“There are musicians who practice all the time but we actors are not able to do that. We don't have an instrument, except if you say we are our own instrument, and yet I always try to continue searching and working for the moment where you have to deliver.” - Michel Piccoli.
I had a meeting with a filmmaker this week who asked me to read from a script which had been handed to me during the meeting. The only chance I got to look at it was there and then, a quick scroll down the pages while the filmmaker was watching me. Then I got up to read. At the end of each reading she asked me to do it again in a different way and this went on for four or fives readings. Before the first time I read it, I simply selected an objective for myself to accomplish in the scene (or more precisely, I gave myself an action within which is embedded an objective), and upon the subsequent readings, I simply adjusted my action in order to meet the new demands made upon me by the director, and was, as a result, able to deliver the goods, much to the delight of the filmmaker, and I left the meeting stronger for being able to respond fully when under pressure. And this is why I use the objective as my first principle in acting, it provides me with a mode of thinking that is entirely under my control, and if I produce results, I know how I did it and why, it was not a fluke. There is plenty that isn't under the actor's control in his working life, so at the very least let him find a concrete technique that makes sense to him and brings his work under his control.
I would go one step further, and say the actor should employ the objective in his everyday life as well as in his work. If the objective can get you out of trouble when under imaginary circumstances, thenthe objective can get you out of trouble when the circumstances are real. When analysing a script, we identify the superobjective, and all the little objectives which need to be accomplished along the way. Well, do the same in life. We humans are complex creatures, we mustn't let our mood or the way we feel entice us away from our goals, for not only will this prevent us from accomplishing our goals, but we will only regret the time wasted once our mood has passed. By using the objective in our everyday life, we can stay on track, or if we do stray, we can get ourselves back on track quickly. Crucially, having a clear objective enables us to think correctly when under enormous pressure.
And finally of course, by applying the objective in our life, we will be exercising our acting muscle every moment of every day, therefore making it stronger, and ensuring we will be ready when the call comes.
Malkovich is one of those American actors who is regarded as a real actor, which is to say, he actually can act, he's an artist, he's in it because he wants to be a great actor, or make a great contribution, he's certainly an actor who gives something a little bit extra, he's always provocative, always intense. He's also one of those actors for whom we feel that the calibre of material offered to him is rarely commensurate to his talent – Malkovich has never had a great run of performances in the way his compatriots from the generation preceding his did, namely Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro. But then perhaps Malkovich has never quite been the Hollywood star in the same way either. Infact, off the top of my head, it's difficult to really name any of his Hollywood films. However, his output in Europe seems to be more distinctive, where he has worked with Raoul Ruiz, Manoel de Oliveira, Michelangelo Antonioniand Liliana Cavani. Malkovich though, is an actor of such strength, that he can take fairly mediocre material, and render it compelling. And Colour Me Kubrick is an example of this.
The film itself is a light, fluffy affair, loose in parts, piquant in others, and had the actor at the centre of the film been of anything less than Malkovich's standard, then Colour Me Kubrickwould have been a very ordinary film indeed. But there Malkovich is, delivering perhaps one of the great underrated screen performances of recent years (this is certainly an example of an actor's work receiving less than due attention because it was done in an unfeted film – an actor cannot enjoy success unless the production he is working on, is successful as a whole – there's moral in there somewhere). Colour Me Kubrick is based on the true story of Alan Conway, who went around passing himself off as filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. It wasn't that Conway looked anything like Kubrick, he didn't, but he was able to get away with it because Kubrick's reclusiveness meant that few people were certain of what he looked like. And Malkovich goes to town as Conway, playing him as a cheap, camp, bedsitland, alcoholic – imagine one of those middle aged men wearing a brown mac and tatty old baseball cap with a cheap bottle of vodka in his pocket, and you've got him . Scene by scene, he wins the confidence of wannabe showbiz types by appealing to their vanity; he promises a young rock group work on his new film, and so they buy him drinks (“rich people don't carry cash”), and on another occasion, he beds a young costumer designer after promising to hook him up with his Hollywood connections, and on another, he agrees to invest in a swanky restaurant in order to save it from bankruptcy, offering to get his Hollywood legal team to “look over the figures”. Perhaps Conway's most audacious con, was of a light entertainer, who, in real life had been Joe Longthorne but was coded as Lee Pratt in the film. After attending a party at Pratt's house, Conway tells him he will help him crack Vegas, and the con starts in a scene where Malkovich delivers a great piece of bravura acting – waving his arms about, and speaking in a sort of unmodulated bellow: he informs Pratt that he will speak to “Moe Green in Vegas”, and, “Sheckie in New York”, and get the ball rolling. It is a sensational acting choice, hilarious, and disquietingly true, the film is worth watching if only for this scene. The net result however, is that he takes up residence in a luxury hotel, all at Pratt's expense of course.
The film is choc full of these wonderful little moments created by Malkovich. Playing a character who is himself acting, offers rich performance possibilities. It's true that Malkovich, now in his late 50s, is a master craftsman. He is innately compelling, with his intensity, intelligence, dry humour and unusual persona. His work is always precise, always simple, never adding unnecessary detail, but always striving to express the scene, and he makes it seem effortless in Colour Me Kubrick, as all great actors do. Essentially however, at the heart of this performance, is the fact that Malkovich is making acting choices he enjoys, choices which interest him, which touch off his imagination, and which ultimately energise him and fuel him through the scenes. The alternative to making enjoyable choices, is making choices we do not enjoy, and this typically happens when we act to please the director – whether that's to give the director what we think he wants in order to make him like us, or whether it's to shore up an insecure director by doing it his way (insecure directors typically talk too much, and want to control how the actor does the scene) – the irony is, most actors make choices in order to please others, which is why so much contemporary acting is joyless and stingy. Malkovich doesn't fall into that trap – and as a result, we the audience, are delighted by a performance which is properly energised, vivid, various, and, well, fun.
Make choices you enjoy.
To quote the great David Mamet; “You not only have a right to choose actions which are fun, you have a responsibility – that's your job as an actor”.
The acting profession is hopelessly oversubscribed, and it seems the individual actor has little or no control over his ability to construct a body of work. The challenge for all actors is to make themselves heard amid the cacophony. However, the damning perception is that individual actors are interchangeable, that one is much like another, and not individual at all: that all actor's contributions to a production will be roughly the same, and so, in casting terms, it is a question of finding the actor with the “right shaped eyebrows”, and many actors have to stake their futures and their happiness on such a margin. The implication here is that the most dedicated and skilled actor will not necessarily work the most, he may lose out to the lesser actor with “the right colour hair”. Acting is not necessarily a meritocracy if you're measuring reward for merit in terms of quantity of work, and it is this which causes so many to quit the business, or to become hacks and hold contempt for it, and on the flip side, it is also the reason acting is oversubscribed in the first place with many joining the ranks believing that acting requires not skill but the ability to “look cute”. Only the other day I was having a conversation with someone who sneered that acting was “merely a lifestyle choice”. It does not help that our leading actors continue to denigrate the work in order to cope with their own self-loathing, we rarely hear filmmakers or playwrights talk about their own work in the same way.
So how can the dedicated actor seize more control over his work, and show that all actors are not the same? Well, one way is through education, ie: to educate about the difference between good acting and hackwork, to be able to cleanly explain what good acting is and show examples, drawing attention to great work when we see it and explaining why it is great as oppose to fluff, and hopefully then, others may see the actor's work in a different light. And actors must take it upon themselves to do this education, other people cannot be expected to do it. However, in order to do it, the actor must first define his aesthetic in simple terms (that is, his ideal), and establish analytical tools and critical language in order to transfer his ideas to others. Crucially however, the actor must be able to put his own aesthetic into practice, he must be able to walk the walk aswell as talk the talk. If you're preaching forceful, true acting, then you cannot be a wet blanket upon the stage. And this ability to demonstrate our aesthetic means we will be able to educate with conviction.
