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Overacting (also referred to as hamming or mugging) is the exaggeration of gestures and speech when acting. It is often required for the role and is commonly used in comical situations or to stress the evil characteristics of a villain.

Overacting is sometimes known as "chewing the scenery".[1]


William Shatner regularly overacted in his role as Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek.

Unintentional overacting is caused by poor acting, either a good actor performing badly in one scene or a generally poor actor. It is sometimes the result of overthinking an action or doing more than what's needed.

The portrayal of an emotion is a common time for overacting, as is a death scene. Theater actors often have to project their voices more than film actors and enunciation can lead to exaggeration. However, stage actors do not have the benefit of a boom mic or other sound equipment, unlike film actors, and it therefore takes more skill to allow the audience to hear every word while not shouting or overemphasizing.

Some unintentional overacting can find itself the subject of parody. William Shatner's performance as Captain James T. Kirk in the original Star Trek series is an example of overacting. 'With Shatner's overacting, bad toupee, and his trademark delivery of lines with lengthy dramatic pauses, his performance as Kirk has been parodied endlessly, often by Shatner himself'.[2]


Some roles require overly-exaggerated character acting, particularly those in comedy films. For example, the breakthrough roles for Jim Carrey (in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask) saw him portray the lead characters in a very flamboyant fashion, as the script demanded. This has led to him being classed as an "overactor",[3] even though he has played several "straight" roles since.[4]

Overacting may be used to portray an outlandish character, or to stress the evil characteristics of a villain. Academy Award nominee Gary Oldman was almost immediately typecast as a criminal in his film career,[5] and the necessity to express villainous characters in an overtly physical manner led to the cultivation of his 'big' acting style,[6] which hearkened back to his classical theatre training and would become his trademark. This encompassed "playing everything" via layered performances that vivdly express each character's emotions and internal conflicts.[7] While this approach has garnered Oldman much acclaim during his career,[8] it has on occasion led critics to dismiss his performances as overacting of a superfluous nature.[9][10] Of his acting, Oldman has said, "[I]t's my influence on those roles that probably they feel bigger than life and a little over-the-top. I mean, I do go for it a bit as an actor, I must admit."[11]

Oldman's co-star in The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger, received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his larger than life portrayal as The Joker. It was hailed as one of the best performances of the decade, with some fans claiming it was 'realistic' and 'scary', nonetheless, the choices he made with his facial expressions, speech patterns and mannerism: including his repeated licking and making noises with his lips, frantic arm movements and the way in which he walks, are all over-theatrically and, in fact, very common for an action movie villain (Agent Smith from The Matrix, Hans Gruber in Die Hard, all of the villains in the original Spider-Man movie trilogy) as well as for some anti-heroes, such as Alex DeLarge from A Clock Work Orange - A character Ledger said inspired him during filming [1] and Beetlejuice - A character whose Joker's appearance greatly resembles [2]. Moreover, with other performers, which ironically includes Gary Oldman, being more subtle in their deliveries, this has leads to "chewing the scenery" as the focus was, often unintentionally, on him in every scene in which he appears.

Another actor said to be a 'scenery chewer' due to his deliberate overacting is Daniel Day Lewis. Like Ledger, he has also been honoured for still doing good performances despite this, often criticised, choice. Winning the Academy Award for There Will Be Blood as well as being nominated years prior in Gangs Of New York

Tom Hulce received an Academy Award nomination for his deliberately exaggerated role in Amadeus.

Vittorio Gassman in his long career was sometimes criticised for his overacting, but he was also praised for it in his best movies, like L'Armata Brancaleone.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chew the scenery worldwidewords.org
  2. ^ NNDB "William Shatner". Accessed 29 July 2006.
  3. ^ See, for example, the closing credits of 'Liar Liar: Internet Movie Database. "Memorable Quotes from Liar Liar" Accessed 29 July 2006.
  4. ^ Gilliver, David. 1998. "Film Review: The Truman Show". Accessed 29 July 2006.
  5. ^ Sexton, Timothy. How Gary Oldman Avoided Typecasting as a Weirdo, Villain. Yahoo! Movies. Wayback Machine. 6 December 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  6. ^ Popcorn With Peter Travers. Season 5. Episode 15. 9 December 2011. "People who know you ... we remember the big Gary Oldman."
  7. ^ Roberts, Chris (August 1999). "Gary Oldman: A sheep in wolf's clothing". Uncut (IPC Media) (27). 
  8. ^ See: Acclaim and influence of Gary Oldman.
  9. ^ "Week of November 19, 1994: The Professional review". At the Movies. Season 9. Episode 10. 19 November 1994.  Gene Siskel gave a wholly negative review, specifically mentioning Oldman's "overacting", among other aspects.
  10. ^ Rhodes, Steve. Immortal Beloved. Rotten Tomatoes. 26 January, 1995. Added 1 January, 2000. Retrieved 26 November, 2012. "I just did not buy Oldman as Beethoven. I thought he was miscast, and he certainly overacted."
  11. ^ Gary Oldman interview by Terry Gross. Fresh Air. National Public Radio. 12 February, 1998.