Keeping it Simple

I have had many discussions over the years with actors about choosing an "intention", "objective", "action" or "need" - call it what you will. Sometimes the replies surprise me.

I have heard it argued that:-

  • it takes too much time… "I just haven't got the time to do the home work"
  • it makes it to complicated…. "I want to keep a simple line through this scene"

or had it explained when I have asked if the actor is playing a 'need' that:-

  • "I have picked one I just can't remember what it is"

Why is it that some actors see this process as complicated and have such great difficulty implementing it? While others can implement it without knowing that they are doing it.

The answer is because it is both simple and complex. Just look at the difficulty Stanislavski himself has in explaining the process. It is at once inspiringly simple and thoroughly confusing! Yet some actors do it intuitively without any training, a few grab the concept and feel immediately confident, while the majority have difficulties at some stage in comfortably understanding and using this technique.

As a director I cannot recall seeing anyone over-simplify this process.

I have however a catalogue of stories about people who have made the process over-complicated.

A 'need' should be:-

  • functional
  • purposeful
  • believable
  • difficult to achieve (for the character)

A well-chosen "need" will produce a well-focused and complex performance. But a complex outcome does not have to be derived from a complicated performance process. In fact the reverse is generally true. A complicated process leads to confusion and inconsistency in the actor because it is not possible to make quick, simple, clear, spontaneous performance choices from complicated "rules".

In terms of simplicity look at HEATH LEDGER'S performance in "The Ten Things I Hate About You The Most". Here HEATH creates a fairly likeable but conventional hero. He portrays a young man who is confident and pretty much in control of his world. (Enviable circumstances for most of us.)

It is therefore possible to argue that the sub-text this character is based on is simply the "need to dominate" the world around him. He "dominates"

  • aggressively,
  • defensively,
  • arrogantly,
  • thoughtfully,
  • playfully,
  • romantically,
  • maybe even sweetly

but never equally for it is not possible to dominate equally.

What could be simpler than that?

The result is not an outstanding performance but it is a perfectly adequate one. If it is not wonderfully complex it definitely is consistent and believable. It also delivers the story. So keeping it simple can make sure that the end result is, consistent, believable and effective. It is also obviously bankable.

Not a bad way to start.

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