To be an actor requires great strength of character which is developed over time, and after many harsh lessons. Most are crushed by the demands of the life, they cannot even survive let alone flourish. The notion that acting is a “lifestyle choice”, that acting requires little more than “being cute”, must be dispelled, and good actors must be supported concretely, and publicly. Good actors are immensely hardworking and operate at the coalface of art. It takes enormous discipline and mental strength to act well, which is developed by the very nature of the work, ie - the actor must deliver the goods with precision when under intense pressure, the eyes of the public are upon him, and if he fails, he fails publicly. The actor does not have the luxury of standing back from the canvas or writing another draft. Again, many cannot cope with this pressure. Acting is a hyper-competitive profession, the pressure of the work mirrors the pressure of the life, the good actor is energized by pressure. The good actor has a pared down ego, and will always serve the needs of the production as a whole, as oppose to serving himself, for he has been humbled by the screaming demands of his craft. The good actor is an ethical actor, a moral actor, and one of integrity, and all of those qualities are engendered in his work. The good actor loves, above all else, the truth, and strives never to compromise it but to embody it.
Most of the actors I've known down the years have fallen away for various reasons. Whilst none of us is old, of my own group only a few of us are still standing. It is a great accomplishment to not only survive but to improve year in year out as an actor, to not become a cynical hack, but to continue to strive for and serve your ideals, every single day requires determination and constant self-improvement, questions are continually being asked of the actor, and once one set of questions has been answered another set arises. In the end, to improve as an actor, the demands must make you stronger, and not bitter. It is hard to explain to someone who is not an actor the joys of this continual struggle and the effect it has upon you, I suppose you'll just have to take my word for it. But one thing is certain though: I will always love, cherish and support the actor who strives to be good.
I was completely stunned this week when I saw an astonishing masterpiece by Japanese auteur, Hirokazu Koreeda, called Maborosi. The film centres on Yumiko and Tamio,a couple who seem to live in a quiet marital happiness, until tragedy strikes when Tamio inexplicably takes his own life. For sure, Maborosi is not the first film to deal with this subject, however, no other film deals with it in the way Maborosi does. Shot with a quiet formalism, using largely static, frontal master shots, Maborosi does not attempt to explain away Tamio’s death, there is no expository trail for Yumiko to follow in order to come to terms with her loss. Instead, the film barely makes any attempt to find the reasons for suicide at all, instead, it focuses on Yumiko’s efforts to get on with her life. And herein lies the miracle of Maborosi; that although it does not deal with Tamio’s death explicitly (until near the end, when in extreme long shot Yumiko confesses she doesn’t understand why Tamio did it), in fact, most of the film contains scenes of Yumiko getting on with, and enjoying, her life, we always sense that the burden of Tamio’s death is with her. Much of this is done through the reminiscence of objects which Yumiko and Tamio shared, such as a bicycle or a string of beads, and through the lighting. However, at the centre of it all, is a heartbreaking performance by Makiko Esumi as Yumiko.
When I say heartbreaking, I don’t mean that Esumi was trying to be heartbraking – that is what we see in so much English language acting these days: actors lining up to pour out their hearts, crocodile tears streaming down their faces in order to get noticed, endlessly balling their eyes out; “oh look how sensitive I am, look how I feel”, the truth is, this actor feels nothing other than the pangs of their own vanity – no, Esumi is heartbreaking because of her absence of tears, because of her restraint, because of her grace in the face of adversity. These days, in British culture at least, we have enthroned our feelings, as though whatever we feel at any moment is the only thing that matters, and that just letting it all hang loose is oh so brave – but it’s not brave, it’s cowardly, and not only is it cowardly, it’s tedious, meaningless, selfish, and createsliars as we compete to be the “most emotional”. Esumi, through her minimalism, reminds us that the emotion is supposed to take place in the audience and not in the actor. There is one moment, during a visit to Tamio’s old work place, where she turns and looks, it is a moment of such terrible sorrow, and yet Esumi’s face is blank, she barely moves, and there is no music to cue us in emotionally. Essentially, we the audience, project our own pain onto Esumi, and, in the process, we are cleansed (if only temporarily). Esumi’s minimalism matches that of filmmaker Koreeda’s for sure, Maborosi is one of those rare examples of when an actor’s aesthetic has integrated perfectly with the director’s, and an astonishing whole is created as a result. I can only think Koreeda handpicked Esumi for this particular film. Esumi is also a model, and although it’s difficult to say how much her model experience has impacted her acting, we may speculate that because of her modelling she is more used to being passive, as model’s are objectified, which makes her a natural for a role like Yumiko, whereas acting is traditionally about subjectivity and taking action. I should think though, her reserved expression is something which lies in her nature to a certain extent, and not something she grafted onto the performance.
Maborosi will be a difficult film for many, because of it's gentle rythmn and lack of exposition. However, it is a film of wonderful poetry, of grace and beauty, and one which enriches the viewer and makes him stronger. Esumi at the centre, is affirmation of human dignity, and of being classy, she is also another fine example of actor as artist. If only more directors thought along these lines instead of casting because you might "seem like a milkman". Koreeda is to be commended for the delicacy and precision of his aethetic, and for providing such a wonderful platform for the talent of Makiko Esumi.
I always take great delight in seeing a director's face light up because of something I have done. I don't mean the loathsome ass kissing which goes on, I'm talking about delivering a difficult moment such that it solves a problem the director could not previously articulate – this often leads to genuine relief and joy on the part of the director. I always try to fit myself into the mode of the production, even if it contradicts my own aesthetic - this is correct – the production is not for the actor to impose himself on and make bend to his will, rather he is there to serve it. The actor should never compete with a director, and always remain respectful, if there is disagreement then it should be handled privately. It's not the job of the actor to judge the director, it's the job of the actor to communicate the play to the audience. The director is the actor's boss, and has brought the actor in to deliver very specific goods within the overall production. Moreover, if an actor cannot keep his petty insecurities in check, then he should get lost – the actor who allows his neurotic fears to dominate his reason and make the rest of the group suffer is despicable, and guilty of an act of gross selfishness - it's singularly the most destructive behaviour I have ever witnessed within a company. As the saying goes: keep the drama in the play. We are living in a society which has infantilised it's citizens by enshrining “how you feel”, however, all good actors know that how you feel is unimportant, it's action that counts. Great actors are spiritual warriors, and exercise self-control. Ultimately, generosity toward those he is working with is an important quality for the actor to possess. The actor comes across many varied working cultures and working methods, and those actors who survive in the jungle are the ones who can adapt to changing circumstances quickly, infact, I have come to believe that this is how the quality of an actors talent should be measured, ie: his ability to function effectively in a diverse range of situations. The actor then, needs to be adaptable.
However, it is important that the actor take a break from adapting to the modes and cultures of other peoples' productions, and produce his own. I've written before how an actor can understand his own work better and come to define his own aesthetic by producing his own stuff (and therefore function better on other peoples' stuff), however, I also think he should take time out periodically to do this, a sort of creative pit-stop, a chance to tend to the core which is present in all his work. Writing, directing and acting in his own productions can give the actor a crystal clear view of his work, he will be applying his own aesthetic from top to bottom, and so can see what's changed in his work, where any kinks may have developed and iron them out, what needs to be improved, what has improved. Producing one's own work means working with actors and crew, which provides a test of whether the ideas behind the work can be communicated to other people. Personally speaking, I find directing other actors is an especially useful task because it forces me to articulate my thoughts about the script in simple, actable terms (the way I would want to be directed), which also functions as a confirmation of my own working methods. Explaining what I think to other people is a very good bullshit test too, because if I can’t explain it to another such that they understand it, then I don't know what I'm talking about. Furthermore, these explanations must be practically useful to the listener when in the field, pretty theories are useless in the rehearsal room. The pressure which comes with taking responsibility overall for a production then, keeps you honest because other people are relying on you to help them do their job well, this humbles, and helps to shake off the crust of decadence which may have formed while working on other peoples' productions, where the actor is responsible for himself only, and need not concern himself with the minutiae of production (where even finding the right prop can turn into a major endeavour). Accountability is the thing, there is no place to hide, there can be no excuses, that work up on the screen or on the stage is undeniably yours, the totality of it this time, not only your performance. You set the standard, how you perform sends out a message to those around you, a message about the work in hand, about your work generally, and about how you think it should be done. Accomplish a standard which is high enough to keep the idealism of those who decided to collaborate with you intact, and hopefully then, they will want to see your face light up by solving a difficult problem – this happens when we work on something we're proud of.
