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Old 02-02-2020, 01:10 AM
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How does an actor steal a scene?


I'm familiar with the concept of stealing a scene in theater or the movies: Where the audience's attention is on one actor, who may or may not be the person the scene is supposed to be about. I'm familiar with the story of John Wayne saying to Maureen O'Hara, "It's your scene, Maureen; go ahead and take it--if you can!" And I've watched Edna Mae Oliver and Brenda DeBanzie steal entire movies.

But I'm interested in the mechanics of it. How exactly does an actor steal a scene? Does her (or she) fiddle with a prop? Stand closer to the camera? Talk louder?

What are ways that an actor might steal a scene?
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Old 02-02-2020, 01:31 AM
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An old, time-honored way is, while your co-star is giving his big speech, you are sitting quietly in the background doing a 'bit of business'. Lighting a cigarette. Scratching an itch. Rubbing your eyes. Taking off your tie. Even a small movement will distract the viewer's eye.

Last edited by salinqmind; 02-02-2020 at 01:32 AM.
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Old 02-02-2020, 01:42 AM
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One way is to be funnier than Eddie Murphy in a scene with Eddie Murphy who is at the time radiating Peak Eddie Murphy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHZWWFmaFcI
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Old 02-02-2020, 03:08 AM
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An old, time-honored way is, while your co-star is giving his big speech, you are sitting quietly in the background doing a 'bit of business'. Lighting a cigarette. Scratching an itch. Rubbing your eyes. Taking off your tie. Even a small movement will distract the viewer's eye.
Especially if they ham it up.

Here's a video of Tennessee Ernie Ford singing Children Go Where I Send Thee, surrounded by a bunch of kids. Watch one of the kids steal the show.
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Old 02-02-2020, 12:22 PM
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There are two ways the term is used.

One is that you use mannerism and tics to draw attention away from the actor who is supposed to be the center of the scene. This is looked down upon and infuriates other actors.

But it also refers to an actor being so good in the role as written that the performance stands out over and above anyone else. This is admired by the rest of the cast.
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Old 02-02-2020, 12:39 PM
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There are two ways the term is used.

One is that you use mannerism and tics to draw attention away from the actor who is supposed to be the center of the scene. This is looked down upon and infuriates other actors.

But it also refers to an actor being so good in the role as written that the performance stands out over and above anyone else. This is admired by the rest of the cast.
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Old 02-02-2020, 01:13 PM
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(....) But it also refers to an actor being so good in the role as written that the performance stands out over and above anyone else. This is admired by the rest of the cast.
What about when it's a dog? I'll bet that makes them growl.
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Old 02-02-2020, 02:25 PM
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One way is to be funnier than Eddie Murphy in a scene with Eddie Murphy who is at the time radiating Peak Eddie Murphy.
I always liked that scene. I can't even pronounce words the way the other guy does. And his lightning fast responses to "Get the fuck out..." are amazing. Since I only think of him as the "other guy" guess he didn't exactly steal Murphy's career, only the scene.

Dennis
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Old 02-02-2020, 02:46 PM
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The "other guy" was Bronson Pinchot.

Last edited by Musicat; 02-02-2020 at 02:50 PM. Reason: punc ed
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Old 02-02-2020, 02:47 PM
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The "other guy" was Bronson Pinchot.

Sever timeouts are causing dupes.

Last edited by Musicat; 02-02-2020 at 02:52 PM.
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Old 02-02-2020, 03:10 PM
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A common way is to act inappropriately.

Let's say that the focus of the scene is supposed to be a character being menacing. The narrative of the story is to build up this character as a credible threat. So there's a scene where they deliver some threatening dialogue.

The appropriate response for the other actors in the scene would be to act like they are frightened or intimidated. Their role in this scene is to support the speaking character and add strength to his performance and the overall narrative.

