Thursday, August 26, 2010

ON ACTING: Instincts

Actors are often instructed: "Follow your instincts." "Don't let your head get in the way of your instincts." "She's an instinctive actor." "In your instinctive behavior lies the truth."

All of these statements in support of an actor's instinct are valid...with one slight alteration: "Follow your honed instincts." "She's a honed instinctive actor."Don't let your head get in the way of your honed instinctive acting."

Athletes are often admonished and praised in a similar manner. But no one would suggest that a professional athlete walk out of a field and act instinctively without ever having played the game a long time and without the coach having had the team run through their game plan. Instincts serve a professional athlete at game time because their instincts have been honed through a thousand repetitions before the game and in a career of amateur and professional ball-playing.

A great surgeon follows their instincts in every individual operation--every operation is different because a different individual is involved--but you sure as hell want that doctor's instincts to be unhoned though prior classroom work, internship and residency...and quite a few similar operations in the near past,

Instinctual behavior is acting or any other long as it has been honed through years of training and practice.

I remember working many years ago as a new actor on an episode of Dr. Kildare opposite the great actor Lee Marvin. Lee was one of the greats actors of his time; eventually to win an Academy Award. Purportedly earlier in his career Lee had his onscreen time cut down in "The Wild One" because he was overshadowing Marlon Brando, whom the producers wanted to feature in the film.

Between every take, I notice Lee jotting something down in his script. I was more than curious. It was during the first year of my Hollywood career and I was hungry for information and growth as an actor.

Lee had been very open to me duribg the first few days of shooting (we had the same agent). So one day, I asked him what he was writing in his script. He handed me the script and said generously, "Here. Look for yourself," and went off to the bathroom. I sat in my chair and looked. Much to my surprise there was little Lee had written down; except, at the heading of every scene, in bold handwriting, Lee had notated his character's objective. I was aghast. That simple? My script was full of my notations on how to approach and play every line of my scenes; yet Lee's was "I've got to get out of the hospital," or "I want her to love me," "I've got to comvince him to get well."

That was it.

No great emotional designations, or line reading hints? How could that be? When I had watched Lee work in his scenes, his performances were filled with interesting and varied moments of great emotion and character turns.

It took me years to figure it out why Lee could be instinctively brilliant.

Lee didn't need a plethora or self instruction and hints to performance written down in his script. All he had to do was aim toward a goal in a scene, listen to the other actor's dialogue...and instinctively he would respond in a most interesting and varied manner. How? Simple; yet not so simple. His acting "instincts" had been honed by years of study and practice.

In every scene Lee may have performed by the instinctive seat of his pants, but those instinctive pants had been designed, cut and sewn by decades of practice and work.

Perform with your instincts, but work endlessly honing those instincts.


Blogger Andrea said...

I cannot wait for Caleb to read this . Thank you.

We hope to see you soon.


11:48 AM  
Blogger Cliff Osmond said...

Thank you, Andrea. Looking forward to seeing you again, as well. 'Hi' to Caleb for me.

4:26 PM  

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