The Acting

11/06/2013

In his well-known book on stardom, Stars, Richard Dyer wonders at one moment whether stars are ‘different’. Referencing an article by Violette Morin, ‘Les Olympiens’, Dyer, quoting Morin, sees that “stars are always the most something-or-other in the world – the most beautiful, the most expensive, the most sexy. But because stars are ‘dissolved’ into this superlative, are indistinguishable from it, they become superlative, hence they seem to be of a different order of being, a different ‘ontological’ category.” The invoking of an ontological difference suggests that stars are the modern equivalent of the gods. Using the terms classical, iconic, intensive and extensive, our purpose here is to take into account this notion of a different ontological category, while at the same time seeing that this ontological difference is not to differentiate them from mortals, but to show how they instead hyperbolize quite common values and experiences. In this sense the actor doesn’t stand above mere mortals, but stands in for them: they express and explore one’s relationship with the world through embodying characters in situations that might not be too far removed from one’s own. Alain Resnais’ fine film, My American Uncle, explores this well, as his three leading character all identify with a famous French actor, and sometimes draw on how Jean Gabin in Gerard Depardieu’s case, Gerard Philipe’s in Nicole Garcia’s and Arletty’s in Pierre Roger’s, would react to stress situations. Gabin and co are stars, but they also allow the space for comprehending ‘small’ feelings of humiliation, desperation and weakness. Here, stars belong less to a different ontological category (as the gods did), but to the every day. Indeed, one of the interesting aspects of cinema is the very opposite of immortality. Stars very clearly live and die; both Gabin and Philipe were no longer alive when Resnais made his film: Depardieu and Garcia were worshipping mortals.

However, there are some stars who seem to transcend the mortality of their bodies and become the immortality of their image. If Charlie Chaplin, John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe are three great icons of cinema history, it resides in the iconography of certain images that are fixed in our minds. With Chaplin it may be the image of the little moustachioed man with wide-trousers, a bowler hat and a cane; with Monroe a white dress billowing up, with Wayne, a framed doorway of a homestead that he is turning away from. These images might be from films, but the iconography is greater than the moving images of which they are a part. If the star here shares similarities with the gods it is that they are somehow removed from time; the actors’ very mortality retrospectively allowing for an iconographic series of moments that create an image that far outlives them.

If the Greeks had major and minor gods, does cinema not have major and minor icons? Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, James Dean and Clint Eastwood seem also to possess a strong iconographic function, but perhaps they don’t quite possess the iconographic short hand of Chaplin, Wayne and Monroe. They reflect cinema but don’t quite sum it up. An image of Audrey Hepburn smoking a cigarette with the aid of a cigarette holder in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Bogart smoking a cigarette dressed in a white dinner suit and bow tie from Casablanca, Eastwood wearing a poncho and smoking a cigar in A Fistful of Dollars, and Dean in a red bomber jacket from A Rebel Without aCause, are important images, but are they of a secondary nature, lacking the full metonymic significance of Chaplin, Monroe and Wayne?

One of the interesting elements of the iconic is that it needn’t be quite the same as an extension of living fame. Movies of the Fifties says that “James Dean was killed in a car crash on a California highway in the late afternoon of September 30, 1955, a fact that warranted little attention at the time”. His was posthumous celebrity that generated the iconography. For someone like John Wayne, though, it was perhaps the opposite. Each western, from Stagecoach in the thirties, to Red River in the Forties, The Searchers in the fifties, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in the sixties, Rooster Cogburn in the seventies, all added to Wayne’s iconographic status, each role a layer of protective varnish added to a solid antique. Marilyn Monroe was somewhere in between, appearing in thirty three films over fifteen years, including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Seven Year Itch, and Some Like it Hot. There can also be an element of contingency in the making of an icon. According to Alex Cox in The Guardian, author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s Truman Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe for the role of Holly Golightly, while it is well known that Ronald Reagan was lined up to play Rick in Casablanca.

The iconic is in some ways a paradoxical phenomenon: it might invoke the gods but it is a status given to the star by the everyday mortal. There is little of the work ethic involved in becoming an icon; and sometimes we can see a director working on the iconographic as if a one person audience. When Jean Luc-Godard filmed Brigitte Bardot in Le Mepris, his own wife Anna Karina in Vivre sa vie and Pierrot le fou, Michelangelo Antonioni Monica Vitti in L’avventuraThe Eclipse and The Red Desert, Federico Fellini Marcello Mastroianni in La dolce vita and ½, Jean-Pierre Melville Alain Delon in Le SamouraiThe Red Circle and Un Flic, Luis Bunuel Catherine Deneuve in Belle de jour and Tristana, it is as though (whatever the quality of the performance), the director was in thrall of the figure in front of them, and wanted to immortalise them through the camera. The French have a term for a director’s favourite actor: the acteur fetiche. But this can cover any director who works regularly with an actor (Wayne and John Ford, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, and indeed Fellini with Mastroianni). In the examples of Bunuel and Deneuve, Godard and Karina etc. it is as though it is often more in the very style, in the dress sense, in the haircut, in the modelled posture, that the director wants to suggest the instantly iconic. Frequently, the actor appears to stand out from the film, rather than seems to be embedded within it, as if there is an aloof quality to the performance. When Vitti stands near the end of The Red Desert in a green coat it works as a fixed image, when Deneuve walks along the street in Belle de jour and considers becoming a prostitute she is at the same time a model dressed by Yves St Laurent. The iconic, whether imposed upon by an audience or by the filmmaker, contains a strong element of limited agency: that it isn’t about chiefly the quality of the performance, but closer to an aura around the figure of the actor.