But one of the other actors may decide not to do this. He may decide to undercut the other actor's performance in order to make his own performance look better in contrast. So when the other actor delivers his lines, instead of looking frightened or intimidated like he's supposed to, he acts like he is amused or bored. He's sabotaging the other actor's performance by showing that his character doesn't find the other character to be convincingly threatening.
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Old 02-02-2020, 03:26 PM
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Jimmy Stewart talked about the ways Strother Martin would steal scenes. Can't find now, but it was a funny as hell story.
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Old 02-02-2020, 03:47 PM
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Originally Posted by RealityChuck View Post
But it also refers to an actor being so good in the role as written that the performance stands out over and above anyone else. This is admired by the rest of the cast.
For this meaning, just watch pretty much any clip of Tim Conway in a skit with Harvey Korman.
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Old 02-02-2020, 03:49 PM
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Here is Naomi Watts stealing a scene in a scene about stealing a scene.
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Old 02-03-2020, 09:32 AM
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Steve McQueen was pissed at how many more lines Yul Brenner had than he did in The Magnificent Seven, and set about focusing attention on himself when he could.

There was one scene where he and Brenner rolled up in a wagon, Yul on the side of the buckboard with the camera, McQueen behind him. As Brenner is talking, McQueen breaks open his double barrel shotgun, pulls out a shell, shakes it next to his ear, chambers it, and does the same with the other. It's a pointless activity, but gets the attention on him.
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Old 02-03-2020, 09:42 AM
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In the theatre, it's called "stage presence" and nobody can tell you how to do it. In a scene with a bunch of people singing, one chorus singer will sometimes tand out. When I saw the revival of Carousel, I noticed there was an African-American female in it. I thought "There would never be such a person in that time period in New England." Then they sang. And I would have put a two headed purple Martian in that group if it had that voice.

I made a note to remember the singer's name, waited at the stage and got her autograph: Audra Ann McDonald.

A more recent example is Montana Jordan, who plays Georgie Cooper Young Sheldon. He started out as a bit player who stole every scene he was in. The kid has a great future if he can avoid the foibles of being a child actor.
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Old 02-03-2020, 09:53 AM
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Here's an example of a 6-year-old girl in a dance recital stealing the scene as they perform the song "Respect":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynR1XmQruoo

Her performance is so over the top and sassy that you practically don't see the other performers on the stage.
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Old 02-03-2020, 11:57 AM
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Originally Posted by Patch View Post
Steve McQueen was pissed at how many more lines Yul Brenner had than he did in The Magnificent Seven, and set about focusing attention on himself when he could.

There was one scene where he and Brenner rolled up in a wagon, Yul on the side of the buckboard with the camera, McQueen behind him. As Brenner is talking, McQueen breaks open his double barrel shotgun, pulls out a shell, shakes it next to his ear, chambers it, and does the same with the other. It's a pointless activity, but gets the attention on him.
That was when they were on the hearse to take "Injun Joe" to Boot Hill when no one else would.

Then there's the scene where they are on their way to the village and cross a stream. Almost every one of the actors does some bit of business right in front of the camera as he passes, scooping a hatful of water, straightening a neckerchief, etc. It was one of the first scenes shot and in a commentary track, cinematographer Charles Lang said that during the scene that he and director John Sturges watched all that then looked at each other with mouths open. Finally he told Sturges, "It's gonna be a lo-o-ong shoot."
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Old 02-03-2020, 12:03 PM
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Especially if they ham it up.

Here's a video of Tennessee Ernie Ford singing Children Go Where I Send Thee, surrounded by a bunch of kids. Watch one of the kids steal the show.
Thank you for that...
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Old 02-03-2020, 01:29 PM
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Do animal actors count?

The answer is: be a cute dog. Then you can even steal scenes from Jack Lemmon.
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Old 02-03-2020, 02:20 PM
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Maybe my favorite insance is Matthew McConaughey being the most memorable part of a movie while appearing less than five minutes.

https://youtu.be/wM6exo00T5I

Last edited by Go_Arachnid_Laser; 02-03-2020 at 02:21 PM.
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Old 02-03-2020, 02:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Patch View Post
Steve McQueen was pissed at how many more lines Yul Brenner had than he did in The Magnificent Seven, and set about focusing attention on himself when he could.

