Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Great Acting Blog: "A True Actor-Director Collaboration - Boredom Of The Disgust Part 3"



Boredom Of The Disgust is a film made up of a series of scenes but there is no through-action – they are linked because each of them is about cinema itself. The film has documentary scenes (as discussed in Part 1), and it has fiction scenes (including a film noir scene about a man trying to escape from some people he owes money to, and the imaginary argument discussed in the last blog), so it was only natural that the film should culminate in a scene that was both fiction and documentary.

Set in the screening room of The Guesthouse in Cork, I was to play an affable, if eccentric, film lover, who had built a cinema with his own hands, in order to screen the films he loved, and here was opening night, and he was explaining his intentions for the cinema. The cinema did not exist of course, not in the sense that I was talking about it in any case – at one point, I introduced Le Samourai as the next film of the evening to the audience, but there was no audience, and I had no intention of screening Le Samourai.  So much for the fiction then. During the improvisation, Rashidi would interject and ask me to speak about my thoughts on cinema generally, about my favourite filmmakers, and what kind of films I loved. Essentially, I gave truthful answers (ie – my actual thoughts rather than made up ones for the character) - I spoke about my penchant for discovering obscure masterpieces, and my preference for personal, idiosyncratic cinema (or auteur cinema) – watching individualist cinema, is, for me, like entering a secret garden. I also spoke about an idea which is important to me: that the richest way a film can be experienced is at the movie theatre, infront of a massive screen (and if you're skeptical about that; watch a film at home on DVD firstly, then go to the theatre to watch the same film). For this whole scene, I was really just riffing – letting ideas form in my mind, in response to the few notes I had been given - it was “playing” in the truest sense. However, I put on a slightly upper class voice, and behaved in a rather stiff manner, along with displaying a certain affability – these are all externals which I applied in order to help create the illusion of character (another example of an external, would be a limp). Of course, this kind of characterization makes perfect sense for the fictional parts of the scene, but is strange when you think I maintained this character while I was explaining my actual own ideas. If the actor is the truth at the heart of the filmmakers artifice, then we can also say he is the truth at the heart of the artifice of characterization – now I think of Charles Laughton in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, where he uses externals masterfully for sure, but it is undeniably the force of Laughton's spirit underneath

 the prosthetics and the make-up, which truly moves us.

 It has been a joy to be given a platform to expound my ideas on acting, and then to put those ideas into action in the same film – and it is a testament to Rashidi's love and respect for acting, that he decided to give the craft such focus within the film. Further, as the role of actors is diminishing all the time, Rashidi is to be commended for striving to give responsibility back to the actor, and, by offering challenging work, offers the opportunity to unlock his true creative potential, and all this takes place within his own personal, cinematic aesthetic. The actor, for his part, must not waste the opportunity, but rise to the challenge, and stretch every sinew in service of the film.

Boredom Of The Disgust & Monotony Of The Tediousness, is the fruit of a true actor-director collaboration.



Fruitful Collaboration

Drifting Clouds

A Very Real Mystery


Exclude The Meaningless


Monday, 27 February 2012

The Great Acting Blog: "The Paradox Of Acting - Boredom Of The Disgust - Part 2"

Check out the trailer for our new feature film, part video essay, part fiction.


Having completed the documentary scenes for the film, we moved on to the fictional scenes. First up, I was to have an argument with somebody who wasn't in the room, but I was to create the illusion that I was talking to somebody, so all the audience would hear are my responses to this imaginary other person, and if that wasn't enough, Rashidi decided to make it a little bit harder by turning a radio on in the room, blasting only white noise, and no actual music - an actual antagonist as oppose to the imaginary. Again, there was no rehearsal, so I just had to pick a task and back myself. More and more as I get older as an actor, I put my faith in my imagination rather than my powers of reason, largely because the imagination will always cough something up which I can use, whereas my reason can create self-consciousness and cause me to dry – acting technique then, is about intentionally liberating the imagination when under pressure. And my imagination did cough something up: I had arranged a party which was very important to me, but my (invisible) other half was refusing to attend, because the restaurant in question didn't have the kind of chicken she likes, so the improvisation became about me trying to convince her to come to the party – that was the literal action (ie - the fiction of the scene) – however, the essential action (ie – the concretely doable task I was to give myself for the scene) was to “get a loved one to come through for me”. Of course, I didn't think of this whole situation right at the beginning of the improvisation, I just made a start, and the picture gradually emerged, with my imagination feeding me data. Throughout the scene, I executed the action in different ways; to reason with, to persuade, to cajole, to plead, to beg, even to mock (using my special reverse psychology techniques, of course), to lay down the law was another, and all the while trying to deal with Rashidi's mischievous radio and it's fluctuating volume. This scene involved the exploration of a nice, clean line of action, which is such a joy to perform. Having now watched the completed film, I had completely forgotten that Rashidi had been torturing me not only with a radio, but also with his lighting scheme: sometimes a strobe, sometimes creating a shadowy, noirish world, and finally cutting the lights entirely near the end of the scene, so that I was left standing in total darkness, shouting abuse at my non-existent scene partner; “you're f**king nuts, you're a f**king lunatic....”

Essentially then, this scene is a real summation of the acting techniques that I regularly discuss on this blog: eschewing characterization for action, and a proper commitment to doing the actions will lead to a truthful performance, and then the illusion of character is created in the mind of the viewer – and here the paradox of acting is revealed to us: that a truthful performance helps the viewer to believe a fiction.


Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Great Acting Blog: "Boredom Of The Disgust & Monotony Of The Tediousness - Part 1""



As I arrived in Cork,  the ever prolific and hardworking Rouzbeh Rashidi informed me that in addition to HE, we were to shoot some scenes for another feature film he was putting together (in collaboration with Maximilian Le Cain), and he did so in a tone of voice which suggested that shooting two feature films simultaneously was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, the obvious thing to do infact.

