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Actors and their Fan-imposed Alter Egos

Story-driven entertainment sometimes makes us forget the people we're seeing on screen have their own lives and that they're actually working! The dreamy line between real and unreal is at its fuzziest when someone portrays someone else for another someone's amusement. This thin veil of illusion is what Hollywood was built on, is the weird tension that David Lynch and mockumentaries like to tease out and is what makes it possible for this kind of medium to hold our attention. We buy into the suspense of disbelief, the hook that enables us to enter a collective dream where directors can build worlds and actors can say their lines and hit their marks with enough conviction to keep us transfixed.

actors and their fan-imposed alter egos

Yet, somehow it comes as such a surprise when the actors who *are* those characters don't really know themselves as well as we'd hope. A great example of this phenomenon that could serve as a case study is Gilmore Girls, a comedy drama set in the sleepy town of Star's Hollow where Lorelai and Rory Gilmore make a life for themselves. Creating a town with enough supporting and minor characters that it seems to carry on living when it's not in frame, there's a The Truman Show feel to this long-running series. Recently given new life on Netflix, winning over a whole new generation of fans, Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino's Gilmore Girls received enough renewed interest to warrant a reunion series. Composed of four seasons, the series was a welcome return for old and new fans, addressing some of the show's hanging character arcs after it was abruptly cancelled after 7 seasons.

During a 2015 ATX Q&A that saw the return of almost all of the show's most regular characters, a move that pretty much necessitated the reunion series Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life a year later, the idea of actors not really knowing their characters inside out became abundantly clear. Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel and Kelly Bishop are the Gilmore Girls... with Bishop playing the matriarch, who takes on more of a supporting role even though you could argue her generation of Gilmore warrants an equal footing as the show's co-leads. Centred on the youngest Gilmore girls, the series is based on this central relationship and branches out as Rory heads to school and then college.

While the "Girls" part of the title and strong female characters makes one think the show is primarily aimed at women, it's actually a lot more open-handed thanks to its broad cast and weighting of subplots. The kicker, and possible excuse, is that much like Aaron Sorkin's dense The West Wing scripts the show packs much more dialogue into its running time than your average TV show. Delivering 40 minute episodes, there's enough material for almost twice as long and Sherman-Palladino leverages her co-lead's sharp wits to set the platform for a great deal of fast-talking. It's so relentless, you can understand the appeal of watching the show several times, never quite getting every pop culture reference or inside quip.

The reason this densely scripted show is an excuse is that for Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel and Kelly Bishop it's a bit difficult to recall the show. Fans watching the show are all-seeing, able to rewatch the series many times and discuss the plot points, memorable quotes and characters ad nauseum. For actors, who are on the other side of the camera, it's not that easy to see it this way. Besides being under considerable deadlines with rewrites and filming, it's still a job as much as you love it and most probably aren't going to settle down in front of the couch with a hot cup of cocoa to watch themselves at work during their downtime.

This misconception of actors knowing their characters inside out must leave many fans crestfallen to hear a lovable lead actor hardly remembers anything from the show as with Lauren Graham, who's arguably the most inseparable of the Gilmore Girls characters. For many actors, watching themselves act can be a cringe fest as they become their own worst critics. It's not really the same viewing experience for someone who's actually in the show. Being able to immerse yourself in the story and dissociate from your colleagues must be near-impossible and probably explains why Milo Ventimiglia's mother went so quiet when he told her the good news that he'd landed the recurring role as Jess in one of her favourite shows.

So while actors may "know" their characters very well from having walked in their shoes for so long and be able to answer questions as if they are still them, the truth is that much like our lives, the filler becomes peripheral. As important as it is for fans to know the lore of a film or series, it's not quite as critical for actors of a beloved or cult series like Gilmore Girls. It's obviously a good idea to have enough love for the character and series so that you can facilitate in-depth questions with some decorum, but beyond this it's kind of bittersweet for fans to discover that mimesis isn't a given and that sometimes it's more of a job than you'd like to believe.

This isn't just a thing for Gilmore Girls or Lauren Graham and company, it's actually fairly typical for actors who shy away from watching themselves perform and is even more prevalent for actors on long-running soap operas. Many actors will attest to a time when an overbearing fan has confronted them about doing something untoward and chastising them as if they were their character. If this is their only point of reference these shows can become so fuzzy that the actor becomes inextricably linked, so much so that my grandmother found herself praying for the characters in her favourite daytime soapie at one point.