lyriq approaches, the woman jerks her head up and begs him for mercy, to which Lyriq admitted in the commentary a genuine shocked reaction occurred. Lyriq hadn't expected her to do that.
  • During A Clockwork Orange Malcolm McDowell had scratched his Cornea during filming. The man with the eye drops during the Ludovico Technique was an actual doctor.
  • The zit scene in Animal House, only known by John Belushi. John Landis noticed this and requested the camera man to just keep filming, knowing something classic will happen. Due to this, the reactions of the other cast members were real.
  • Jake's reaction upon first seeing Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is genuine—Asa Butterworth had not seen the house in which much of the film was shot before the moment in the film in which his character sees it for the first time.


  • Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality author Eliezer Yudkowsky enforces a form of method acting on his writing, to distinguish the mental recall of Harry (fairly smart but without perfect recall of everything he has learned) and Hermione (perfect recall):

When Harry thinks about something scientific, I require myself to write the description from memory, so that I’m not giving him an unrealistic degree of recall. For example, in Ch. 2 Harry quotes Feynman talking about what philosophers say is absolutely required. The original quote in the Feynman lectures uses the phrase ‘absolutely necessary’. I fact-check afterward to make sure there’s no invalidating errors, but not while writing the first draft. When I’m writing Hermione’s point-of-view, I look up the original beforehand to simulate her perfect recall.


