Raising the Bar: Let’s beat the Brits & Aussies at their game by making our characters more interesting.
Last week we opened the topic of the British Invasion of Hollywood, with a Pop Quiz followed by the answer and promise to explore the issue fully. Penny and I have been discussing this topic for over a year, and starting last summer began to address it with some of the curriculum in our classes. The media began picking up on this issue in the fall, with major pieces in Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair, Buzz Feed, Indy Wire and Huffington Post among others.
Are the Brits & Aussies really better, or is it a matter of perception? This was the first in a series of questions I posed at the end of my “Answer.” Our best American actors are as good as any actors in the world, and when it comes to theater, I will put our American actors up against anyone. For example, last night Penny and I went to see HAND TO GOD on Broadway. The acting was riveting and exhilarating with complicated performances that required a mastery of craft, technique, dialects and stage craft on many levels.
There is a perception that American actors are not as interesting in certain roles and that our training is lacking in some respects. Here we disagree. American actors have some of the finest training in the world available to them. That is not to say we can’t continue to grow and adapt our techniques and training to meet the demand the American Actor faces today.
One of the problems leading to our friends, the Brits and Aussies getting so many roles, is the American trend over the years in America to make our work “real” and “natural”. The problem is acting whether for the stage or camera has nothing to do with reality. It requires a heightened reality. Dialogue doesn’t mimic natural conversation. Dialogue is carefully crafted by writers to reveal or hide, flaws and strengths in the characters, as well as tell the story and engage the audience in an intelligent fashion. Sets take the place of real rooms or battlefields. We use fake blood, make-up and special effects. It takes craft, technique and talent to create the illusion of reality.
Why are the Brits getting so many great character roles? They naturally embrace a word American actors shy away from, “Theatrical”. “Don’t be so theatrical!” “Don’t be so dramatic!” How many times have we heard those words from parents, siblings, and friends? We cringe as if we have done something bad. Yet even the shyest among us can be very theatrical, when we really want to emphasize a point.
What do you call the place where you watch a play or a movie? A Theater. What do you call the big screen HD televisions we watch in the comfort of our living rooms? A Home Theater. Theater by definition is theatrical. That’s what heightened reality is.
There is an unwritten contract between the Audience and the Actor. Upon entering the theater, the audience agrees to suspend belief and accept that what they are seeing on the stage or screen is a real battlefield, bedroom, or star destroyer and that you are really a soldier, detective, or surgeon and not the actor they have seen in 10 other roles. As an actor you have agreed to provide the audience with the most interesting and truthful performance possible. They have made the effort to travel to the theater and spend their money on the ticket. Give them their money’s worth.
American actors are not afraid to bring that grounded sense of theatricality to their work on the stage. They know that is what grabs the audience. When it comes to film, our stage actors are often told one of the biggest lies in the business; “You have to make your work smaller for film.” It has to be real and natural. … No. The performance has to match the size of the theater you are playing. If you move from a 2000 seat theater to a 200 seat theater, you don’t get rid of the theatrical moments. They are the spice that makes your work interesting. You simply adapt to fill the size of the space you are given to perform in. For the camera the “Frame” dictates the size of that space.
Where the lie Stage is to big for film come from? The camera catches everything. Any moment that isn’t well grounded and connected will look too big for that camera, no matter how small you do it. It will come across “stagey and theatrical” in the worst sense of the word.
The Brits and Aussies have much more repertory theater which gives them the opportunity to adapt their craft; More importantly, they have always been able move freely between film, television and theater without the “class” structure that has plagued the American actor. In the 1920’s Actors Equity refused to represent film actors because, “They weren’t real actors.” In the late 40’s SAG wouldn’t represent Television actors because, “They weren’t as good as movie actors.” Until very recently in America no one was allowed to be “Judy Dench,” who’s resume includes BBC sit-coms, feature films and The Royal Shakespeare Company.
The Brits and Aussies aren’t better. They just are more comfortable moving between the mediums and they haven’t been conditioned, “Don’t be so theatrical.” American actors just need to get over their fear of the “theatrical moment.” Watch KevIn Spacey & Bryan Cranston. Now, there are American actors who know how to spice their camera work with some grounded theatricality!
Tomorrow: Weekend Videos – The Brits Declare War on Hollywood
Teaches Camera Technique, Script Analysis, Beginning Acting Technique and Memorization for Actors at Penny Templeton Studio. A graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Hank immediately began working Off-Broadway in the hit show “Your Own Thing.” His 50 years of theatre experience include Off Broadway. Regional Theatre, and National Tours. He has worked with stars such as Richard Gere in “Awake and Sing.” Jose Ferrer in “Cyrano”, and John Raitt in “Shenandoah“. He was nominated for a Carbonal Award in the Leading Actor category for his portrayal of Billy Flynn in “Chicago.” Mr. Schob has also been featured in the films “Cadillac Man,” “Heading for Broadway” and “Fame.” His TV credits include roles on “All My Children,” “Ryan’s Hope,” “Search for Tomorrow,” “Kojak,” and “Law & Order.” He has appeared on Good Morning America as an expert commentator on Acting and recently cast the feature film “The Paragon Cortex.” He contributed chapters on Camera Technique, Blocking and Script Analysis to the book ACTING LIONS.
Acting Teacher, Coach, Director, Author; Penny Templeton’s artistry is the culmination of four generations of theatre actresses. Although Penny was warned by her family not to go on the Stage, she embraced her legacy and began performing and studying under such masters as Paul Sorvino and Wynn Handman. Highlights of her career include starring in Joyce Carol Oates’ I Stand Before You Naked at the American Place Theatre, and as Paul Sorvino’s wife in All The King’s Men.
She started teaching in the early 1990’s, and opened the Penny Templeton Studio in Manhattan in 1994. Ms. Templeton was selected by Columbia University’s School of the Arts to teach ‘Acting for the Camera’ to third year MFA students. Her book on the craft, business and art of acting, ACTING LIONS is being referred to as “The Actor’s Bible” and is receiving rave reviews in the industry. She is featured in Ronald Rand’s acclaimed Acting Teachers of America, and Glenn Alterman’s book, Promoting Your Acting Career. Ms. Templeton works and Skypes regularly with actors in Theatre, Film and Television in New York City, Los Angeles, throughout the United States, and all over the world
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