Tuesday, February 14, 2012

ON ACTING: WHINING; or, How to Turn Off the Audience

WHINING is pretending it hurts more than it really does.

WHINING is what children do.

WHINING is an attempt to avoid deeper feeling.

WHINING is exaggerating pain to make the other person feel guilty.

WHINING is accepting one's own impotence.

WHINING is a Loser's Lament.

WHINING is complaining and not solving.

WHINING is the tactic of cowards and manipulators.

WHINING is unappealing.

WHINING is self-pity.

WHINING is unsympathetic.

WHINING is shrill.

Therefore: ACTORS-AS-CHARACTERS should rarely WHINE; unless they are playing the leading man's or leading woman's boyfriend or girlfriend (or wife or husband) who is destined to be dumped in Act One so the real, audience appealing, love affair can commence.

Children learn to do it. They can be forgiven. They can't really change their circumstances. But as adults, we expect them to try to change their circumstances. "If it's that bad, do something about it."

"Don't suffer; solve. Don't complain; convince. Don't whine; win."

Monday, February 06, 2012

ON ACTING: An Actor's Range-versus-Depth

Moneyball is a wonderful film. Brad Pitt is superb in it. It's the best thing I've seen him in in years. When the film finished, I became a Brad Pitt fan again.

Why? Because he had accepted--at least he has in this film--that he is a brilliant leading man, not a character actor. He was no longer trying to be a Johnny Depp-trying-to-be-a-character-actor clone.

My mother used to say "the key to fashion was not a huge wardrobe filled with a new dress for each day; but a small, select wardrobe of the finest stuff, with a few of the best weaves and cut, that you can wear over and over again. So," she said, "when someone says: 'Oh, that's new, isn't it?' you can say--honestly: 'I've had that in my closet (and on my back) for years! Thanks for not noticing'"

Brad Pitt is a Robert Redford inheritor. To be a leading man is his legacy (if he will continue to accept it), his acting longitude and latitude. That is where he is best positioned on the Hollywood planet. Watch Brad Pitt in Moneyball and you think of Robert Redford in The Natural (I know...they are more both sports movies).These two actors in all their films are both at core--and best when they are enacting--flawed heroes, beautiful everyman, instantly recognizable yet eternally unfathomable. True, we all see ourselves in them, but it is the deepest, murkiest, most complicated sides of ourselves. That is their genius...and honed craft.

Their proper acting range is vertical, not horizontal. Therefore they (and their agents) should not reach sideways for character roles, but downward, seeking roles as heroes exemplifying complexity and emotional depth.

People will criticize them for choosing such heroic "blonde God" roles; they will say "they are just acting themselves." In truth, they are--as all actors are in any role--but in such hero roles being narrowly "themselves" they are, while not Streep-like or Olivier-like chameleon-brilliant but brilliant as Sandy Kofax was with only two pitches--pitches that were while common and traditional (a fastball and a curve)--they were delivered in a manner no one else could match.

Actors like Pitt (in Moneyball) and Redford are always the same, yet we never get enough of them; we came back for more...and more and more...just like millions came back over and over again for Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Julia Roberts. Those were not considered actors' actors, but often described (and derided) as "just stars; audience actors, instantly recognizable yet still eternally unknowable; not wide-ranging oceans, but backyard ponds, small in circumference yet profound in depth.

When young actors are training or rehearsal, they should consider this: don't always look to "stretch" themselves (meaning horizontally) to different and exotic roles, but look to play a role that is on the surface "themselves", a good and obvious fit for their personality. Stretch "vertically," into that recognizable everyday self, beneath the superficial aspects of their personality to find the deepest and most complex rivers of emotion than run beneath that everyday self.

That's what makes "Brad" or "Bob" or "Julia" or "Marilyn" great stars (as well as excellent craftspeople/actors, by the way). They are unafraid to plummet themselves in their own backyards, to seek in their acting preparation and rehearsal the fullest depth of their emotional beings, and allow those aspects of themselves to be stimulated and revealed in their performances.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

ON ACTING: Right- versus Left-Brain

Some actors are born right-brain dominated. These are inclined to imagination, emotion and complexity. They are often called the "emotional" types.