This idea of the performance standing out is usually frowned upon within the classical. Whether it happens to be Laurence Olivier taking his craft from the stage, Bogart commenting on screen acting, or Michael Caine insisting that he never takes a role home with him: “the moment they say “it’s a wrap”, I’m gone completely. I’m a totally ruthless professional, and life is my family not my work”, the idea is that you go to work, do a good job, and go home. An interesting and famous anecdote concerning this question of the classical actor as simple craftsman comes from William Goldman in his book Adventuresin the Screen Trade. Talking of Marathon Man (which Goldman scripted) he discusses a scene between stars Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier. Hoffman wanted to improvise, Olivier was reluctant, but improvise they did, despite an illness Olivier was recovering from. Though there are important ethical issues involved in the situation that developed, with Olivier the sick man and Hoffman apparently indifferent to the great actor’s physical health, one reason why the anecdote has become well-known is because it exemplifies two very different approaches to acting. Olivier wanted simply to play the role as well as he could, while Hoffman insistently wanted to search out the role, find sides to it through improvisation. Olivier would do what was required for the part, but he wouldn’t get ‘into’ it. He might have bravely had his head shaved for the role of the Nazi doctor, as Goldman details, but he was an actor who like Caine didn’t expect to take the character home with him. His purpose was to enact the role based on the character created by the writer, and Goldman describes a touching moment where Olivier asks him if he could change a line. “’Bill’, he said, ‘could I suggest an alternation to the line? Would it be all right if I changed it so that the line went “I know that you’re going to go to the bank sooner or later?” You see, then I could register the word bank while he was saying ‘sooner or later’ and I wouldn’t need the pause.’” For Goldman this is the height of modesty – the legendary theatre actor asking Goldman if he can change the script, but it is also a sign of the classical actor: someone who plays a part but doesn’t immerse himself in it. For the great theatre director and acting theorist Constantin Stanislavski this would be ‘mechanical’ acting: the actor’s objective is different from those who immerse themselves as Hoffman does. The ‘mechanical’ actor “lives his part as preparation for perfecting an external form. Once that is determined to his satisfaction he reproduces that form through the aid of mechanically trained muscles.” (The Actor Prepares)

David Mamet talks of a scene in Casablanca that sums up well this ‘mechanical’ attitude. Somebody asked Humphrey Bogart what he did to make a well-known scene in Casablanca work so well. Bogart said “they called me in one day, Michael Curtiz, the director said, ‘stand by the balcony over there, and when I say “action” take a beat and a nod’”. (On Directing Film) That was it. The idea is that the performance was less inside the body of the actor and concerning issues of motivation, than simply a piece of film cut together with other pieces of film to make the film work in terms of character and narrative. The classical performance very much serves the film, and this is why we see Olivier’s comments not chiefly as the height of modesty but the height of a certain type of craft.

In Peter Bogdanovich’s useful book of interviews Who The Hell’s In It?, most of the interviews are with actors from the classical era of Hollywood, and thus classical actors within it. Cary Grant, James Stewart, Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Wayne and Jack Lemmon are amongst those interviewed and, though it is chiefly a book of informal interviews, it helps us understand aspects of classical craftsmanship linked to the notion of stardom. In the interview with James Stewart, Stewart mentions Spencer Tracy and the advantages of typecasting, of basically playing yourself. “I’m against people who yell the star system is dead. I’ve never agreed with that – ya talk to people an’ they can’t put it into words – but a star is just someone you root for…” Hitchcock would add that, “Stewart is a perfect Hitchcock hero because he is Everyman in bizarre situations.” The classical actor as star is someone who represents the needs and desires of the viewer, and the actor’s purpose is to convey that through the simplest thespian means possible. When Wayne says he was annoyed about one moment in Red River, where he was expected to be “nervous and irascible and frightened”, he adds “it was best for the picture that I didn’t [get my way]” (Who The Hell’s In It?) Often reading classical actors on film they talk about the story and the bigger picture, and that their performance is modestly contained by other demands. Even Stewart’s comment about the necessity of the star system isn’t about his status in the film industry, but its usefulness within the perspective of a film.  As Bette Davis says in Playing to the Camera: “If I aim to play the leading lady in a modern picture, my worries as an actress are concerned with wardrobe, hairdress, learning the script, and interpreting it to make the most of whatever opportunities it offers me.” There is a matter of fact approach that insists on a job well done. The actor might go on to become an icon for antithetical reasons from those that make them a classical actor, but the moment of making the film requires a professional competence. It may be no more than a moment in the film that will contribute to the iconographic, but it is at the time the actors job to be a cog in the machine.

Yet does such classical acting contains an overly facile sense of the actor playing rather than being, that when Bogart turns up on set in Casablanca and offers his line he is playing the role rather as one might play at charades? Central to the different approaches of an Olivier and a Hoffman on screen is that the latter would see acting as a question of being rather than an issue of playing. This is often where the intensive meets the extensive: where the internal demands of the performance can meet the external demands of the actor’s transformation. One reason why Robert De Niro’s performance in RagingBull is so monumental is because it pushes both the extensive and the intensive to the edge of physical deformity and mental distress. If the classical actor performs, the modern actor often transforms, and De Niro’s purpose isn’t to assume the role as a star might so that the audience can root for him, but instead to get to the root of the character, often to the detriment of audience sympathy. This might also mean that the actor is no longer at the service of the film, but involved in the very making of it. Though De Niro says that “a good script” is “number one” criterion, he also says “I usually have more to say about the casting…You know I had someone tell me once – he had done some films, but he didn’t have much experience –  “you just cut away to this or that. You don’t have to worry about the actors.” But if you don’t have anything that’s interesting to watch, that’s real or that grabs you, whether it be actors or real people, then no matter how beautiful the photography is or how great the editing, it’s not going to make any difference.” (Playing to the Camera).

The anecdote concerning Hoffman and Olivier maybe reflects this basic difference between the classical actor who works with the script and the intensive actor who works to shape it. Hoffman’s improvisatory zeal is consistent with many an intensive actor who wants to find the role rather than assume it is already down on paper. Obviously many contemporary American actors have been influenced by The Method, with Stanislavski’s ideas from Russia transposed to an American context and  evident in various acting schools in the US under the tutelage of Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg and others, and where, from a certain perspective, the important thing is not the film as an object but the truth as an objective. In an essay on ‘Psychodrama’, Parker Tyler says “what is proudly termed The Method runs into some problems with veteran actors as well as allegedly in trouble with itself. Ingrid Bergman, after playing in television with a new American ‘Method’ actor Rip Torn, told a newspaper reporter that she thought Mr Torn’s acting very good, but that, nevertheless, a Method actor seemed to be making ‘trouble for himself’”. Tyler adds, “It was widely reported in the press that John Huston, who directed The Misfits, had some difficulty with the star [Marilyn Monroe], who at one point abruptly absented herself from work on the film. Anna Magnani, of all actresses, cannot be called hardened in the mold of the professional tradition. Yet according to Tennessee Williams, it was Miss Magnani who (rather unfamiliar with English, the language she was using), became flustered by Marlon Brando’s habit of being behind her cues and even inventing lines she had not heard before.” This is acting no longer playing polite and dutiful, but rebellious and seeking. It might be understandable that one would see Olivier as a decent fellow and Hoffman the obnoxious upstart in the Marathon Man anecdote, but it above all else brings out different approaches to the art of acting: one towards the performance that augments the script; the other an encounter with truth of character. When Tyler talks of Brando in One-EyedJacks, Tyler says, “What has Brando been able to do with the old-fashioned Western of the vintage period (1880-85) through The Method? He has logically touched the spirit of the Psychodrama. The psychodrama is so to speak a one-man theater with an audience of potential actors under the charge of a new-fashioned psychiatrist.” If Erving Goffman in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life can say of us all that we perform in our general lives, then when a person “takes on an established social role, usually he finds that a particular front has already been established for it. Whether his acquisition of the role was primarily motivated by a desire to perform the given task or by a desire to maintain the corresponding front, the actor will find that he must do both”.