Live Action Television

  • In the M*A*S*H episode "Abyssinia, Henry," the final page of the script, in which Radar comes into the operating room and announces that Col. Blake's plane was shot down with no survivors, was handed to the cast a few minutes before the scene began. The scene in question was so shocking, an urban legend sprang up that the cast didn't know about the death until Gary Burghoff read his lines on the air. What really happened was that, with the exception of the director, none of the crew knew about the death, and their gasps of shock upon hearing the line ruined the first take.
  • The Brady Bunch: In the episode "Bobby's Hero," where Bobby took up outlaw Jesse James as a role model, the episode ends with a dream sequence where Jesse James shows up and shoots Bobby's entire family (even Alice!) to death (in an extremely silly-looking way, of course). To counteract the silly action, Lloyd Schwartz took actor Mike Lookinland alone to a closed set and began to describe to him how the scene would look in graphic, horrid detail, using Lookinland's real-life family as an example. The looks of terror you see in Bobby's eyes are from Schwartz screaming at him about how his real-life parents and siblings (even his pets!) were screaming in pain, suffering, bleeding, and dying. Schwartz, in his memoir about the series, says he and his father, Sherwood, were proud of how the episode came off as a non-preachy "anti-gun" episode.
  • The famous Sesame Street scene announcing the death of Mr. Hooper subverts this trope, hard. Everyone in the cast loved actor Will Lee, so they all fought back genuine tears. They barely got through it. One line didn't come out quite right, so a second take was attempted. The cast didn't make it through the second try. As a result, the first take was used, in an unusual application of Throw It In.
  • Speaking of the Muppets, in the TV special The Muppets Remember Jim Henson Steve Whitmire had only recently taken over the role of Kermit The Frog from the recently deceased Henson. He was told prior to filming that there would only be a small group of the core Muppet performers there with their signature characters. The rehearsals were emotional and difficult for everyone involved so when filming finally came around every single living Muppet performer and almost every character they could cram in at the time (including Sesame Street characters) crowded into the tiny set in a show of support for Steve. Here it is in all its glory.
  • In Mad Men Season 3 episode titled "Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency" when Mr. Ford's foot is run over by the lawnmower blood is sprayed into the face of several onlookers. The director told them they would be sprayed on the count of 3, but instead went on 2. The shocked looks on their faces is a real reaction.
  • Sort of subverted in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Urgo", where Dom DeLuise ad-libbed a lot of his lines and unintentionally made it difficult for Chris Judge not to break his characters stoicism. As a result, he has fewer scenes than usual in this episode.
    • Subverted in another scene, where Carter surprises O'Neill by humming to herself. Amanda Tapping had originally wanted to surprise her costar by humming the MacGyver theme. Unfortunately, no one on set could remember what it was.
  • In the Red Dwarf episode "D.N.A.", Lister is handed a photo of a man's genitals and reacts accordingly. During rehearsal, the photo was always something mundane, but when they actually shot the scene, Craig was given a photo of a guy's crotch without warning.
    • Another scene has the cast pushed against a metal grate with freezing cold water pouring over them, their screams at this point were genuine.
  • In I'm Alan Partridge, every character looks genuinely shocked when they see the contents of Alan's drawer, suggesting this trope.
  • In the Battlestar Galactica remake episode "Act of Contrition", when Starbuck tells Commander Adama she's responsible for the death of his son, Zak, Edward James Olmos scared actress Katee Sackhoff into thinking he was actually going to hit her, which is why she puts her hands over her head as she walks out of his cabin.
    • Olmos enjoys doing this sort of thing. The kiss in "Resurrection Ship part II" was also unscripted, as was the business with the wedding ring in "The Hub". Good thing Mary McDonnell is used to him.
  • During the pilot of Firefly, Mal and Jayne throw a body out the ship's airlock and rush back inside as the door closes with a fraction of an inch to spare. This isn't just feigned: Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin had no idea that Joss Whedon started closing the doors the moment they went out, to simulate how fast these characters had to act in their escape from the world.
  • In 24, Kiefer Sutherland changed the line of the famous "Jack whispering to Nina" scene from Day 2 from its scripted one to a declaration of love for Sarah Clarke in order to get a shocked reaction from her.
  • In the episode "Waking Moments" of Star Trek: Voyager, Tuvok dreams that he reports to the bridge naked. The people who are already there burst out laughing when they see him - and it's not acting. Apparently, Tim Russ attached really big fake genitals over his own, just to get the right reaction.
    • The actors talk about that scene here.
  • Geordi LaForge, blind engineer on Star Trek: The Next Generation, wears a metal sensor package called a VISOR over his eyes to permit him to see, but the stream of sensor data tends to overwhelm his brain and give him headaches. Actor LeVar Burton had a similar problem—the bolts used to keep the VISOR prop secured firmly against his temples were so tight that, twenty minutes into a day of shooting, he would start getting headaches.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Garak suffers from acute claustrophobia. Although it had been hinted at a couple of years before, the episode where it's finally revealed that he genuinely does suffer from it occurs as a result of the character being locked in a tight enclosed space to rewire some communication panels to save everyone's life. This wasn't just a problem for the character, it was a problem for the actor, as the reason Garak was given acute claustrophobia was because his actor suffers from it in real life.
  • In the Babylon 5 episode "The Hour Of The Wolf", one of the reasons that actor Peter Jurasik looks as he does when talking to the severed heads is that one of the heads was based on fellow actor Andreas Katsulas. They avoided telling him about it in advance.
    • In the episode "In the Shadow of Z'Ha'Dum", Andrea Thompson really slapped Bruce Boxleitner, very hard. Not only his reaction but the sound the slap makes is real.
      • On top of that, in the commentary, JMS says that she KEPT doing it in take after take. And they ended up using the first one.