“I can't stand intimate scenes in cinema....because every human being has an aura which is hard to penetrate. Professional actors imagine that it's part of their job to allow the director or other actors to penetrate their aura and enter into a totally unnatural contact with somebody they don't know.
Which is also why I consider it completely shameless to have very tight close-ups of people because the so-called “actor” cannot hide who he is, he's too close to us and he becomes distanced from the character. He becomes an actual person, an individual with all his considerations. And I have no desire to have an actual person on-screen. I want it to be a character, always a character.” - Otar Iosseliani.
I don't agree with much of what Iosseliani says here, especially about close-ups, because, for me, close-ups are not necessarily intimate. However, what did pique me, were his comments about “aura” and character. It's worth pointing out to those unfamiliar with Iosseliani's work, that typically he uses “non-actors” in his films, whose general lack of technique creates an awkwardness, and this awkwardness demarcates the performance, thus the character is always present.* Further, the “non-actor” is usually more inhibited than the experienced actor, and is therefore less apt to “show”.
But what does Iosseliani mean when he speaks of “aura”? Well, aura, in my view, means diginity – people with an aura, act with the dignity, it's their dignity which gives them an aura. And dignity is about self-control, self-respect, acting with conviction, and behaving honourably (Chishu Ryu immediately springs to mind). The character is always present if the actor remains true to the aesthetic integrity of the work at hand, which is to say; committing fully to the actions called forth by the scene, and excluding everything else. Whenever an actor supplies an emotion which has not been organically produced by his attempts to do the action of the scene, such as when those people with a knack for making themselves cry decide to turn on the waterworks for no other reason than that they can, the aesthetic integrity of the piece is violated, the illusion is shattered, suddenly the audience become aware of the actor exposing himself, and the dignity of not only the actor, but of the audience and the whole dramatic interchange, is lost (typically, in a desparate scramble for self-respect, this exposure manifests itself as admiration for the actor's technique by the audience, and for the actor's part, he speaks about the moment as “liberating”, and, “a breakthrough”).
The intent to remain true to the aesthetic integrity of the scene, is not the same as the intent to expose oneself. All this stuff about actors “going further” or “making themselves vulnerable”, points to a gross misunderstanding of what acting actually is, and is part of the trend in our wider culture to just let it all hang loose. In the end however, this transparency leads to trivial acting: because in letting us see everything, the actor expresses nothing. Great acting requires discipline and restraint, precision and control, artistic choices are made, only that which is essential is offered. A truthful performance, that is, one where the actor is true to the work and to himself, is always dignified, always mysterious, and, to use Iosseliani's language, never penetrates the aura of the actor. And, for the actor, the character does not exist other than as a reference for analysis, but by only sticking to the actions of the scene and cutting away everything else, the actor's performance becomes hi-definition, deliberate, and as a result it would seem, as Iosseliani would have it, as though the character is always present – the actor is ignoring those parts of himself which are not required for the scene, certainly his quotidian troubles have been left behind. This is also how the actor may reveal the truth of his own personality, while at the same time, maintaining the essential mystery of himself.
I hold an often ridiculed view that the scene the actor is playing can impress upon the his mindset. I don't mean that actor “becomes” the character – this is nonsense – I mean that the scene can influence the actor, for example: if the actor discerns in his analysis that the character he is playing doesn't care about what is happening in the scene, it may become that the actor stops caring about the production he is working on. Please note: the actor cannot know this influencing is taking place, it happens gradually, almost imperceptibly, and the actor will blame his eventual change of mindset on everything except the real cause: the scene itself.
However, for the organic actor, this influencing is positive and creative, even if it is unconscious. If for example he is playing a scene where the character is bluffing, all kinds of wonderful, little, provocative moments may reveal themselves in performance, small tells (eg – playing with an earlobe, or handling pieces of paper), which are unplanned, infact, could not have been planned, but there they are, fabulously expressive, complex, intense, and true. The actor doesn't want to consciously re-create these great moments - they're great because they're spontaneous. The actor may try to re-create them because he cherishes them, and further, they represent strong work and so it makes sense to recreate them, but the actor must resist this temptation and create afresh each time. Any re-created version of them will be a dead thing – that moment has passed, move on.
The alternative to the organic actor is the presentational actor, who frees himself from the hassle of creation by mapping out his entire performance: every gesture, every turn of the head, every inflection, has been planned in advance (and labelled “characterization”) and the performance is merely a plodding implementation of the plan, even to the extent that changes to his scene partner's performance are ignored. The object of presentational performance is to control everything in order to avoid the terror of facing up to the truth of the moment (which can seem like an abyss). Presentational acting has got nothing whatever to do with creating, and everything to do with limiting criticism, it's rarely provocative or exciting in it's search for bland flawlessness. Furthermore, this actor plays everything in inverted commas as it were, indicating to the audience that he isn't really the character (because of course we couldn't discern that for ourselves – doesn't this actor know that his performance is an illusion which the audience willingly buys into?), and would show that the character is bluffing by using a predetermined general physical nervousness, flicking the eyes, and other cliches, rather than letting the performance manifest itself by confronting the moment. The performance of the organic actor however, appears not to be performance at all, but simply the functioning of his personality, indeed, no differential between his work and his personality can be made.
It takes courage and strength to face upto the truth, it is far easier to brush it under the carpet, and trot around in a bland hypocrisy. Acting is not about being perfect all the time, although yes, we need to strive for excellence. The moment may not be perfect, it may not be how we intended it, but it may be true, and this truth is always provocative, always thrilling, always beautiful.
“If you want someone to serve the film, you don't want too much bullshit. You want someone who's committed, who's going to show up on time, who's gonna be in your corner. When you need someone, I'm the guy.”
The above is a quote from Mark Ruffalo in a recent interview which piqued my interest, and I was all set to write a panegyric about how Ruffalo was one of the great underrated American actors, before I decided to think a little bit more deeply about what he was saying.
Ruffalo here, is really telling us he is a committed actor, because all the points he makes are simply different examples of what a committed actor does. He has created a list of selling points, good reasons why you should hire him. I confess, however, that I was a little shocked by this, for many of those qualities listed, in my opinion, should be standard practice, not special features. I'm not knocking Ruffalo, I admire the guy, and I'm glad he celebrates these qualities, but I think all actors should be committed actors.
Commitment means the exclusion of all other possibilities, when you make a commitment you cut away all other options, total commitment implies a lack of concern for anything else except reaching your goal.
And the goal of the actor's work is to communicate the play* to the audience, and this communication is what the actor is committing to. And the first expression of this commitment is time-keeping. Not only turning up to work on time, but turning up 15 minutes early. To keep time well requires self-discipline, focus, strength of mind, and a healthy respect for life generally. Nobody ever won an Oscar for timekeeping though, it is as unglamourous as learning lines, but no less important. I learn all of my lines by the first day of rehearsal. I didn't used to, I used to learn them as I went along in rehearsal. But now I memorize them by the first day, and not because I'm a smart-alec or want to be competitive, but because I can function better: I am freer to play the scene in different ways, and play it fully, I am less self-conscious and more adventurous in my choices. Before I can confidently remember my lines, there is a tendency to lean on the script, like crutches. There is no magic recipe for learning them either, it's just a question of knuckling down with a bit of good old fashioned hard work: relentless repetition in other words. I cannot act until I can do the lines habitually, never searching for them, and this allows me to act at full tilt, in the moment. When I first started out, I, laughably, only used to half learn my lines, believing that my searching for the correct line made my performance somehow truer, more “real”. Nonsense, it had the reverse effect, often leading me to anticipate my next line because I was scared I would forget it as I hadn't learned it properly.
