What’s he been in?

I’ve just discovered that the main actress in My Fair Lady is Audrey Hepburn! The same Audrey Hepburn who was in Breakfast at Tiffany’s! I’m assuming this is one of those things everybody else knew except me. I guess it doesn’t help that I’ve never seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s or knowingly seen any other Audrey Hepburn film, so I didn’t have much to go on.

I don’t think I’m too bad at recognising faces in real life, but I have an absolute blind spot about actors. I can recognise actors I’ve seen many times, and I can recognise very distinctive-looking actors, but that’s about it. When  I’m talking about a film with my friends and they use an actor’s name to refer to a character, I’ll often feel surprised because I’ve heard of the actor but had no idea they were in the film I’ve just seen.

I’ve been wondering why this is, and I think it’s partly because I don’t watch much telly (I don’t have a telly) and I hardly ever watch films, so I don’t get to know actors. But it’s probably also because I’m pretty literal-minded, and my approach to a film or a telly programme is basically to accept that everybody is who they’re supposed to be, for the purposes of watching it. Whereas I think other people enjoy the extra layer of recognising actors and comparing this role to past roles.

When I was a kid, the appearance of an actor on the telly in our house would occasionally prompt the dreaded words: “What’s he been in?” Then the discussions would begin.

“Was he in that thing about the hospital?”
“No, you’re thinking of the other feller who looks a bit like him.”
“Well, who’s the feller who looks like him?”
“Well, I can’t remember what he’s called but he was in the thing about the hospital and that other thing, the really moving thing where he was a soldier and he died, remember?”
“Oh, him. Well, that’s not him.”

I remember longing for some magical device, something a bit like a book maybe, that would give you that info. Not because I cared about actors’ names or what they’d been in already, but because it might cut short the boring conversations on the subject and let us get on with actually watching things.

And then the world wide web was invented, and IMDB was invented, and tablets were invented, and now millions of people can just pause what they’re watching to look up “what he’s been in” on a device small enough to hold in your hand. And they do! And it’s wonderful. No more conversations about “you know, the one who was in the thing with that other woman who was in the police thing”. The person who is deputised to find out the Facts looks it up on their tablet or phone and then enlightens everybody else.

But I’m still happy not to care. I’m still happy to watch a film and then find out five years later who played the lead character. I’m happy that if a character starts being played by a different actor, I probably won’t even notice, so I won’t be troubled by the discontinuity. Maybe I’m missing out on an extra level of the viewing experience. But maybe I’m not.

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