    • During the news broadcast in "Severed Dreams", the startled reactions of the newscasters are genuine; when part of the ceiling fell in, it landed closer to the actors than intended.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "School Reunion", Sarah Jane and Rose laughing at the Doctor is actually because David Tennant scribbled on his own face and didn't tell Billie Piper or Elisabeth Sladen.
    • In "Partners in Crime" Donna's mime scene was written in the script with only the words/phrases Donna was trying to convey, forcing Catherine Tate to make up the gestures on the spot.
    • In "Silence In The Library", new character River Song is introduced. David Tennant's confusion during his scenes with her is absolutely genuine, because Steven Moffat refused to tell anyone where he was going with the character.
    • In "The Time of Angels" Matt Smith really bit Karen Gillan's hand during every take just so he could get a proper reaction.
    • In the classic series serial Castrovalva, Matthew Waterhouse who plays Adric was extremely hungover from the night before. So, when he was vomiting profusely behind a tree in the last scene of the serial as it was being shot, they just kept it in. The whole thing was deemed plausible due to Adric having just escaped from being tortured for about two days by the Master.
  • Arguably, this was often the case in Mork and Mindy. Much of Mork's dialogue and antics were ad-libbed by Robin Williams, and so Mindy's surprise and confusion were often genuine. Of course, this made it interesting in an "It's A Wonderful Life" episode where Mindy isn't supposed to react to the invisible Mork's antics, but Pam Dawber is visibly struggling to keep a straight face.
  • On Top Gear, the basic ideas for challenges often come from the presenters themselves, but the details come from "the producers". Clarkson, Hammond, and May are frequently pleasantly (or not-so-pleasantly) surprised on-camera by the contents of the infamous gold envelope telling them what they need to do next.
  • This clip from The Daily Show, in which John Oliver reads out a list of funny names. Between rehearsal and the final recording, the list was changed. Nobody told Jon Stewart.
    • This seems to happen to Jon a lot, especially in the tosses to the Colbert Report or when he starts cracking up.
    • And when Wyatt Cenac changed his metaphor for exactly how dry his martini was between rehearsal and the final cut. (At 7:35 if you don't feel like watching the whole thing.)
  • There's an episode of I Dream of Jeannie where Jeannie is trapped inside a champagne bottle. Filming for it involved an oversized mock-up of the lower part of the bottle, which Barbara Eden couldn't get out of without help. In order to get a realistic performance from her for the scene where Jeannie bangs on the glass and cries for help, the director had everyone on the set leave for lunch and pretend they had forgotten Eden was in the bottle, while a camera was actually still rolling. The result is in the final cut of the episode.
  • The Price Is Right occasionally does this with a showcase (usually April Fools' Day showcases) so that the model(s) involved are genuinely surprised. For the "Janice Pennington, This Is Your Strife" showcase, the cast and crew even went to the trouble of rehearsing a fake showcase with Janice.
  • The fifth series of the UK version of The Apprentice had the contestants create an advertising brand for a new cereal, including a mascot and TV commercial. One group came up with a superhero character called "Pantsman" who wears his underwear over his outer clothes, and made an advert featuring two young children, with "Pantsman" told to hide before filming so the kids wouldn't see him. Their expressions in the finished ad (as he walked in and they saw him for the first time) are priceless.
  • Frequently in Scrubs when the Janitor does a freakish rant, the astonishment of the characters listening is often genuine. Neil Flynn is given a long leash with ad-libbing lines, with the script often literally stating "Janitor: What Neil Says".
    • Specific example: One teaser has Elliot telling old jokes and having everyone else finish them for her. She finally squeals "STOP FINISHING MY AWESOME JOKES!" Sarah Chalke didn't tell anyone she was going to play the line like that, and J.D.'s holding his ear and yelling "Oh my God!" was a real reaction on Zach Braff's part.
  • In Monty Python's Flying Circus, the shot of the kangaroo-hopping Freemasons with their trousers down and spotted boxer shorts displayed (part of the "How to recognise a Freemason" sequence) was filmed on a real London street with the then largely unknown Pythons dressed up in their banking suits and blending in. At a prearranged signal, they dropped their trousers and started hopping, and the shot was taken by a camera in a passing vehicle. The reactions from the passers-by are all completely genuine.
  • iCarly show runner Dan Schneider apparently does this a lot, as seen in his blog of show filming retrospectives.
  • The scripts for Curb Your Enthusiasm are just outlines directing the flow of the conversation, and the actors are only allowed to read their own scenes. According to Larry David, Richard Lewis's knowledge of his scenes is even more restricted than this, because once David heard him use a line that he knew Lewis had planned.
  • In the pilot episode of Lost, Jack, Kate, and Charlie come across the plane's cockpit angled upright in the jungle. The cast members had not yet seen the set before filming began, so the looks of wonder on their faces were legitimate.
    • Also, L. Scott Caldwell and Sam Anderson intentionally did not meet until the filming of Rose and Bernard's reunion in "Collision". It really says a lot about the actors when you consider how heartwarming the scene is.
  • In series 3 of Skins, there's a scene where magician JJ breathes fire. Kaya Scodelario, Luke Pasqualino and Jack O'Connell (Effy, Freddie and Cook) were all told that the fire would be added in post-production as a special effect - nobody told them that they'd actually taught Ollie Barbieri how to perform the stunt. Kaya's scream is completely genuine.
    • And there's a failed example in series 4, in the scene where Naomi and Emily discover Sophia's shrine to Naomi in her army cadet locker. The plan was to prevent Lily Loveless and Kathryn Prescott seeing the shrine until it was opened during filming, so that they could play the characters as weirded out by The Reveal as possible; unfortunately, Lily ended up having a monumental job to stop herself laughing at the sheer crazy of what they found.
  • In the Hogfather TV film, when Michelle Dockery has to ride the hogs at the end, the director Jean Vadim kept her working for hours, finding picky fault after picky fault with her performance until she was literally screaming with anger, exhaustion and frustration. That was the shot he wanted.
