For you, Jazz, as you mentioned you had some comments in the main thread I’ve set up for James Devereaux’s ongoing series of blog posts about acting in Garage.
A link to the blog post in question.
This is the excerpt I posted in the main thread:
Emmanuelle Beart has long been one of my favourite actors – if she’s in something, then I’ll watch it – infact, I think she is one of the finest actors working anywhere today. Beart perhaps lacks the credibility of a Juliette Binoche, because of her reputation for going nude, and she lacks the street cred of that charismatic one-trick pony, Beatrice Dalle, largely because she hasn’t brushed with the law in the way Dalle has*. However, I would proffer that Beart possesses greater innate acting talent than either of her two contemporaries. And if anyone is in any doubt about the calibre of her CV, may I suggest her two masterpieces with Jacques Rivette, La Belle Noisuese and L’Histoire De Marie Et Julien, L’Enfer for Claude Chabrol, plus two brilliant films for Claude Sautet, Nelly & Monsieur Anaud and Un Coeur en Hiver, plus films for Andre Techine, Raul Ruiz, Francois Ozon, Olivier Assayas, Danis Tanovic, et al, and you get the picture – what we have here, is a serious film artist. The mystery really, is why Beart is not celebrated more.
Yay… it worked.
Jazz — interested to see what you say about this, and other blog posts by James.
Thanks for starting the thread, Odi.
I’m not as impressed by Beart as Devereaux, although I’ve probably only seen a handful of her films. (There’s no denying her beauty, though.) But here’s the line that caught my attention:
There’s no such thing as a transformational actor: when an actor appears in a film or a play, what you get is that actor, what they are, the actor does not “become” somebody else**. A “constructed” performance, ie – one where a character is designed and applied by the actor, smoothes out and hides the actors’ true personality, they are trying to repress the true complexity of their personality, and, in so doing, try to sell us the idea that they are fully in control of everything. But they needn’t do so. We are all complex, which means we are all interesting, and the truth of the actor’s personality will always be more compelling than a constructed personality. However, it requires great courage to reveal our true nature publicly, but if we can learn to do so, our performances will be far richer, as will the audiences experience of them.
** The character exists from the audience’s point-of-view, as an illusion which they willingly buy into.
This is interesting, and while I have an inkling of what he means, it’s pretty confusing. This almost sounds like the actor plays themselves, but that can’t be right. The role can be quite different from the actor in real life (e.g., the character may be extremely withdrawn, while the actor might be an extrovert); therefore, some aspects of an actor’s personality might have to be muted, while augmenting others.
On the other hand, perhaps Devereaux means that the personality traits and emotions of the character is the same as the traits and emotions of the real actor. That makes a little more sense. At the same time, I have a hard time imagining an actor “constructing” emotions and personality traits.
I’d love for James to respond to this. I’ll see if I can get him to…
There is no character. The character does not exist. Hamlet does not exist, there are only lines of dialogue on a page. And the actor does not “become” somebody else, everything the actor does is them. “The Character” from the audiences point of view, is an illusion created in their mind by the juxtaposition of the spoken word and the uninflected actions of the actor.
^ awesome response, thanks, James!
Well, I still don’t have a clear grasp of what you mean (and I’m not being coy). I don’t necessarily think an actor “becomes” somebody else, but neither do I think the actor is simply him/herself reading specific dialogue (if that’s what you mean). Let’s take two performances of Dustin Hoffman—Ratzo Rizzo and the “Rain Man” (can’t remember the character’s name right now). Are the two characters basically Dustin Hoffman reading different dialogue? What about costumes and appearances between the two?
Odi, if you understand what James is saying, maybe you can help me out.
I’ll try, Jazz. Though hopefully James will come back and clarify his comments himself, in case I get this wrong.
“The Character” from the audiences point of view, is an illusion created in their mind by the juxtaposition of the spoken word and the uninflected actions of the actor.
^This is the salient point to me. Without the imagination of the audience, yes it would just be Dustin Hoffman reciting lines in costumes. The audience uses their imagination, helped by the skill of the actor, who channels and interprets the imagination of the writer whose lines he/she is speaking. Without the active participation of the audience, with their own imaginative skill, the illusion of the character in the story becoming “real” will not be successful.
Does that make sense?
