We are supposed to react a certain way. It has been scripted and if you keep your thumb on the lines you can walk through this with me. We were cast in these dumb parts and by god we are going to have to rehearse till we get it right.
I once had aspirations of being an actor. I studied it seriously. Not treading the boards necessarily, although I did a bit of that too. I wanted to be James Dean, or Brando. Film was the thing. I studied under a waaaaaay off-Broadway director. He was so far off the white-way that we were practically standing in the Hudson. Well, that was okay. I learned a lot. About how to listen. If you can’t listen, you can’t act. Because you cannot respond in a natural way if you do not know what it is your supposed to be responding to.
And that’s important. It seems I have forgotten how to respond to things…prompts…from everyday life. I’m listening, but by my unusual responses, I am altering the author’s intent. You can do that. It isn’t difficult and it will infuriate a playwright to no end.
When I didn’t like leading an audience down the playwright’s path, I could hack out a new one that made a mockery of his lines. Kinda fun. And maybe why I never got very far in the field. Who knows.
I find myself doing it again. When I hear, for example that an insane Muslim has just hacked off the head of a British soldier in the street…well, you might just as well tell me that there’s a sale at Penny’s. “Oh my gawd…really?…a sale?” “Was there a lot of blood?”
Because, I have been auditioning for these plays for so long now, that I know that the sale will end in two days and things will be marked back up, I am thinking “what’s the point?” I don’t go to the sales events. I invest little time in commerce of any stripe. And the purveyors of these sales, at Penny’s or in the bloody gutters, don’t really require my participation anyway. I am not right for the part. Too good-looking. Too old. Too tall. Too something. Just not right, y’know?
I have noted over the years that British actors will do anything for money. To keep working. That is very foreign to many people outside the UK. Lawrence Olivier, for instance, thought no more of lending his considerable talents to Clash of the Titans than playing Richard III.
Both paid well. Both kept him in the public eye. It must be the
amerikan obsession with celebrity and yiddish press that personifies an actor here. Makes their public feel that they know them personally and how they would never sink to doing something beneath their dignity…no matter how much it paid. Dignity. Funny, I thought the British were supposed to have invented that transient emotion. For that is all it is, I guess. It doesn’t exist in the dark.
But that’s as may be.
It’s a matter of credulity, I think. If I see Helen Mirren playing Portia one week, then the next week see her using her craft trying to convince me that a gutter-turd like Phil Spector is really an okay guy.. and the next week she is the Queen conferring semi-royal last wishes…well, it’s a matter of belief. It doesn’t seem to matter that she or Olivier drew a paycheck. To we that watch it becomes
political very quickly.
I would never have done that. Taken on a role that didn’t suit me and my sensibilities. Or…maybe I would. It seems I am being asked to daily.
“OMG! THEY CUT HIS HEAD OFF?”
Let me try it again with more conviction…
But maybe the Brits have it in perspective. Maybe it’s we the viewers that should exercise this ‘integrity’ of which I speak. So if John Cleese needs to pay his mortgage by using his comedic talents to sell israeli yogurt, then we should look away and remember him as Basil Fawlty only. I should excuse Mirren her trespasses against my sensibilities and think of her only as Prospera or Jane Tennison.
For actors are paid by those that want the play. And if the play is meant to garner a reaction, as Olivier produced in me when I saw him as Hamlet, perhaps that is all. Remember the play not the actors. For the play is the thing. And our reaction is all.