Goffman is using the term actor here to represent not the professional craftsman in a given production, but everyone in their social lives. If so much of life is given over to the roles we perform, should professional actors not seek to do something else: to perform not the role designated for them by the script, but to find a truth within the character, to seek out a one man theatre in Tyler’s terms? Actors like Marlon Brando, De Niro, Sean Penn, Daniel Day-Lewis, Christian Bale, as well as actors in John Cassavetes’ films, Maurice Pialat’s and Mike Leigh’s, seem to be searching out a performative intensity over a performative conformity. When Brando talks about his character’s past in Last Tango in Paris, it’s his own past he is talking about. Yet it isn’t important that we might anecdotally know this; what matters is that the information the film provides doesn’t function as back story to the present moment, but that it seems the present moment is invaded by the past that the character and the actor tries to find in all its knotty, emotional complexity. The story stands still and the psychodrama becomes manifest. Brando’s greatness however doesn’t only reside there: it’s also evident in his refusal so often to let a film develop at its appropriate pace. In numerous films he allows the peripheral details of a scene to become central, evident in his fondness for his horse in The Missouri Breaks, in his foppish attention to dress in Mutiny on the Bounty, and to the importance of watching the waves over moving towards revenge in the self-directed One Eyed Jacks. True, in the latter film, he is nursing a wound, but what matters is Brando’s capacity to absorb the sensual details of life over the film’s narrative essentials. In lengthy scenes in One Eyed Jacks he talks with his lover about his feelings and his motives with the pacific ocean in the background. As he talks this isn’t the western figure hiding what is on his mind, but exploring what his body feels. As Brando puts expressive content into his words, so he tries not only to explain why he is vengeful, but explore his feelings towards his vengeance. “People don’t want to lose their enemies. We have favourite enemies, people we love to hate and hate to love”, he once said in a book length interview. (Conversations with Marlon Brando) It is as though in this scene Brando tries to get to the bottom of the hatred he has for the former best friend who betrayed him years before and whom he must kill. It becomes less knee-jerk than heart-felt.  When Brando says, “yeah, you save all that time not learning the lines. You can’t tell the difference. And it improves the spontaneity, because you really don’t know. You have an idea of it and you’re saying it and you can’t remember what the hell it is you want to say”, what matters isn’t the accuracy of the line readings but the emotion one seeks within them. Brando accepts that there are writers whose work you leave alone: “some things you can adlib, some things you have to commit to memory, like Shakespeare…– where the language has value.”

However, what Brando brought to cinema more than any other actor before him was this questioning of the script’s paramountcy. Weren’t there many other aspects of film that were of no less importance, and would improvisation help bring out these other details?  In One-Eyed Jacks the sea isn’t a backdrop but a mise-en-scene that is vividly there and also capable of reflecting the turmoil in the character’s soul. But what makes it more than a symbol is that it is vividly present, and Brando as an actor is someone who seems attentive to the details of the mise-en-scene of which he is a part. In a scene in Last Tangoin Paris where Brando bathes young lover, Maria Schneider, the lines are less important than the gestures. Even as he insists that he doesn’t much care that she claims she’s fallen in love with another man, and crudely suggests that in ten years’ time she’ll be “playing soccer with her tits”, he washes her with love and affection. Often in Brando’s work we don’t only see him refusing to learn his lines, but finding ways in which to counter them in behaviour.

If Brando was deemed the great intensive actor through feeling, but was often accused of laziness in the amount of effort he would put into a role, Robert De Niro was seen as the opposite. Brando would quote his teacher Stella Adler saying that her father, the great Yiddish actor would insist: “if you come to the theatre and you feel 100 per cent inspiration, show 70. If you come to the theater another night and you feel maybe 50 per cent, show 30. If you come to the theater feeling 30 per cent, turn round and go home. Always show less than you have,” (Conversations with Marlon Brando) De Niro, though, would be more inclined to give the hundred per cent, evident in a comment by director John Hancock of Bang the Drum Slowly: “he didn’t even want to take the uniform off.” Off course, more obvious examples would be the massive weight gain on Raging Bull, the more modest but still weighty (thirty pounds) addition for The Untouchables. Yet for all the weight De Niro would put on for the role, he would also talk about the need to avoid putting too much into the role, as if an intensive actor needs to withhold an aspect of the energy the part demands to put it elsewhere: to make it introspective rather than projective. “An actor might tend to feel, Gee, this is a powerful, emotional scene. I have to give it a little more. As soon as he gives too much, the audience gets turned off.” (Playing to the Camera)  Subsequently the actor has to pull back. “You can give them an object – not a cigarette because that’s the oldest crutch in the world – but something to take their minds off the fact that they want to overdo it.” Nevertheless there is an intensive emotion that the actor doesn’t want to repeat endlessly so that he loses the feeling within the scene. “It is hard to get worked up. If it’s a very emotional scene, it’s very hard. That’s why I like to use a few cameras. Otherwise, I have to get myself worked up again.” (Playing to theCamera)

What Brando and De Niro have in common is this ability to contain within them a charged energy, but the basic difference is that where Brando often oozes feeling, De Niro in his best roles represses and expresses anger. Whether it is Taxi DriverRaging Bull or GoodFellasThe Deer HunterThe Godfather Part II or Once Upon a Time in America, De Niro Is a great actor of intensive force towards anger, just as Brando’s is intensive towards feeling. Though De Niro will often use the physical to get at the psychological (the weight gain mentioned, the Mohican in Taxi Driver, the haircut in King of Comedy), he is still more intensive than extensive, if we distinguish between the Method as an acting system of interiority, and Rudolf Laban’s ideas on exteriority. When Stanislavski says, “put your faith in your feelings,” (Creating a Role) this is interiority. When Laban talks of Movement Analysis, “it refers simply to the expressive qualities of exertion that are visible in any human movement” (Cynthia Baron, Cineaste xxxi, no. 4), this would be exteriority.

