The actor had given a performance in class the night before, and he felt he had not tapped into the full richness of his own ability. It lacked a certain 'something'--an 'edge,' he called it. He got the same criticism from several casting directors and producers: his work, while good, lacked edge.
He called me about it.
I told him--as I had told him before--that I, too, while I thought him a wonderful actor, agreed that his work lacked edge; he lived in performance aback from the edge, a few feet back from danger, where the actor's emotional life was often very interesting to watch but rarely exciting, engaging; never dangerous. The audience always appreciated his work, but was rarely swept away.
What could he do about it? We talked about increasing his out-of-class work on edginess 'preparation', stirring up his emotional sub-text before any of his performances so that when he entered every scene he entered with a heightened emotional potentiality; susceptibility for emotional response, but he admitted he was still been resisting the very concept. "What is it about edgy people--and characters--that makes them edgy? Maybe if I understood the concept, it would help me."
I offered the following:
....Edgy people--and characters--know--emotionally--life and death; sexuality and anger, the alpha and omega, beginning and end of life. They are emotionally familiar with it. They live their performance on the edge of this existence; and are always at risk of falling off that character performance edge into the deep and dangerous chasms of their own rage, sexuality, despair, laughter and death. They may often may live their surface life "coolly," but they are always standing on thin ice. They barely are in control of their emotions. They are easily stimulated by life (events and others in the scene) into the fullness of their own rich passion. They are volatile human beings; they exist as volcanoes always ready to erupt. We, the audience, sense it, and wait excitingly in anticipation. The slightest provocation can stimulate edgy actors into any possible condition or state of out-of-controlled-ness. They back away from nothing. They embrace everything. They are impulsive, driven by momentary emotional need, not overly-disciplined by long-term thinking logic. They live in the moment, of the moment, for the moment.
....They are often self-destructive. They gamble constantly with their own lives. They play winner-take-all; they live a high stakes life. They adhere to one philosophy: "Better to have loved (and hated, and humiliated, and cursed and embraced) than never to be loved (or hated, and humiliated, and cursed and embraced) at all.
....Fuck it; if they are "in the game" of life, they are "all in." They vow to experience everything. To them life is neutral if not meaningless; BUT you give it meaning by the passion with which you embrace it. "Why live...except to LIVE!" Why perform but to embrace the rich edgy life of the scene --both interpretively and in execution--with vibrancy and emotional recklessness. That is the edgy actor's motto. Never backwards; always forwards. Even a momentary move or look away is only a clever energized end-run to the goal.
....From Dean to Penn, from Brando to Depp, From DeNiro to Pacino, from Robert Downey, Jr. to Chris Rock, those kinds of actors on edge the moment the curtain rises, or the director yells, "Action"...and the edge never leaves until they drag you offstage with a closed curtain or drag you off your thin ice of filming with the abrasive sound of "Cut."
...Directors, Casting Directors, Agents, Producers and Writers, work on an emotional safety net set far back from the edge of the set...and then place us actors on the emotional edge of their creating, in their plays and scripts and ask us to be openly humiliated, loved, infuriated, enraged, sexually overwhelmed, frightened, sad and often murdered. When we achieve it, they praise us and overpay us. When we don't, they dismiss us with faint praise.
....Thus is the life of an actor...onstage and off...on the edge.