There was one scene where he and Brenner rolled up in a wagon, Yul on the side of the buckboard with the camera, McQueen behind him. As Brenner is talking, McQueen breaks open his double barrel shotgun, pulls out a shell, shakes it next to his ear, chambers it, and does the same with the other. It's a pointless activity, but gets the attention on him.
Reportedly Brynner would also get pissed at how often McQueen would adjust his hat in the background.
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Old 02-03-2020, 05:32 PM
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That was when they were on the hearse to take "Injun Joe" to Boot Hill when no one else would.
I'm not really into westerns, but I watched about the first thirty minutes of that a couple of days ago because I like the music. My favorite part of that scene is when the undertaker is explaining to these traveling salesmen that his regular driver won't take Injun Joe. The salesmen exclaim, "Why, he's prejudiced!" The undertaker says something like "He's a downright bigot if it keeps from getting his head blown off!"

Something about that line just cracks me up.

The portrayal of the hapless Mexicanos that sets up the story makes me uncomfortable.
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Old 02-03-2020, 05:41 PM
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Thanks to all for your responses. It's been illuminating. (Adjusts tie, spits on ground, wipes forehead)
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Old 02-03-2020, 05:56 PM
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Especially if they ham it up.

Here's a video of Tennessee Ernie Ford singing Children Go Where I Send Thee, surrounded by a bunch of kids. Watch one of the kids steal the show.
Quote:
Originally Posted by teela brown View Post
Do animal actors count?

The answer is: be a cute dog. Then you can even steal scenes from Jack Lemmon.
That's why W.C. Fields said "Never work with animals or children."
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Old 02-03-2020, 06:03 PM
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Here's an example of a 6-year-old girl in a dance recital stealing the scene as they perform the song "Respect":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynR1XmQruoo

Her performance is so over the top and sassy that you practically don't see the other performers on the stage.
However, it looks like the little girl on the left is getting ready to haul off and sock her one. She was definitely not pleased!

Last edited by Colibri; 02-03-2020 at 06:03 PM.
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Old 02-03-2020, 06:32 PM
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I would never want to act with a dog if the dog thought my leg had a vagina. It can happen.
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Old 02-03-2020, 07:04 PM
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Maybe my favorite insance is Matthew McConaughey being the most memorable part of a movie while appearing less than five minutes.

https://youtu.be/wM6exo00T5I
I gotta see that movie again
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Old 02-03-2020, 08:41 PM
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I'd posted this in another thread not too long ago but this probably isn't the take Paul Simon would have selected from his Sesame Street appearance:

Paul Simon ruins girl's song
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Old 02-03-2020, 09:00 PM
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Re: Steve McQueen
Contrary to what Patch notes - I've heard the same thing at Kobal says - That many actors hated working with McQueen since he was a notorious and deliberate scene stealer.

It was funny because when I watched Magnificent Seven I did find McQueen's background fiddling during the wagon scene distracting (I was looking at him wondering what he was doing, not on Yul). Then shortly after, I happened to read a story about McQueen and they mentioned his scene stealing behaviour. I'd never heard of scene stealing before that but immediately understood it.
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Old 02-04-2020, 12:37 PM
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Here's an example of a 6-year-old girl in a dance recital stealing the scene as they perform the song "Respect":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynR1XmQruoo

Her performance is so over the top and sassy that you practically don't see the other performers on the stage.
I didn't realize we had early videos of Mae West!
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Old 02-04-2020, 01:16 PM
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In live theatre, the classic technique was to move towards the back of the stage, away from the audience. This forced the other performers(s) in the scene to sturn away from the audience in order to play to you.

