This documentary (2017) features how one famous comedian Jim Carrey portrayed another famed comedian – Andy Kaufman (1949-1984) in the latter’s biopic – ‘Man On The Moon’ (1999). What intriguing is that Jim attempted to do what Andy did, by being as immersive as he could in his acting, even in the name of quirky comedy. During filming, and even in after work hours, he immersed especially in one of Kaufman’s roles, as Tony Clifton so much, that after it all ended, Jim became unsure of who he (Jim) really was. After all the alter egos are shed, who is the one ‘unaltered ego’ left behind? Will the same pre-existing problems remain? Or have they grown due to neglect?
Acting much as an actor acting much, in a natural non-acting way. This is some advanced method acting! (Method acting is an acting technique, by having complete emotional identification with the one acted.) Jim’s acting was so realistic that even those who knew Andy in real life embraced him in the flesh. Being comedic, this is perhaps just meticulous good clean fun at play. But what if method acting involves identifying with the mentally disturbed? Think the late Health Ledger as the Joker. Opposite of what Jim commented, that it was liberating to be Andy, it could be psychologically claustrophobic to be caught up in playing a madman, to stay in character for long.
It is understandable that Jim had mixed emotions, feeling somewhat existentially free while playing someone else thoroughly, yet also existentially lost after doing so. This begs the question of who an actor really is. Especially for the very immersive ones, what are their true identities in each moment? The answer is perhaps not so elusive. We are after all sets of shapeshifting aggregates, of mind and matter – form, feelings, perceptions, volitions and consciousnesses. To seek an unchanging self within these continuums of change would yield no fixed ‘one’. Only Buddha-nature remains true – the potential to be Buddhas – which is beyond the physical and mental.
Buddhism has appropriately nuanced attitudes when it comes to acting. The Buddha cautioned against acting that stirs up more attachment, aversion and delusion in actors themselves, and their audiences, all of whom already have these three poisons. Skilful acting then, must be what leads to the lessening, instead of the growth of these poisons. Intriguingly, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas themselves are the most skilled actors, concurrently having countless manifestations, to guide beings according to their karmic affinities towards Buddhahood. This cannot go wrong as they have perfect compassion and wisdom, powered only by the best of intentions!
Does ‘Acting’ Bad Create Bad Karma?