He said he wanted to explore on camera some of the ideas I have been developing on this blog over the months, aswell as create fictional, improvised scenes, then finally explore my attitude to cinema generally, in scenes which would be both fiction and documentary. However, as the scenes progressed and as we accrued material, it was decided that the footage would form a feature film of it's own: “Boredom Of The Disgust And Monotony Of The Tediousness”.


Firstly, Rashidi asked me to write down my five favourite actors and actresses, on a piece of paper, and then discuss what I liked about them, or why I thought they were great. Normally an easy task – I always love a good list, and walking down street lost in my thoughts, I could probably reel off one name after another, but when someone asks you to name names, suddenly the mind goes blank. However, after some thought, I did manage to come up with five actors – (in no particular order) Charles Laughton, Marlon Brando, Michel Piccoli, Jack Nicholson and Jean Gabin (on my reserve list were Alain Delon and Robert De Niro). For actresses, I decided on: Tilda Swinton, Emmanuelle Beart, Irene Jacob and Delphine Seyrig, and ran out of time before thinking of my fifth (which would have been Monica Vitti). I then offered my reasons for including each. Obviously a lot was said about the excellence of each actor's technique, but, in the end, what we respond to in each actor is their personality, each of them is intrinsically compelling – and I'm not talking about them playing compelling characters, it's something in them, call it energy, call it spirit, there's just something about them that is alight....Of course, as I write this blog, I can think of many, many others I could add to the list (Dirk Bogarde anyone?).


The next set up had me expounding my theories on acting more broadly (never needing to be asked twice to do so of course) – many of which may be viewed as “controversial”, such as the fact that there is no difference between stage and camera acting, but that a lot of people make a lot of money by inventing a difference: then charging good money to explain what the difference is, then charge again to "teach" the actor how to "adapt" accordingly. The wider point, of course, is that a whole industry has sprouted up around the idealism and the ambition of young people who go into acting – and this industry is made up of “business people” who create a problem for the actor and then offer themselves as the solution (in the same way cigarettes create an aggravation for nicotine in the smoker, which can only be soothed by smoking). A classic example, is the “career guru”, who charges actors £50 an hour to assess the marketing effectiveness of their materials (ie - headshots, CVs, covering letters etc). During this hour, the actor is subjected to a comprehensive criticism of all that he has been doing to “get work”, and at the end, the guru gives him list of things to change (whether it is an improvement is moot of course). What else is the guru to do? Imagine that the desperate actor entered the guru's den, hoping to find out “where he's going wrong”, but, after only 10 minutes, the guru simply turned round and said; “congratulations! I've checked your stuff, and everything seems in order – keep doing what you're doing and success will soon be yours”,  then ushered the actor out the door? Wouldn't the actor feel cheated out of his money? Isn't he paying for the guru to criticise him?....With the £50 spent on the guru, the actor could have gone onto Amazon and bought a Flip HD camera and started making his own films.....I didn't put it this way in Boredom Of The Disgust & Monotony Of The Tediousness, but my point is the actor should remind himself that all he wants to do is offer a presentation to an audience (and hopefully delight them in the process) – this way of thinking will keep him fitted for the task - all else should be kept in perspective. If our work becomes simply a marketing mechanism, it will not be long before the lies breed an all consuming self-loathing, and then what?

The next part of the Boredom Of Disgust & Monotony Of The Tediousness blogs, which look at the fictional improvised scenes we created.


With And Without Object

Performance Without Rehearsal


Monday, 20 February 2012

The Great Acting Blog: "With And Without Object"



A large part of our work in Cork took place in a empty office block, which had an endless number of rooms, some of them empty, some of them littered with old paperwork and decaying furniture. The whole place had a weird, eerie psycho-geography, just right for the strange dream sequences we were to shoot there. In some respects however, these scenes were the easiest for me to act, largely because many of the tasks I was asked to perform were very simple: sometimes sifting through the debris, sometimes picking up some strange object and studying it, sometimes spraying the place with a fire extinguisher. For most of this work, Rashidi asked me not to have a specific objective, that I was performing these actions without a purpose. This meant that most of what I did I did mechanically – for example; in one room I walked into, I smashed a computer monitor, and I did so not with any anger or even any enthusiasm, but purely by going through the motions – no emotion, no inflection, no point of view. In another room, I had a sack which was full with shredded paper, and I grabbed clumps of this paper, and threw it at the walls, at the ceilings, at the windows, and once I had had enough of this throwing, I simply tossed the sack to one side, and walked off. Again, this was done without object, without intent, and purely mechanically. We worked on in this fashion, going through the various rooms, performing purposeless tasks. The net effect of this approach, was to give my work a certain robotic quality, there was no emotion on my part, nor indeed any kind of expression – very strange, but perhaps just right for the scenes we wanted to create.

Then Rashidi asked me to add a certain upbeat quality, which lead me to behave like some sort of red coat – walking with an exaggerated spring in my step, doing little dances, and which culminated in a little skit: there was a derelict reception desk, and I quickly improvised a scene as a hotel clerk trying to entertain would-be guests. However, during the skit, I did give myself an action: to entertain – which produced some lovely little moments, like when I tap danced on top of the desk. However, if my earlier work had been strange because of my lack of action, this skit was strange precisely because I did give myself an action: being an entertainer amid the dereliction and decay of this abandoned office block, is a slightly freaky combination.




Both periods of filming, Cork and Dublin, have proved to be mentally exhausting, and not because we worked particularly long days (we didn't), but because of the intensity of my commitment to the scenes. As an actor, I'm always thinking about how I can deliver something a little bit extra, something more. The audience is extremely important to me – I don't view them  as an appendage to my work (as many do)*, but the very reason for it: I want to delight them in the way that my favourite actors delight me. My work is always a presentation and a communication. As the great John Hurt once said, the actor needs to earn the trust of the audience, without which the dramatic interchange cannot take place. Audiences make themselves completely vulnerable to the actor – it's a priveledged position we are in, and one we must not abuse, but cherish and serve as well as we can. HE has been extremely demanding because I set the bar high for myself in striving to go further, dig deeper, and find something extra. It's also because the nature of the material required discipline and seriousness – my character's intent to commit suicide always felt like a burden which needed to be carried, and the improvisations needed to be completely focussed. Rashidi will now take the film through the post-production process, and eventually send it out into the world. The next step for me, will be to watch the finished film, and analyse my work to see how I can improve for next time.

