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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Nathan Fillion: “Stupid People Don't Know that They Are Stupid”

Posted by Alison Hallett on Wed, Jun 19, 2013 at 12:29 PM

For this week's film section, I interviewed Nathan Fillion about his performance as the bumbling, self-important lawman Dogberry in the new Joss Whedon-directed adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. He said something great when I asked him what informed his character:


“Stupid people don't know that they are stupid. Stupid people think that they're the smartest guy in the room. So I learned that that's very important, to play smart. The smarter you can play it, the funnier and more stupid you can come off. So I just focused on trying to be smart, and letting vanity play a large role in how Dogberry behaves.”

That brought to mind a fascinating multi-part blog series that Errol Morris did for the New York Times called "The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is." In the first post of the series, Morris introduces something called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which is explained in the article by Cornell professor David Dunning:

[W]hen you’re incompetent, the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is. In logical reasoning, in parenting, in management, problem solving, the skills you use to produce the right answer are exactly the same skills you use to evaluate the answer.

In other words, "our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence." This concept has basically haunted me since reading Morris' post; I'm glad, at least, that Fillion was able to apply it to such good comedic use in Much Ado.

(Much Ado is perfectly fine and fun, btw. Don't let people tell you it's the best Shakespeare adaptation ever made—they are only saying that because Joss Whedon touched it—but it is a perfectly charming and enjoyable little movie. My writeup is here, with more of my interview w/Fillion.)

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