Friday, February 02, 2007

ON ACTING: When Playing Patient, Cool, Long-suffering, Reasonable Characters

Characters (and the actors who play them) that are 'cool', or 'patient' or 'reasonable' or 'long-suffering' should always be--if they wish to be interesting and exciting--barely cool, barely patient, barely reasonable or barely long-suffering.. The 'heat' in their performance should always be bubbling under their cool, their 'impatience' active under the patience, the irrationality threatening to erupt under the 'reasonableness' and the pain screaming to emerge at any moment from under the 'long-suffering-ness'. The lid on the pressure cooker of a cool, patient, long-suffering or reasonable performance may seem flat with containment, but the concoction is always steaming within.

Heightened emotion should be hotly present in the coolest of characters, barely contained within the most graceful of elegant demeanor; a cool, reasonable, patient or long-suffering performance is like a beautiful duck gliding along the water's surface: its legs are churning furiously beneath.

Another perspective: an actor carrying a performance is like a person carrying a glass of water across a room: that 'glass' of an exciting performance should never be half filled with emotion. It should be brim-filled, always threatening to spill over at the slightest bump or prod by the scene's activities.

Still another perspective: courage has been defined as "grace under pressure". A courageous performance is one that is always under pressure; a cool performance is barely holding in heat; a patient one barely containing impatience, a reasonable character barely fighting off irrationality and long-suffering person barely stifling a cry of pain.

A great performance is a coiled snake; seeming at rest, but capable of striking with deadly precision and quickness at a moment's notice. That is what "an edge-y (exciting) performance" is: an actor-as-character living at the edge of emotional containment, barely in balance, always susceptible to being pushed 'over the edge' by the smallest breeze or gentle shove; of dialogue, touch or look by another character. Death--be it tragic or comedic--is just a nano-second or nano-inch away.


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