Scratch an Actor and Underneath You’ll Find Another Actor

Laurence Olivier? Homer Fickett? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The acclaimed actor Laurence Olivier performed many different roles during his long career. He said something like:

Scratch an actor, and you’ll find an actor.

Would you please help me to find a citation? Did he originate this statement?

Quote Investigator: Laurence Olivier did help to popularize this saying, but he did not craft it. In 1986 he published “On Acting” which included the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

We actors stand by our present performance, not by our past. We are as immediate as the moment. We give you our feelings and hope you will return yours. We ask for acceptance; we are your servants.

Scratch an actor and underneath you’ll find another actor.

Olivier also stated that true actors felt “at any moment the laughter will stop and the rain of tomatoes will begin”. Thus, his desire to please an audience and inhabit a role erased his identity. He became an actor nested within an actor.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Scratch an Actor and Underneath You’ll Find Another Actor


  1. 1986, On Acting by Laurence Olivier, Part One: Before the Curtain, Chapter 1: Beginnings, Quote Page 33 and 34, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)