  • An episode of Taxi called for Louie DePalma to whisper something to Elaine Nardo, and for her to respond by slapping him and saying "That's disgusting!". Danny DeVito whispered such sweet things to Marilu Henner during rehearsals that she was genuinely shocked when he started whispering not-so-nice things, and she blew several takes because of it (to DeVito's delight).
    • When Carol Kane joined the cast as Latka's girlfriend Simka, Andy Kaufman taught her their country's "language" by inviting her to dinner and refusing to speak English or let her do so.
    • In one episode, guest star and real-life boxer Carlos Palomino accidentally delivered a real left hook to Tony's face. You can see Palomino pull his hand towards his mouth in horror for a second on realizing what he did before getting back in character and turning around to exit.
  • The episode "Revelations" of Criminal Minds called for the UnSub of the week, played by James Van Der Beek, to pick up Reid by the shirt and verbally terrorize him. The threats that made it onto the screen were comparatively tame; however, in the DVD commentary on that episode, actor Matthew Gray Gubler reveals that the episode's director instructed Van Der Beek to shout whatever frightening obscenities he could think of in order to provoke a realistic, terrified reaction shot. The result was apparently so impressive that the writers were "pretty sure that he was actually going to kill him," and so filthy that Gubler couldn't repeat them, even in the DVD commentary. And it shows in the reaction shots.
  • Armando Iannucci likes to enforce method acting while directing The Thick of It. The scripts are often changed without the knowledge of certain actors to make their reactions more convincing. In addition to this the show is partly improvised, so the actors constantly have to come up with new lines- and as the show is a comedy, they have to be funny lines. This pressure makes everyone look as panicky as... well, the incompetent staff of a busy government department.
    • Playing Malcolm Tucker means Peter Capaldi has the most lines to learn, and he often stays up all night learning them only to arrive on set the next morning to find they've all been rewritten. The resulting stress and sleep deprivation help to make him look the part- off-screen he looks about ten years younger.
      • In one improvised scene which was never used, Glenn Cullen broke Julius Nicholson's glasses. Actor Alex MacQueen, who plays Julius, was convinced that James Smith, who plays Glenn, had broken his own prescription glasses, and not the pair Smith had discreetly switched them for. MacQueen was apparently so upset that the scene couldn't be used.
  • This is the reason why the actors in Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! seem really awkward at times. For instance, they tell Steve Brule's actor what to do right before they say "action" so he doesn't have enough time to process the directions. And while they were filming a commercial for season 4, they told the cameraman to zoom in, but the woman on screen didn't know where the camera was, so she kept making funny faces.
  • Blakes Seven is full of unexpected explosions: the reactions (shrieking and/or being thrown through the air) were often genuine, because the directors neglected to warn the actors about just what was going to go off and where.
  • The creators/director of How I Met Your Mother decided to make use of this regularly. They noticed that sitcom characters rarely laugh at each other's jokes or other funny bits, which is unrealistic, and so allow the actors to react naturally to each other by laughing when something is funny, etc rather than needing a straight-faced retake.
    • Of particular note is the final scene of "Bad News". Jason Segal was not told what the titular "news" was. Alyson Hannigan's line of "Your father had a heart attack. He didn't make it." prompts a brilliant reaction from Segal, who causes the entire audience to cry at his voice breaking.
  • The scene in Breaking Bad where Walt comes into the kitchen after shaving his head was actually the first time Anna Gunn and RJ Mitte had seen Bryan Cranston with his shaved head; Gunn had specifically avoided meeting with him until then to help her reaction.
  • In an episode of The Adventures of Superman called "Night of Terror," Lois Lane is supposed to be knocked out when a thug punches her. Unfortunately, the actor accidentally missed his "air punch" and really did hit her, knocking Phyllis Coates unconscious. She had to go to the hospital, and he felt incredibly guilty.
  • In the episode of Home and Away with Sally's first wedding, Gypsy stands up and interrupts Kieran's vows to reveal that he had been hitting on her since he arrived. While filming this scene, Kimberly Cooper hit her legs on the pew in front of her, meaning that the tears in her eyes were "reeeeeal pain tears."
  • Occasionally happens with the actors on the hidden camera show What Would You Do. For example, in one episode, a pregnant teenager denies her unborn child to some expectant adoptive parents.[1] During the scenario, two ladies approach the actress playing the sobbing mom-to-be. The women comfort her, and one of the ladies says a prayer about motherhood, moving the actress—WWYD veteran Traci Hovel, who had been fake-crying up to that point—to genuine tears.
  • This was more or less the complete case in Whose Line Is It Anyway?.
    • Two notable cases happened in the Hollywood Director where Colin Mochrie would pretend to be an overly-picky Hollywood director, and always angrily yell "CUT CUT CUT CUT!". In one occasion, Chip Esten jumps onto Ryan's back and Colin actually means it when he says "CUT CUT CUT CUT!" because Ryan has a bad back. In another one, he asks the performers to do the scene backward and when he comes on, he's surprised they actually did it.
  • In Band of Brothers the cast members didn't see the concentration camp until they were actually filming because they wanted the expressions of shock and horror to be as genuine as possible.
  • On Glee, Naya Rivera did in fact slap Cory Monteith in the face as part of a scene of Santana being upset with Finn.
  • Dick and Dom in da Bungalow was unscripted anyway, but the producers liked to try and surprise the presenters- for example, by having somebody unexpectedly burst in through the door. That is, actually through the door. The hosts manage to turn genuine surprise into Played for Laughs collapsing in shock. (On another occasion, however, they are reduced to silence for a good thirty seconds simply by a lovely girl turning up when they expected a nice motherly cleaning lady, in a game of Make Dick Sick.)
  • In-Universe: In Victorious Sikowitz threw himself down a flight of stairs to realistically portray a person in pain.