What is certain, is that HE is an important and concrete step on my way to becoming precisely the kind of actor I set out to become – an objective I will  never compromise, despite the critcism and cynicism I regularly encounter, and despite the fact that I may occasionally take a wrong turning. It is especially difficult for an actor to create work on his own terms, perhaps more difficult than for any other artist. However, HE, and working with Rashidi, is the embodiment of the kind of actor-director relationship I've been calling for : the director trusts the actor and gives him room to create, while the actor serves the film (ie – the director's vision) totally – a creative partnership**. It's a richly rewarding way of working, which breeds trust and co-operation, which, in turn, means it's a pleasure to crack open a beer with the director at the end of it all.


*as evidenced by the recent trend in the West End of London for actors to break out of the scene and tell noisy audience members to “shut-up” when they make a noise by eating a packet of crisps. How weak and spineless we have become. Old barnstormers like Anew Mcmaster would shut the audience up by the force  sheer force of their performances, as when he stepped on stage before 2000 drunken, riotous Irish, but by the end of the play, they could hear a pin drop. An actor who is less interesting than a packet of crisps may want to think about a career change.

**Although we were using improvisations, this stills applies to fully scripted work – it's a question of how actor and director view eachother, and their work.

Friday, 17 February 2012

The Great Acting Blog: "Performance Without Rehearsal"



As I noted in the previous blog, there were no speeches or dialogues to motor my performance because all of that work had been completed in Dublin. In Cork, I only had my face and body and pure physical actions to express myself with. As always when working with Rashidi, I am only briefed about the specific actions of a scene shortly before we come to shoot it, Cork was no different. However, and unusually for me, when given my instructions for each scene this time, I didn't need to convert those instructions into an doable action , as I still felt “full” from my work in Dublin, and I simply thought that that energy would fuel me. Essentially then, I was working almost completely intuitively, however, my tasks for each scene were more concrete than my tasks in Dublin; for example: unwrapping the packaging around a bottle, or making a cup of coffee. So, I had concrete points  in the scenes to give structure to my performance, which is different from only having improvised dialogue where you have to magic something from nothing. Still, without putting my instructions through my usual process, I wasn't sure what I would be capable of delivering.

As soon as the scenes started, I felt an inner emotional intensity, which rarely manifested itself physically, but it gave me energy, which lead to an intensity of thought. I began to feel as though the stakes were high (which for the fiction of the film, they were), everything I did seemed to take on the utmost importance. There is a scene where I buy some liquid from a sort of apothecary, played by Maximilian Le Cain, and my concentration became furious – it was almost overwhelming, but at the same time I had to focus it and give it direction, which resulted in a tension coupled with control and reserve – a combination just right for the character.

So how can this performance come about without rehearsals or conscious application?


Well, it's possible that rehearsals are overrated (certainly lengthy rehearsals are) – an heretical statement in our age of the goody-two-shoes, middle-class, industrial-earnest-pseudo-art, where we're supposed to have an “idea” for every line of dialogue,  where we pretend that “drama games” are anything other than waste of time, where the actor is  told if he's not willing “to make a fool of himself” then he is not a real actor (how dare the actor even think he can own his own work) and where we are supposed to pretend that “research” is interesting and useful, and that use of the imagination is a mere self-indulgence – the truth is, acting belongs to the brash, arrogant individualist with a hyperactive fantasy life, and all the attendant gak which has built up around the actor's ambition  should be shoved to one side, and ignored. The other important point however, is that the actions I had chosen for myself four months previously in Dublin, were now working  for me in Cork. During that four month break, the work I had done in Dublin would have been churning around in my sub-conscious (especially as I knew I would be coming back to do more scenes, and my mind would not have jettisoned the material completely, but put it in storage somewhere), which then expressed itself during the scenes in Cork – hence, I didn't feel the need to find new actions for myself. It's a similar situation to the screenwriter, who reaches a dead end with one of his scripts, so he takes a break from it for a few months, but when he returns to it, he is easily able to find solutions to problems which had previously seemed insurmountable. And that is the whole point of using actions : it works for the actor, organizing and directing his performance, which then leaves the actor free to play.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Trailer For Bruno Dumont's Hadewjich (2009)

The Great Acting Blog: "Poetry Of The Mundane"




Readers of my blogs A Very Mysterious Business and Duologue will know that the bulk, or indeed all of the monologue and duologue scenes for Rouzbeh Rashidi's new feature film, “HE”, were shot in Dublin last September. So, when production resumed in Cork a week ago, mostly what we had to shoot were dream sequences, interiors and atmospheric shots.


As there was no dialogue, the central challenge for me, was to reveal what the character was upto using only physical actions, and I chose to do this by handling objects, or not, as in certain instances. For example, there was a key scene set in the kitchen, where I wanted to show that the character was distracted. I entered the scene with the intention of making myself a cup of coffee, so the first thing I did was to put the kettle onto boil, then prepare my mug. I stand and wait for the kettle to boil, and as I do so, I become lost in thought. After a couple of minutes, the kettle comes to the boil, however, instead of pouring water into my mug, I remain motionless, oblivious to the kettle, still lost in thought. It is only after a few moments that I snap out of it, and remember to pour the water and make myself a coffee, as per my original intention. The failure to maintain my constancy of purpose, to forget my original action, but start on a new one, then come back to my original, creates the idea of distraction. A simple piece of work, but very effective.


In the same scene, I needed to show that the character changes his mind. After I have made my coffee, I lean against the sideboard, and put the mug toward my lips in order to take a slurp, however, I pause just before it reaches my lips, and hold for a moment or two, before pulling the mug away, and pouring the coffee down the sink, then leaving the room – a change of mind – this sequence has a handy, secondary expression: that the character has resolved himself to perform a difficult task which he had possibly been hitherto putting off (which fits neatly with the needs of the film too).


