Acting Up Dept.

One of my favorite actors speaks about his role in the upcoming John Carter (which really isn't getting the attention it ought):


.... sometimes I feel like if I need something to put me in the right place I’ll make a project out of it. Like sometimes you think you’ll need a look. Or you’ll need a costume. Or an accent. You look for things to trigger you to put you in the right place, to make a shift from your everyday consciousness to the consciousness of the character. Or you’re everyday impulse to the impulse of the character. And sometimes those little choices can direct in the right way. So as soon as someone tells you that you’ve got a distinctive voice, you gotta be careful. Because you don’t want to use your voice in that way, like they love you to do. And when you do voice work, there is some of that. Because that’s what you’re using. So you become very conscious of what comes off your voice and what you can accomplish with it.

(Emphasis mine.)

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For me, most anything Dafoe has appeared in has been elevated by his presence in it. Even when the material was pretty by-rote (White Sands (paid link)), he was good. When it was flawed material ratcheted up that many more notches by the presence of good acting (Light Sleeper (paid link), Antichrist (paid link)), he was even better. When it was great material and great acting (The Last Temptation of Christ), he knocks it out of the park.

I doubt most people think of literature as a performing art except in the sense of a public reading (or an open-mike poetry slam). We think of some chump in a chair, poking at a keyboard or dragging a pen across an increasingly-curled sheet of paper. It's a solitary act; it has about as much "performance" to it as someone singing into a hairbrush in front of a mirror.

None of that stops me from reading the words of directors, cinematographers, editors, and especially actors speaking about their craft. Filmmaking is as collaborative as writing is solitary (even with writing itself being part of the filmmaking process) — but still, so much of what they talk about seems to connect back to the work I find myself doing.

I've never so much as stood up on a stage — I doubt participating in a LARP counts as "acting" — but if the creation of character on a page resembles any other activity, it's acting. Actors talk of channeling their character through various means (see above); writers do the same. Hence the galleries of pictures we collage together that remind us of what they are meant to look like; hence the playlists of theme music; hence all the other things that trigger you, as Dafoe put it.

The cautionary part of what Dafoe is saying also plays into that. A lot of aspiring authors I know (and even many who have passed the aspiration stage) talk about "finding a voice", and how important it is not to sound like everyone else out there. That's never a question of your word choices, or how clever you are with a joke — or, as Dafoe notes, having some quirk in your performance persona which other people pick up on as being yours and single out to the exception of everything else.

This is about point of view, about how you see the world — something which will come through in your writing even if you fight like hell to suppress it. You will always embody your view of things. The trick is in learning how to get out of your own way, so that the cultivated tics and eccentricities — the "performance" of your work — can fall back when needed and be replaced by something more akin to channeling.

Tags: John Carter of Mars  Willem Dafoe  acting  creativity  performance  writing 

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2012/03/08 16:00.

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