  • Yankee broadcaster Phil Rizzuto's baseball play-by-play in Meat Loaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light". According to Rizzuto, he had no idea that the commentary he was recording was going to be used for a sex metaphor. Meat Loaf claims otherwise.
  • It's not uncommon for music videos where the video is basically a bunch of random people partying...involves a bunch of random people in partying. Black Eyed Peas' I Gotta Feeling is one. It has a few famous people, but the rest are just random (though generally good-looking, obviously) people to fill up space. Apparently one got drunk during the filming (can't do a realistic partying without booze) and had to be kicked off the set.
  • Bob Dylan is notorious for only giving musicians the barest minimum of instructions (chord changes, tempo) before recording a song, leaving it up to them to work out their individual parts as they go along. Most famously, Al Kooper came up with the "Like a Rolling Stone" organ riff despite not only having never played the song before, but not even being an organist (Kooper was mainly a guitarist and pianist, but those slots were already filled. Kooper asked if he could play organ, Dylan said "sure, why not?").
  • Martin Birch, who produced Iron Maiden's most famous records, asked (then new) singer Bruce Dickinson to do take after take after take for "The Number of the Beast". Bruce was obviously frustrated and annoyed, and that's when Mr Birch told him something like 'now it's time to record the scream', which he of course delivered in a very unhuman way, which Bruce was never able to replicate.
  • For the Queen mega-hit "Bohemian Rhapsody", piano, bass and drums were recorded simultaneously by having the respective players performing the part in the studio, with composer and pianist Freddie Mercury conducting them. But neither bassist John Deacon nor drummer Roger Taylor knew that on top of the seemingly random pauses and fortissimo bits they played in the middle there was going to be a mock operatic choir!
    • Another Queen-related example: while recording 'Under Pressure' (co-written, co-produced, co-etc. by David Bowie), it was suggested that each of the two lead singers came up with their melodies separately without knowing what the other was doing. That allowed their reactions and post-production decisions to be more natural and instinctive.
    • Yet another one: while they weren't heavily into drugs or alcohol (at least when compared to other rock bands), Queen would sometimes do some recordings while drunk with the intention of re-doing them once they felt well enough for the 'proper' versions. But of course, sometimes neither the 'feeling' nor the chemistry could be equalled, and several bits and pieces were kept from tipsy or 'pissed' sessions, including 'Dragon Attack', 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' and the guitar solo on 'Put Out the Fire'.
      • One of their most famous uses of this trope was when Freddie, dying from AIDS, downed a fifth of vodka and recorded the vocal track for "The Show Must Go On" in a single take.
    • See What A Fool I've Been was clearly recorded whilst the band were drunk, something which might have been intentionally done. This is because Brian couldn't remember who the song was originally by and probably attempted to make it sound like spontaneous drunk karaoke to justify this.
  • Weezer's video "Undone - The Sweater Song" was a one-take shot 20 times. The one that was used was between the 15th and 20th, when the band was tired and simply not caring anymore (things such as a dog defecating on a drum pedal helped).
  • When Miles Davis was recording his groundbreaking fusion album 'Bitches Brew', none of the session musicians knew what they were supposed to play beyond tempo and chord changes. You can hear Miles giving instructions during quiet moments.
  • Bruce Springsteen wanted his folk album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions to have an informal sound, so he didn't rehearse with the Sessions band before they started recording. Springsteen can be heard several times on the album giving spontaneous instructions about what instrument he wants to hear.
  • Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band's Trout Mask Replica was intended to sound uncomfortable and on the brink of falling apart. That's because the band really was uncomfortable and on the brink of falling apart. There are many reasons why but Antennae Jimmy Semens' performance of Pena sounds hysterical, and he probably was at the time. In a similar manner The Blimp, which is recited in a similar voice, over the phone to Frank Zappa.
  • On their album Pooping Like Dogs, The Pennock Bridge Collective had a handful of experimental tracks where they deliberately made sure no one in the band knew how a song was going to turn out: Mainly, they'd have members pull instruments and track numbers out of a hat, then have each member write and record a part based only on whatever had been recorded before they got their turn. The most extreme case of this was "The CCH Pounder Blues", where everyone was instructed to improvise wildly for exactly 30 seconds without being able to hear what anyone else was playing.
  • As mentioned under Film, the call to the operator in Pink Floyd's The Wall is genuine. The character Pink phones his wife, knowing she's with another man, and the other line keeps disconnecting. The operator and their confused reaction ("There's a man answering...") are real. They had to do the call several times before they found one who realized what the situation was.
    • During some tour performances (notably the 1990 Berlin performance), Roger Waters called a real operator and had them dial a stage hand who pretended to be Ms. Floyd's new lover.
  • British hardcore/electronic/everything band Enter Shikari often layer in random bits of talking, which is the band members loitering outside the recording studio, drunk, heckling the member who is singing. For the "Ello Tyrannosaurus" lyric just before the breakdown in 'Hello Tyrannosaurus, Meet Tyrannicide', the producer had Rou run to the back of the room and shout the lyric in order to get the correct sense of distance and shouting in a large space.