There was another instance where I buy some liquid which is extremely important to the character, a kind of liquid the character my never have seen before. Again, I decided to express the character's relationship to this liquid by the way he handled it. If the liquid is important, then it needs to be handled at all times with care (as with anything we value highly). I also found moments where I hold the liquid upto the light to study it, largely because I needed the liquid to perform a crucial task, and so it was important to ensure a) it was the real Macoy, and b) that it was in working order. The side effect of this approach to the liquid is that it gives it a power, it's not just any old special brew, it's mysterious.


Using objects in this way is wonderfully expressive. It enables us to manifest the complex interior life of the character precisely, economically and organically. Furthermore, and crucially, anchoring the scene in the concrete, helps our performances to be truthful, and in the process, we are able to see that the mundane can be poetic.



Will post second of the HE blogs later this week.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Great Acting Blog: "I Think I Let Him Play A F****y Vampire" - Mario Mentrup Q & A - Part 2

In part two of my Q and A with actor-filmmaker Mario Mentrup, he talks about the response to his feature film, I Do Adore, elaborates on his ideas about the art and biz of acting, and offers some advice to young actors. If you missed the first part of this Q and A, you can read it here.
TGAB: I suppose the notion of the actor-manager, or the notion of the actor being responsible for an overall aesthetic in the way, say, Chaplin was, appears to be out of fashion, or actors don’t think of themselves in this way anymore. Nowadays, it seems, actor are more like employees, submitting to the casting process, and they are brought into projects purely for functional reasons. As you say, there is suspicion towards actors who make their own stuff. In almost any other art form, or business, we admire those who strike out on their own, but that doesn’t apply to actors. Would you have a view on that? Or, what response did the fact that you acted in and directed your own feature, receive?

MM: Most actors see themselves as employees who just do what they are told. Their worker's pride is to serve. Especially male actors usually aim to come across as hard working men, but anyway the technicans get laid by all the cool ladies on set.  Actors are frustrated in all ways: No work, no play(with ladies or boys vice versa).To compensate they must pump iron or fuck their brains out like Sasha Grey- i mean it seems, that  fucking-for real is the new method of our time, isn't it, Michael Fassbend-me-over (his nickname in the blogosphere since "Shame") ?
Seriously, the big problem is that this business is so damn anti-intellectual.
Nobody dares to be a Chaplin or Buster Keaton or Charles Laughton or Orson Welles. Or  John Cassavettes. Or Jaques Tati or Jerry Lewis. Or Marlon Brando, apart from being this great crazy pain-in-the ass for the business or Coppola, this mad big man has directed a great Western: "One -eyed-Jack."
The Servants of today forgot or do not even know that the director's job is actually a new invention of the last century, and  the real tradition is the actor directing himself and his performance.

Since ages Shakespeare and Tchechov and a few new well -made-plays are the basis for actors to imitate "Art" and TV and Film is to earn money by imitating a cop and a nurse, that's it . Most Actors , here in Germany for example, would laugh in your face, if you would say that it is art what they are doing. Same with the directors. At this point i must say that the Pranks by American actors or performers who irritate their audiences is an interesting aspect; by doing they create at least  a conceptual piece of art.
Crispin Glover is an example for this, who, apart from his pranks ,is  financing and producing  his 35mm Celluloid Films and avoids any digitalisation; he is touring all over to screen his films in the tradition of a vaudevillan. Of course Vincent Gallo has to be mentioned, whose provocations among the Net and Magazine- Communities made him so special, that it got really fascinating watching him in "Essential Killing" transformed into a Taliban who spoke absolutely nothing  the entire film. Director Jerzy Skolimowsk said, it had been  Gallo’s idea not to say any word at all. Guys like Joaquin Phoenix or James Franco also try hard to be crazy Pranksters, but that is another and more boring story. Paz de La Huertas is still very interesting. I like her ad-campaign for the Lingerie- Company "Agent Provocateur" and on an advice that she should avoid playing nudes scenes in future she said : That's good advice, but I'm telling you, typecasting is typecasting. And I mean, look at Charlotte Rampling. She's a brilliant actress, and she's still getting naked for films. If I look like that at her age, I'll flaunt it.“
That is an actor-auteur. Balls. Balls, that is what most people in this job are missing.

I go over now to your question what response the fact that i acted in and directed my  own feature, received.

People simply avoided to talk to me about my acting in this film. They talked about everything else, a lot about the other actors to me.  Some times i heard "Beautiful Pictures , but where is the story?"My answer is, that the pics are the story and that it was in my script and that i developed the storyboard together with Volker Sattel. By saying this i only gained disbelief. But still, most of the time the crowd is fascinated and pleased, having seen a movie like this. And although i cannot think of going a tougher road these days, where we see the glory of Script-Doctor-companies and 27- or 48- hours -Filmproducing -competitions all around the globe, with the horrible result that Film became an empty  Party- event, there is bunch of actors and filmmakers who enjoy to go our ways. Christoph Bach, a TV- actor- award winner for his impersonation of  "Dutschke" and internationally known for his part in "Carlos" by Olivier Assayas is very into the idea that acting should be art and an actor should be an auteur. And Christoph is fighting like a  lion. I worked with him for my short film:"Der Adler ist fort" ("The eagle is gone") in 2010. We will continue working together. I can mention her  RP Kahl, an actor-auteur- director who already made some Films and who made the controversial "Bedways" last year, which is distributed worldwide.
Or Nicolette Krebitz, you British people will know her as the cover-girl of a NEW ORDER album back in 2001. She has made two features yet and as far as i know, she battles for her new one against all odds and Business.

