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Monkeying with Emotional Truth: The Actor-Director Relationship

Monkey PuppetA few of my fellow actors and I helped out with a talent-development workshop at NUTV this past weekend (led by my remarkable friend Jonathan Joffe – of Burlesque Assassins fame).

Jon was introducing a group of beginner directors to the craft of directing film, and we were offering ourselves up as on-set guinea-pigs so that the workshop participants could practice working with actors.

I always appreciate the opportunity to practice my craft, and I am constantly amazed at how difficult it is sometimes to act well — what a challenge it is to just let go and trust yourself to sit in the truth of each moment. And this sense of trust also extends to the director. A director needs to trust that an authentic connection between the actors will carry the scene, regardless of whether it matches any preconceived notions she may have in her head.

For example, almost every director I worked with this past weekend told me things like, “Be irritated here,” or “At this point she should be feeling this way.” It was clear to me that each director had a very specific picture in his or her mind of the character, and of the scene itself. Each had read the script and then created a little movie in his head – and they were trying to get me to match that movie frame for frame.

You can build the monkey bars,
but you don’t get to choose
the monkey that swings on them.

I don’t think this perfect match is really achievable. (I suppose that sometimes directors do get lucky, and maybe the scene plays out exactly as they imagined it, but it’s not because they or the actors willfully directed it to be that way.)

All we as actors can do (with the help of the director) is build the framework of the scene – create the reality of that other world – and then let our inner emotional life freely spill forth within its spaces. Neither the actor nor the director will really know for sure what that will look like in the end.

You can build the monkey bars, but you don’t get to choose the monkey that swings on them.

And that’s ok – as long as you’re communicating the events of the story – because it’s emotional truth that brings a story alive.

Every block of stone has
a statue inside it
and it is the task of the
sculptor to discover it.

-Michelangelo

Together, the actor and the director are taking words on paper and bringing them to life, but you have to give that creation space to breathe – room to become whatever it wants to become, much the same way that Michelangelo ‘released’ his sculptures from the marble.

Acting is like that. You cannot force a performance. A director can’t make the scene be exactly what she wants in her mind. If you ask an actor to play a particular emotion, he will try to force it, to give you what you want, and the performance will seem fake and unrealistic.

Both of you must let go and trust the process.

That’s what it means to act truthfully under the given circumstances – to give life to black words on a white page. It is a simple yet complex process. Mundane and profound. Partially planned, but also very free-spirited.

It’s what I love about it.

The trick, though, is to learn to trust.

~k

Photo by MIKI Yoshihito on Flickr used under a Creative Commons License

3 comments on “Monkeying with Emotional Truth: The Actor-Director Relationship

  1. gabrielablandy
    July 25, 2013

    Wonderful piece – ‘ I am constantly amazed at how difficult it is sometimes to act well — what a challenge it is to just let go and trust yourself to sit in the truth of each moment.’ So true!

    Like

    • kim faires
      July 25, 2013

      Thank you, Gabriela. What a joy to have you here! I (naturally) wandered over to your blog today: your writing is so evocative — and free. It’s lovely to see that in a world so obsessed with the quick and the shallow. Thanks for visiting. :)

      Like

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This entry was posted on July 24, 2013 by in Stuff about Acting and tagged , , , , , .

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