Professional Wrestling

  • During the 2008 WWE Draft, none of the draftees were told that they'd be switching shows until just seconds before the announcement was made. Most notably seen with the announcer switch between Smackdown! and RAW... the looks of confusion and anger on Michael Cole and Jim Ross' faces as they switched chairs following the announcement of the change were completely real, and Jim Ross actually considered retiring the day after it happened.
    • Speaking of Jim Ross, he intentionally did not read the set notes for the shows he was announcing in order to make his on-air calls more realistic. His pleas for trying to get someone to stop the famous Mankind vs. Undertaker Hell in a Cell match is one of the many legitimate results of this practice (moreso because some of the damage Mick Foley took in the match was unintentional and damn near killed him.)
  • Also draft-related - in order to properly keep up the air of shock (as well as downplay spoilers) in the 2005 draft's opening pick, John Cena apparently arrived at the arena very late and stayed in his car until it was time for him to come out at the start of the show. Only Cena and the people he had a segment and a match with that night - Chris Jericho, Christian, and Tyson Tomko - were informed of it in advance.
  • Rumor has it that the ring crew for June 7, 2010's RAW were only told that Wade Barrett would come down to the ring to interrupt John Cena vs. CM Punk... not that he'd then get the other "rookies" from the recently-concluded NXT show to jump and beat down John Cena, then attack Matt Striker, Jerry Lawler, (Michael Cole promptly fleeing), the ring announcer Justin Roberts and ringside crew, and literally wreck the ringside and even tear at the ring itself.
  • Then there's WCW which, per its usual, managed to screw this up. They had backstage segments aplenty, but at one point decided that to increase spontaneity the announce team was not allowed to see and were not told about. This naturally led to plenty of segments that occurred for no apparent reason and led to nothing and the commentators looking like a bunch of morons. Most notably, a fan dressed as Sting jumped a barricade and ran into a match and the commentators, so used to not being told about changes to shows, assumed it was the real Sting.
  • No one knew Eric Bischoff was coming the night he joined WWE. Similar to the John Cena example, he kept hidden in a limo. Supposedly Booker T, one of the few to spot Bischoff summed it up by saying, "Tell me I didn't just see that".
  • Even Hall and Nash weren't told who third man was at the Bash of the Beach. The two struggle to not look confused as Hogan goes Hollywood.
  • The Rock's return in 2011 was hidden even from the scripts of that episode which all told that Justin Bieber would be the host. (The Rock briefly alludes to this in his monologue.)
  • Unfortunate example: Sting's obvious anger as he crushes Jeff Hardy at TNA Victory Road 2011? Real anger - Jeff was so strung out on drugs that Eric Bischoff had to come down and tell Sting to get it over with fast. Jeff can be seen trying to escape Sting's winning pinfall, and as Sting walks out, he answers a fan's "THAT WAS BULLSHIT!" with a loud (and on-camera) "I AGREE!"
  • The Undertaker losing at Wrestlemania XXX caught the audience, commentators, and Paul Heyman by surprised because only Taker, his opponent, The McMahons, and Triple H knew the outcome but didn't tell anyone else. In fact, the referee was only told to do the pin regardless of who was being pinned, and yes… even the other wrestlers and divas were all caught off guard as it was seen in Total Divas. Considering the fact a certain someone mocked about the event long before the decision and he wasn't told either, it makes one think in hindsight.
  • On a 2009 episode of Raw, Triple H was in the ring in his DX outfit when he had to call Shawn Michaels. When he decides to call Shawn, Triple H appears that he had no idea that about Shawn’s message and his reaction was priceless.
  • The night after 2014 of PayBack, Seth Rollins turned his back on both Roman Regins and Dean Ambrose, the only knowledge that anyone of this move was the results. However, Ambrose wasn't told when much move would happen, making his expression real. That was because the men originally thought it would be too soon, but...

Tabletop Games

  • In Paranoia, combat is intended to be portrayed as fast, confused, and entertainingly deadly, rather than tactically optimal - so the GM is encouraged to give the players only a few seconds to decide what their characters are doing each round.
    • The rulebook contains an example of play that runs something like this:

GM: Suddenly some hairy guys jump up from behind the gray things and shake sticks at you. Fred, what do you do?
Fred: Wait, what?
GM: Right. John, how about you?

  • This can apply to any tabletop game, depending on how the GM wants to run it. One little trick for GMs to simulate ambushes is to suddenly roll dice without warning and tell the players that they have been attacked.
    • The problem with this method is that whatever the DM does, his sudden description does not contain all the information a person actually there would be able to gather and process, leading to something like "an orc is running at you, what do you do?" and the player tries to ask something he would be able to tell immediately in a real situation , is he armed? is he being chased?, and the DM interprets this as him wasting his few seconds to respond.
  • Extending this beyond combat, some games even suggest in the guidebook that in order to keep the players on their toes, the GM should make rolls for no reason at all, and occasionally pass private notes to players saying things like "just smile and nod".


  • In the original production of The Phantom of the Opera, at one point the Phantom is underground, having kidnapped Christine. He loads her into the boat. On stage, the boat needs to be pushed out to the front, as though he was pushing it into the water. Not knowing that the boat was so heavy, it takes a lot out of the Phantom and he is severely out of breath. So the rendering of the next song, "slowly, gently, in anticipation" is so affected that the director decides to keep it like that.
  • In fact, during Shakespeare's time, it seemed perfectly common to be cruel to the actors like that, not telling them when they were going to be slapped, etc. Then there is one scene where a character tries to get a word in but can't manage to interrupt someone. Since the actors weren't given the full script, only their own lines and the key lines before them so they would know when it was their turn, the previous actor would say a phrase similar to the key line three times, each time causing a false alarm, making the actor after him think it's his turn to speak, only to be cut off by the first character's continued talking. This very convincingly created the illusion of the second character trying in vain to get a word in.

Theme Parks

  • Supposedly, when creating the soundtrack for Great Moments with Mr Lincoln for the 1964 World's Fair and then Disneyland, Walt Disney kept having voice actor Royal Dano redo the entire speech, complaining about small things that made it "not quite right," until Dano was absolutely exhausted, and could barely make it to the end, at which point Disney said it was perfect, that it was what a weary Lincoln would have sounded like. He may have had a point, as the speech still induces shivers half a century later.