TGAB: It seems the situation here is very similar to Germany. I have actually been laughed at by my peers for suggesting that they should think of themselves as artists, back in my younger days when I was more naive. Also, the notion of the director being a 20th century invention, is extremely important - actors didn't even used to rehearse together necessarily, the lead actor would rehearse alone then slot into the company at the last minute. . Fascinating aswell, that people didn't really talk about the fact you were the main character in I Do Adore - perhaps they take your acting for granted, whereas perhaps making a feature is a rarer accomplishment... You make many points that we could explore further. But i would like to look at the idea of the "actor-auteur". You mention your contemporaries, and you seem to be saying that if you've got balls and determination, it can be done. Having been through it yourself with I Do Adore, what advice would you give to a young actor reading this, who maybe is starting to think of himself as an artist, but is not necessarily in an environment which encourages this.

MM: First i suppose you are right concerning the response to my acting in my own film, the people seem to take it for granted.   It suddenly appears to me that i already could have become an "actor-auteur"  over 20 years ago with the first Feature i was starring in and i had co-written .But at those days me myself and the circumstances around me were not quite right. Now that  i shall give an advice to younger actors who start to think of themselves as Artists , i will switch  from gloomy to light now.
Yesterday an actor-friend of mine, who had been casted 8 years ago by old Guerilla Filmmaker Klaus Lemke and acted in 4 of his Features premiered his own written and directed Low Budget Feature- in which he also  is starring- in  Berlin and it was a blast. Of course  he had been nervous. In the process of nearly 2 Years he had screened slightly different versions of the film two or three times to me and some friends. I always told him quite the same: your film is crazy indeed, and of script-doctors will miss the plotline-and twist on minute so and so, but i saw funny and astonishing situations and refreshing ideas, who the fuck says you have to make 
a masterpiece? And maybe it is....

The premiere the night before yesterday was a blast, and he is very very happy.
Actually , and not to forget, a good way is to start or join a Theatre Group with Actor and Writer and Musician  and to focus on improvisational or new forms of theatre. A lot of groups are doing exactly this and even if you OFFOff doesn't mean you cannot get recognition. If you tend to listen to everybody or to harsh and frustrating  acting teachers or maybe your parents or your depressed colleagues  whoever, i would rather tell you to try find another profession. 

There is this guy , who had  a small but important part in my film.  In the 90s he had had quite a quick start at age 18 when he played the  Turkish-Berlin kid that he was in two main roles in a row. Then nothing worked out  for him for ages, 7, 8 years no film,  no nothing.  He tried to become  a director, no Filmschool wanted him. He did not give up. Meanwhile he was doing his thing in Metalbands, banging the guitar and his head and walking around with attitude. Finally 2005 a theatre asked him to direct a play. Since this day he writes and directs and acts in his own Theatre Play. This year his second self produced and written Microbudget  Feature will be premiered at Berlinale. Guess what, Volker Sattel is the cameraman. More advices?

More Advices, get content. Read. Interviews with actors you admire or do not admire read Novels, Autobios, Philosophy, Religion, Sociology, get into Mathematics, Metaphysics, even Esoterics. But read. Now as i write this down, i remember Werner Herzog, who did good challenging work the last years, is preaching this like a mantra: Read.

TGAB: I totally concur about reading. Has enormous impact.

I think watching movies away from the mainstream, or prescribed "independent films", is also very important for the actor.

Having watched your film, I could see in the aesthetics that it was made by cinephiles, ie - people with a broad and diverse knowledge of cinema, and an acute appreciation of it. In my experience, it is unusual for an actor to be a cinephile, and to want to make, let's say, auteur films. Here in London, few actors would even have heard of somebody like Godard, and it can be a real problem attracting actors to arthouse productions, especially when budgets are low. In my experience, a lot of actors are unnerved by anything other than industrial production processes. I wondered if the situation was similar in Germany? Also, I think screenings of important auteur films should be part of an actor's training, partly to awaken him to alternative forms. Would you have a view on that?


Hilarious statement, it reminds me of Susan Sonntags famous essay about "Camp" and her prognosis that the "method" of Marlon Brando would be seen as "Kitsch" in the future. Marlon Brando was very aware of this, but Klaus Kinski was overrated for sure. I mean did you see his directorial Actor-Auteur's Debut and last film ever: "PAGANINI"? Oh i can imagine Stewart Home, who claims to be inauthentic will love it for its Mega-Kitsch.Realism and Authenticity in Films is surely overrated like Lars von Trier is surely "kitsch"  nearby in the future. I am  a cinephile because i hung out more with filmmakers, filmbuffs, artists, writer and nerds than with actors. Nowaday i got some actor's friends and it is the directors who bore me now in freetime. And narrative Films bore me more and more. Since 10 years, I am more into experimental and Artfilmsor  in the films  and writings of Jean Epstein. The  hysterical craziness in  early Phillipe Garrell or Werner Schroeter Films, the dark eroticism of  Frans Zwartjes  or  a music label like  "Family Vineyard"  are more thrilling for me than to watch the next nominated OSCAR Film or Arthaus Flick. But that is obvious. These new Films are not made for me, i am neither a kid nor a senior You wrote: "screenings of important auteur films should be part of an actor's training, partly to awaken him to alternative forms." I totally agree, but it should be a must for producers in particular and directors too. And not only Films by Godard, Antonioni or Fassbinder but also Films by Dario Argento, Tinto Brass, Alain Robbe-Grillet (do you know: "Transeuropaexpress"?), Val Lewton, yes and why not Jean Rollin or Porn by Radley Metzger?  Fuck taste and what is a masterpiece anyway?  Eric Rohmer was once claiming to watch films and not "masterpieces".  Okay , Dario Argento is boring today but so is Scorsese. You wrote that actors are unnerved by anything other than industrial processes. Yes because they only think of feeding their divorced wifes or husbands and families and to keep their lifestyle established.
But i tell you such an actor was begging me, when we met at a dinner party, to write a part in one of my poor Films for him because he couldn’t stand the painful bullshit of acting in a TVseries, Main part actually, any longer.

I think i let him play a "fucky" vampire in an Jean Rollin inspired Movie.

