Chewing the Scenery

This an idiom for when an actor is earnestly overacting. From TV Tropes:

A common term for a scene where an actor’s acting so damn hard that they’re picking bits of scenery out of their teeth for days. Sometimes scenes can actually require this, but more often the actor and/or director just has the character go over the top.

If you search DuckDuckGo for “chewing the scenery”, the Wikipedia page for “overacting” is one of the top results.

There are various claims to the source, from theater reviews in 1930 and back into the 1800s.

Why I Looked It Up

I had known of the phrase, but wasn’t clear on specifics. I saw this in a profile of Wesley Snipes.

Undeterred, Snipes kept going that direction. Demolition Man has its fans – and Snipes certainly chews the scenery as Sylvester Stallone’s colorful nemesis – but films like Boiling Point and Rising Sun were simply misfires

Then in a SNL sketch for Brutal Marriage Movie, the voice-over says:

Staring two actors who fully expect Oscars…really chewing on it…really chewing…

Sometimes it can be complimentary. Here’s an example from a (assumed) theater review:

Jeff Montague was surely Captain Hook in another life. He minces and chortles, preens and roars and chews the scenery. He is wonderful. It is the best work I have ever seen him do. It is, most likely, the most fun he has ever had on stage – and it shows.

One is reminded of another pirate: Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.

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