Video Games

  • During the scene where Big Boss meets Granin in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Hideo Kojima had Granin's motion actor drink real whiskey to the point where he was absolutely smashed and kept forgetting his lines.
    • He also deliberately switched the casting of Big Boss's two motion actors - the man who played him during talking scenes was a motion actor who specialized in acrobatics, and the man who played him during action scenes was a motion actor who specialized in talking scenes. This resulted in a lot of serendipitous responses, particularly during the love scenes with Eva - for instance, when Eva leans in to kiss him in the mountaintop bolthole, his motion actor, unused to doing love scenes, froze up and pulled back nervously. It was very in character for Snake, so it was kept and Kojima later said it was one of his favourite touches.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • While doing the voice-acting for The Incredibles, director Brad Bird had Spencer Fox, who played the speedster Dash, run around the studio so he would have a realistic out-of-breath voice.
  • Likewise, during production of Monsters, Inc., Mary Gibbs (Boo) was too young to sit in a booth and record, so they had her in a playroom and captured her lines as she sporadically gave them while playing.
  • Jordan Nagai, the kid who voiced Russell in Up, also was "tricked" by the voice director many times in order to get him away from sounding too much like he was acting and give more a genuine response. For example, he was told to run around before giving lines or forced to memorize his lines on the spot.
    • Likewise, in the scene where Russel, giggling, is being tossed playfully in the air by Kevin, the voice director tickled him. This is actually a pretty common practice (the same technique was used for the French actress who played the young Marjane in Persepolis).
  • In one of the Futurama commentaries, Billy West told a story in which he had to make the sound of one of his characters throwing up. He did it too well for his own brain, causing him to actually throw up all over the console. One of the people who used the booth later complained that it smelled like someone spilled cheese all over the place.
    • Another Billy West example involves Futurama; Cubert, Farnsworth's clone, snarkily asks the crew, "Doesn't alcohol make you stupid?" Fry responds, "No, I'm- doesn't." Billy West didn't understand this line, illustrating Fry's stupidity, until he saw the scene animated and the line in context.
    • This actually happens a lot in the world of voice acting, where producers or directors withhold context to jokes. They usually just feed lines to the actors, not the whole script, have the actors say the lines and then call it a day. It's not because they're trying to enforce method acting, they're just that incompetent. Bob Bergen, the current voice of Porky Pig, has said that he'll be given a script of only his own lines, and to him most of the lines and jokes make no sense, because the set-up dialogue from other characters are not part of his script.
  • Nathan Ruegger, the voice of Skippy Squirrel in Animaniacs, would often be tickled by his father while he was recording to make his laughter sound more genuine.
  • When Jonathon Taylor Thomas voiced Young Simba for The Lion King, they tapped his back for the scene where Simba is yelling while sliding down the back of an elephant's skeleton. When they were recording Mufasa's death scene, the director pointed at Jonathon's mother and said "Imagine you just saw your mother fall off a cliff." He got a little too into the mental image and screamed "MOM!"
    • Somewhat inverted in the Danish dub of The Lion King: During the recording of the scene where Mufasa has just died, the dialogue director noticed that the kid voicing Simba sounded genuinely sad and asked him if he wanted to take a break. During the break the kid told him that his father had actually just died.
  • For Marge's message to Homer in The Simpsons Movie, Julie Kavner was put through around 100 takes to get the exhausted-sounding delivery they wanted.
  • The earliest Peanuts specials were done this way - since Charles Schultz and Bill Melendez insisted on real child voice actors, some of whom couldn't yet read, dialogue was fed to the kids line-by-line or sometimes word-by-word. Arguably the best example is Sally's confused speech ("All I want is what's coming to me! All I want is my fair share!") in A Charlie Brown Christmas.


  • Universal Studios theme park loves to do this to visitors. Unannounced surprises will jump out from behind every corner. In the Backdraft theme attraction, which uses real fire, guests are specifically asked to "act", and just when you think you're done, suddenly the bulkhead overhead falls down to narrowly miss you.
    • While Universal Studios Florida lacks Backdraft, a similar stunt is pulled in the Twister attraction, where the guests stand and watch a tornado hit the drive-in, including shattering windows, fire, a flying cow (of course), and an actual vortex in the center of the attraction. As the show ends, the platforms that the people are standing on suddenly drop several inches with a loud clang!
    • Jim Carrey was known to ambush tourists during filming of Man on the Moon, running at the tour bus out of the Psycho set. While his version of The Tonight Show was running, Conan O'Brien and his announcer Andy Richter would occasionally do the same thing at the same attraction at Universal Studios California.
  • There's a meme where people watch shock videos and then record their reactions .

Fictional Examples

Anime and Manga

  • The first chapter of the manga Gundam Sousei (a Dramatization of the production of Mobile Suit Gundam) does this with the infamous 'Bright Slap' scene by having Yoshiyuki Tomino punch Tohru Furuya in the face after several unimpressive line reads.
  • In Bleach episode 298, Ichigo is filming a movie directed by Abarai Renji, with special effects provided by Kuchiki Byakuya. Said special effects include Byakuya attacking Ichigo with his Bankai. Ouch.

Films - Animated

  • The fictional director in Bolt ran Bolt's life this way. The words "method acting" are even mentioned by the exec who came to evaluate the show.