If you would like to find out more about Mario's work, please visit
By the way, remember  MADE IN BRITAIN as being a motor for me a 19year old German kid secretly aiming to work for Film?  My friend Stewart Home, a London-based writer and novelist just titled movies by Alan Clarke like "Meantime", "Scum" "Made in Britain"  as luvvie style-staging. (here in  a hilarious bad review on Steve Mcqueen's HUNGER  which i didn't watch out of sheer ignorance:

Monday, 6 February 2012

The Great Acting Blog: ""I Think I Let Him Play A F***y Vampire" - Mario Mentrup Q & A- Part !"


Mario is an actor, musician, and filmmaker, who lives and works in Berlin.

In 2007 he wrote, directed and played the lead role in the feature film, I Do Adore. The film itself is superb, as was Mario's performance in it. I was intrigued to learn more about the thinking which lead this actor to undertake such a massive creative endevour. As this blog often investigates the notion of actor as artist, I was delighted when Mario agreed to participate in a Q and A, which we conducted via email. I have split the blog into two parts, and will be publishing the 2nd part on Wednesday. Mario's answers are honest and compelling, and he offers many provocative ideas about acting.

What first compelled you to become an actor?

MARIO MENTRUP:  When i was age 12 maybe 13 in the years 1977/78  punkrock and pubrock like Dr. Feelgood  or Eddie & the Hotrods was on german TV but also a huge revival of Elvis / James Dean /Paul Newman Films. I was very fascinated by them, but didn’t really bother fantazising myself  starring in a movie or  performing on stage. This all was bigger and too big for life. And the films were too old and i was too young for Punk.

Dutch TVprogramme  screened these days an original american version of "Taxidriver"  and this had a big impact on me; to see this pale thin italoamerican guy and infamous actor going his psychopathic way all the way. This was bigger than life but also had a raw urban hypermodern punk vibe and this was very important and i had waited  for a film like this. The impact of De Niro in this role was so overwhelming that i needed ages to really enjoy the performances in his later Films, so i nearly forgot about him.  20 years later, 1998, i became really interested in his work. Back then when i was 16 or 18  i went into Godard Films which were screened in the cinemas , saw "Permanent Vacaction" on TV, read a lot of novels. Now some guys and me had formed a punkpop band and  i also joined some noise rock /postpunk side projects. The times were crazy in  a little city in northern Germany: During or after our concerts  at  youth centres or autonomous spots or in schools we were  confronted by a very mixed crowd and crazy energy:  teddyboys, some left wing - working class but some right wing- working class,  and Mods - unfortunately many of them  were right wing or even in the northern German Neo-Nazi scene like the German Skinheads, Ghouls, New Romantics and  the stupid old Punks.  Although I was the typical grammar -school -Leftie  and  saw the uprise of the German Green Politics Movement , this kinda politics were not really  my thing. The Structure and elements of Extremism - left or right,  Class struggle and of course the german Anarchist   and  Nazi history or  bios from  Jaques Mesrine ( french Public Enemy No.1  in the 70s) or  Franz Jung (Anarchist in the first half of the century) or Alexander Herzen  were topics i was interested in. Cutting edge. 1985 i was doing civil service in a sanatorium - which means i was  far away from any urban hypermodern cutting edge-vibe. In Cinemas the Popcorn-Blockbuster era had settled down and in a provincal town like i had  to stay then, the best Films at the Videostore i could  get my hands on were "Terminator" or "Dirty Harry". MADE IN BRITAIN on german TV by Alan Clarke with Tim Roth crushed  my system. This rude portrait of a hyperactive sick but hyperintelligent right- wing british Skinhead made the ultra impact on me. Ultra contemporary and In -Your- Face:  the film and the performance of  the actor Tim Roth.

Now my secret drive was to make Film.  Still i didn’t bother to go to acting school, because in Germany there were only theatre acting schools. I wanted Film. So I kept my secret to myself, did some weird hyperamateurish- trashy Super 8 Films, went to Berlin  formed now a Noise Rock Band. Besides i was studying literature. Mainstream TV culture and Cinema or Theatre in Germany didn' t show any other option than to be interested in underground our No Budget Films by  early Wenzel Storch or Christoph Schlingensief  or to  spend the  nites in Cinema Clubs which  were screening DETOUR by Edgar Ulmer or 70s/80s Cronenberg Films. Still no real impulse to see myself in Film business.


Finally 1988/89 a filmmaker wrote a script with and for me. For preparation we  had  watched a lot of Movies (because he was on a film academy) and  rehearsed frome time to time. In Summer 1990 i starred in his feature film in black and white ,35mm, plot and characters and asthetics loosely following the path of Jean Eustache and also referring to Jarmusch' STRANGER THAN PARADISE. Still i was not really convinced of being an actor. I had to get 28 years old to be focused on wanting to be an actor as my profession.


1996 i played a character in a short film KUDAMM SECURTIY. It had an impact on myself and on the audience. The jury in Tampere/Finland elected it 1997 as Best International Short and wrote this words about it: "Like a good clean punch in the face in the morning."


There it was: Impact.


I stopped my band projects and went right into acting business. That’s it.

Maybe?  Or  everything is not as it seems  and the impulse for me to be an actor is a complete other story i dont know about.


TGAB: So, at 28 you committed to life as an actor. How did you proceed from there? Did you try to make collaborations? Or create your own work? Or take the traditional route by getting an agent? Or a bit of everything?


MM: I had  to stop my band- and music- life to avoid type casting.  People knew me as a frontman of a harsh hardcore noise rock act, and that influenced the very small range of my acting roles : juvenile delinqiuents, rock musician, troublemaker. That was it.But time is flying away and soon. Two years later people had forgotten my former life and my roles got more challenging. But i hadn't forgot my intense life from before  - i suffered and was missing the outbursts of my Stagelive a lot. My compensation was Djaying, spinning records. In order to get the crowd  to dance, i played 70s Disco and  mixed it with some Disco House of that time  and  80s /90s Electro; some 70s Pubrock and Novelty pop classics  I dropped  into . And it was good money.

 1996, i had turned 31, i finally got an agent, before that it was impossible to get one without a diploma of a Theatre school. Agents are good to represent your rights and to get the money in. But that they can make you survive, i doubt that.

