Saturday, April 27, 2013

"Every Role You Play is a Chance to Bury That Part of Yourself." -- Melanie Griffith

I'm going to be pretty wordy tonight. I feel like rambling and ranting. You have been forewarned; prepare to put your "skimming" skills to the test... or if you're really not feeling it, just immediately scroll all the way to the bottom and read the Summary...

Frankly, tonight's excessive verbiage all stems from my current focus on acting...

My acting classes are yielding frustrating fruit, mostly stemming from (I'm finding out) the difficulty I'm having in transitioning from my "stage acting" training to "film acting". Frankly, I'm finding it very difficult to keep the stage-trained actor in me out of the film setting.

On stage, you need to be big, and "act for the back row", which means all subtlety goes out the window. It's all about big, strong movements, and conveying emotion through vocals and whole-body movement. In film, the camera catches every subtle twitch and movement of the face, every slight body gesture, slight variations in vocal tone. Subtlety is key in film, to avoid over-doing it. It is very hard to "get" for me... especially when focusing on it once a week only. It makes the classes extremely frustrating. Compounding the frustration is the lack of quality one-on-one time with the instructor. There are about a dozen students, myself included, and the class is only 3 hours long, so the bulk of my time is spent watching others do stuff, and trying to learn from the spoken corrections of the instructor to other actor's mistakes... the time I spend getting actual hands-on acting experience is very limited. And there's no real connection between "how it feels" acting a scene and what the results are.

Of course, my expectation level for my own progress could be wildly out of balance as well. There's a good chance I'm expecting to progress at a much faster rate than is reasonable to expect.

So in an effort to continue my training outside the classroom, I'm refocusing on watching Inside the Actor's Studio episodes, only this time taking notes and really paying attention to what is being taught, rather than simply enjoying what is being said (if that makes sense). I made a complete episode checklist, and I'm going through them one at a time, starting with season one. Not all of them are on YouTube, unfortunately, but I have recently watched Paul Newman, Alec Baldwin and Dennis Hopper, each with some real gems.

In fact, Paul Newman said he never agreed to act in a movie unless he had at least two weeks of rehearsal time set aside, to explore the script with the cast. It was a stipulation for his agreeing to be in a film. He had to have his rehearsal time. Thank you, Mr. Newman! Finally! Someone who agrees with me that rehearsal is where you get into the head of the characters and explore variations and motives and try things and see what works. The alternative is so counter-intuitive to me; meaning the improvisation-heavy approach, whereby each actor prepares alone, learning the lines in a sort of internal monotone, and then coming to the actual filming of the scenes fresh, with zero expectations, and "seeing where the moment takes you," with cameras rolling. In theory, it sounds great. In reality, for me, it has yet to yield anything but rubbish, as far as I can see...

The stage actor in me is hampering my progress.

Alec Baldwin said that working with actors that actually respond to what you're saying as though they are hearing it for the first time is key. As opposed to being impervious to anything you say, showing on their faces instead the reality that they are preparing to say their own memorized lines, not listening to you. This I can understand and appreciate.

The last class I went to, we had short scenes from the TV show "24" that we were given the previous week, and had a week to memorize. So when I had my ten minutes to rehearse with my scene partner out in the hallway, it was awesome. We tried it different ways, discussed it, experimented a bit, played with reactions, etc. and when the instructor called everyone in to begin the scenes, we strolled down the hall, back toward the class, and rehearsed the scene one last time as we walked, in character. That stroll was the highlight of the whole class that night, for me. Just the act of walking and feeding off of one another. The moment was there, it was great. But 40 minutes later, when we performed our scene before the class and cameras, it was a disaster.

So I know there's a balance to find somewhere.

Dennis Hopper told a story about working with Marlon Brando on a film once. Before the scene was to be shot, Brando was chatting with his female co-actor (who had had little acting training), off to the side. They were just off-set, away from the camera, and Brando was chatting with the girl, toying with her hair, chuckling, whispering, etc. As they chatted, Brando skillfully led her out onto the set, still chatting, still toying with her hair, and then subtly segue'd into his lines for the scene, keeping the casual nature going, unbroken. The camera was rolling by that time. And he "led" the comparatively untrained actress right into a "method acted" scene, without her really even realizing it until it was happening.

