Actors and High Sensitivity

Nicole Kidman in Portrait of a Lady

“Most actors are highly sensitive people.”  Nicole Kidman

Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted, usually more one way than the other. Many actors and performers identify themselves as “shy” and may have the personality trait of high sensitivity.

Psychologist Elaine Aron, PhD notes highly sensitive people (HSPs) are often called “shy” – but, she explains, “shyness is learned, not innate. In fact, 30% of HSPs are extraverts, although the trait is often mislabeled as introversion.”

From article Shyness, Introversion, Sensitivity – What’s the Difference?

Here are some examples of actors who describe some of their inner experiences as sensitive artists.

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Julie Christie has said, “I found films to be turbulent and stressful. They have caused me an enormous amount of anxiety, because I do not have a lot of confidence. You are working, intellectually and mentally, and you are having to be with people and socialize all the time.

“Actors like it, on the whole, but I was not born with that quality. I am very quiet and would much prefer to talk to a few people rather than a crowd.” //

“I could never really see the point of being high-profile when I loathed it so much. Every now and then, you can go to something like an Oscars ceremony, but nobody is holding a gun to your head. The rules were the same 40 years ago as they are now. You can either choose your spotlight – or you can stay at home.”  []

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Jennifer Beals once said, “I get emotional all the time. I get emotional every time I make a speech, or talk about other cast members,” she says. “Every now and again, my heart just explodes and expands.”


Laurel Holloman, her castmate on the Showtime series “The L Word,” has seen this firsthand: “If Jennifer is passionate about something, it comes to the surface within seconds. My theory on that is all the best actors have a couple of layers of skin peeled away. There’s a huge emotional life in Jennifer, and it’s kind of beautiful.” [From article The Real Beals, by Jancee Dunn, Lifetime, August 2004]

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Nicole Kidman as Martha Gellhorn

Nicole Kidman has noted:

“I was a highly sensitive child, and the last thing my parents wanted was for their child to go in and get hurt…

“Most actors are highly sensitive people, but you have this incredible scrutiny. You have to develop a thick skin, but you can’t have a thick skin in your work.

“So it’s that constant push-pull of going, How do I stay human and vulnerable and real, and how do I, at the same time, not let all this affect me?”

From article: Nicole Kidman on fame, and actors as highly sensitive people.

She has commented about the emotionality of the work:

“You live with a lot of complicated emotions as an actor, and they whirl around you and create havoc at times. And yet, as an actor you’re consciously and unconsciously allowing that to happen… It’s my choice, and I would rather do it this way than live to be 100… Or rather than choosing not to exist within life’s extremities. I’m willing to fly close to the flame.” [Interview mag., Oct 2003]

Related article with more quotes:
Nicole Kidman on fame, and actors as highly sensitive people.

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Brittany Murphy once commented that she is “a very oversensitive, vulnerable person. You have to be to do this for a living.” [Premiere, November 2000]

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Scarlett Johansson as Cinderella

Scarlett Johansson as Cinderella – From Facebook / Moon Costumes.

“And sometimes the HSC [highly sensitive child], like a perfect Cinderella, really is doing too much.” Elaine Aron, PhD in her book “The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them.”

Scarlett Johansson has noted that sensitivity can have a dark side:

“I think I was born with a great awareness of my surroundings and an awareness of other people. I know when I really connect with somebody… Sometimes that awareness is good, and sometimes I wish I wasn’t so sensitive.

“I’m so happy I’m not walking around life with a cloud over my head, not really knowing which way to look or which way to turn.

“But then, on the other hand, sometimes you don’t wanna see what’s behind people’s doors.”

[Interview mag., July, 2001]

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Taye Diggs - Facebook : Murder in the FirstTaye Diggs says he has been acting for as long as he has been shy, and has an interesting perspective on using acting:

“I wouldn’t say my insecurities and shyness have lessened just because of expressing myself through acting, but what has a role in my becoming more confident is the kind of false sense of adoration you get from the business… because I was so insecure, it gives me a reason to be a little more confident.”

From my interview with him years ago, quoted in my article: Shyness and High Sensitivity – On Stage or Off.

Another of many examples of shy actors: According to a news story, “Shyness was an ongoing problem for Chris Cooper… While studying at the University of Missouri, he vowed to get ‘unblocked.’

“Taking dance classes at nearby Stephens College, he was one of only three men amid a roomful of women… Acting was another means of expression — ‘theater, as therapy,’ he says.”

Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D., M.F.T., is an author, researcher, psychotherapist and authority on introversion. On her site a long list of “famous introverts” including: Joan Allen, Harrison Ford, Candice Bergen, Ingrid Bergman, Helen Hunt, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Tom Hanks, Steve Martin, Noah Wiley, and others

From my article: Introverted, Shy or Highly Sensitive in the Arts.

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Winona Ryder has commented, “I’ve never been a suicidal person.

“But there have definitely been times when I’ve thought, I’m too sensitive for this world right now; I just don’t belong here – it’s too fast and I don’t understand it.”

Ellen Muth [in the TV series Dead Like Me] has noted her character George/Georgia does care about people, “but she puts on this front like she doesn’t really care about anything and I kind of like that. George’s sensitivity is very hidden, but when it slips out she very quickly makes it so nobody else sees it… George tries to hide her emotions and I tend to do that.”

She adds, “One of the great things about acting is that you are able to release all sorts of things through another character.”

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Actors and Artists As Highly Sensitive PeopleLiv Tyler - solitude.

Claire Danes on being shy and high achieving. In an interview when she was about 15, she said, “I never thought of myself as shy, and then I realized I am kind of shy; I’ve just built defenses to hide it.”

Using Your High Sensitivity Personality As an Actor – Many actors are highly sensitive and use this trait to be even more creative. But it can lead emotional overwhelm, if you don’t take care of yourself.

The Gifted Introvert – Psychologist Elaine Aron comments that Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking “is actually more about HSPs (highly sensitive people) than social introverts.”

She adds, “Her discussion of ‘introversion’ throughout is almost identical to what has become the standard definition of high sensitivity—deep thinkers, preferring to process slowly, sensitive to stimuli, emotionally reactive, needing time alone, and so forth…”

Shyness and High Sensitivity – On Stage or Off.

Winona Ryder, Heath Ledger and Other Creators On Being Highly Sensitive.

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Originally posted 2011-10-13 20:18:00.


  1. […] Actor Scarlett Johansson, among many other people, has noted that sensitivity can have a dark side: “I think I was born with a great awareness of my surroundings and an awareness of other people. I know when I really connect with somebody… Sometimes that awareness is good, and sometimes I wish I wasn’t so sensitive.” [From my article Actors and high sensitivity.] […]

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