Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "Reality & Illusion"





All stills by Rouzbeh Rashidi


The Homo Sapiens Project is an ongoing series of personal video works by Rouzbeh Rashidi, who asked me to contribute to the project by talking about myself on camera for 40 minutes (few actors need to be asked twice to do this). We shot the interview in Dublin while filming HE, along with additional footage in various parts of the city. After seeing the finished film, Rashidi remarked : -

“it is very interesting because there are no lines in this film between documentary or fiction. The film goes beyond all of this and your performance (the interview) seems completely fictional and staged.”

This is strange because in the film I simply talk about what I've been doing as an actor, there was no preparation – the camera was turned on me, I was asked a question and just spoke. So, how can it seem “fictional and staged”. I believe what is being referred to here is the precision of movement and speech, that everything which is not germane to answering the question is censored out, and this censoring creates a “deliberateness”, a control, which could also be viewed as staged.

But how does this situation come about? Well, the tools of the actor are his body, his voice, his personality. A profound understanding of these tools and how they function is crucial if he is to develop into an effective performer (you cannot improve something you don't understand). Much of the actor's time then, is spent observing himself, making improvements where necessary and discarding bad habits. This requires enormous will and self-control, which can be built up and strengthened over time, after facing up to real challenges. Ultimately, this self-monitoring becomes habitual: I've always loved the story about actor-impresario and co-founder of Dublin's Gate Theatre, Michael Mac Liammoir, who, upon learning of the death of his partner Hilton Edwards, walked downstairs grief stricken, when he caught himself in the mirror and thought: “ah, so that's what I look like when I have just learned about the death of a loved one”. Now THAT'S an actor (incidentally, the report of Edwards' death proved to be false). The point is, the actor is continually working for “the moment where you have to deliver”.


An actor's performance should not be pretended to, regardless of the fiction of a script, the performance should be an actuality – in short, it should be true. The actor renders his performance truthful by giving himself something concrete to accomplish in the scene, by giving himself an action .* Further, this aesthetic can also be applied when the actor is not performing, in his everyday life, strengthening the aesthetic, and making it habitual so that it will kick in and help the actor when he is under pressure – every moment of the actor's life then, is effectively contributing to his growth as an artist. The net effect is that the actor's work becomes indistinguishable from his personality.

The combination of the actor's intense self-awareness and the habitual employment of actions, can make the illusory seem real, and the real seem illusory, and sometimes it can make something seem both real and illusory simultaneously. Perhaps then, the distinction is false?



*For example, if character A is trying to get character B to leave her husband and dead end marriage, and,run away with him to start a new life, then an action could be “to sell a great idea” - point is, selling a great idea is something you can actually do, and it doesn't need “preparation”.

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