Saturday, May 26, 2012

ON ACTING: Seeking Performance Complexity

[The following is quoted from my book, "Acting is Living,"]

Many years ago I had the good fortune to direct the brilliant actor Raul Julia in a film. Before every scene we would sit and analyze the scene. We would mutually agree on was the emotional essence of his character in the scene. Then as he started away toward the set for filming, he‘d stop, turn and we‘d say: "And yet...." That was our code way of expressing: 'the exact opposite might also be true,' so Raul would enter every scene with a complex set of emotional possibilities.

Contradiction seems inherent in all exciting life. Characters (like people) love and hate simultaneously. Characters are brave and cowardly. Characters are certain and confused. Characters contain paradox, contradiction, irony, and mutual opposition, even absurdity.

When a stimulus occurs in the presence of a mediocre actor, it echoes singularly, with monochromatic dullness, as if off the walls of a one room cave. But when it echoes in an exciting actor, one who has dug through the cavern walls of their own deepest life, who has deeply explored all sides of all issues, who has through a career of emotional rehearsal process become a high-ceilinged, and multi-roomed hollowed-out grotto of feeling, that stimulus resonates profoundly, over and over again, like the eternal inner voices in the caves of E.M. Forrester‘s Passage to India.

If an actor enters an scene without sufficient appreciation of and preparation for the depth and resonance of human complication possible in the scene, their acting craft will fly very low to the ground…and will generally crash in performance in the unremitting and all-consuming explosion of audience boredom.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

ON ACTING: The Art of the Unknown

I sometimes ask young actors how much they know of themselves; how much they understand how they will emotionally respond under the deepest vicissitudes of life? The youngest say 85%. The middle-aged say 50%. I tell them I am down to 2%...and my surety is declining from there.

There are as many cells in the body as stars in the universe. The journey into us is about as predictable as our journey beyond. The good actor therefore is most exciting when their final performance is ultimately beyond their own analytic grasp, amenable only to their deep experiential involvement (in performance) in their personal inner emotional universe.

When an excellent, practiced and complex actor subsequently sees their performance on the screen they are often surprised as the rest of the audience by some of their own (sub-conscious) acting choices. "Oh, my God…so that‘s what I am when I am under that kind of pressure. My love has elements of sadness in it; and sexual need. Oh my God, look at my confusion, too! I‘ll be damned."

Such surprise/discovery moments are a good sign: they mean that the actor had been living at a performance level of complexity that even the actor herself had no idea what she was emotionally capable of achieving.

Science is based on the formulaic replication of the known; art is based on the experiencing and unconscious revelation of the inner unknown.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

ON ACTING: a la Michael Jordan

From a philosophy attributed to Michael Jordan, probably the greatest basketball player of all time, I pass on an operating modality to actors who make a mistake in a scene, and let it bother them--allowing it to negatively affect their next performance. Or to actors who forget a line, and fully drop out of character. Or actors who fail an audition, then drive themselves crazy second guessing their total ability...and majorly screw up the next explaining why he never let missing a shot, even at the most critical times of a game bother him, why he was never reluctant to go right back down court and shoot the ball again: "Greatness fears no consequences."

Saturday, May 05, 2012

ON ACTING: "Free Falling"

I had been encouraging a new student actor to give up once performance begins conscious control of his rehearsed performance, and instead to give over to the subconscious reality of the new performance fact, to treat each new 'take' as a new and vital thing, to look, listen to the other actor-as-character in the scene (each and every time--always in renewed pursuit of his character's goal), trust that all his prior rehearsed work was somewhere in his subconscious muscle memory, and let come what may.

He finally did just that--very successfully--during his monthly scene work filming class a few days ago. He took the DVD home, watched it, wrote the following back to me:

"Just wanted to thank you again for pushing me through the airplane door. Who knew that free falling could be so fun?"

I wrote him back thanking him for such a good performance--and giving me a brilliant metaphor for good, spontaneous, 'reality' acting. "free falling." And, I should have added: 'free fall' acting is an activity in which you never hit the ground. The parachute opens before any dangerous long-term, external consequences ensue; like in bungee jumping, the curtain closes or they yell 'cut,' before you get permanently whacked.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

ON ACTING: The First Time

An actor's analysis of a scene, as well as any subsequent rehearsal and/or performance, must always be seen by the actor as only a working hypothesis, a self- suggestion rather than a certainty, when facing the next performance (or in film, another 'take.')

Acting is a constant work in progress. The final truth or final reality of any scene does not happen until it happens. Just as no moment in time or event in our lives (think of the every different shapes of a snowflake) can be an exact duplicate of what went before, each performance must of necessity be new and fresh, waiting the actual give and take of the scene to determine the scene's final, precise form.

That is what 'being in the moment,' 'reality,' 'acting honesty,' and the other demands of real and spontaneous acting means: the actor must each time in every performance or 'take' newly look and listen, respond and relate to the other actors as if it is happening for the first time...which it will be if the actor has forsworn trying to duplicate the past (analysis, rehearsal, prior performance) and instead properly focuses his or her attention on spontaneously living the life of the scene.

Listen, look, feel and respond anew--each time--IN REALITY. Believe that rest of the true and moving performance will follow within the general outlines of what you did before. Your rehearsal and prior performances are somewhere in your muscle memory. Trust it.

I know it takes acting courage to live a performance fresh each time; we want to cling to the past as a crutch, a lifeboat in our sea of insecurity. But spontaneity is required; or the actor will never succeeed as an actor to the fullest extent possible.