Jump to content

On Directing Actors

Ger Leonard

Recommended Posts

Having re- read all the posts.. i can see that i have been a little too defensive. We have found ourselves in a combative dialogue. There is much to reflect on.


The words of Rudyard Kiplings' IF .. require a examination of self.


While i do not agree with all you have said I can see that there is aspects of your argument that shows a weakness in my position and potential difficulties. I am not saying that i should therefore better defend my position but rather question myself and my thoughts and actions still further.. A director should try to see all sides, yet not be confounded by their multiplicity.


This film is deeply important to me. I have spent the last 4+ years working on it.


While i feel your tone has not always been helpful.. this dialogue should not serve to entrench a defensive position, but instead liberate further exploration and examination.


As Anthony Mingella was fond of saying to his actors "I don't know, let's try."


Weakness of any kind is DEATH to a director. You have to appear like you know the answer even if your not sure, it instills confidence in the people who work with you and if they have confidence in you, they'll follow you into Hell and back. This doesn't mean you should ask questions or opinions, just the opposite, it's imperative that you do, but you HAVE to make the people around you understand you make the decisions and your decision it the best one for the project. You "must steer the ship" to quote a line from Becket. BUT you also MUST allow people to do there job. My DOP is always saying, just tell me what you want, don't tell me how to light. Even though it's hard to relinquish even the smallest bit of control as a director, ESPECIALLY on a project you care deeply about, you must TRUST the people you hire will do a good job and have confidence in that until you see they're having problems, then do whatever it takes to get them back on trake and do it quickly.


My language IS harsh but it's not meant to be personal, it's a technique to get a reaction, to shock someone out of their comfort zone and argue a point. HONESTLY you're now doing exactly what I wanted you to do, think. Think about your approach, think abut what your actor needs, consider other ideas. ect. Your initial approach may end up being exactly what is needed, but you now are aware, you might, and I stress MIGHT, not necessarily do, have some things in your approach that could POSSIBLY cause problems and if these problems do arise, you may re-examine your approach to see if it might be something you're doing, that's all I wanted to get across to you.



How'd this thread get to a second page without anyone talking about how one thing that actors really need is to feel safe? That when they know they can go anywhere emotionally and that everyone around them will be totally supportive they'll take risks that are not easy to take at any time and impossible around jerks.



Hal, buddy, you know how much I respect you and sure don't wanna get you mad at me, but I gotta debate this with you just a bit. GENERALLY speaking, I do agree, MOST of the time, actors do need is to feel safe, HOWEVER, there are times and situation where that's the LAST thing an actor needs. See the thing here is to get the performance, PERIOD! Too many directors want to be liked, it's human nature. BUT it's not you job as a director to be liked, it's your job to serve the needs of the production. I saw some "behind the scenes of Kubrick directing Shelly Duvall on the set of The Shining. He was being a REAL Assh*le to her, degrading her performance, insulting her, just acting kinda like a jerk and I thought at the time, "What a jerk!" but then I realized, what her character was suppose to be FEELING at the time, fear, insecurity, determination to survive, protective of her son, mistrust, perhaps a bit of betrayal and anger and it HIT me like a crystal bullet in the skull, he was doing this to HELP her. He was giving her the emotional resources to understand what her character was feeling without letting her know what was going on so she didn't have time to think about it, just react to it and feel. Her performance in The Shining speaks for it's self.


When Jackie Cooper, who Skippy refused to do a crying scene on the set of Skippy (1931), director Norman Taurog, who was also his uncle, threatened to shoot his dog. He was nomination for an Academy Award for that film. Actors sometimes do their BEST work outside their comfort zone. :D

Edited by James Steven Beverly
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Sustaining Member
................ Actors sometimes do their BEST work outside their comfort zone. :D

Hi Capn,


Agreed, but even when being stressed they've got to believe somewhere deep down in their gut that the Director is on their side, that his/her intent is to pull out the best performance.


You've got more acting experience than me but certainly you'll agree that the dance between Director and Actor often is the same as the dance between a cast and an audience: At the root level both know it's not actually REAL but have agreed emotionally to suspend disbelief. I think that's the kind of dynamic that can occur between Director and cast: both have signed an implicit contract to enter an agreed upon make believe world (I've seen casts revolt when the Director didn't honor their side of that contract). I've got a pretty good handle on esthetic distance and think I'm in the ballpark on how the reality shape shifting occurs.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ol' Buddy, I would agree with you............BUT :lol: :lol: :lol: there have been actors and directors that have absolutely HATED each other, that have made incredible movies together. BUTTTT in general I do have to agree with you. Actors are in many ways like children, they need reassurance and validation. Often times we can play a role many different ways and sometimes when we think we're doing something that is terrible, it turns out to be exactly what is needed so we're constantly insecure and in need of praise. It's tough to be an actor, rejection is the norm, acceptance is the exception, so no wonder we're insecure. :D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 months later...

I agree with Hal about making your actors feel safe; this is the area I have preferred to be in--the most collaborative and creative kind of environment with which to experiment with your actors...but I'm also a firm believer in, "Do whatever the hell it takes to get it right". Kicking your actor in the groin, insulting their beliefs, coddling them, bringing them presorted M&M's...whatever helps.


And I think this works the best when the actor isn't aware of your intentions. For example, if your actor knows that you are pissing them off for the sake of stirring up some passion, it loses it's potency. They think, "Oh, I get it" but they don't. Or it's still as inauthentic as before.

Inversely, if you give them too many compliments to give them confidence, they'll immediately catch on to what you're doing and begin to distrust everything you say only to make them feel worse. Actors are perceptive.


Anyway, excellent advice about moving out of the comfort zone. It's alerted me to the fact that sometimes I might care a little too much of what my actors think of me, and that can inhibit what I need to get them to do. But yeah, I'm still a-learnin'...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

I think the strongest preformances (I don't mean strong as in INVONERABLE lol but convincing), I have done come from discussing the script with the actors and seeing what they're idea are, and the most important thing is not just throwing these ideas away becuase you a smart director and you know anything but rather just to point the actors in the right direction with what they're ideas are, if they see a different emotion that they're charchter may have, and you feel differenly, ask them why they feel that would work before you tell them your ideas, sometimes even before we set up lights or block the scene or anything I like to sit down with my actors after they have read they're lines and see what they think the charachters want, from there I will maybe give them a quick tip, like try to act like you need to pee thing, I say things that will point them in the right direction, I think someone says things like that to avoid saying you are covered with explosives you just pissed your pants and a jury is right there, a brilliant director can find ways around pointing out the obvious so the actor can explore the role, if the actor gets lost a good director is friendly and approachable and will get you sounding like a true shaksperiaan another reference to an older post, but in your own way.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


Forum Sponsors

Film Gears

Serious Gear

Metropolis Post

Abel Cine

Tai Audio

New Pro Video - New and Used Equipment

VidGear.com - Broadcast Video Warehouse

Visual Products

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Broadcast Solutions Inc

FJS International


Wooden Camera

Cinematography Books and Gear

  • Create New...