I saw Clint Eastwood interviewed on television when he took up celebrity portrait photography as a hobby many years ago, and he said that there were three ways in which a person could be captured:
- The way the world sees them (common perception)
- The way they see themselves (private perception)
- In a way nobody has ever seen them before (surprising, sometimes shocking perception)
Celebrity photographers sometimes show George Clooney in a suit or smart-casual wardrobe on a beach (how we see him), sometimes as the political activist (how he sees himself), and sometimes . . . well, like this.
In both portrait photography and in film, John Wayne was often seen in wardrobe and manner befitting Western and War genres (how we saw him), he was sometimes seen in casual ranch gear (how he saw himself), but he was never seen in a leotard and ballet shoes (surprising/shocking perception). Hillary Clinton is at home in a pant suit, and would be surprising to many these days in a skirt, but not as surprising as she would be with big gloves and a mouth guard, in a boxing ring.
In late 2006 I spent three incredible weeks in Québec observing the creation process of Ex Machina, the company founded by internationally acclaimed theatre actor-director Robert Lepage. The company’s work is often described as cinematic, an intended compliment, but one Lepage actually loathes.
A tradition of equipping actors with head mics, so they can speak naturally instead of projecting, plus integrated use of multi-media and techniques that offer visual perspectives and varying frame sizes without audience members actually moving from their seats, leads critics to label the work cinematic. Yet Lepage would argue that he is simply using every device possible to communicate his vision, which just happens to occur on stage.
Labeling Ex Machina’s creations cinematic is less of a compliment to Lepage than it is an indictment of the run-of-the-mill companies to which audiences have unfortunately become accustomed.
Dear Annoying Actor,
First of all, stay with me here, because this has an important point. Okay? Okay.
You know that annoying thing you do in class, where you check your phone while I’m trying to teach you something? Yeah? Well, that’s pretty annoying. Only slightly less annoying than having you ask the exact question I just answered while you weren’t listening. Or saying, “Where are we going from?” Even though we’ve gone from the same place a dozen times already.
When I offer exercises and direction and you ignore them, it’s really quite annoying. Especially when you then attempt to convince me that my suggestions won’t work. The suggestions that I’ve spent almost two decades refining with thousands of other actors. The suggestions that you haven’t yet tried.
That can tend to annoy a little.
When you tell me you didn’t have time to get off book, or practice your exercises in the past 7 X 24-hour period since the last class, it surprises me. But not as much as it annoys me, since now there’s little we can do in the class for which you agreed to arrive fully prepared. Your gossiping about celebrities during work time is also annoying, but it pales in comparison to the choice you make to go out to a party the night before class, instead of learning your lines for the following day.read more
Over the years, I have heard many directors, teachers, and casting directors instruct actors to ‘bring more colour’ to their performances in auditions and on screen. Though we as actors think we have some kind of understanding of what this generalised direction may mean, are we certain we’re on the right track? The most important aspect of taking direction is in being able to translate generalities into specific, doable activity.
Bringing colour may be as simple as adding range to one’s voice or including more movement, but this would seem to directly contradict the “less is more” instructions actors run into far too often. To turn this into specific action, we require a common and specific vocabulary.
It’s easy to think that we’ve made a choice when all we’ve done is follow an ingrained, habitual path. The difference is that choices are final conscious selections taken from multiple possible options, while habits are subconscious enactments based on limited and usually unconscious triggers.
In my e-book for actors, “Choices,” I outline many ways by which an actor might develop the kind of rehearsal process that allows multiple options to become visible, from which he or she can confidently select the most interesting, exciting, fitting choice. To simply do is not enough. One must explore a range of potential outcomes and then choose to do that which his or her being cries out to express most suitably, given the context of the piece.
As a professional reader at thousands of castings for about 15 years, I saw a very small number of actors whose “choices” were as defined above. Even when natural, relaxed, and engaging, many actors simply fell down in their auditions due to the lack of a unique and individual perspective. I do not believe these actors lacked the talent to do so, I believe they lacked the training to bring it out in the audition. Their training to act was fine. Their training in choices, however, was letting them down, and continues to do so.