Or to move upstage themselves, causing the whole scene to be played while squeezed against the back wall of the set. It’s the dictionary definition of the term “upstaging”.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/upstage

Last edited by Ann Hedonia; 02-04-2020 at 01:19 PM.
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Old 02-04-2020, 01:47 PM
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One way is to be funnier than Eddie Murphy in a scene with Eddie Murphy who is at the time radiating Peak Eddie Murphy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHZWWFmaFcI
He stole this scene so hard he got his own popular sitcom. 'Other Guy' indeed. Now get off my lawn you whippersnapper while I contemplate WTF was up with girl's hairstyles at the time.
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Old 02-04-2020, 09:14 PM
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I would say that what Steve McQueen did was “upstaging.” (Thank you, Ann Hedonia, for the derivation of the term.)

“Scene stealing” is what Bronson Pinchot did to Eddie Murphy. Another example is what Christoph Waltz did to anybody he shared a scene with in Inglorious Basterds.
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Old 02-04-2020, 09:32 PM
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There are two ways the term is used.

One is that you use mannerism and tics to draw attention away from the actor who is supposed to be the center of the scene. This is looked down upon and infuriates other actors.
I'd forgotten - one of my fave examples of the first type also involves Tim Conway and Harvey Korman, at 1:28 of this clip:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=X1qebkWD67o
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Old 02-04-2020, 11:26 PM
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. When I saw the revival of Carousel, I noticed there was an African-American female in it. I thought "There would never be such a person in that time period in New England." .

There have been black people in Maine at least since 1736
.

https://www.mainememory.net/sitebuil...e/1203/display

https://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/09/u...ng-hidden.html

Lots more references out there if you just look a little.
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Old 02-05-2020, 01:08 PM
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Years before Ann B. Davis played Alice in the Brady Bunch, she won two Emmy awards as a supporting character in the Bob Cummings Show. This scene is a pretty good example of why.

Notice that while Davis is in the center of the scene, it's the characters on her left and right (Character actress Kathleen Freeman and Rose Marie) who have all the lines. That doesn't stop Davis from spending more than 60 seconds wordlessly looking up, down, left, and right; handling a ukelele; smiling; frowning; looking surprised; and in general involving herself in the scene even though she has no dialog or scripted movement.
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Old 02-05-2020, 01:54 PM
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Two observations:
To upstage someone literally means to stand upstage (towards the back of the stage) from the person you are sharing a scene with. This causes them to turn slightly away from the audience and you to slightly face the audience.

I think sometimes a scene is stolen when a person plays it as less is more. A changing expression to another character's lines or playing a scene soft when the audience expectation is to be over the top. Look at this scene by Gary Busey*. It is so understated that it blows you away. Ice-T is just a spectator in the scene.



*Yes I found out about it due to the Cracked article
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Old 02-05-2020, 01:54 PM
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The Departed


Ellerby: Fuck yourself.
Dignam: I'm tired from fuckin' your wife.
Ellerby: How's your mother?
Dignam: Good, she's tired from fuckin' my father.

Mark Wahlberg as Sgt. Dignam steals every scene he's in.
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Old 02-05-2020, 01:59 PM
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I would say that what Steve McQueen did was “upstaging.” (Thank you, Ann Hedonia, for the derivation of the term.)
I think "hijacking" is also a good term.

Of course, one person's stealing is another's hijacking if you can pull it off correctly. If you've got both the instincts and the charisma (as well as the good luck to have the director/editor choose the take you'd prefer), then you can get away with all sorts of stuff that still benefits the overall dynamic of the scene.

Of course, if a film is inferior (or your fellow cast are lightweights), then sometimes you provide something unusual, bizarre, or unexpected just to stop from dying of boredom. Not all movies are good ones, but I think a good actor, especially a character actor who has limited run time in a smaller part, knows that really delivering the goods will stand out more when the rest of the film is only so-so. You'll be the one people rightly (and fondly) remember.
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Old 02-05-2020, 02:39 PM
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Steve McQueen was pissed at how many more lines Yul Brenner had than he did in The Magnificent Seven, and set about focusing attention on himself when he could.
He certainly learned his lesson in spades by the time he was negotiating his contract for The Towering Inferno. While he and Paul Newman have the same number of lines, he doesn't show up until nearly an hour into the film, which means that once he's there, Newman's used up almost half his lines and McQueen winds up very much the dominant character.

