Many non-theatre students who take an acting class think two things: It will be an easy class and acting is pretending to be something you are not. They are always fearful to learn how wrong they are on both counts. The good students overcome their overweening to discover new niches of existence and broader planes of self discovery.
Acting is difficult on the first count because the real charm and skill of a trained actor is found in the restraining confines of a limited character set in a surrounding that was not created by the actor. Instead of finding the core of the character, many acting students decide to play familiar stereotypes because the known is easier to reveal in shared memes and semiotic movements than creating the whole cloth from scraps. That cheating makes a chalky character without any reason or purpose to help motivate their driving want.
Acting is difficult on the second count because the master actor always remains true to who they are and what they are all while living in a new persona. Their experiential undercore is intact with real losses and joys and shared human touchstones while the intellectual works out the subversive invasion of the new character in situ. I have just clinically described the essence of a detached, mentally ill, person — and now you know precisely why the actor is the penultimate sufferer caught between artificial art and human reality while wagering against everlasting madness.
The dedicated student learns how to work within the confines of time and space to create believability in a character through rehearsal and practiced expression that all leads to a genuine believability in performance despite the articles of artifice. The belief comes in long hours of rehearsal, memorization and perfection of movement.
Acting skills are not limited to the stage. We are all actors in our everyday lives. We pretend we are happy when we are disturbed. We express grief when we are joyous. We successfully sell the Little White Lie with a smile and a shoeshine.
Acting is not hypocritical — but actors are — by the necessary nature of the monster. We force ourselves to feel and to consider things that do not please or pleasure us and it is done in the spirit of understanding the foreign and giving light to the foe — and in that super-empathy and in that forced extraordinary capacity for human compassion is where we find the driving nature of every actor in everyday life. We interact with the unknown to celebrate the newly discovered so that others may be inspired by the risk to self in the revelation of the socialized human being.