Many actors don’t distinguish one from the other, seeing aspects of the latter as important to their craft as they develop aspects of bodily awareness through other fields even if they aren’t essential. As Movement teacher Jean Sabatine explains, “mime, ballet, modern dance, jazz dance, T’ai Chi, karate, physical education, rolling fencing, stage combat, approaches like Alexander technique and effort-shape and so on  – none of these disciplines is movement for actors’ training in and of themselves.” (Cineaste xxx1, no.4) In very different ways actors like Willem Dafoe, Nicolas Cage, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sigourney Weaver and of course all those actors of the eighties like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Ludgren, can be seen as extensive, and we might see that pilates and the gym would be more important than the analyst’s couch, in some instances more important than basic acting skills. In the case of the latter four it was the gym more than the stage where they developed what would be important to their acting careers. These were actors who were excessively exterior, with the inner life seemingly little more than internal organs; the rest muscle. Stallone was perhaps a bit more interesting than this, and there is texture to RockyFirst Blood and Cop Land missing from the roles the others played. But if we have Brando and De Niro at one end of the spectrum, these actors would be at the other.

Pfeiffer and Depp are intriguing actors, but their strengths are exterior: Pfeiffer’s slinky movement across a dance floor in Scarface, across a piano in The Fabulous Baker Boys; Depp’s startled look in Edward Scissorhands, his boyish demeanour in Dead Man. We don’t expect great depth from such actors, but instead great movement as they put texture more into the body of the figure than in the mind of the character. They seem like actors who perform the role rather than feel it. As director Julie Taymor (who studied with performative theatre guru Jacques le Coq), says “it’s not about ‘acting’ sad”, it is about asking “what is it about ‘sad’ that makes the body hard or soft? What rhythm does sadness have?” (Cineaste, xxxi, Vol.4) Even when Tim Burton says one of the things he likes about Depp is that he is an actor “doing a lot under the surface” (Burton on Burton), this is not quite the same thing as psychodramatic depth; more nuanced gestures that indicate some insecurity just below the facade: the slight tics in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the wide-eyed wonder in Edwards Scissorhands. When Burton mentions the tabloids seeing Depp as a brooding James Dean type he disagrees: Depp is no less an actor than Dean, but his performances are much less self-involved, more extensive than intensive.

In certain instances of course the notion of the intensive and the extensive don’t quite hold, as some contemporary actors search inward for motivation and outward for a hook to hang the character on. Just as De Niro gained weight for Raging Bull and TheUntouchables, so Christian Bale lost it for The MachinistRescue Dawn and The Fighter. Also, Stanislavski makes clear in Creating a Role that “the creation of the physical life is half of the work on a role because, like us, a role has two natures, physical and spiritual. You will say that the main purpose of our art does not consist of externals, that the creation of the life of a human spirit is what it looks to in order to inform what we do on the stage. I quite agree, but precisely because of this I begin our work with the physical life of any part.” Yet this notion of the physical and the spiritual demanded of The Method indicates the existentially felt. The classical actor and the extensive actor needn’t align the self and the role, but in the former instance give shape to the script and in the latter give shape to the body that plays the part.  If Willem Dafoe is a great extensive actor it lies in the elasticity of his body in Wild at HeartThe AntiChristTo Live and Die in LA: he is an actor capable of using his wiry frame to indicate great force capable of maximum extension. If we compare him  (if rather crudely) to a fine classical actor, like Charles Laughton, we can see how much of the classical actor comes through the face and through diction, and the extensive through body and movement. As Dafoe says: “You’re making things, you aren’t interpreting things. This has helped me develop a sensibility in terms of being more a performer, a pretender, a dancer, than an interpreter, a grand old actor, or someone who has a method.” (Cineaste, XXXI, No. 4) Obviously there were classical actors known for their qualities of extension (Errol Flynn comes to mind), but the extension we see in Dafoe, in Day-Lewis, in Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen, for example, possess an added extensive quality. It is as though the role as a manifestation of the script is no more important than the role as manifestation of mise-en-scene, with the possibilities of movement in screen space. When at the beginning of Shame Fassbender walks through his apartment naked, the important thing isn’t script delivery but an actor comfortable in his body enough to make the action natural. When Richard Gere wandered around his apartment half-naked in American Gigolo it was self-conscious: a reflection of the character perhaps, but also a reflection of an actor who couldn’t quite seem natural in his skin. This quality that can be of significance to contemporary acting would have had no place in classical Hollywood under strict censorship on the one hand, and irrelevance on the other: would such moments add to the development of the story?

What we have offered here is a tentative approach to ways in which we can look at modes of acting. The iconic is perhaps the least intentional of all, since the audience over decades decides whether an actor is iconic or not. Yet if the star develops a persona across a number of films with minor variations, then the actor is more likely to become an icon than a character actor who disappears under many roles. Monroe is the iconic bubbly blonde, Chaplin the ultimate little man, Wayne the figure of resolute masculinity. The classical actor is someone for whom the script is usually more important than anything else, and the shape of the picture more significant than their role within the film, exemplified by Olivier’s modesty on Marathon Man. By contrast the intensive actor creates a psychodrama around him perhaps to the detriment of the film, but where usually the director works very strongly with that psychodramatic dimension. Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are clearly shaped around De Niro, and the same could be said of Hoffman roles in Straw DogsLenny and Straight Time. Nicholson roles in Five Easy PiecesTheKing of Marvin Gardens and The Last Detail again indicate films that shape themselves around a performance rather than the actor fitting into a given part. Where according to Patrick McGilligan William Wyler would say little more than “another one” to Bette Davis when he wanted another take (Cineaste, xxxi, no.4), this is the opposite of Bob Rafelson working with Nicholson on Five Easy Pieces. “In interviews Rafelson liked to stress his “extraordinary and potent relationship with Nicholson that enabled him to push the actor “to release certain emotions that he won’t normally show on screen, because he knows that I know they exist.”” (Jack’s Life, Patrick McGilligan).

The above example is intensive acting under empathic direction. The extensive might not require the same element of co-feeling, of psychological understanding, but the director and the actor must comprehend the bodily possibilities of the role, with Steve McQueen finding in Fassbinder in Hunger and Shame someone who can overcome bodily bashfulness to find in the body how the character functions. As Fassbinder would say when interviewed about the nudity in Shame: “I was self-conscious for sure, but it was something I had to get over very quickly. Those scenes are really where you get an insight into the guy’s psyche.” These are loose, sometimes overlapping categories – the iconic, the classical, the intensive and the extensive – but they can usefully open up different approaches to the craft and understand a key aspect of film. As Robert Altman says in FilmForum “actors are, without a doubt, the most important element, because they’re the ones who are performing…so the actors are the real artists and everybody else is in support of them.”