Nowadays i don't got an agent. The concept to have a personal manager is now more my interest. I work on it.


Filmmakers from the DFFB Berlin- filmschool- and especially the director of that time Reinhard Hauff ( famous for his Film "Stammheim" back in the 80s) - liked to work with me and so  i played in more than 10 Films (Shorts and Features) produced by DFFB, these included small and main parts in Features  co-produced by  ZDF- Kleines Fernsehspiel.  This TV programme  had  also produced classics like Jarmusch’s "Stranger than Paradise" as well as Films by Fassbinder, Alexander Kluge or Agnes Varda. In the meantime i learned to know the independent filmmakers of the "Cologne Group". They were titled as the 1990s - followers of to the Munich Group - a late 60s/early 70s loose Association by the Filmmakers Klaus Lemke-Rudolf Thome-May Spils & Werner Enke-Eckhardt Schmidt and others. Both groups made  contemporary non-academic fast and entertaining films about all-day-life. I saw  a short film programm by the Cologne group and liked to join in from time to time as  an actor.

For example the feature film, a comedy DIE QUEREINSTEIGERINNEN ( english  Title: Like in Urugay) by Rainer Knepperges and Christian Mrasek from 2005 is such a film. In 2002 Rainer Knepperges  met me and Claudia Basrawi to write Lines, Plottwists, to develop the characters.  Then Knepperges wrote the script on the basis of our meetings and in 2003 we shot . I took some time for us to get into the festival circuit, but the film sold  very well for a Low Budget Flick, including TV and DVD and Cinema Theatre sales.Claudia Basrawi, a writer and actress, and me played together in some theatre pieces. She and Rainer Knepperges also starred in two of my Films. Since 2005 i direct and produce  independent Films with Volker Sattel, a filmmaker and Cameraman.

This is not a practice, i would say,  that is the way to go, because as soon my first Film was out .it became increasingly tough for me to get acting jobs. You know why.



TGAB: No – tell us why.


MM: Actors- gone- directors are suspicious in our business, aren't they? The business tends to see them as troublesome. I  also wrote a novel  or songs and i write and direct films. Basically for me it is all the same. You must get to know the characters, you must get the sign of the time and space. You must be a very aware person. Because I’am an actor i like to work with actors for my films. And i know more and more about them. Or less? I don't know, but it deepened my awareness.


TGAB: Yes, also I think actor-producers are seen as a threat. I agree aswell, it is all the same - it's what a lot of people don't understand, that writing can still be acting.


MM: Right, you only have to watch actors who are aware of that and who are good directors too:Robert Duvall in "Tender Mercies"...  watching him i can hear this actor talking about the shooting the camera angle and discussing the lines. Great.  Great acting. Dennis Hopper made great Films, "The Last Movie" is bitterly underrated, not to forget. Peter Fonda's "The Hired Hand . And Barbara Loden's "Wanda".


TGAB: I also really love Duvall in his self-directed, The Apostle, a brilliant performance...Perhaps we could move onto your own feature film now, I Do Adore. How did it come about?


MM: The last 20 minutes of the Movie "Ich begehre" or "I do adore"  are a in a way a loose adaption of a minicomic by Jordan Crane: "Hands of Gold", but  very very loose. The comic itself seems like a adaption of the last scenes  of  GREED by Erich von Stroheim.  I was  very much attracted to the comic's representation of bright day-and sunlight, sunrise, sundown and black night. That is the main thing we adapted.  And maybe  the purity of the  essential aspect of dying in the desert. Another idea was Buster Keaton. I mean a Buster Keaton- more tragic than comic. So maybe i wanted to make a americano-germano Flick? ....Wait a minute...

Me and Cameraman and Editor Volker Sattel tried to create a cinematic experience by working with a digital camera. So we  choose to go  back to the strategy of Edgar Ulmer, Monte Hellman or you could also say: Jean Renoir or Louis Feuillade or Pasolini or Glaube Rocha, which means to film outside, on the road, natural lightning, no production company, no limits and no restrictions. We were actually lucky. It was such a hot Summer in 2006 when we filmed in Brandenburg-Germany and Poland. I always thought I only could only shoot in southern Europe or somewhere.

The first hour of the film is more influenced by Movies of Claire Denis or whatever. I do not remember.


There is a lot of George Bataille, Julia Kristeva in in and my interest during those days in the meaning of hell or purgatory in judeo-christian, gnostic belief or for the psyche and last but not least for Cinema. A ex-girl friend of Volker Sattel said after a first screening, that this is a film about manic-depression. After another screening a guy asked me if i really had suffered that much. I told the guy, that i had had much fun during the days of shooting and that this year had been a crazy but overwhelming time, in work and else, in my life.


But please, give me a hint what you want to know.


TGAB: ...What was your angle as an actor? Of course you are the filmmaker, but you were also the lead actor in the film. Was there certain thinking which lead you to do both jobs, or was it something that just happened naturally? Were you saying something about what an actor can be, or what acting can be, generally, by playing the lead role and directing the film?



MM: Hm...

At first i tell you about my co-actors...They were tremendously important: Pascale Schiller, the lady that joins my character at the lost Super Mall - parking lot.  She had read the script, that was it. We didn't need to talk. And I knew that. She couldnt do wrong. Just right. We knew us from playing theatre with each other.  Plus she already had played in a film of mine before. In 2007 she would got an award as Best Actress for DIE UNERZOGENEN a film  by Pia Marais; and she was marvellous in Werner Schroeter's last Movie THIS NIGHT from 2008. Pascale did exactly, and more, what i had wanted from her. Actually she didn't like her role, she told me later, after the shooting, that is the funny part about it. Today she is in peace with it. My "Cannibals" were Haymon Buttinger and Claudia Basrawi. I knew what to ask them for and i they surprised us all.  They burnt the fire. Finally, Vivian Bartsch, the Lady in the long Bathroom- Scene (actually one of two rare scenes where somebody is speaking)- I had seen her in Ulrich Seidl's MODELS  and she was the right one for me. The bathroom scene, and especially the final monologue about Love and relationship in front of the big window, gave her some trouble. The sunlight was getting away.... Remember: we only work with natural light, yes and we hadn't finished the scene at all.  No more shooting-day in the villa left. So not much time left for experiments. Damn.  Viviane suddenly said that she would like to rap the words and lines of the monologue. Everybody looked at me. Pure Shock. Nobody expected we would ever finish this scene. It was my pure belief in this great actress that made me to tell her to fucking go for it. Volker Sattel  looked at me,  and I saw -after a slight idea of disbelief in his eyes- he trusted me and... Action.


