Friday, July 13, 2007

Try Acting

Recently the actor Aaron Eckhart said in an interview with Men's Journal that he had to put a clothespin on his testicles so that he could "pretend" that they were hurting during a film scene. Without embarrassment or realization that he was commenting on his own acting ability, he stated, “Otherwise, you’re just learning your lines and saying them. There’s no art in that. People say, ‘Why do you want to put a clothespin on your nuts?’ You know why? Because that’s what I do for a living.”

I believe him when he says that without the sensation of actual pain he would only be able to memorize and recite his lines. However it should be made clear that he is only acknowledging his own perception of limited talent. Acting is making other people think that you are feeling something that you are not, and contrary to Eckhart's statement, for good actors there is a lot of art in that.

The "Method Acting" approach has probably helped some actors who needed it and probably didn't get in the way for some actors who didn't need it. I believe it was Cuba Gooding, Jr. who during the filming of Pearl Harbor needed to be stuck with a pin in order to display the proper response to the action that was occurring. For him, that was a probably a good thing. For Dustin Hoffman, when he ran to the point of being breathless or remained awake excessively during the filming of Marathon Man, I believe he was a good enough actor that he did not need to do these things to act out these physical feelings. According to legend, his co-star Laurence Olivier agreed and remarked to him that he should try acting instead because it was easier.

The point there is that Olivier understood that acting is about, well, acting. It is not filming something that is actually happening to someone. We have reality TV for that.

The greatest actors can go and out of character at will displaying the entire range of human emotion. I remember Russell Crowe talking about Richard Harris' performance in the film Gladiator. Crowe told about Harris doing a dramatic scene for the camera but as soon as the director yelled cut, Harris would immediately resume whatever humorous story he had been telling before the cameras started rolling. Now that's a hallmark of a great actor.

For me it is irritating when someone says that a sign of a great actor is when they force themselves to actually experience something or live in character for a period of time. I don't knock that it helps someone who needs it in order to "act", but let's keep the title of "great" for the actors who don't need it.