Understanding Acting

Tilda Swinton, one of the most versatile and gifted actors of our time

In Cinema, there are no good actors. They are either great or average. Or bad. For a director, it’s important to know the difference between an average actor and a great actor.

An average actor is someone who does great impersonations. She always gets the gestures right, her mannerism is perfect, the way she walks, talks and dusts her cigarette, it’s all very charismatic. But she fails to illuminate the interior of the character she is playing. As a result the audience watches ‘her’ performing on screen instead of watching her ‘character’. It leads to what we know as overacting.

A great actor on the other hand is someone who assists the audience’s understanding of the character. She is able to achieve this by presenting the character’s inner world to the audience, in the most natural, humanistic way, and in the process making herself and her character indistinguishable from each other. A great actor never relies upon superficial impersonation and animated caricaturing. She transforms herself into her character. Anything that she does on screen, she does as the character and not as the actor. A great actor DOES NOT ACT. She BECOMES.

I think overacting roots from insecurity, when the actor is not confident in her abilities. Let me clarify, overacting does not necessarily mean loud acting or vice versa. Great acting performances have been delivered by intense, over-the-top, loud acting in Cinema, e.g. Al Pacino as Tony Montana in Scarface(1983), or Isabella Adjani as Anna in Possession(1981). Overacting is when the performance becomes gimmicky and predictable, when the truth is lost in the whole act of cliches, the kind of incredulity that separates the actor from the character. Film is a cruel medium. It magnifies overacting.

Case Study: During one of the ‘Directing Actors’ workshops in my film school, before she went into Stanislavksi and method acting, our lecturer, who also happened to be a Czech actress, informed us that she has hidden the white-board marker pen somewhere in the classroom. She asked us students to volunteer as actors who will ‘act’ to find and steal the marker. Two of my classmates volunteered and both of them tried to act out the skit with their best abilities, which were terrible to be honest, bless my friends, and both failed to actually find the marker.

In the end the lecturer took the marker out which was hidden behind a switch board. And she told us something very important. She reasoned that Lewis and Jure could not find the markers because they took it as an acting assignment, and they ‘acted’ as if they were searching. In reality they were not searching, they were just playing a game, pretending to search. A true actor would not pretend to search but actually search the entire classroom and not leave a stone unturned. A true actor will become the searcher instead of acting to be the searcher. That lesson taught me more about film acting than anything else.

PS: I have met Tilda. Biggest fanboy moment of my life.


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