« The hummingbirds have returned | Main | Wet hummingbird, warm eggs »

February 02, 2010

Acting? You just ... pretend

Ian McKellen explains the subtleties of his craft to Ricky Gervais, in "Extras." It's the perfect counterpoint to every interview you've ever seen where some agonizingly earnest actor explains how difficult a particular role is, how exhausting and painful it can be to "become" a character.

It reminds me of the story from the production of "Marathon Man" -- retold in Adventures in the Screen Trade, by Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman ("Marathon Man," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Princess Bride") -- when Dustin Hoffman, Method Actor extraordinaire, was preparing for a scene wherein he had been tortured by the Nazi Szell, portrayed by Laurence Olivier. Hoffman stayed awake for a couple of days, then ran himself ragged to appear suitably exhausted and sweaty.

Olivier, acclaimed as the greatest living actor (and no fan of The Method), looked at him and said, "Dear boy, why don't you just act?"

It's the quintessential comparison of the English technical, building a character from the outside-in approach to acting, versus the naval-gazing intensity of the American Method.

Ian McKellen's explanation of "acting" is brilliant, and not that different from Spencer Tracey's take: Show up on time, know your lines, hit your mark and try not to knock over the scenary.

Posted by Mike Lief at February 2, 2010 07:08 AM


Nice post as we prepare to watch the "Academy" glorify the shallow bastards deemed to be "stars."

Posted by: Rocko at February 2, 2010 10:43 PM