Actors - ever been directed to "have more emotion"?!
January 4, 2017
Chloe, a former Shakespeare student (seen below playing Mercutio in a production of Romeo and Juliet and now studying in an acting conservatory) posted on FB a proposed new rule for student film directors, to not instruct your actors to"have more emotion"
I could not help but respond for the sake of the complexity of artful acting and for respect for the thought, science and language of the actor's process:
"First, (and here we go addressing a real pet peeve of mine,) we (people and/or actors) don't "have" emotion - we FEEL emotion; we experience it physically and express it vocally and behaviorally - and it is always a result within an actor and scene, of a process. When will they start to teach advanced directors for film and theatre that "more emotion" is not a specific enough instruction, nor inspiring enough for an actor to respond to?! Creating a general state of "emotion" without specificity - that is - to behaviorally indicate, even honestly, or at least convincingly 'con' or pretend - is counterproductive; because it is general, non-descriptive emoting, and not specifically responsive to inner stimuli or tied to character or story. There are so many effective ways of heightening the emotional layers of a scene - but it must be asked for eloquently in language-exact examination, and often metaphoric rather than literal, and connected to relationship (either to the situation or another character and one's own character,) and then, finally, created by the actors, usually together, as a result of careful and complex inner work and outer directed action. All of which can be aided by a director, with imaginative discussion, improvisation or some kind of creative collaborative process - but is not ever achieved satisfactorily in my experience, by stating the end result. Last point, (well, this question hit a nerve ) emotion created in a scene is a discovery and a bi-product of creating a real relationship to one’s character, circumstances and/or relationships to others in the story. When it is real (which is the actual desired result of an organic and skillful acting process,) it is always a bit surprising, different in every performance or film take, and the result of inspiration. Inspiration is never achieved without a process that includes homework, collaboration or experimentation. None of which is coaxed from an actor with the general, non-informative and unconnected direction "have more emotion". Better to say: 'Have a doughnut and we'll pick this up in five minutes with a little brainstorming.' "
Another former student, now a directing Major in Chicago, Andrew, responded, "human beings take action" to which I replied,
"Yes, Andrew, but perhaps consider this: Playing action (objectives and intentions - 'what you want' and 'what you want another to feel,' respectively,) is the Mamet shorthand approach to creating an emotional response. Immediate, energized and quick, but often (I believe) incomplete - it covers the result of researching character and relationship within story and making action choices - usually verbs to play "in action", but a wide and full range of emotionalism - especially in film where the closeups prevail, (I believe,) is a much more vast and possible terrain than just playing the action of a scene. Mamet is a director and appropriately concerned with action and pace and his anti-Method musings have their logic and place - but to me, do not talk in the complete process and actor (even those who may subscribe to Mamet's approach) actually completes - and this includes unconsciously. For all performance that stir my response have something alive about it not quite the product of will and effort but flowing from within and eminating from an unleashed and powerful unconscious place - i.e.: inspired. Watching Meryl Streep, for instance - her process is filled with inner references and memory (watch her eyes consulting inner imagery) and also spontaneous reactive emotional colors that result from very complex choice-making and inspired moments of character within story. Objectives are essential, yes, for the action of a scene, but it is important to allow more than playing your beats to affect the full and subtle range of feeling, response and behavior within a performance."