© Tony McKibbin

Tony McKibbin Tony McKibbin

The Acting

In his well-known book on stardom, Stars, Richard Dyer wonders at one moment whether stars are 'different'. Referencing an article by Violette Morin, 'Les Olympiens', Dyer, quoting Morin, sees that "stars are always the most something-or-other in the world - the most beautiful, the most expensive, the most sexy. But because stars are 'dissolved' into this superlative, are indistinguishable from it, they become superlative, hence they seem to be of a different order of being, a different 'ontological' category." The invoking of an ontological difference suggests that stars are the modern equivalent of the gods. Using the terms classical, iconic, intensive and extensive, our purpose here is to take into account this notion of a different ontological category, while at the same time seeing that this ontological difference is not to differentiate them from mortals, but to show how they instead hyperbolize quite common values and experiences. In this sense the actor doesn't stand above mere mortals, but stands in for them: they express and explore one's relationship with the world through embodying characters in situations that might not be too far removed from one's own. Alain Resnais' fine film, My American Uncle, explores this well, as his three leading character all identify with a famous French actor, and sometimes draw on how Jean Gabin in Gerard Depardieu's case, Gerard Philipe's in Nicole Garcia's and Arletty's in Pierre Roger's, would react to stress situations. Gabin and co are stars, but they also allow the space for comprehending 'small' feelings of humiliation, desperation and weakness. Here, stars belong less to a different ontological category (as the gods did), but to the every day. Indeed, one of the interesting aspects of cinema is the very opposite of immortality. Stars very clearly live and die; both Gabin and Philipe were no longer alive when Resnais made his film: Depardieu and Garcia were worshipping mortals.

However, there are some stars who seem to transcend the mortality of their bodies and become the immortality of their image. If Charlie Chaplin, John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe are three great icons of cinema history, it resides in the iconography of certain images that are fixed in our minds. With Chaplin it may be the image of the little moustachioed man with wide-trousers, a bowler hat and a cane; with Monroe a white dress billowing up, with Wayne, a framed doorway of a homestead that he is turning away from. These images might be from films, but the iconography is greater than the moving images of which they are a part. If the star here shares similarities with the gods it is that they are somehow removed from time; the actors' very mortality retrospectively allowing for an iconographic series of moments that create an image that far outlives them.

If the Greeks had major and minor gods, does cinema not have major and minor icons? Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, James Dean and Clint Eastwood seem also to possess a strong iconographic function, but perhaps they don't quite possess the iconographic short hand of Chaplin, Wayne and Monroe. They reflect cinema but don't quite sum it up. An image of Audrey Hepburn smoking a cigarette with the aid of a cigarette holder in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Bogart smoking a cigarette dressed in a white dinner suit and bow tie from Casablanca, Eastwood wearing a poncho and smoking a cigar in A Fistful of Dollars, and Dean in a red bomber jacket from A Rebel Without aCause, are important images, but are they of a secondary nature, lacking the full metonymic significance of Chaplin, Monroe and Wayne?

One of the interesting elements of the iconic is that it needn't be quite the same as an extension of living fame. Movies of the Fifties says that "James Dean was killed in a car crash on a California highway in the late afternoon of September 30, 1955, a fact that warranted little attention at the time". His was posthumous celebrity that generated the iconography. For someone like John Wayne, though, it was perhaps the opposite. Each western, from Stagecoach in the thirties, to Red River in the Forties, The Searchers in the fifties, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in the sixties, Rooster Cogburn in the seventies, all added to Wayne's iconographic status, each role a layer of protective varnish added to a solid antique. Marilyn Monroe was somewhere in between, appearing in thirty three films over fifteen years, including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Seven Year Itch, and Some Like it Hot. There can also be an element of contingency in the making of an icon. According to Alex Cox in The Guardian, author of Breakfast at Tiffany's Truman Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe for the role of Holly Golightly, while it is well known that Ronald Reagan was lined up to play Rick in Casablanca.

The iconic is in some ways a paradoxical phenomenon: it might invoke the gods but it is a status given to the star by the everyday mortal. There is little of the work ethic involved in becoming an icon; and sometimes we can see a director working on the iconographic as if a one person audience. When Jean Luc-Godard filmed Brigitte Bardot in Le Mepris, his own wife Anna Karina in Vivre sa vie and Pierrot le fou, Michelangelo Antonioni Monica Vitti in L'avventura, The Eclipse and The Red Desert, Federico Fellini Marcello Mastroianni in La dolce vita and 8 frac12;, Jean-Pierre Melville Alain Delon in Le Samourai, The Red Circle and Un Flic, Luis Bunuel Catherine Deneuve in Belle de jour and Tristana, it is as though (whatever the quality of the performance), the director was in thrall of the figure in front of them, and wanted to immortalise them through the camera. The French have a term for a director's favourite actor: the acteur fetiche. But this can cover any director who works regularly with an actor (Wayne and John Ford, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, and indeed Fellini with Mastroianni). In the examples of Bunuel and Deneuve, Godard and Karina etc. it is as though it is often more in the very style, in the dress sense, in the haircut, in the modelled posture, that the director wants to suggest the instantly iconic. Frequently, the actor appears to stand out from the film, rather than seems to be embedded within it, as if there is an aloof quality to the performance. When Vitti stands near the end of The Red Desert in a green coat it works as a fixed image, when Deneuve walks along the street in Belle de jour and considers becoming a prostitute she is at the same time a model dressed by Yves St Laurent. The iconic, whether imposed upon by an audience or by the filmmaker, contains a strong element of limited agency: that it isn't about chiefly the quality of the performance, but closer to an aura around the figure of the actor.

