At our English boarding school in the 1990s, my friends and I would spend hours immersed in role-playing games. Our favorite was Vampire: The Masquerade, and I can well remember experiencing a kind of psychological hangover after spending an afternoon in the character of a ruthless undead villain. It took a while to shake off the fantasy persona, during which time I had to make a conscious effort to keep my manners and morals in check, so as not to get myself into some real-world trouble.
If a little fantasy role-play can lead to a morphing of one’s sense of self, then what must it be like for professional actors, and especially so-called method actors, who follow the teachings of the Russian theater practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski and truly embody the parts they play?
There is certainly anecdotal evidence that actors experience a blending of their real self with their assumed characters. For instance, Benedict Cumberbatch said that, while he enjoyed playing a character as complex as Sherlock Holmes, there is also ‘a kickback. I do get affected by it. There’s a sense of being impatient. My mum says I’m much curter with her when I’m filming Sherlock.’