Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "Preparation For He"

This week, I travelled to Dublin start filming on Rouzbeh Rahsidi's new feature film, He. I am currently working on a series of blogs about the shoot, which Rashidi and I will expand into a codified technique which can be employed by other directors and actors, independently. But first however, I want to share with you my preparation for He in the week leading upto the shoot. For those of you unfamiliar with Rashidi's methods, it is important to point out that he doesn't work from a script, there is no script. In the case of He, all I knew about the film was the brief outline that Rashidi had provided me with. There were no lines to learn, no script to analyse, no rehearsals. So, the question for me was: “what do I need to do to make sure I'm ready to perform?”

Well, it was helpful that I had worked with Rashidi before, on the Remodernist feature film, Closure Of Catharsis, and therefore, I at least knew what to expect from him: Rashidi intentionally avoids rehearsals with the actor – on Closure Of Catharsis I was given only a few sentences prior to filming, enough to get my imagination working, and then it was up to me to create something infront of a rolling camera. With this on my mind, I decided to arrive in Dublin without preconceptions about what I was going to do – I needed to be receptive to my surroundings, to what is being said to me, and able to respond quickly, vividly, and fully. In order to do this, I had to ensure that I was relaxed and refreshed, with my mind as free of clutter as possible, almost completely blank. In great performances, the actor simplifies and intensifies life, it is a heightened state of being, every moment is exciting and meaningful. When working from a text (if it's a good one), the writer has already created a structure which helps the actor to simplify and intensify (ie: discard anything not germane to the script), or, when improvising, there is usually a rehearsal period where a structure is created and then carried into the performance – however, when improvising without rehearsal, the actor must create the structure himself during the performance, moment-to-moment - this requires serious creative energy, and the mind must be razor sharp. If the actor fails to create this structure, the simplicity and intensity will not be present in his work, and then we are left with a performance overloaded with meaningless detail, a hodge-podge. No thanks. So, I knew I had to arrive in Dublin absolutely on top of my game.

There is also a game I am playing with myself – I must ensure that the current work is an improvement on the work I have done previously, I need to finish each production a better actor than when I started it, so there is this little pressure that I add into the mix. Therefore, in order to accomplish my dual goal of doing my job well and defeating my own limitations, I rest myself. I decrease my normal activity, I avoid committing to new tasks, or anything which requires deep thought and sends my brain off into new directions – I go into stand-by mode, a sort of hibernation. This is difficult for me because if I'm not working hard then I feel as though I am not living life, so I have to fight my natural instincts. Throughout the week I suffered from pangs of anxiety that I am wasting my life, but quickly settled when I reminded myself why I was resting. The strange aspect about consciously decreasing your activity, is how it affects the brain – the length of time I could concentrate for shrank, suddenly I couldn't remember things, I became absent minded, I missed words out when writing a sentence, my resolve was weak, and there were certain moments when this decline seemed shocking, but again, I reminded myself that I am deliberately shutting parts of myself down, and that it is only temporary in any case. I do this vague emptying-of-the-mind preparation all week, holding the general outline of the film at the back of my mind, never thinking about it directly, and neither did I focus on anything else with intent - I stared at movies without really watching them. Then, at the last minute, I do all that I need to do to be ready to leave for my flight, and I do it quickly and decisively, the resting period is not over, that won't end until I officially start work, I do it this way because it minimizes the time I spend concentrating on it, and therefore it's ability to disrupt me. Broadly speaking, this preparation worked. I turned up in Dublin strong and focussed, ready to not only cope with the creative challenges which lay ahead, but energized to excel by them.

 NB - When working on a script, I get a feeling of fullness by the end of rehearsals, it's the carrying round of the dialogue in my head, and rehearsals in my muscle memory. I got the same feeling of fullness when preparing for He, even though there was no dialogue or rehearsal. It was a sort of Pavlovian response to the fact I was going to perform. Strange.


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