If the actor is not committed to serving the play, then what is he doing? Oftentimes, one finds actors in the company who would prefer to play politics, and seek power over their colleagues as oppose to simply doing the work at hand. Typical behaviour of this kind of actor includes: speaking with the director as though they were best mates, treating their colleagues like second class citizens, alternating between wanting people to kiss their ass and hold their hand, and always acting first to serve their vanity. They see the production as little more than a mechanism for expressing how “special” they are. This kind of actor is not interested in the play, much less the audience. And perhaps that is what Ruffalo meant by “bullshit”.
So the committed actor then, understands that the production as a whole is greater than himself, and strives to “serve the film”. The committed actor not only shows up to work early and knows his lines cold, but supports the production and it's director. He prepares properly, and is able to rise above petty politicking or disturbances. He shows respect, loyalty and courtesy towards his colleagues (and patience when the same is not forthcoming). The committed actor never complains, and cherishes the privileged work he does.
Commitment to work is a fundamental tenet if one is to become an artist.
*I use the word “play” as a catch all phrase to include: film, television, radio, web, mobile device, and all other performance platforms.
“But I think actors are always having to achieve the problem before they can express overcoming the problem” - Colin Firth.
I like Colin Firth, he's alright. I've been a fan of his since I first noticed his work in The English Patient back in mid-90s. Unlike many actors who treat the production as merely a showcase for their “talent”, Firth seems simply to play the scene as well as he can and not worry about anything else, always excluding the non-essential. He also seems to be committed to the form (cinema), and is a good example of an actor who's kept his head down and striven to be the best actor he can be, quietly building a substantial body of work in the process. We don't associate him with the very silly cacophony that can sometimes accompany star actors. Firth has grown over the years, while many of his apparently more glamorous colleagues have diminished. When Firth performs, you know you're going to get something honest and true, his work warms us. Although I have not yet seen The King's Speech, I did recently watch A Single Man and absolutely loved Firth's performance in it, it's a very good example of what I'm talking about.
However, when I read the above quote, I thought it was gobbledegook at first, the sort of actorly waffle which encourages the modern fashion of denigrating acting and actors, as evidenced by the widespread use of the derogatory term “luvvie”. But then I re-read it, and thought a little bit more about it, and soon realised that Firth's theory of acting here, is not dissimilar to my own.
In Firth's case, he was referring to making his stammer authentic for his character in the King's Speech. Firth's “problem” then, is the technical challenge of perfecting the stammer, and “achieving the problem” means mastering the stammer technically as an actor, and “express overcoming the problem” means what the actor actually does when trying to overcome the character's problem as per the script, or put another way, portraying the character's struggle to deal with his speech, literally what we, the audience, see unfolding in the finished film. So Firth cannot strive to banish the stammer until he has given himself a stammer.
Another example would be Charles Laughton in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, who famously insisted that his fake hump be made of real weight, so that he had to literally carry the burden through the scenes, as Quasimodo would've done. And in performances where the challenge for the actor is not necessarily externally technical, ie – cosmetics or physical adjustments are not required, then the actor still needs to give himself a problem to solve, concurrent to the character's problem. Recently I played a scene where the other guy had a gun pointed at my head and my character had to talk his way out of it, so I gave myself the problem of convincing the other actor he's making a terrible mistake.
I posted Firth's words on various social media sights a few days ago, and got a range of responses, from people mocking Firth through to others who interpreted his words into their own technical language.
Donald Wolfitt made a name for himself at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1936 as Hamlet, and he tried to persuade the management to bankroll him on a tour of the provinces. They declined the invitation, so he withdrew his savings and started his own touring company in 1937.
I, like pretty much everyone else, have been indoctrinated to believe that an actor is someone who spends his time asking the powers that be for permission to do work, and occasionally that permission is granted. If a poet wants to work, he merely grabs his pen and starts writing, a filmmaker picks-up his camera, and a painter his brush. This seems patently obvious, none of these people feel that they need to seek permission in order to work, it would be absurd for them to do so. But this is not true for the actor, who is supposed to pass through some process before he is allowed to perform*. And, as always when a new production of my own starts to come into focus, one in which I will not only act, but write the script, direct and produce**, I must once again find a rationale for doing so, or, put another way; make the way clear for artistic freedom by sweeping away the dulling crust which forms around the employee mindset. One of the problems is that there is a tendency to over complicate things – essentially, all an actor does is communicate something to a group of people – but the complications arise when we think of it as a “career”, because then the notion of communicating something to a group of people becomes the holy grail rather than the norm – bizarrely, validation must be sought from outside agencies: attending auditions and meetings, but before we attend auditions and meetings, we have to set up those auditions and meetings, and how are we going to do that, and so on and so forth...yes, it can get complicated, and it's easy to see how the true work of the actor gets lost in the tunnel-vision-pursuit of winning the favour of potential benefactors (as we perceive them) - infact, many who try their hand at acting, quit, as they become overwhelmed, demoralised and exhausted by the constant demands of having to scythe their way through the layers of resistance between them and the audience.
As I try to design a philosophy which will carry me through my next project then , I wonder if the modern notion of the jobbing industrial actor need be rethought, and my mind turns to the pre-industrial actor. In the beginning, there was only the actors (who had formerly been priests but were cast out of the church for being too entertaining), moving from village to village, delivering corner-street oration for their daily bread; if they were good, then they ate, if they were bad then they starved to death (perhaps the choice for the modern day actor is not quite as stark, but perhaps that is one reason why standards are falling despite ever more “training”). But the point is, the actors were there long before the playwrights, long before the directors and the producers, and the theatres and the marketing people, and (the most powerful class in our society) the bureaucrats. Long, long before any these people came along, there was only the actor, who entered the village as a stranger, alone and broke, possessed with only his wits and his intent to create a powerful illusion – he certainly didn't ask permission.
So now it's the 21st century, and actors have been colonized by the paper-pushers – the implication is that the courage and generosity of the actor is worthless, that only obedience has any value. The downside risk of starvation is no longer the motor for the drive to greatness. Nowadays, the street corner is the internet, and digital technology offers the possibilty for the actor to reclaim the work which is rightfully his. It's time to cut out the middle men.
*Perhaps that is part of the actor, his psyche, that needs this process, but perhaps we shall reserve an analysis of that for another time.
**The separation of these job titles is, for me, in practical terms, utterly meaningless. I only separate them here to emphasize my point.
Many actors think that the big prize of stardom will be theirs if only they just hang on in there, no matter how difficult things seem now, just give it another couple of years, afterall, didn't such-and-such-a-famous-actor spend 15 years getting his big break, didn't that other actor go on 3 million auditions before he made his first million – the inference here is: IT COULD BE YOU, if only you just keep “believing” then “it” will happen for you. The mentality of the lottery-playing-get-rich-quick-actor (irony intended) thinks that artistic ardour amounts to sticking to their routine at the gym, and spends endless money on THE MOST EXPENSIVE HEADSHOTS, the logic being that the more expensive the headshot the more likely it is to get that actor work, and further, this actor infantalises themselves and submits their life and happiness to the whim of an apparent authority figure, the person they think can unlock the gates to the Palace Of The Social Elite. This actor who spends their whole life trying to get into the country club and sneers at art, is seen as the “serious” actor in this era of crass commercialism that we live, because not only do they want to win the jackpot, but they are willing to follow the prescribed path (of obediance) in order to do so... Of course, almost all fail, as indeed almost all fail to get rich via the National Lottery.
