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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Overacting (or hamming) is the exaggeration of gestures and speech when acting. It may be unintentional, particularly in the case of a bad actor, or be required for the role. For the latter, it is commonly used in comical situations or to stress the evil characteristics of a villain. Since the perception of acting quality differs between people the extent of overacting can be subjective.

Overacting can be excessively dramatic to the point where the performance becomes awkward or unintentionally amusing to the audience.

Overacting is sometimes known as "chewing the scenery".


Unintentional overacting is caused by poor acting, either a good actor performing badly in one scene or a generally poor actor. However, it is not always the fault of the actor as the director has the ultimate role of assessing and influencing the acting.

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. It should be noted however that unlike film actors, stage actors do not have the benefit of a boom mic or other sound equipment and it therefore takes more skill to allow the audience to hear every word while not shouting or overemphasising.

Some unintentional overacting can find itself the subject of parody. William Shatner's performance in the original Star Trek series has been frequently parodied across numerous comedy television shows.


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", even though he has played several "straight" roles since.

Overacting may be used to stress the evil characteristics of a villain. Gary Oldman has been referred to as an "overactor" due to his penchant for playing eccentric and over-the-top villains in films such as Dracula and The Fifth Element, but also often stars as subtle and reserved characters such as in The Contender, Batman Begins, and Harry Potter film series. Overacting is certainly not always seen as a bad thing, as Tom Hulce's Academy Award nomination for his deliberately exaggerated role in Amadeus shows.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Overacting" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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