Here's How Actors Stay Still When Playing Dead, And It's Not How I Thought

I had no idea.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re into soaps, gore, rom-coms, or dramas; rare is the telly lover who’s managed to avoid seeing the on-screen death of their favourite character.

And if you’ve watched a show with a particularly high character kill-off rate, like Game of Thrones, you’ve likely witnessed post-battle scenes that’d make Napoleon feel queasy.

But once you’ve got past why your beloved character has gone to Hollywood Heaven, the question of just how actors manage to lay so convincingly still for so long during the corpse shots comes up.

Luckily, Marina Hyde, co-host of behind-the-scenes podcast The Rest Is Entertainment, has answers for us.

Which are?

Marina spoke to a producer about forensic pathology prior to the podcast and learned that yep, people do cast corpses.

She explained that “some people do freak out” when playing corpses, and not everyone can lay still enough for long enough to get a good shot, “so you have to audition [for corpse roles] by lying still.”

Ever with perfect corpse casting, though, shots used to not linger on the chest because it’s very hard not to show the rise and fall of breath.

“But now ― this is like one of the big routine instances of VFX ― they can capture it at rest (the chest) at one moment, then they layer that still in the rest of the footage.

“For those ones where there’s an open-eye corpse, the VFX is particularly useful,” Marina added.

Her co-host Richard Osman said, “Essentially there are some actors who are very very good at being still, and now they cheat the ‘not breathing’ elements.”


I know! A Reddit thread asking people who had played dead on-screen to share their experiences also provides some gory insight.

“I was on an episode of Chicago Fire as a featured extra. I was in a rubble scene after a marathon bombing,” site user Citrous_Oyster wrote.

“The camera was on a crane facing down on the file and I was laying on my back across the rubble. I was instructed to try and hold my breath as long as I could or take short breaths. I was in a yellow jacket so it also hid some of my breathing which helped,” they shared.

“I work in post-production and can confirm I have removed breaths from actors playing dead. Not particularly complicated generally,” Redditor Jewel-jones added.

The more you know...


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