There is however, another kind of actor, the aesthetic actor, who recoils at the thought of kissing ass because he wants his actions to speak for him, this actor simply dedicates himself to being an artist and pursues an aesthetic agenda (or put another way: dedicates himself to attaining truth and excellence in his work). This aesthetic actor however, is seen as “unserious” because, as with all individual creative artists, he follows his own path which may be exhilarating only to himself, his actions may seem incomprehensible to others, and further, this actor is uninterested in getting brand names onto his CV, and worse, he is unwilling to spend money in the right areas. This actor is, therefore, to be denigrated, and especially so for having the impertinence to want control over his life and work, afterall, aren't actors supposed to grovell with their begging bowls, frantically scrabbling around on the floor for whatever crumbs are thrown their way, and poking out the eyes of their brothers and sisters in the process...*cough, cough*...i'm sorry, I meant pursuing SUCCESS not scrabbling on the floor for crumbs. I do apologise for that slight slip of the tongue. But no, the aesthetic actor will be told to forsake his reason and stop being “negative”, he will be told he “doesn't really believe”, and worst of all, that he is “a loser”...and...“just, who do you think you ARE?”
However, I say, and in the words of the great Al Pacino, “you've only got today, that's all you've got”. How much of your life are you willing to spend “standing around in the dark waiting to be picked “ (ie - the casting process). How many years? 10? 15? 20? What is an acceptable amount of time? At which point do you stop “believing”? I know actors who have quit the business entirely but continue to tell me that they still “believe”. Believe in what, I ask you? If you just keep “believing” for another 9 years you MIGHT have a shot at stardom. And what does this stardom amount to? A part on a well known television show? Perhaps work on an expensive movie? Who knows? And remember, before you actually get to become a star you'll have to be cast via the audition process where somebody will decide whether, yay or nay, you can proceed to stardom. All those years of toil and sacrifice and subservience boil down to somebody in some room somewhere, deciding for you, whether you've been wasting your time or not. Nice.
I say, don't worry if you're not conforming to the prescribed path. It's not easy to stand your ground, but do so, and don't let a flip remark by a casual aquaintance upset your apple cart. Infact, what others say or do has got nothing to do with you, and therefore should not concern you. Remember that those who would denigrate you because you refuse to pander to authority, are doing so simply in order to make themselves feel secure, they are cowards who need to feel that they too are part of the country club (whether they are or not, or whether it's even possible that they might be in the future, is apparently not open to scrutiny, it's a given). Sometimes those things you do for love will not work out, and sometimes you will look at someone who works with purely venal motives and it does work - that's life – it should not cause you to throw everything out of the window. Stick to your guns. What is important is that you're living your life, and that you take responsibility for it. Don't mortgage the present for some imaginary future good, follow your own personal truth, and do so today.
One of the most demanding aspects of an actor's life is the constant need to improve, year by year, month by month, day by day, moment by moment. There is no let up – when one set of questions has been answered, a new set of questions arise (some questions are never answered, the struggle is ongoing....), these new questions make new demands upon the actor and he must improve himself in order to meet those new demands, and further, he must become someone capable of constant self-improvement. The realisation that the actor must engage in continual struggle (with himself, his art, and his life) causes many to quit as they begin to see that the actor's life is not quite the cosy one of celebrity parties they might have imagined, and if they don't quit, then many become hacks, burying their head in the sand by pretending no improvement is necessary, and that in any case, money is the only thing that counts.
Everyday the actor needs to strive to improve himself, improve the way he thinks, his technique, reaching greater heights of self-discipline, becoming stronger in order to work more productively for longer, and in addition he must help his allies, promote the culture he wants to participate in, and ultimately strive to become the very embodiment of his ideals. And all this is not easy. When one objective has been accomplished, a new objective must be articulated and understood (and this process is in itself challenging, let alone actually accomplishing the new objective), and the actor must become aware of where he is at in this process, otherwise he is likely to become confused and lose direction. Crucially, the actor must be aware of the shortfall in his skills which may cause him to fail to accomplish the new objective, and steps must be put in place in order to make up that shortfall. Again, this process is difficult in itself. Ultimately however, this work must be done every single day if the actor wants to construct precisely the body of work he wants, this is the kind of pressure he needs to live under, constantly, and be energised by the pressure rather than crushed. And yes, this is very different to living a life hoping your CV “lands on the right desk at the right time”. If one aspires to ever greater heights, then one must commit to ever greater dedication, for you can achieve only in proportion to your capabilities.
If you want to be a great actor, then nothing less than total dedication will do. And if your goal is to become a great actor, then you will be one of those rare people who knows the meaning of their life because you will understand what each of your actions mean. Why? Because you can measure each of your actions in relation to your goal. Are you going to go out and get drunk, or are you going to go home and do your voice exercises, then read that Moliere play before relaxing in front of a movie?
If your goal is to be a great actor, which is to say, one capable of producing a great work of art, my support is available to you, and I wish you every success.
“ I could have been a superstar in America – I was certainly taken out there. But I said, “no way Jose, I'm not staying here in this madhouse”. So I left and said, “I'm gonna make arthouse films now”. - Charlotte Rampling.
Whether you agree with Rampling's decision or not, the point is she made a choice, and crucially, her choice goes against the grain of our times; she used her head and listened to her heart and chose a life true to herself rather than becoming rich beyond her wildest dreams. It's also important that she has come out and articulated her choice in public, and it's important because it shows that actors can choose and define their working lives as oppose to being condemned to the cumbersomely unproductive casting process, and it's important because it's all too rare that young actors have this example before them, most mainstream actors seem to have contempt for what they do, and many others are frightened to speak in a serious way about acting because they fear criticism for being "pretentious" or being called a "luvvie". Rarely do we see an actor presented as an artist making aesthetic decisions, mostly we are bombarded by images and stories of actors as celebrities....now, we all enjoy a little bit of gossip but we must be careful not to mistake it for the work itself, because what happens is that this image of actor-as-celebrity encourages, each year, gazillions to become actors because they think acting will give them that celebrity lifestyle, and even more ludicrously, I see many young actors mimicking the behaviour of celebrity actors as if that is enough to get a career, and the net result is a devaluing of the currency - “there is an actor on every street corner”.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: it's not easy to stand your ground, the tendency is to fall in with the crowd and go with the flow which may be less exhilarating but it's also less terrifying, and the meaningless chattering cacophony will keep you from feeling alone. But I say the artist must stand his ground, for it is from there that art will come.
“I think an artist has always to be out of step with his time” - Orson Welles. If it's good enough for Orson Welles, it's good enough for me.
I suppose Irene Jacobwill always be inextricably linked with Krzysztof Kieslowski, and the two masterpieces she made with him: The Double Life Of Veronique (for which she won the best actress award at Cannes), and Three Colours: Red, which made her name. I am convinced had Kieslowski lived on, he and Jacob would have made many more films together; the aesthetics of Jacob's acting and Kieslowski's cinema are utterly compatible, both marked by an unpretentious poetry and a sensitivity – no other actor is as seemless in Kieslowski's films as Jacob, infact, the BFI's Geoff Andrew wrote that Kieslowski was“making those films around her”. However, it could be said that Jacob has never quite reached the heights of those films with Kieslowski since. After Red, the offers poured in, from Europe and Hollywood*, but Jacob instead retreated and took nine months off, spending most of her time “reading Tolstoy, Balzac, Singer and several autobiographies”.She worked with Louis Malle before Kieslowski, and Antonioni after, and latterly delivered a masterpiece of screen acting in Theo Angelopoulos' The Dust Of Time.
What is unusual about Jacob on screen, is her shyness. She is never aggressive, or flamboyant, and hardly makes any attempt at intensity, even though her performances are vivid. There is a gentleness about Jacob, with a hint of melancholy. However, there is always joy in her performance, it is the energy source for all her work, and it may be re-shaped in all kinds of ways, such as sadness or confusion, depending on the needs of the moment in the scene. Jacob's performances flow from her, which sometimes gives her an ecstatic quality. Her performances are unfettered, and unmolested by vanity. There is a sensitivity and delicacy about her which can at times be heartbreaking. Her acting has the absolute ring of truth to it. As with all great actors, it is her essential goodness we respond to. Further, we also sense that her performances are coming from a deep place, they are important to her. Although she is physically small, she has a magnitude of soul, as though there is so much more to be explored, as though we are only seeing a fraction of what she may express.