Director: And if the dog believes it... the audience will believe it.


Films - Live-Action

  • In Superman Returns, Lex Luthor cuts the brakes on his assistant's car so that her screams for help will be authentic. When she confronts him later, he explains that if she hadn't really been terrified, Superman would be able to tell.
  • Tropic Thunder uses this trope in the plot, which involves a director filming a movie about The Vietnam War dropping his five actors into the Golden Triangle of Asia while riddling the jungle with hidden cameras as advised by Shell Shocked Senior Four Leaf Tayback.
  • The Truman Show takes this concept, and runs it into the ground.
  • In Epic Movie, while trying to escape a prison cell, Captain Swallows stabs Edward in the abdomen to ensure his pain is realistic enough to get the guards in.
  • Just the basic concept of Bowfinger is an extreme version of this, where the main lead, Kit Ramsey, doesn't even know he's in a movie, and all his scenes are filmed in secret because the titular film director couldn't afford to actually hire him.


  • In Barbara Hambley's Search the Seven Hills, a troupe of girls playing nymphs is entertaining a Roman banquet when a troupe of actors as satyrs burst out on them. Marcus notes that either the girls were consummate actresses, or they had not expected to be actually molested by the satyrs.
  • One Sherlock Holmes story, "The Dying Detective", has Holmes appear to be dying. Of course, it turns out that he's perfectly fine and was only acting so that Watson's reactions to it (and subsequent conversation with the suspect who had tried to poison him) would be genuine enough to convince said suspect.
    • Of course the method in which Holmes "acts" sick qualifies under the trope as well: he spends three days without eating or drinking, literally putting himself to death's door to make the deception as authentic as possible!
    • A far crueler example is when Holmes fakes his own death for three years, leaving Watson alone even though his wife has died. Upon Holmes's return, Watson is quick to reprimand him for this. Holmes states that it was essential the world believed him dead, and Watson's behavior wouldn't be convincing enough if it was an act.
  • The desperate haphazard plan Fisk comes up with in the first book of the Knight and Rogue Series, to drug the Mad Scientist Ceciel they're escaping from and pretend that he and she are going out to perform some sacrifice or another with Michael, nearly falls apart when a guard see's Ceciel's rather vacant face and bad actor Michael's fairly unconcerned expression. There's nothing to be done about the drugged look, so Fisk gets Michael to panic by beginning to talk about how they're sacrificing his 'fertility'.
  • In The Hunger Games, this happens repeatedly with Katniss. She can't act, and so is never warned about Peeta's interview strategies so her reactions will be genuine. By the third book, this has escalated to dropping her into a war zone in order to film propaganda because the studio shoots never work.

Live-Action TV

  • The opening-night production of Macbeth in Slings and Arrows includes an In-Universe version; Slings and Arrows is a story about a theater company, and director Geoffrey Tennant is not above manipulating his performers to get results. In order to get the performance he wants out of his recalcitrant Macbeth, Geoffrey changes all the blocking at the last minute, inserts a small tree at a strategic location, and gives secret instructions to Macbeth's opponents in fight scenes.
  • The Conspiracy Theories episode of Community takes this Up to Eleven, with Jeff, Annie, the Dean, a police officer, and the theater professor all shooting each other with fake guns in order to prove a point. Each the time, someone thinks that the gun is real and freaks out.
  • In Malcolm in the Middle Reese breaks a leg when he sneaked out in the minibike Lois had under lock. They try to make it look like Craig ran over his leg with the car. When Reese's screams don't sound very believable Dewey proceeds to punch him in the bump that is his broken bone.
  • In Breakout Kings, Ray forces this upon Lloyd when he enacts a plan that involves letting their captive crook swipe his keys and his (unloaded) gun so that she'll take them straight to her partner as hostages. Needless to say, Lloyd is less than thrilled.

Web Comics

  • In one of the bonus strips from The Order of the Stick, Elan is trying to gain roleplaying XP by bemoaning a light wound. Belkar decides to help him with his motivation. Injury and Stabbing Ensue.

Western Animation

  • In-universe examples for the animated band Gorillaz: according to their biography, Rise of the Ogre, the band weren't told by their director Jamie Hewlett about the 300-foot elk that appears at the end of the "19/2000" video, so they'd look appropriately surprised. Also, the Groin Attack Murdoc suffers at the hands of the zombie ape in "Clint Eastwood" was apparently real, and caused his genitals to "swell up like big purple melons".
  • In The Simpsons, when filming the Radioactive Man movie, the director informs Rainier Wolfcastle at the last second that the acid being used in one of the scenes is real. What follows is one of the most memorable moments in Simpsons history.
  • In the Futurama episode "My Three Suns", Bender tries this in order to make Fry cry to free the emperor trapped inside of him. Bender loudly exclaims about seeing Leela being captured and killed by rioters. It works, but only just so. Then Leela breaks the illusion by showing that she was entirely unharmed. They get Fry to cry by beating the crap out of him.
  1. All an act, of course, to see how people would react.
  2. Heck, she writes Sprock!