This idea of the performance standing out is usually frowned upon within the classical. Whether it happens to be Laurence Olivier taking his craft from the stage, Bogart commenting on screen acting, or Michael Caine insisting that he never takes a role home with him: "the moment they say "it's a wrap", I'm gone completely. I'm a totally ruthless professional, and life is my family not my work", the idea is that you go to work, do a good job, and go home. An interesting and famous anecdote concerning this question of the classical actor as simple craftsman comes from William Goldman in his book Adventuresin the Screen Trade. Talking of Marathon Man (which Goldman scripted) he discusses a scene between stars Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier. Hoffman wanted to improvise, Olivier was reluctant, but improvise they did, despite an illness Olivier was recovering from. Though there are important ethical issues involved in the situation that developed, with Olivier the sick man and Hoffman apparently indifferent to the great actor's physical health, one reason why the anecdote has become well-known is because it exemplifies two very different approaches to acting. Olivier wanted simply to play the role as well as he could, while Hoffman insistently wanted to search out the role, find sides to it through improvisation. Olivier would do what was required for the part, but he wouldn't get 'into' it. He might have bravely had his head shaved for the role of the Nazi doctor, as Goldman details, but he was an actor who like Caine didn't expect to take the character home with him. His purpose was to enact the role based on the character created by the writer, and Goldman describes a touching moment where Olivier asks him if he could change a line. "'Bill', he said, 'could I suggest an alternation to the line? Would it be all right if I changed it so that the line went "I know that you're going to go to the bank sooner or later?" You see, then I could register the word bank while he was saying 'sooner or later' and I wouldn't need the pause.'" For Goldman this is the height of modesty - the legendary theatre actor asking Goldman if he can change the script, but it is also a sign of the classical actor: someone who plays a part but doesn't immerse himself in it. For the great theatre director and acting theorist Constantin Stanislavski this would be 'mechanical' acting: the actor's objective is different from those who immerse themselves as Hoffman does. The 'mechanical' actor "lives his part as preparation for perfecting an external form. Once that is determined to his satisfaction he reproduces that form through the aid of mechanically trained muscles." (The Actor Prepares)

David Mamet talks of a scene in Casablanca that sums up well this 'mechanical' attitude. Somebody asked Humphrey Bogart what he did to make a well-known scene in Casablanca work so well. Bogart said "they called me in one day, Michael Curtiz, the director said, 'stand by the balcony over there, and when I say "action" take a beat and a nod'". (On Directing Film) That was it. The idea is that the performance was less inside the body of the actor and concerning issues of motivation, than simply a piece of film cut together with other pieces of film to make the film work in terms of character and narrative. The classical performance very much serves the film, and this is why we see Olivier's comments not chiefly as the height of modesty but the height of a certain type of craft.

In Peter Bogdanovich's useful book of interviews Who The Hell's In It?, most of the interviews are with actors from the classical era of Hollywood, and thus classical actors within it. Cary Grant, James Stewart, Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Wayne and Jack Lemmon are amongst those interviewed and, though it is chiefly a book of informal interviews, it helps us understand aspects of classical craftsmanship linked to the notion of stardom. In the interview with James Stewart, Stewart mentions Spencer Tracy and the advantages of typecasting, of basically playing yourself. "I'm against people who yell the star system is dead. I've never agreed with that - ya talk to people an' they can't put it into words - but a star is just someone you root for..." Hitchcock would add that, "Stewart is a perfect Hitchcock hero because he is Everyman in bizarre situations." The classical actor as star is someone who represents the needs and desires of the viewer, and the actor's purpose is to convey that through the simplest thespian means possible. When Wayne says he was annoyed about one moment in Red River, where he was expected to be "nervous and irascible and frightened", he adds "it was best for the picture that I didn't [get my way]" (Who The Hell's In It?) Often reading classical actors on film they talk about the story and the bigger picture, and that their performance is modestly contained by other demands. Even Stewart's comment about the necessity of the star system isn't about his status in the film industry, but its usefulness within the perspective of a film. As Bette Davis says in Playing to the Camera: "If I aim to play the leading lady in a modern picture, my worries as an actress are concerned with wardrobe, hairdress, learning the script, and interpreting it to make the most of whatever opportunities it offers me." There is a matter of fact approach that insists on a job well done. The actor might go on to become an icon for antithetical reasons from those that make them a classical actor, but the moment of making the film requires a professional competence. It may be no more than a moment in the film that will contribute to the iconographic, but it is at the time the actors job to be a cog in the machine.

Yet does such classical acting contains an overly facile sense of the actor playing rather than being, that when Bogart turns up on set in Casablanca and offers his line he is playing the role rather as one might play at charades? Central to the different approaches of an Olivier and a Hoffman on screen is that the latter would see acting as a question of being rather than an issue of playing. This is often where the intensive meets the extensive: where the internal demands of the performance can meet the external demands of the actor's transformation. One reason why Robert De Niro's performance in RagingBull is so monumental is because it pushes both the extensive and the intensive to the edge of physical deformity and mental distress. If the classical actor performs, the modern actor often transforms, and De Niro's purpose isn't to assume the role as a star might so that the audience can root for him, but instead to get to the root of the character, often to the detriment of audience sympathy. This might also mean that the actor is no longer at the service of the film, but involved in the very making of it. Though De Niro says that "a good script" is "number one" criterion, he also says "I usually have more to say about the casting...You know I had someone tell me once - he had done some films, but he didn't have much experience - "you just cut away to this or that. You don't have to worry about the actors." But if you don't have anything that's interesting to watch, that's real or that grabs you, whether it be actors or real people, then no matter how beautiful the photography is or how great the editing, it's not going to make any difference." (Playing to the Camera).

The anecdote concerning Hoffman and Olivier maybe reflects this basic difference between the classical actor who works with the script and the intensive actor who works to shape it. Hoffman's improvisatory zeal is consistent with many an intensive actor who wants to find the role rather than assume it is already down on paper. Obviously many contemporary American actors have been influenced by The Method, with Stanislavski's ideas from Russia transposed to an American context and evident in various acting schools in the US under the tutelage of Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg and others, and where, from a certain perspective, the important thing is not the film as an object but the truth as an objective. In an essay on 'Psychodrama', Parker Tyler says "what is proudly termed The Method runs into some problems with veteran actors as well as allegedly in trouble with itself. Ingrid Bergman, after playing in television with a new American 'Method' actor Rip Torn, told a newspaper reporter that she thought Mr Torn's acting very good, but that, nevertheless, a Method actor seemed to be making 'trouble for himself'". Tyler adds, "It was widely reported in the press that John Huston, who directed The Misfits, had some difficulty with the star [Marilyn Monroe], who at one point abruptly absented herself from work on the film. Anna Magnani, of all actresses, cannot be called hardened in the mold of the professional tradition. Yet according to Tennessee Williams, it was Miss Magnani who (rather unfamiliar with English, the language she was using), became flustered by Marlon Brando's habit of being behind her cues and even inventing lines she had not heard before." This is acting no longer playing polite and dutiful, but rebellious and seeking. It might be understandable that one would see Olivier as a decent fellow and Hoffman the obnoxious upstart in the Marathon Man anecdote, but it above all else brings out different approaches to the art of acting: one towards the performance that augments the script; the other an encounter with truth of character. When Tyler talks of Brando in One-EyedJacks, Tyler says, "What has Brando been able to do with the old-fashioned Western of the vintage period (1880-85) through The Method? He has logically touched the spirit of the Psychodrama. The psychodrama is so to speak a one-man theater with an audience of potential actors under the charge of a new-fashioned psychiatrist." If Erving Goffman in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life can say of us all that we perform in our general lives, then when a person "takes on an established social role, usually he finds that a particular front has already been established for it. Whether his acquisition of the role was primarily motivated by a desire to perform the given task or by a desire to maintain the corresponding front, the actor will find that he must do both".