Jacob, by her own admission, came from a “shy” family, who rarely if ever expressed their feelings. As a result, through much of her childhood, she will have repressed much of what she felt, locking it away somewhere. Then she discovers cinema:
“They made me laugh and cry, and that was exactly what I was waiting for in a film: to awaken me to my feelings”.
Suddenly those repressed feelings are stirred, and the possibility of being an actor, offers the possibility of an escape from introversion, albeit temporarily and under imaginary circumstances (ie – for the duration of the performance), and the possibility of giving expression to that repressed material. Here's Jacob again: -
“...the protection of a character....it's the distance that creates the poetry”.
The protection of a character is an interesting point – there is no character, everything the actor expresses is of himself, not of anybody else. In Jacob's case, an introvert, the objectivity of playing a character, creates a vehicle to transport the repressed material out into the world. However, she is such a captivating actor because there is a tension between her inclination for introversion and the demands of the scene (her performance). The poetry is the repressed material touched off by the actor's response to the scene, and reconfigured as truthful fiction by the actor's performance.
Jacob (as with all true actors), possesses a surfeit of thought and feeling brought about by shyness, and from this surfeit, Jacob creates her poetry.
* she was offered the lead role in Indecent Proposal but turned it down because she “didn't feel comfortable with the film's sensibility”.
“The more success an actor has, the more he acquires the look of wax fruit; he is no longer devoured by life”. - Elia Kazan.
Much of the actor's life can be, in turn, wretched, absurd, soul-destroying, exhilarating, humiliating, glorious, and he can find himself spending much of his time scratching around simply trying to maintain his self-respect. Little of his life appears to be within his control, but sometimes it's difficult for him to be grateful for what he has - most actors are preposterously ambitious. One of the most complex periods an actor can experience is just after a major goal has been accomplished, and the old habits seem inappropriate. The period is a dangerous one, it can be confusing because the actor has scored a victory but doesn't know what his next move should be. I often think that actors should apply performance technique to their everyday lives because it makes the work stronger, however, when performing we have a road map, the script, from which we can discern the actions necessary for accomplishing our objectives. In life of course, no such map exists, we can come up with a plan, but that really is only an estimate of what might happen. So, during this new period the actor must first decide what he would like to accomplish next – which is in itself a major task. In making his decision, the actor may ask himself where he wants to end up, and then, how he is going to get there. If he cannot answer these questions for the short term, he is likely to become lost and fall into despair. Whichever path the actor does eventually choose however, he must accept that there is no guarantee of success, that's the nature of the life – he doesn't know what is going to happen, he has to take a chance and step forward regardless. The actors life then, resembles that of the gambler, but the actor gambles not chips at the table, but time in his life. So many actors fall by the wayside because they are no longer willing to play the game, they're no longer willing to commit to the toil and the slog without the guarantee of a reward, and picking up the pieces one more time becomes just too much to bear for them.
The actors who continue and flourish are innate gamblers, and they love trying to workout how to lower the odds and beat the system. Actors are adrenaline junkies, we intentionally make our lives insecure, we intentionally posit preposterous objectives for ourselves, we need that edge, we are energized by pressure, afterall, that's the fun of the fayre – most of us would be absolutely horrified if we actually “made it”, we would become part of Kazan's wax fruit, the very thing we sought to avoid by becoming actors in the first place. However, the really smart actor understands that the process of the life (ie: the struggle, the constant self-examination, the toil, the discipline, the self-denial, the seeing our best laid plans turn to dust but finding the strength to start again,overcoming the overwhelming odds stacked against us) is part of the work itself, for it demands that we constantly improve ourselves, thus ensuring that when the time comes, we are worth the time and attention of the audience.
The gambler may only find an equilibrium while he is gambling, and the actor may only do so while he is performing. One life lived steadily over decades is no good to the actor, he must live out many brief lives intensely.
“There are musicians who practice all the time but we actors are not able to do that. We don't have an instrument, except if you say we are our own instrument, and yet I always try to continue searching and working for the moment where you have to deliver.” - Michel Piccoli.
Like his countryman Alain Delon, although a very different acting animal, Michel Piccoli has worked with many of the great auteurs of European cinema; Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Melville, Luis Bunuel, Jacques Rivette, Claude Sautet, Otar Iosseliani, Louis Malle, Claude Chabrol, and those are only the ones I can think of. And not only has he worked with the best, but Piccoli has also appeared in several masterpieces, my favourite of which must be Godard's Le Mepris, where Piccoli plays a hack writer, who spends most of the film trying to keep hold of his wife, played by the beautiful Brigitte Bardot. He fumbles around after her, trying to satisfy her needs which are apparently incomprehensible to him, but we see Piccoli really trying, desperately trying, we see it in his face, it's the sad sight of a strong man brought low, until he does eventually lose her, tragically, to his own paymaster, played by Jack Palance.
Piccoli is a real lion of an actor, he's physically strong, and possesses a personality of force, along with an easy vocal power. But there is also a delicacy about him, a grace, he's self-conscious, he is generous and humble. He is mentally tough too, a rigorous thinker, which gives his strength a vulnerable quality, all of which adds up to a provocative and compelling acting whole. It has even been said that Piccoli is the perfect split between the physical and the intellectual, and I'd go along with that.
I began to understand the nature of Piccoli's talent better, after I read an interview with him in Cahiers Du Cinema, where he expressed his admiration for the work of Louis Jouvet, describing him as having “a kind of discreet madness”. I thought this an apt description for Piccoli himself. The “discreet” is the intellectual, graceful side of Piccoli, stiff upper lipped and impassive. In this mode, Piccoli's work is pared down, allowing the audience to project their own imagination onto him, and therefore vicariously experience the character's trials and tribulations. This is the Piccoli of self-control, enabling him to play the white collar gangster, Nuttheccio, in Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Doulos, or an old woman (yes, an old woman) in Otar Iosseliani's Gardens In Autumn, or a great painter in Jacques Rivette's La Belle Noiseuse. And yet, even here, beneath Piccoli's intelligence and civilised mannner, there is the “madness” too. And we sense it, even when it is not brought forth directly, as in Claude Chabrol's Les Noces Rouges, where Piccoli plays the Deputy Mayor, he seems somehow savage when cherishing Stephane Audran during their illicit love affair. But Piccoli only ever offers us brief glimpses of this madness, but when it comes it's shocking, fierce, and decisive, and tends to manifest itself in sudden outbursts. In Claude Sautet's Les Choses de la Vie, Piccoli's vicious berating of the architect who messes up his plans is intense but it apparently comes from nowhere and is over in a moment, it's effect however, is total. There are other moments too, in the aforementioned Le Mepris, where we see Bardot flinch when faced with the chaos of Piccoli's temper. Ultimately though, this madness is always present in Piccoli's work, even if it's usually only latent, shadowing his essentially classy nature.
Michel Piccoli is one of the greatest actors there has ever been. His body of work is immense (which includes a substantial amount of theatre work, infact, the first 10 years or so of Piccoli's career were spent upon the stage, learning his trade, sadly I have never seen him live), and I can only look upon it with awe. The qualities he embodies as a man, and therefore brings to his work, are a lesson for any actor. He also thinks deeply about his work, in this sense then, he is a philosopher of acting, aswell as an artist.
I fear Michel Piccoli is little known here in United Kingdom, if you don't know his work, I urge you to watch his films, any of the films mentioned here would be a good place to start*, try them, and experience, for yourself, the discreet madness of Michel Piccoli.
* and I have hardly mentioned his substantial work with Luis Bunuel, for whom Piccoli was an important collaborator.