Last edited by KneadToKnow; 02-05-2020 at 02:39 PM.
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Old 02-05-2020, 03:37 PM
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I would say that what Steve McQueen did was “upstaging.” (Thank you, Ann Hedonia, for the derivation of the term.)

“Scene stealing” is what Bronson Pinchot did to Eddie Murphy. Another example is what Christoph Waltz did to anybody he shared a scene with in Inglorious Basterds.
I dunno, I think the opening interview between Landa and the French dude is pretty even. Yes, Waltz is bubbly yet menacing yet unsettling ; but I find his counterpart's *reacting* to all that is just as powerful - you can almost taste the tense fear, the bewilderment, the consternation, ultimately the resignation.

He totes dunks on Signore Go'LAHmee though.

Last edited by Kobal2; 02-05-2020 at 03:39 PM.
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Old 02-05-2020, 08:54 PM
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Great discussion.
It seems that we all have different definitions in our minds of what exactly "Scene stealing" is versus "upstaging" versus just out-acting.

My understanding has been that "upstaging" was originally a specific and deliberate way one actor drew attention to himself in a scene and away from the other actor who should be the main focus in that scene. That term has now morphed into a generic term for scene stealing.

Scene stealing, IMHO also encompasses other activities besides physically moving upstage. It includes deliberate activities (mannerisms, non-scene related facial expressions etc) that draw the audience's attention away from the actor that we should be focused on.

To me they're both done based on the actor's own egotistical desire to keep attention focused on themselves, at the detriment of the actor the scene should be focused on. But not at the direction of the director.

In the one wagon example with McQueen, Brynner is delivering his lines and McQueen (who is sitting beside him and has no role in the actual scene) very deliberately starts to fidget and fiddle with his hat. That immediately drew attention away from Brynner's dialogue, effectively stealing the scene from Brynner. I can't imagine the director told McQueen to do that.

The other example to me is plain and simple great out-acting. I think the Pinchot / Murphy example is that. Pinchot just "out-acted" Murphy. He delivered his lines and his mannerisms in exactly the comedic way they were supposed to be done. It's not like Murphy was delivering some powerful monologue that we were distracted from. He just nailed the part and effectively stole the scene that way.

IANA film expert (just my opinion) but there there is a difference between that and the underhanded technique of standing upstage or fidgeting etc.
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Old 02-05-2020, 09:12 PM
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Great discussion.
It seems that we all have different definitions in our minds of what exactly "Scene stealing" is versus "upstaging" versus just great out-acting. Upstaging and scene stealing are negative things actors do. Out-acting is a positive.

My understanding is that "upstaging" (moving up the stage) was originally a specific way an actor drew attention to themselves and away from the other actor who should be the main focus in that scene. That term has now morphed into a generic term for scene stealing.

Scene stealing, IMHO, also encompasses other activities besides physically moving upstage. It includes deliberate activities (mannerisms, non-scene related facial expressions etc) that draw the audience's attention away from the actor that we should be focused on.

To me they're both done based on the actor's own egotistical desire to keep attention focused on themselves, at the detriment of the actor the scene should be focused on. But not at the direction of the director.

In the one wagon example with McQueen, Brynner is delivering his lines and McQueen (who is sitting beside him and has no role in the actual scene) very deliberately starts to fidget and fiddle with his hat. That immediately draws attention away from Brynner's dialogue, stealing the scene from him. I can't imagine the director told McQueen to do that. "Steve, while Yul is delivering his line, I want you to take your hat off and fuck around with it and make some faces, so the audience looks at you the whole time!"

The other example some are discussing is just plain and simple great acting. I think the Pinchot / Murphy example is that. Pinchot just "out-acted" Murphy. He delivered his lines and his mannerisms in exactly the comedic way they were supposed to be done. It's not like Murphy was delivering some powerful monologue that we were distracted from. He just nailed the part and effectively stole the scene that way.

IANA film expert (just my opinion) but there there is a difference between that and the underhanded technique of standing upstage or fidgeting etc.
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