Hollywood Wouldn’t Like the Way I Direct
We’re at the rehearsal stage right now. After deciding to write, direct, and produce an epic SF film about superheroes with no budget (henceforth: “The Indestructibles”), after finding actors, and after shooting the poster ahead of time (with the tagline “Even gods must die”), we’re finally nearing the end of rehearsals.
Most of Hollywood wouldn’t like the way I rehearse.
In fact, they wouldn’t like the fact that I rehearse, and certainly not for months. Not only do they not have time for it, but there is a sense in Hollywood that actors that rehearse can’t give you truth. If they only just learned the text, then when they say it for the first few times, they appear genuine, their acting ‘real’. If they say a line more than a few times, it loses its freshness and the actors appear to be acting.
Setting aside the fact that this approach means that acting in the theater can never be good (of course it can and is), and setting aside the fact that good actors have known for thousands of years how to deliver a line again and again and always find a way to keep it fresh for themselves, my approach is that, as a general rule, delivering lines without rehearsals leads to a lack of depth while good rehearsals lead to complexity.
Complexity Is Anti-Hollywood
Hollywood has a stock of actors that directors know ahead of time what they’re going to give when the cameras are pointed at them. Their first delivery, even when they work hard at home on building a character, can only have so much complexity. Expecting stock acting, you get stock acting.
My approach is different. First, we begin reading the script and adding a layer to the character that appears throughout: an aspect of the character’s personality, a pervasive mood, an important action, etc. Then, when that’s done, I let the back of the actors’ minds deal with it and let it sink while we tackle different aspects that can be found in the text. Then we put in another layer on top of it, then another layer, then another layer.
What you get is a character that can give you conflicting emotions, conflicting actions set next to each other, time and time again in the film. The actor can also show experience with some of the subject matter, as if some things are old news while others are fresh. The actor can jump from one emotion and one mind-set to another quickly, then back again, since both have to do with what the character is going through.
The Indestructibles, as you may recall, is built of seven six-minute one-shots, meaning that there is no editing, no pauses in acting, no chances to do a line twice: The actors have to get complex characters, complex situations and complex text without stopping to shoot again. You can only get that with rehearsals.
Intimacy, Intimacy, Intimacy
When Mike Nichols, who is a master at getting great acting out of actors (and, yes, he rehearses), was a guest in The Actors Studio, he explained his approach. His trick is to tell stories about himself, intimate stories that place him in the emotional place of where the characters presently are in the script. He leaves it to the actors to understand that place and to adapt it to their acting.
A good friend of mine, who is a great theater director, though you’ve never heard of her, has a slightly different approach. She says, “I tell a story, they tell a story.” The first step is what Mike Nichols does. But when she finishes telling her story, the other actors feels it’s only natural to tell an intimate story as well, about the same emotion. The director then uses that honesty to show where the actor should be.
My approach is somewhere in the middle. Sometimes I use the first method, sometimes the second, depending on the person in front of me and what I think they need.
There are different stories that get told for different layers of the same text. The same line can have conflicting stories told about the character’s emotional place when saying it.
Hopefully, the result is equal to the weight I’m giving it. But you know what? Wait a couple of months and you’ll be able to judge the result for yourself.