“I get impatient when I hear dialogue that's just too natural. I write what people would really say and then I artificialize just enough so it becomes a beautiful object”. - Hal Hartley
For anyone not familiar with Hartley's work, the dialogue is very distinctive, it's precise and rhythmical (the clip above will give you a taster), critic Jason Wood even described the characters as speaking in inverted commas. Hartley doesn't disguise the fact that what we hear is scripted dialogue. An attempt to create “naturalistic” dialogue, is an attempt to convince the viewer that what he is hearing is real – which of course it isn't.
“Naturalistic” acting then, is a style which the actor applies to his performance in order to convince the viewer that what he is doing is not acting but real, and hopefully, the viewer will buy into the fiction of the film as a result. However, whether a film seems real or not, is irrelevant - The Fox And The Hound is no more nor less real than Casablanca - what counts is whether the film is true or false. When the work is true, the viewer will accept that a talking fox and a talking dog can be friends, and the viewer will accept that Humphrey Bogart is in love with Ingrid Bergman – the viewer uses his own imagination. In the theatre, it is more obvious: the actor stands on a bare stage, and, speaking in verse, informs the audience that he is stood in a castle, and the audience will create the castle for themselves, in their own minds.
Artificial means consciously creating something which serves a specific function within the overall piece, creating it with a specific intention, which gives it a specific meaning – this is very different from adding extraneous details to masque a lie. And so with acting; having a specific intention for the scene, for the performance, organises it, gives it definition, rhythm and force. Talking of Casablanca, a quick comparison of American acting from that era, where nothing was included which wasn't serving the film, with the “naturalistic” performances of contemporary American acting, reveals how trivial and tight-fisted the vast majority of modern actors are. An attempt to naturalise our performance, is the attempt to remove from it all beauty, as if ashamed, but the actor needn't be ashamed: cut out the feeble-minded irrelevance, find an intention and stick to it with an iron will.
“Great acting is like painting. In the great masters of fine art one can see and recognise the small gesture of a finger, the turn of a head, the vitriolic stare, the glazed eye, the pompous mouth, the back bending under a fearful load. In every swerve and stroke of a painter's brush, there is an ambundance of life. Great artists reveal the god in man; every character an actor plays must be this sort of creation. Not imitation – that is mere caricature – and any fool can be a mimic. But creation is a secret. The better – the truer – the creation, the more it will resemble a great painter's immortal work.”
Once in a blue moon a performance comes along which is so excellent it forces me to completely re-examine what it is I'm doing in my own work, and Peter Mullan's in My Name Is Joe is one such performance.
Mullan plays Joe Kavanagh, a recovering alcholic, who has got himself onto the straight and narrow with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. Although broke and unemployed, Mullan seems happy enough, especially so when managing a hopeless and hapless amateur football team, which gives him a real sense of purpose and joy. And it is through the football team Mullan meets and falls in love with Sarah, a healthcare worker, who is helping ex-junkies Liam and Sabine with their new born baby. Liam plays for Mullan's team, and Mullan has a bond with him, he's protective of Liam, offering support and helping Liam stay clean. But it is also through Liam that Mullan's new found and hard won happiness begins to fall apart. Sabine starts using heroin again and racks up a £1500 debt with McGowan, the local gangster, who gives Liam the choice of having his legs broken to pay off the debt, or putting Sabine on the game. Mullan steps in and agrees to do a job for McGowan, which involves picking up a couple of cars within which heroin is stashed. Sarah, who has seen many young families destroyed by drugs, finds out and finishes with Mullan, who, in turn, frantically tries to get out of his deal with McGowan in a bid to win Sarah back.
But what is it that makes Mullan's work in this film so special? I could mention that it is of true technical brilliance and not the result of some flukey bout of inspiration, and I don't mean technical in the Charles-Laughton-Hunchback-Of-Notre-Dame sense, Mullan's performance is simple and direct, but technical in the sense that it is immensely disciplined and precise, he never allows, what is a ferociously emotive role, to descend into some kind of “actory emotional showcase”, no, Mullan is always serving the film, scene by scene, and in the end delivers a whole series of wonderful, provocative moments economically and truthfully and with control. All of this alone would add upto a great performance, but what puts it among the top handful of performances I have ever seen is the sheer force of Mullan's intentions, which are so great that they reveal acting to be poetry and Mullan a poet. Mullan's character is a tragic hero whose efforts to do good bring about the very disaster he sought to avoid, the problem lies within his own nature, he is the cause of the plague on Thebes as it were. There is a scene where Mullan beats up some of McGowan's goons with a basball bat, then turns and smashes up a nearby Vauxhall Cavalier, and he does so with a force so great that the action goes beyond emotion, beyond reason, beyond the material, beyond the individual, and can only be expressed poetically, as when our love is so great we might say; “my love is like an ocean”. It is an attempt to comprehend the awesome. Mullan gives form to mankind's rage brought forth by the knowledge that we are helpless in the face of circumstance and that even our best intentions may lead to tragedy. No mean feat.
“Nothing in the world can be compared to the human face. There is no greater experience in a studio than to witness the expression of a sensitive face under the mysterious power of inspiration. To see it animated from inside, and turning into poetry.”Carl Theodor Dreyer.
Maria Falconetti's performance in Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion Of Joan Of Arc is the most astonishing and astounding in all cinema. It is a performance whose intensity of expression has completely overwhelmed me, and utterly captivated me, and I am still, several days after seeing it, struggling to come to terms with it's impact upon me as a film viewer, and as an actor. In short, I can't get it out of my head.
Falconetti's performance here is all the more remarkable because she is shot almost entirely in close-up, and expresses all that she needs to with her face only. And what a face it is: beautiful and symmetrical, instantly compelling, capable of startling animation. But it is her expressions which are consistently compelling and provocative throughout this silent film, where she spends most her time surrounded by inquisitors and jailers (in whom, Dreyer has assembled surely the finest group of vulture-faced potato-headed old gits in the history of cinema) who want Falconetti as Joan Of Arc to do something to discredit her belief that she is on a mission from God. Of course, her performance is essentially made up of her responses to the actions of her captives, and these responses are mostly drawn from the extreme end of human experience: bliss, terror, shock, incomprehension, depression, dismay (to name but a few), and all are delivered with a force and absolute truth, bringing about the revelation of Falconetti's soul.
I wondered how Falconetti came to this performance, it was clear to me that it was not the result of a technical process because it lacks shape and precision of intent, but on the other hand, the consistent clarity of her expressions meant that her work could not have been the result of free form. It is true that her freedom of expression and her generosity in this role show that she must have been at ease on set, and would also indicate a good relationship with her director. However, I was surprised to learn the following from Roger Ebert's review of the film : - “for Falconnetti, the performance was an ordeal. Legends from the set tell of Dreyer forcing her to kneel painfully on stone and then wipe all expression from her face so that the viewer would read suppressed or inner pain. He filmed the same shots again and again, hoping that in the editing room he could find exactly the right nuance in her facial expression.”
This makes sense, and explains the precision of Falconetti's performance in the absence of consummate technical control. However, I would suggest that Falconetti was more complicit in Dreyer's method than this quote might infer, infact, I would say that Falconetti more than went along with it because she is enjoying her work, and enjoying it too much for it to be the result of mere directorial manipulation. Falconetti's suffering on set, is her suffering to deliver the performance, which, in the eyes of the audience, becomes the illusion of the character, Joan Of Arc, suffering (which the audience pays it's money to see). For the actor, there is no Joan Of Arc, she exists only as lines on a page in a script, and so, for the actor to give a truthful performance, he must go through a struggle congruent to that of the character. So Falconetti had to be complicit in Dreyer's process, it was necessary in service of her work, her “ordeal” on set is congruent to Joan Of Arc's, had it been anything less then we would not have been treated to the calibre of performance that we were. Ultimately, Falconetti's performance is the result of innate acting talent, I don't care what process you employ, it takes a special kind of actor to do what she did, and the range and intensity come from within the woman herself, they have to or else she couldn't have done it, this stuff cannot be copied and it absolutely cannot be faked, and furthermore, acting is a mysterious and a largely intuitive business, and I'd offer Falconetti's performance here as an example of the shamanistic dimension of acting, when the actor is apparently possessed by a spirit, and in the way Joan might have been (and they wont teach you how to do that at drama school).