Yes, it does make sense, and I agree that the audience’s imagination and suspension of disbelief plays a key role (no pun intended) in bringing a character to life, as it were. However, does the actor really just play him or herself in the role? That’s not the sense from having listened to actors talk about their craft—and just my own sense of acting. Actors talk about understanding the character and their motivation. If James’ description was accurate, then they wouldn’t have to do this at all. Instead, they would just have to know their lines and react how they would normally act and react.
Let’s also go back to the Ratzo Rizzo and Rain Man comparison. Are we to conclude that both characters are Dustin Hoffman—that the only difference is made up in our imagination? I find that difficult to believe or comprehend.
I think that James is not from the school of thought that the actors you’ve heard talk are from. Take a few more looks at his posts from his blog, see if you can tell how his point of view is different from the actors who have spoken about their work to the public in the past. (wow I really want to hear James talk again on this thread)
Neither characters ARE Dustin Hoffman. Dustin Hoffman is Dustin Hoffman. The characters exist in a space of imagination floating between the actor, the writer, and the audience. It is a creation, a thing, that is conjured at that moment.
Jazz, read James’ latest post.
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.
I understand the second sentence, but not really the first. So when Dustin Hoffman says a line or performs an act, he does so exactly as he would as if he were Dustin Hoffman. If he changes his voice, dresses differently, uses make-up, etc., this is already not true—at least on a superficial level. (I haven’t read any of the other posts, yet.)
So when Dustin Hoffman says a line or performs an act, he does so exactly as he would as if he were Dustin Hoffman.
No, he acts as someone else. What I’m saying is that he’ll be creating that someone else from his unique perspective, the character he creates is his creation, as a painting is the creation of an artist, and it is not him, as a painting is not an artist.
Am I answering your question?
No, he acts as someone else.
But isn’t that someone else, the character—or at least his understanding of the character? That’s what I think happens, but James seemed to disagree. Here’s James: And the actor does not “become” somebody else, everything the actor does is them.
Now, when he says, “does not become,” if he means, the actor doesn’t “transubstantiate” him/herself into the character, then I agree.(The concept of transubstantiation with regard to acting seems odd.) He doesn’t literally become the character. OK. But he does create the character. Everything the actor does is NOT him or her self, either. On a superficial level, if actor changes the way he speaks and dresses, that already constitutes “not him,” right? And he changes his speech and dress based on his understanding of the character—again, this indicates that the character is something distinct from the actor.
Now, when he says, “does not become,” if he means, the actor doesn’t “transubstantiate” him/herself into the character, then I agree.
I think that is the school of acting, the method kind, that he may be objecting to.
Also, an actor has to create based on his interpretation, so of course what he becomes is his creation, coming from his mind (when acting), his gestures, his voice, his expression – that IS him. It’s like he’s singing a song he wrote, it’s an artful piece of him.
I’ll have to get James in here again…
That is, it IS him, but it’s not ALL of him. It’s a piece. A reflection.
Well, the metaphor would work better if the performance was completely improvised or if the actor was the writer.
I think most of the difficulties with this issue is semantic. I think I get the gist of James’ position. (Hopefully, I read more of his posts.)
Yeah, James does do improvisation though and he writes his own things, I believe. I think the idea is also to get away from an actor who is more a mouthpiece for someone else, and bring something completely his own to a production.
Artist As Movie Star: Alain Deloin on Jean Pierre-Melville’s Le Samourai
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.
Whoops, meant to post this in the regular thread, but it’s such an interesting post I’ll keep it here too! :)
The character is not an actual person – for the actor, the character only exists as lines of dialogue on a White page. From the audience pov, the character is an ILLUSION which they buy into – Bambi does not actually exist, Michael Corleone does not actually exist. Hoffman’s character from Rain Man – what we see when we watch the film is Dustin Hoffman doing the actions as he discerned them WHEN READING THE SCRIPT. The actions, in combination with the dialogue create the illusion of character. Now, there are externals which an actor may need to apply – in the case of Rain Man, Hoffman is using his speech, and some physical work to help create the illusion. But please note – this is Hoffman using acting technique, he has not become the character.
The true art of the actor, is the revelation of the actor’s own personality – this is true for all actors, regardless of school.
Hope that helps. James.
This is wonderful. Is it not something that other artists seek too? I think so.
Thanks for replying, James!