Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Golden Acting Moment

Acting is simple.  Bring a character to life.  But how?  What does that even mean?  It's just not as easy as it sounds.

Acting appears to require emotional resources.  If you have been blessed with the ability to cry on cue, you may have a future as an actor.  But if your "crying on cue" doesn't make sense within the context of a scene or the story the audience witnesses, your tears will likely have a weak effect, or worse, the wrong effect on the audience.  So in addition to emotional resources, acting does require the ability to know WHAT the crying is about.  If an actor can truly understand what the crying is about--which is essentially what's going on in the story at this point that would require this character to cry, the possibility then exists that the actor may make a more interesting choice than crying!  Perhaps he or she may not have even planned to make the choice, but because they understood the story so clearly, something far more organic and spontaneous emerges.

Such moments are gold for an actor.  To produce a moment that could never be duplicated, but that will always exist due to the permanence of a filmed record is an essential difference between the film actor and the stage actor.  Stage acting requires the repeatability of a performance for the duration of a run--without any record of that performance except in the audience's memory.  But for a film actor, that moment you never knew was going to happen is what we film actors live for.  It's a pure acting moment--when everything comes together and you end up doing something in character that you hadn't planned to do when preparing.  A golden moment.  After a couple of decades in front and behind the camera, I can remember each one I've had.  Years may have gone by between them!  Yet, each one reminded me why I need to do this with my life.

The one that springs to mind was actually during the recording of a radio play--Swimming Lessons based on a short story by Rohinton Mistry.  I played the lead character who had a crush on his beautiful neighbour in the same apartment building.  At one point he sees her in her bathing suit by the apartment pool and runs down to "accidentally" run into her.  When it came time to record the line where I described running down--I had been recording for a day and a half at this point and I was totally into the character and the story--I didn't plan it, but I ended up saying the line at warp speed.  I looked into the control booth and saw the producer and engineer laughing hilariously--I didn't even try to be funny but I had cracked them up.  I COULDN'T have preplanned it.  It came out organically and spontaneously--yet could only happen because I was completely in sync with the story of the play.  And I probably couldn't duplicate as well as I did it on the first take.  Happily, the producer didn't ask for a second.  He didn't need it.  My golden acting moment was in the can.

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