I don't know much about Falconetti, although I was amazed to learn that this was her only major film role, she preferred to work on stage as a light comedian (choosing the stage over the cinema was not unusual in those days, in the way it might be today). I urge all actors, directors, everybody to see this film, I believe Falconetti's work to be at the very pinnacle, it's certainly a very obvious example of great acting if you were unsure about what great acting might actually look like. No, it cannot be copied or faked, and few are blessed with an instrument such as Falconetti's. Perhaps then, we can hold her work up as an example, a standard we may strive to meet, and something to measure our own work against, and perhaps one day we will be able to produce work that touches people in the way Falconetti's performance of Joan has. That's certainly something worth aiming for.
When an actor's performance is dull and plodding, it is usually because the actor is trying to supply a predetermined effect ( this may manifest itself as line readings [we've all heard the gag of the actor struggling to workout which word to stress in the line] or the actor trying “to do an emotion” or “do a character” or plot out a “character arc” or a combination of all of these) in order to control all aspects of performance and lessen the fear brought about by the truth of the moment. In this case, the actor is less apt to reveal himself and his true nature, with all it's strengths and weaknesses. By repressing the truth of his personality, the actor succeeds in generalizing his work, his performance becomes safe, predictable and polite, and false. I knew an actor who was exciting and charismatic whenever I met her in a bar or a cafe and I loved having her attention, but she was almost invisible when I saw her on stage, her performance was tedious and I had to wrestle with myself in order to listen to what she was saying. She was trying to control what the audience thought of her, and as such, she had drained the personality from her work.
Charles Laughton's performance as Quasimodo in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is one of the most piquant, individualistic and moving, in all cinema. It is also a great technical tour de force: Laughton wore heavy make-up and heavy prosthetics, he even ensured that his “hump” have extra weight so that he really was carrying a heavy load, and which also served to change Laughton's whole physicality, he also employed an accent not his own. As impressive as this is in terms of creating an illusion, it is not the reason for the power of Laughton's performance. No. That lies in the essence of the performance, which is Laughton himself, or put another way: the revelation of Laughton's personality, the truth of it, in all it's glory and all it's wretchedness. Laughton wasn't trying to control the moment, he gave himself up to the moment and confronted it, as it came to him, with as much courage and commitment as he could muster, and we, the audience, are compelled by an individual wrestling with the questions of his life.
There should be no difference between the actor when he is working in front of the camera or upon the stage and when he is living his normal day-to-day life. There should be no difference. The actor and his work should be one.
Please watch this 4 minute interview with Alain Delon, which this blog is a response to.
Alain Delon is speaking the truth. How do we know? Because he does not try to sell what he is saying to us, he does not narrate his emotions, he does not indicate to us what we should be feeling in response to his words. No, Delon speaks simply and directly, which is how we speak when we speak about something which is important to us – we do not embellish those things which are important to us, nor do we embellish the truth. It's worth pointing out that Delon was a major movie star at this time, and Le Samourai was a box office smash – compare his interview to those of the modern day movie star: drenched in the slime of self-promotion, expert in the smug schmooze, and all false self-deprecation*, and it is only ever patronizing when they praise the film they are working on (what is really meant is that film did an adequate job of showcasing their specialness).
Delon's reverence for Jean-Pierre Melville, his love for the film and for cinema itself, are obvious, and they inspire and refresh – no mere “exploitation of the form” for Delon. He recognises an auteur film when he sees one. I've said before on this blog, that actors need to learn about the aesthetics of cinema in order to choose which work to accept and which to decline, which filmmakers to support, and which to ignore – this is especially crucial with the proliferation of micro-budget cinema in recent years (and similarly, I have called on directors to improve their understanding of the aesthetics of acting, so that they can actually tell the difference between good and bad acting, and not just cast an actor because they've got the right colour hair). Delon describes Le Samourai as a work of art, a word ridiculed by self-styled “commercial” filmmakers these days, but perhaps it's worth thinking about what it actually means, and then we might strive to create same, and find the wherewithal to describe it as such.
*..."the director didn't even want me for the role, I had to fight for it, I had to prove to him that I was an artist" (note how the word “artist” here, is used as a term of self-aggrandizement).
Boredom Of The Disgust & Monotony Of The Tediousness, 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, in front 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.
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.
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 in fact.
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”.
5 OF THE BEST
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 the 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, will look at the fictional improvised scenes we created.
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.
REFLECTIONS ON HE
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 focused. 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 each other, and their work.
"It's the cinema I want to see. These are the films I am growing from seed. If we're talking about things like I Am Love, and the work I make with Luca or the work I make with Lynn Hershman, or even the work with Zonca, it's what I want to see. It's what I'm interested in seeing. Yes, it may take time to grow. But life is too short not to go for what you're interested in.” - Tilda Swinton in MovieScope, March 2010.
Swinton spent 11 years developing I Am Love with filmmaker Luca Guadagnino. Eleven years developing a film because she believed in it's aesthetic. Swinton has a vision of the kind of actor she wants to be and the kind of films she wants to make. But, she also possesses the courage to strive to realize that vision, and she does so by committing to those filmmakers who produce work in line with her view, and help them, over time, bring their films to the big screen. She has infact worked as an uncredited producer on many of the films she's starred in. Swinton's big breakthrough came in 1992 with Sally Potter's Orlando, playing the title role. She had spent the previous 5 years with director Sally Potter developing the script and fighting for funds (industry professionals had branded the film ridiculous and unmakeable). Orlando made Swinton a star. She had turned herself into the actor she always wanted to be, and she had done so by taking responsibility for her work.
Life, for many actors, is very different. It is time spent waiting for the phone to ring, checking emails and staying in shape mentally and physically between auditions. The struggle becomes not about pursuing the dream but about paying the rent, and the longer unemployment ensues the less concerned with art the actor becomes, until that commercial for Toilet Duck begins to look like Hamlet. Many actors quit, contemptuous of the business generally and of those actors who remain dedicated. Others teach themselves to be hacks in an effort to become less provocative and so win more work.
Then there are others who privately fume at the work on offer but do nothing about improving it. I was this kind of actor. I always loved the movies, and set out to become a movie actor making great films with serious filmmakers. But it wasn't long before I found myself begging for work I didn't want, and not only did I not want it, it was contrary to my own view of what constituted a good movie. My frustration grew, (“why weren't these people making the kind of films I wanted to do?”), until eventually my hypocrisy confused my thinking to such an extent I was no longer sure I wanted to make pictures at all.
What a sissy.“Boo-hoo: why cant I have what I want, when I want it!”
You cannot look to some benefactor to give you what you want, artistically or financially. The audition process, for all it's frustrations, is comfortable and routine. If there is a particular kind of work you want to see then you're going to have to fight for it, and the more precise your vision the harder you're going to have to fight. And the first step is to take responsibility. Seek out those filmmakers whose aesthetic is similar to your own, and become their ally: help them make films, do what it takes, and help them find an audience. See it through, be loyal, never spit the dummy, conduct yourself impeccably. Create the scene you want to be part of, create that ideal cinema. Be your own benefactor, and, in time, you may find you have become that actor you always wanted to be.
Swinton again, in an interview with Pop Matters' Matt Mazur: “that possibility is always there to work collaboratively and rely on the community of other artists and the sensibility of other like-minded people...just reach out...and you can make work with them or even not make work with them but rely on them as a supportive family in a constellation”.
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.
Readers of my blogs A Very Mysterious Businessand Duologuewill 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.
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?
MM: 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).
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.
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.
TGAB: 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.vMaybe? 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.