Every time I watch a film I’m always looking for actors who are just simply “there” and centered and behaving in a dead-real manner, and the others who are acting their asses off with all kinds of over-conveyed tells and twitches and facial indications. Actors who “act” are lethal.
Except in those very rare cases (many of them in Stanley Kubrick films) when a clearly “acting” actor is so brilliantly in command of his/her excessive behaviors that you just succumb and go with it. George C. Scott‘s performance in Dr. Strangelove, for one. Laurence Olivier in The Entertainer or Sleuth or Khartoum. Daniel Day Lewis‘s in There Will Be Blood.
Incidentally: In ’77 I saw Dick Cavett perform the lead role in Simon Gray‘s Otherwise Engaged. Stage acting is a whole different deal, but Cavett, I distinctly recall, tried to play it way, way down. The idea was to convey emotional detachment, and he wasn’t bad in that regard. But he wasn’t a gifted performer either. No one expected anything stupendous, and he didn’t disappoint. Rumor had it that Alan Bates and Tom Courtenay were better.