“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.
What do you think?