Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Actor's Face

From film producer/director Philippe Martinez:

"The greatest landscape in the world is an actor's face."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

ON ACTING: Mask Upon Mask

An actor-as-character enters a scene--as people do as they move through everyday life--with a series of masks covering his/her true face. (Why? The truth beneath the mask is too stark a reality. Only bad actors want the truth revealed; good actors, like people, want quick and easy success; and truth is a torturous and difficult price to pay for success, and is only paid unwillingly and when all other masking options prove unsuccessful.)

Masks are the outer layers of a characters personality: expressions of anger, joy, confusion, happiness, sexuality...the outer shape of our inner emotions. Each character has a different ordering, layering or configuration of masks...but all have masks.

In good acting, and in good drama, masks are stripped away one by one as the character confronts the continuing blows of the scene's conflict. The character progresses from ripped-off mask by ripped-off mask, exposed emotion (mask) by exposed emotion; until, at the end of the drama/conflict, when all masks are stripped away, all emotions have proven unsuccessful, a single image remains--our true face, the final emotion, the naked face without mask, revealed and raw, the deepest and most feared and emotion, the one that lies at the core of the character's being.

At that climactic point, the character is forced like Blanche DuBois to look in the unvarnished, well-lit mirror and sees herself, the unmasked face, a visage that even s/he may have only intermittently and unwillingly seen in his/her lifetime. Seeing that naked truth, she can either surmount the starkness of the vision, and survive, called a happy ending (a comedy, in the classic sense), or be overwhelmed by the sight, and be destroyed (a tragedy).

Either way, comedy or tragedy--climactic truth that overcomes, or climactic truth that is overwhelming--the viewing audience, masked themselves over a lifetime of fear and avoidance, confronts its collective and individual faces. "I am ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille." They sit in the darkened theater, unmasked themselves, experiencing through the character's masked-ripping travails, what Aristotle called the climax of the drama, ultimate self-recognition or self-discovery.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

ON ACTING: "The fault, dear Brutus..."

Often, when actors give less-than-adequate performance in a scene, they place the blame on their scene partner: "They (the other actor) wasn't giving me enough to react to." The complaining actor's implicit assumption is that their less-than-adequate performance, especially in manifesting emotion, is tied to the form and quantity of their scene partner's stimulation.

To such complaint, I say, yes...and no.

A truly fine actor can be stimulated into their own marvelous performance by very wide quality and quantity range of partner initiation. The important consideration in an actor giving a great performance is the sensitivity and flexibility of his own emotional condition.

Let me cite an example from everyday life (which, once again, what acting mirrors): I want to have a good time. If I am truly open to having a good time, I can date anybody...and I can have a good time. I can have a good time with an ignorant person ("It'll be fun teaching them"), a smart person ("It'll be fun learning from them"), a beautiful person ("It'll be fun trying to make love to them"), a homely person ("It'll be fun to convince them they are beautiful"), etc.

To have a good time is ultimately not dependent on them, the others, but on myself' my emotional success, my open receptivity to them (in this case, my open receptivity to having a good time irrespective to the particulars of what they give me). Granted, each good time with each different person will be a little different, but the general emotional fact of having a 'good time' will be irreducible and constant irrespective of the person so engaged.

The same possibility holds with being made sad, or silly, or angry. For example, if I am in 'an angry mood', I have found anything and everything someone makes me angry: a smile ("How dare you smile at me when I am in this mood?"), a contradiction ("How dare you disagree with me?!"), an agreement ("How dare you agree with me; I know you're just placating me!"), an expression of love ("haw dare you lie to me!!"). The same constancy of stimulation holds for silliness, or sadness. If I get deeply into an emotional 'mood', whatever the mood, all stimuli I receive from the other actor, whatever the quality and quantity of their stimuli, will cause in me a deep and specific emotional response.

Finally, I don't even need an actor's particular look or sound of voice to stimulate me. (Cold reading, for example, with a casting director has often been described as indulging in a form of acting necrophilia: getting off on the dead.) So I respond to that reality of that minimum stimulation by accepting: words themselves can move me deeply. I have cried, or laughed, or been puzzled, or been made angry by a letter: nothing but words, without a living voice or face.

The best answer to an actor's complaint vis-a-vis the the inadequacy of their performance partners, is: "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not with the stars, but (all too often) within we ourselves."