Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some of my philosophy for acting and a few key principles I look for when casting or choosing to work with someone again.
1. THOROUGH PREPARATION
There may be nothing more important for everyone involved in filmmaking, in front of and behind the camera, than preparation. After making 26 feature films, I see prep as not only part of the process I have sadly undervalued too many times but certainly the most essential phase for having a successful project. And I believe that emphasis on prep is even more applicable to acting than it is directing.
Preparation for a role is not memorizing your lines. Let me say it again to be very clear: preparation for a role is not the memorization of lines. An actor who prepared in every way other than memorizing his or her lines would be more prepared than an actor who only memorized all of his or her lines. To explain every important step up of an actor’s preparation would be an article or book unto itself so for the sake of brevity I will outline just a few that are most important to me as an actor (and filmmaker): knowing the nature and meaning of every scene, knowing how each scene fits into the greater whole of the film or series, understanding the subtext of the dialog or creating subtext for the dialog, and understanding the relationship between my character and every other character. Sounds like a lot? There’s more, much more. That’s scratching the surface of preparation. However if an actor does those things, I believe they have a far better chance of being successful on set.
Sadly, most don’t. Most memorize their lines and show up ready to say them. Not only do they ignore the subtext of the dialog (if they even know what subtext means) but they don’t even give careful consideration to the context of each scene. And the evidence of that is quite clear. You cannot hide from poor preparation or a lack there of. It comes off the screen like a big slap in the face.
If you prepare for a role by only memorizing your lines and thinking about how you should say them, my advice is to put on the brakes and pull out your map because you’re going the wrong way with your performances.
Photograph by Todd South on the set of my film THE FIVE