Now that was cool - I can respect that. I want to learn that.

Clint Eastwood said something interesting in his episode - in fact, I quoted it a week or two ago in my Facebook status, so it might look familiar to some. He said, "Once you're in character, you can do anything."

Now, in the context of the interview, he was discussing doing stunts at a comparatively-advanced age. He was saying once when he was playing Dirty Harry and the character needed to leap off an overpass and onto a moving bus, he could do it, because he was in character... whereas if he'd just been Clint, there's no way. There's a certain feeling of invincibility that comes from inhabiting a character.

Of course, it immediately made me wonder if it could be a universal truth that could extend to everyday life. It ties into previous discussions we've had on this blog about being able to make changes to our own personalities if we wanted to. The things about me I don't like and wish I could change... can I just assume the character of a person without those traits and "play a role"? Behavior modification, right? Well, if you play the role long enough, are the changes legit?

I work out once a week. I go to acting class once a week. I go to church once a week. I write once a week. I'm a "once a week" kind of guy, in many respects, including writing on this blog. Yet I know I should be doing these things everyday. But I don't, and the excuses I offer for this vary widely, up to and including, "well, that's just the way I am."  Do I need to wait for some external force to come and knock me off my donkey (so to speak) and change me? Or can I simply decide to play the role of a person that exercises every day, acts every day, writes every day, focuses on God every day? Once you're in character, you can do anything, right Clint?

So is there any merit in self-imposed behavior modification as a route to real change? If I view my life as a role I want to play, and structure my behavior accordingly, is that nuts? Life as one big method acting training exercise... living in the moment... acting/reacting authentically... isn't that what we all do everyday anyway? Act/React?

Hey, I told you I was going to ramble tonight.

Summary: Acting is hard. I want to change myself in many ways. I'm thinking of trying to roleplay the version of me I want to be and seeing if it sticks. I still think "what we do" proclaims who we are much more loudly than what we say we believe... if I change what I do, will that change who I am?

That's it for now. If you actually read any of that, you have my thanks.

More goofiness next time.

Dave the Languid


Abbie Josephsen said...

good post dave... lots to chew on. Good luck with your class! I appreciate your acting, on film or stage, and I know you will be able to grasp the subtleties of acting, especially since you are setting your mind to it and really want to learn. Good luck :)

David Wagner said...

Thanks, Abbie.

I'm thinking I just need to get together with Ethan and just start filming scenes, and seeing what they look like, and trying it different ways, etc.... maybe that's the best way for me to learn... by just doing it and seeing the results...

Anonymous said...

As per your comment about life replicating acting to produce better results - it absolutely is true. In simple terms - doing something for 21 days makes it a habit. I always think about the move, Office Space. I believe that your attitude can shape and change reality. He stopped caring about pleasing people, and things turned around. I am always participating in on-going management or leadership education, and the premise is all based on the ability to change for the better by practicing certain behaviors.

That's my two-cents.


David Wagner said...

Excellent, thanks for the confirmation, Beth. Office Space is a good one, it's been a while since I've seen it.

Two cents, well spent!

Michelle said...

I think there is something to the phrase "fake it 'til you make it" that actually works. If you keep telling yourself that you are a stage actor that is trying to be a screen actor, then that implies that you are trying to be something you are not. When in actuality, you are just trying to learn another skill. You are already an actor, and you can act on film..(The Real Story of Lazarus)So, relax, and roll with it! That's my 7 cents. :)

David Wagner said...

Michelle: I tell you, it sure is proving to be a lot harder than I thought. So, you think I should just go into it thinking, "piece of cake, I got this..." and then maybe it actually will become easy (or easier)? It's hard for someone as high-strung as I am to relax!

I'll keep working on it... someday, you'll all be proud of me! Someday! I have a scene from the movie Michael Clayton to work on for next week. I'm gonna nail it, I just know it...