Goffman is using the term actor here to represent not the professional craftsman in a given production, but everyone in their social lives. If so much of life is given over to the roles we perform, should professional actors not seek to do something else: to perform not the role designated for them by the script, but to find a truth within the character, to seek out a one man theatre in Tyler's terms? Actors like Marlon Brando, De Niro, Sean Penn, Daniel Day-Lewis, Christian Bale, as well as actors in John Cassavetes' films, Maurice Pialat's and Mike Leigh's, seem to be searching out a performative intensity over a performative conformity. When Brando talks about his character's past in Last Tango in Paris, it's his own past he is talking about. Yet it isn't important that we might anecdotally know this; what matters is that the information the film provides doesn't function as back story to the present moment, but that it seems the present moment is invaded by the past that the character and the actor tries to find in all its knotty, emotional complexity. The story stands still and the psychodrama becomes manifest. Brando's greatness however doesn't only reside there: it's also evident in his refusal so often to let a film develop at its appropriate pace. In numerous films he allows the peripheral details of a scene to become central, evident in his fondness for his horse in The Missouri Breaks, in his foppish attention to dress in Mutiny on the Bounty, and to the importance of watching the waves over moving towards revenge in the self-directed One Eyed Jacks. True, in the latter film, he is nursing a wound, but what matters is Brando's capacity to absorb the sensual details of life over the film's narrative essentials. In lengthy scenes in One Eyed Jacks he talks with his lover about his feelings and his motives with the pacific ocean in the background. As he talks this isn't the western figure hiding what is on his mind, but exploring what his body feels. As Brando puts expressive content into his words, so he tries not only to explain why he is vengeful, but explore his feelings towards his vengeance. "People don't want to lose their enemies. We have favourite enemies, people we love to hate and hate to love", he once said in a book length interview. (Conversations with Marlon Brando) It is as though in this scene Brando tries to get to the bottom of the hatred he has for the former best friend who betrayed him years before and whom he must kill. It becomes less knee-jerk than heart-felt. When Brando says, "yeah, you save all that time not learning the lines. You can't tell the difference. And it improves the spontaneity, because you really don't know. You have an idea of it and you're saying it and you can't remember what the hell it is you want to say", what matters isn't the accuracy of the line readings but the emotion one seeks within them. Brando accepts that there are writers whose work you leave alone: "some things you can adlib, some things you have to commit to memory, like Shakespeare...- where the language has value."

However, what Brando brought to cinema more than any other actor before him was this questioning of the script's paramountcy. Weren't there many other aspects of film that were of no less importance, and would improvisation help bring out these other details? In One-Eyed Jacks the sea isn't a backdrop but a mise-en-scene that is vividly there and also capable of reflecting the turmoil in the character's soul. But what makes it more than a symbol is that it is vividly present, and Brando as an actor is someone who seems attentive to the details of the mise-en-scene of which he is a part. In a scene in Last Tangoin Paris where Brando bathes young lover, Maria Schneider, the lines are less important than the gestures. Even as he insists that he doesn't much care that she claims she's fallen in love with another man, and crudely suggests that in ten years' time she'll be "playing soccer with her tits", he washes her with love and affection. Often in Brando's work we don't only see him refusing to learn his lines, but finding ways in which to counter them in behaviour.

If Brando was deemed the great intensive actor through feeling, but was often accused of laziness in the amount of effort he would put into a role, Robert De Niro was seen as the opposite. Brando would quote his teacher Stella Adler saying that her father, the great Yiddish actor would insist: "if you come to the theatre and you feel 100 per cent inspiration, show 70. If you come to the theater another night and you feel maybe 50 per cent, show 30. If you come to the theater feeling 30 per cent, turn round and go home. Always show less than you have," (Conversations with Marlon Brando) De Niro, though, would be more inclined to give the hundred per cent, evident in a comment by director John Hancock of Bang the Drum Slowly: "he didn't even want to take the uniform off." Off course, more obvious examples would be the massive weight gain on Raging Bull, the more modest but still weighty (thirty pounds) addition for The Untouchables. Yet for all the weight De Niro would put on for the role, he would also talk about the need to avoid putting too much into the role, as if an intensive actor needs to withhold an aspect of the energy the part demands to put it elsewhere: to make it introspective rather than projective. "An actor might tend to feel, Gee, this is a powerful, emotional scene. I have to give it a little more. As soon as he gives too much, the audience gets turned off." (Playing to the Camera) Subsequently the actor has to pull back. "You can give them an object - not a cigarette because that's the oldest crutch in the world - but something to take their minds off the fact that they want to overdo it." Nevertheless there is an intensive emotion that the actor doesn't want to repeat endlessly so that he loses the feeling within the scene. "It is hard to get worked up. If it's a very emotional scene, it's very hard. That's why I like to use a few cameras. Otherwise, I have to get myself worked up again." (Playing to theCamera)

What Brando and De Niro have in common is this ability to contain within them a charged energy, but the basic difference is that where Brando often oozes feeling, De Niro in his best roles represses and expresses anger. Whether it is Taxi Driver, Raging Bull or GoodFellas, The Deer Hunter, The Godfather Part II or Once Upon a Time in America, De Niro Is a great actor of intensive force towards anger, just as Brando's is intensive towards feeling. Though De Niro will often use the physical to get at the psychological (the weight gain mentioned, the Mohican in Taxi Driver, the haircut in King of Comedy), he is still more intensive than extensive, if we distinguish between the Method as an acting system of interiority, and Rudolf Laban's ideas on exteriority. When Stanislavski says, "put your faith in your feelings," (Creating a Role) this is interiority. When Laban talks of Movement Analysis, "it refers simply to the expressive qualities of exertion that are visible in any human movement" (Cynthia Baron, Cineaste xxxi, no. 4), this would be exteriority.

