Actor William Shatner once did a parody performance of himself reacting to his obsessed fans at a Star Trek convention. He exploded with a sharp rebuke: “Get a life! It’s only a TV show!” To a Trekkie that’s like being told Santa isn’t real…by Santa. Shatner then apologized to his rattled fan base explaining he was merely in character as Captain Kirk from episode 27 where he becomes Evil Captain Kirk. So, no harm done as long as it was “in character.”
Not so fast.
A negligible slice of the world’s population is comprised of genuine believers who are professional actors. But I have a handful of dear friends who are believers in Jesus Christ, seek to honor him in their chosen profession, desire to be shining lights in a shadowy entertainment industry, and are thus sometimes confronted with conundrums the watching world isn’t.
We all face temptation to sin in our jobs, and it may happen that a boss instructs you to do something against your conscience. But in those situations at least you know what the sin is and you know how to please the Lord. But what if you were required by your boss to pretend to sin? Granted, that’s not a scenario we face every day; but it is one actors face whenever they are working (which also isn’t every day).
Imagine you are assigned the role of Lady Macbeth or Darth Vader or Judas. Someone has to play the villain. And no director would allow you to massage Shakespeare’s script; “Out, out darn spot” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. And, except for the role Jim Caviezel snagged in The Passion, even good guys sin—The Good the Bad and the Ugly demonstrates this as adequately as the Die Hard franchise.
Here are two very basic guidelines my actor friends employ when selecting scripts:
1. Pretending to sin is not sin.
When Clint Eastwood’s character, Good guy, shoots Bad guy then makes Ugly guy his indentured grave digger and then absconds with gold he didn’t earn, Mr. Eastwood has not actually murdered anyone. And although his character was avaricious, unloving, a smoker, and didn’t love Ugly the way he loves himself, the actor wasn’t required to violate the New Testament law of love to stay in character (especially if he didn’t inhale).
This much most Christian actors agree on. Although “method actors” (those who don’t punch out of character at the end of the shoot but insist that their kids call them Batman at home) blur the lines with their insistence on “feeling the rage” and “living the hatred” or whatever. In general it is safe to say that pretending to be angry is not the same as being angry—just watch the blooper reel for evidence that the actors are still BFFs in real life.
Does this mean actors have license to play any character in any way the director demands? This is where the second, equally basic, guideline kicks in…
2. Actual sin is sin, even when it’s done on screen as a character.
Some of a character’s behavior cannot be captured on screen without the actor actually committing the sin. It’s not murder if all the actors get up after they hear “cut.” But sexual immorality is still sin (especially!) when there is a crew of cameramen in the room.
They don’t use computer graphics to remove the clothes off actors in nude scenes; that’s them baring what God wants covered in public (Gen 3:7, 21; 9:22-25). And they don’t CGI a finger on the Christian actor to create the illusion of a rude gesture.
Likewise, cussing and crude joking in the limelight is being willfully uttered by the same tongue that praises God off-stage (Eph 5:4). [If you are wondering when it is okay for a Christian to swear, check out Bleep! Why Christians Shouldn’t Cuss]
A wife should not be expected to tolerate her husband kissing another woman or being in a bed with a scantily-clad actress. The marriage bond is still sacred, whether it’s being violated on a Hollywood soundstage or not (Heb 13:4).
What are your thoughts? If you don’t agree with me, at least act like you do.