Some actors are born left-brain dominated. They are inclined to analysis, logic and solutions. They are often called the "technical" types.

Whichever type you inclined to, right or left, poetic or mathematical, logical or emotional, spontaneous or predictable, human beings--which include actors--have both lobes of the brain, right and left operating simultaneously. One may dominate, but both are in constant synergistic interchange and feedback.

If you are left-brain dominated, you will probably analyze the script plot-wise first: seeking-out the overall theme, the various conflicts, the character objectives. Only when you are comfortable there, you (generally secondarily) start to analyze character. In rehearsal, you will tend to "choose" and "set" character aspects. You will try to duplicate your choices in performance; and directors will tend to tell you to "loosen up," let the performance "just happen," be "more spontaneous" and "improvisatory."

Film editors will love you left-brain actors, because your performance tends to be consistent, thereby enabling the editor to cut in and out of the various takes whenever he or she wants. Such left-brain actors create little performance "matching" problems.

On the other hand, if you are right-brain dominated, you will tend to see the script character-wise first. "Feelings" and intuitions (about the character and the dialogue) will predominate plot considerations...if you see them. Your emotions will overwhelm you even in the reading. In rehearsal right-brain actors will tend to be unpredictable, eager for emotions to erupt performance. Directors will tell such actors "find the beats in the scene, the structure," try to be more "consistent, say the words as they were written," instead of "changing them all the time," which spontaneous right-brain actors too-often have a tendency to do.

Editors tend to hate right-brain actors. They tear their hair out while reluctantly admiring the actor's emotional performance: "Can't such actors be emotionally brilliant while maintaining performance (dialogue, blocking and prop) consistency?"

However...both type of actors--left-dominated and right-dominated--are acceptable as candidates for performance brilliance!

Neither type should over-praise (or curse) themselves for their strengths or their weaknesses of their approaches. Rather, they should begin their actor's process by first breaking down a role according to their logical or emotional tendencies...left-brain start with plot and early character-logic, right brain with feelings and 'honest emotion.' THEN, AS THEY REHEARSE, they should seek to refine their approaches (whether logical or emotional) according to their non-dominant brain-types; that is, each actor seek to balance their subsequent performances with some of the benefits that naturally accrue to their opposite brain-types.

To wit: A logical, consistent, technical approach to a performance should leave room for the spontaneity of performance to occur; surprised by their own sudden reaction to a look or gesture or emotion that was unexpected. After all, nothing is so fixed in life that the unexpected cannot happen.
Like a smart tourist, the good logical technical actor plans their performance trip rationally, define their itinerary in detail, but always leave room for the unexpectedly wondrous to occur...and to be enjoyed. Safety allows the occasional the dangerous (i.e., spontaneous unplanned moment) to be experienced; the structure-needing actor can always get "back on schedule/bullet point" when the unexpectedly wonderful occurrence plays itself out.

On the other hand, an emotional, spontaneous, free approach to a performance, can also seek organization, without necessarily leading to a dead performance. Discipline and structure can benefit rather than inhibit the generation of emotion. Beware of too much freedom---license---panic. For the spontaneous-inclined tourist, it often results that not knowing where you're going, or how, or when, or what clothes to wear can lead to a disastrous trip...or an aborted trip because the tourist enroute gets overwhelmed with too many "choices" and "truths" and heads back home..."Cut!"

So, good actors, seek acting balance in all things. Don't lobotomize your acting approach by confining yourself to only one lobe of your brain AND CUTTING OUT THE OPERATION OF THE OTHER LOBE. Start the overall acting process with your strength, logical or emotional as it may be...but, in your follow-up rehearsal and performance (or training for that matter), allow the other brain-aspect of yourself to arise, filling out and compliment your overall performance.

Classical musicians, allow feeling and spontaneity to caress the written notes; jazz musicians, remember that the melodic line is there, always to be obeyed.