Many actors don't distinguish one from the other, seeing aspects of the latter as important to their craft as they develop aspects of bodily awareness through other fields even if they aren't essential. As Movement teacher Jean Sabatine explains, "mime, ballet, modern dance, jazz dance, T'ai Chi, karate, physical education, rolling fencing, stage combat, approaches like Alexander technique and effort-shape and so on - none of these disciplines is movement for actors' training in and of themselves." (Cineaste xxx1, no.4) In very different ways actors like Willem Dafoe, Nicolas Cage, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sigourney Weaver and of course all those actors of the eighties like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Ludgren, can be seen as extensive, and we might see that pilates and the gym would be more important than the analyst's couch, in some instances more important than basic acting skills. In the case of the latter four it was the gym more than the stage where they developed what would be important to their acting careers. These were actors who were excessively exterior, with the inner life seemingly little more than internal organs; the rest muscle. Stallone was perhaps a bit more interesting than this, and there is texture to Rocky, First Blood and Cop Land missing from the roles the others played. But if we have Brando and De Niro at one end of the spectrum, these actors would be at the other.

Pfeiffer and Depp are intriguing actors, but their strengths are exterior: Pfeiffer's slinky movement across a dance floor in Scarface, across a piano in The Fabulous Baker Boys; Depp's startled look in Edward Scissorhands, his boyish demeanour in Dead Man. We don't expect great depth from such actors, but instead great movement as they put texture more into the body of the figure than in the mind of the character. They seem like actors who perform the role rather than feel it. As director Julie Taymor (who studied with performative theatre guru Jacques le Coq), says "it's not about 'acting' sad", it is about asking "what is it about 'sad' that makes the body hard or soft? What rhythm does sadness have?" (Cineaste, xxxi, Vol.4) Even when Tim Burton says one of the things he likes about Depp is that he is an actor "doing a lot under the surface" (Burton on Burton), this is not quite the same thing as psychodramatic depth; more nuanced gestures that indicate some insecurity just below the facade: the slight tics in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the wide-eyed wonder in Edwards Scissorhands. When Burton mentions the tabloids seeing Depp as a brooding James Dean type he disagrees: Depp is no less an actor than Dean, but his performances are much less self-involved, more extensive than intensive.

In certain instances of course the notion of the intensive and the extensive don't quite hold, as some contemporary actors search inward for motivation and outward for a hook to hang the character on. Just as De Niro gained weight for Raging Bull and TheUntouchables, so Christian Bale lost it for The Machinist, Rescue Dawn and The Fighter. Also, Stanislavski makes clear in Creating a Role that "the creation of the physical life is half of the work on a role because, like us, a role has two natures, physical and spiritual. You will say that the main purpose of our art does not consist of externals, that the creation of the life of a human spirit is what it looks to in order to inform what we do on the stage. I quite agree, but precisely because of this I begin our work with the physical life of any part." Yet this notion of the physical and the spiritual demanded of The Method indicates the existentially felt. The classical actor and the extensive actor needn't align the self and the role, but in the former instance give shape to the script and in the latter give shape to the body that plays the part. If Willem Dafoe is a great extensive actor it lies in the elasticity of his body in Wild at Heart, The Anti-Christ, To Live and Die in LA: he is an actor capable of using his wiry frame to indicate great force capable of maximum extension. If we compare him (if rather crudely) to a fine classical actor, like Charles Laughton, we can see how much of the classical actor comes through the face and through diction, and the extensive through body and movement. As Dafoe says: "You're making things, you aren't interpreting things. This has helped me develop a sensibility in terms of being more a performer, a pretender, a dancer, than an interpreter, a grand old actor, or someone who has a method." (Cineaste, XXXI, No. 4) Obviously there were classical actors known for their qualities of extension (Errol Flynn comes to mind), but the extension we see in Dafoe, in Day-Lewis, in Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen, for example, possess an added extensive quality. It is as though the role as a manifestation of the script is no more important than the role as manifestation of mise-en-scene, with the possibilities of movement in screen space. When at the beginning of Shame Fassbender walks through his apartment naked, the important thing isn't script delivery but an actor comfortable in his body enough to make the action natural. When Richard Gere wandered around his apartment half-naked in American Gigolo it was self-conscious: a reflection of the character perhaps, but also a reflection of an actor who couldn't quite seem natural in his skin. This quality that can be of significance to contemporary acting would have had no place in classical Hollywood under strict censorship on the one hand, and irrelevance on the other: would such moments add to the development of the story?

What we have offered here is a tentative approach to ways in which we can look at modes of acting. The iconic is perhaps the least intentional of all, since the audience over decades decides whether an actor is iconic or not. Yet if the star develops a persona across a number of films with minor variations, then the actor is more likely to become an icon than a character actor who disappears under many roles. Monroe is the iconic bubbly blonde, Chaplin the ultimate little man, Wayne the figure of resolute masculinity. The classical actor is someone for whom the script is usually more important than anything else, and the shape of the picture more significant than their role within the film, exemplified by Olivier's modesty on Marathon Man. By contrast the intensive actor creates a psychodrama around him perhaps to the detriment of the film, but where usually the director works very strongly with that psychodramatic dimension. Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are clearly shaped around De Niro, and the same could be said of Hoffman roles in Straw Dogs, Lenny and Straight Time. Nicholson roles in Five Easy Pieces, TheKing of Marvin Gardens and The Last Detail again indicate films that shape themselves around a performance rather than the actor fitting into a given part. Where according to Patrick McGilligan William Wyler would say little more than "another one" to Bette Davis when he wanted another take (Cineaste, xxxi, no.4), this is the opposite of Bob Rafelson working with Nicholson on Five Easy Pieces. "In interviews Rafelson liked to stress his "extraordinary and potent relationship with Nicholson that enabled him to push the actor "to release certain emotions that he won't normally show on screen, because he knows that I know they exist."" (Jack's Life, Patrick McGilligan).

The above example is intensive acting under empathic direction. The extensive might not require the same element of co-feeling, of psychological understanding, but the director and the actor must comprehend the bodily possibilities of the role, with Steve McQueen finding in Fassbinder in Hunger and Shame someone who can overcome bodily bashfulness to find in the body how the character functions. As Fassbinder would say when interviewed about the nudity in Shame: "I was self-conscious for sure, but it was something I had to get over very quickly. Those scenes are really where you get an insight into the guy's psyche." These are loose, sometimes overlapping categories - the iconic, the classical, the intensive and the extensive - but they can usefully open up different approaches to the craft and understand a key aspect of film. As Robert Altman says in FilmForum "actors are, without a doubt, the most important element, because they're the ones who are performing...so the actors are the real artists and everybody else is in support of them."


© Tony McKibbin