Despite starring alongside the mesmerizing Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon stole the screen! But how? Let’s take a moment to analyze this unforgettable comedic performance.
Character Acting usually involves playing unusual or eccentric characters. Lemmon embodies this in his role as Jerry/Daphne. One of the most important steps an actor takes during character acting is knowing who the character is. Lemmon described his character as “a nut from the moon who never stopped to think once in his life” Lemmon felt this explained the crazy actions of his character and he ran with it! Lemmon was extremely dedicated to his role, he arrived about four hours early on set to get ready in full drag. This included him shaving his legs three times before wardrobe, and putting on tight undergarments, dresses, heels, wigs, and makeup! His co-star Tony Curtis had a hard time adjusting to being in full drag, however Lemmon enjoyed it and strutted around set! It’s apparent the use of ornaments helped Lemmon get into character.
Method Acting entails that actors create within themselves the thoughts and feelings of their
characters. Lemmon is known to be a non-method actor however, one could propose that elements of method acting were present in this performance. Curtis’s voice as Josephine was dubbed, however Lemmon decided to use his own voice. In addition he refused lessons on how to act as a lady. Lemmon wanted the performance to be authentic, and felt that since his character was having trouble adjusting to being feminine, his own shortcomings would add genuineness to his performance. Lemmon looked to his own experience and his characters and used the similarities to enhance his performance, which I believe exemplifies method acting.
Lemmons comedic delivery was enhanced by his physical truth. Lemmon over exaggerated his female mannerisms as Daphne to make it more comical. This included him pursing his lips, widening his eyes and holding his hand in the air wrist up, he also swayed his hips around while walking. His physicality was especially comedic during the beach scene where he is skipping around with Sugar. His smile was over exaggerated and during his laugh he added a snort which was very comical. His voice is another tool of the craft that was used to provide physical truth to the performance. It was not overly feminine, he stayed true to the fact that his character is a male struggling to act as female.
Lemmon shared energy on screen with his co-star Tony Curtis which really enhanced his comedic performance. Their characters were opposites that complemented each other quite well. Joe is confident and dominating while Jerry follows and submits to Joe. When they dress as females, Josephine is composed, whereas Daphne can barely keep balance and even loses one of her high heels! Jerry has a much harder time adjusting to being a girl and has to keep reminding himself he is a girl. Timing is extremely important when delivering a comedic performance and to ensure good timing, active listening is of utmost importance. Lemmon and Curtis practiced this effortlessly and worked well off each other.