Nope, Viviane didn't do any silly imitation of Rapping or bullshit, the words just came out her mouth in a brilliant melody and rhythm... Done.  That was the big moment I knew in order to be a director it is cool to be an actor.


What had let us, me and Volker Sattel, to the decision that apart from directing i would also do the main acting- role part? First of all Volker told me that i was the absolute right one for the part, and since he would be  very close with me all the time as the cameraman and co-director, i decided, because of  the small budget and small amount of time (we shot that film in 15 days) to actually play it myself. No big fuzz about it. And  we know there would be a lot of physical challenging scenes, and  i did not had to persuade myself to do these scenes. Good decision, I can tell you now in retrospect. We had trouble with a very drunken actor and trying to get him somehow sober  again was something. And we had trouble with an actor who surprisingly had been scared to do a scene.


We were totally dependent on the ever changing moods of the weather, so that emotional stress caused deep trouble. But i kept calm. Because i know as an actor or human being that it can really happen you are unable to speak the easiest line or to do the easiest steps. It is super-important not to get nervous about it. So why should I, as a director get nervous about it. Of course,later we had more hours in the editing process. But...To your question, if i was saying something about acting or what acting can be, by playing the main role and being the director, i will have to answer this question with a simple :No.


But i knew so damn well what i wanted to create, i mean my character is silent and nearly transparent all the time through - during the editing process we often forgot that this silent skinny guy was actually me-  but in the last ten minutes this silent person goes beserk. If you not really following as a viewer(and that is not a shame, in fact the film invites the viewer to meditation or Daydreaming) you will not get a single  hint why suddenly this soft character switches into a Madman. I wanted no explanation. No psychological action. I wanted this out-of-the-blue happening.  Something which i admire so much in japanese Fims. Not only in films of Miike Takashi.

I think even John Cassavettes Films does this to you.



End of part 1. Part 2 will be published on Wednesday.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Great Acting Blog: "There Is No Such Thing As A Transformational Actor"



There is no difference between what I experienced, and what is on screen”. Emmanuelle Beart on her work in L'Histoire De Marie Et Julien.


Emmanuelle Beart has long been one of my favourite actors – if she's in something, then I'll watch it – infact, I think she is one of the finest actors working anywhere today. Beart perhaps lacks the credibility of a Juliette Binoche, because of her reputation for going nude, and she lacks the street cred of that charismatic one-trick pony, Beatrice Dalle, largely because she hasn't brushed with the law in the way Dalle has*. However, I would proffer that Beart possesses greater innate acting talent than either of her two contemporaries. And if anyone is in any doubt about the calibre of her CV, may I suggest her two masterpieces with Jacques Rivette, La Belle Noisuese and L'Histoire De Marie Et Julien, L'Enfer for Claude Chabrol, plus two brilliant films for Claude Sautet, Nelly & Monsieur Anaud and Un Coeur en Hiver, plus films for Andre Techine, Raul Ruiz, Francois Ozon, Olivier Assayas, Danis Tanovic, et al, and you get the picture – what we have here, is a serious film artist. The mystery really, is why Beart is not celebrated more.


Beart has a wonderfully complex screen persona. Her great beauty is offset by a certain moodiness and a certain lonliness, the sense that something has been lost forever, at times she is vulnerable. On the other hand, she's intense, she poses a threat, there's an edge, a lack of sentimentality and a ruthlessness. We're not entirely sure whether she can be trusted, yet we want to follow her story anyway. The through line which enables these qualities to hang together, is that she is constantly wrestling between the intuitive and the intellectual (I'm talking about during her performance here). There's a tension which arises from wanting to understand what is happening in the scene during the moment, analysing it, and the need to keep the scene moving forward by just doing the thing. This tension gives rise to a certain energy, and it's interesting to observe her when she is not speaking lines but listening to her scene partner: she is full of energy, and often unsure where to put that energy, sometimes it is dealt with by handling an object, or a movement of the eyes. There is a scene in The Story Of Marie And Julien where she silently observes Jerzy Radziwilowicz reading a letter, she has such restless energy it's actually quite shocking, and when I say restless I don't mean tickish or skittish, she is actually quite restrained, it is more the case of the small movements within this restraint which are compelling, and help to create her intensity. The important point about Beart however (and herein lies her talent), is that she allows her inner conflicts to express themselves while the scene unfolds, she doesn't try to pretend they aren't there, or try to portray herself as a person-without-flaws (which is what characterization is all about) – this is why her work is intense and compelling, this is great acting.


There's no such thing as a transformational actor: when an actor appears in a film or a play, what you get is that actor, what they are, the actor does not “become” somebody else**. A “constructed” performance, ie – one where a character is designed and applied by the actor, smoothes out and hides the actors' true personality, they are trying to repress the true complexity of their personality, and, in so doing, try to sell us the idea that they are fully in control of everything. But they needn't do so. We are all complex, which means we are all interesting, and the truth of the actor's personality will always be more compelling than a constructed personality. However, it requires great courage to reveal our true nature publicly, but if we can learn to do so, our performances will be far richer, as will the audiences experience of them.


*Yes, any kind of allusion to crime by an artist, is seen as a sign of “authenticity” by our closested and ivory-towered upper middle-classes – as if breaking the law were the same as genuine artistic endevour.


** The character exists from the audience's point-of-view, as an illusion which they willingly buy into.