Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The Power of the Actor

As an acting teacher and an actor that likes to learn, I spend a great deal of my time reading various books on acting techniques, approaches and theories.

Most of them are great and some of them are bollocks, Ivana Chubbuck's book The Power of the Actor falls into the latter category.


Well, not because actors don't have power, they do and lots of it but because her book is a horrible mix of Stanislavsky's System bastardised for imbeciles (which is what much of especially American acting technique is retarded in; Lee Strasberg's Method and it's numerous off-shoots, Chubbucks 12-point plan being the latest malformed offspring) and pseudo self-help psychology that reads like an addict's 12-step program with lots of emotional fascism thrown in for good measure.

Other highlights of the book include handy guides on how to act like you're high on speedballs, realising the mind-set of a serial killer and a formula for organically feeling like a paraplegic/quadriplegic.

The reason I hate it is not just that I'm from the school of thought that would prefer people to just act, rather than fannying about but I also find a great deal of it emotional exploitative and masturbatory.

I'll leave you with a brief true story to illustrate the point.

Occasionally I have to get a cover teacher in when I am away working, I love the cover teacher to bits and we are good friends but she always does very emotional work with my students, where basically the other actors abuse them whilst you think of something terrible that has happened to you. Naturally, this has even the most emotionally stunted of them in tears so that when I come back they gush about how good it all was; a classic error, confusing crying with acting. But when I challenge them to put this emotion into a scene they cannot.

We can all get emotional when we're thinking about our dead mum and having other people call us subhuman cunts but the trick is putting all of that into a performance where you can't masturbate your emotions (with some other actors joining in the frottage) in a flash.

And that's where acting comes in...


  1. For what its worth (and to be fair I only did two am-dram plays before I realised that the majority of the "group" were a bunch of pretentious tossers and gave up) I couldn't agree more.

  2. I hate method acting. I respect actors who can turn on and off a role, as turning on the stove.

  3. All "actors" are tossers. Sorry, it ain't work and only a few are worth mentioning. You are here to entertain so don't get ideas above your station. Without the writer you are merely mute imbeciles.

    With that bile out of the way, I love the anecdote of Sir Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman on the set of "Marathon Man". For one of the torture scenes Hoffman comes in looking rough and is in a bad way. Olivier asks him whats wrong...

    "Well, I've stayed up two days and been exhausting myself for the part, so I look really tired," replies Hoffman, explaining his "method".

    Olivier turns to him dismissively and says, "You should try 'acting', my boy."

    I love that story...

  4. My friend was on ER. He played the doctor and Forest Whitaker was the patient. FW stayed in bed all day, to feel like a patient. He didn't go for lunch break. My friend can produce tears on demand.

  5. You must have heard the quotes of Sir Laurence Olivier working with some other Hoffman (Dustin Hoffman) on Marathon Man.

    Upon seeing Hoffman's "method" acting technique of not sleeping and making a mess of himself to get into character while shooting Marathon Man (1976)], Laurence says:
    Dear boy, it's called acting.

    On needing to re-shoot their torture scene because Method actor Dustin Hoffman had gotten excessively drunk the first time so he'd look really out of it: Oh, why doesn't he just *act*.

  6. Beth:

    That's the trouble with am dram, it's full of some reet twats. Shame that.


    No need to stay in bed all day, just act it.


    You're a bastard and I write as well so RESPECT ME BITCH!

    And you and Bud shared the same anecdote, I love that story, it sums it up nicely.

  7. I always got the feeling this method lark was just a fib designed to inject a bit of mystique where there was none.

    Or put it another way; do you really think Bobby DeNiro used any method before doing 'Meet the Parents'? Beyond watching a video of himself in 'The King of Comedy'?

  8. Neil:

    Yes, to a degree, myth is all part of the process and it is important to not go too far the other way and dismiss it all as hokum.

    DeNiro in Meet the Parents is a fine example.



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