Blog 8: The Truth Behind Physical Actions


.          A facet of screen performance that is particularly effective is an actor’s physical action. The final chapters of “A Practical Handbook for the Actor” highlight that physical action “calls upon the will and can be used at any time and in any situation regardless of how you are feeling” whereas “emotion is utterly undependable; because you cannot control what you feel” Not all actors are able to embody the emotion of their character by pulling on their own experiences as Stanislavsky suggests for method actors. Alternatively, utilizing appropriate physical actions to bring characters to life is a technique that is easier to understand. Once an actor masters applying truthful and appropriate physical actions, the psychological/emotional aspects of the character come naturally. Bruder et al. explain “your emotions are the natural and inescapable by-product of your commitment to your action.” With having this said, mastering the appropriate physical actions of a character is no simple task. The actor must choose physical actions that are truthful to the moment and the entire essence of the character.

          Meryl Streep effectively applies physical action that is truthful to the moment and character in the famous choice scene of Sophie’s Choice. When Sophie watches her little girl being carried away she stands in shock, unable to cry out, her mouth is wide open in horror, tears are in her eyes but she is unable to make a sound. In this scene, Meryl could have chose to over emote and cry and scream, she could have ran after the guard, or even fell to her knees. After all, what could be more gut wrenching than a mother having to choose which one of her children live or die? As Bruder suggests “Nothing is more interesting or dramatic than an actor working off the truth of the moment, so don’t take responsibility for the scene by charging it up emotionally” Streep understood her character, and decided that shock was more truthful than over emoting and her acting was exceptionally believable.

          Bruder also recommends that actors do not “fall in the trap of substituting externals for actions” One film in particular where this stands out is Monster. To play Aileen Wuornos Charlize went through a total physical transformation, from gaining weight to wearing prosthetics, and her performance was stellar but lacked consistency. When she recorded her voiceovers without the aid of externals, her accent dropped and she sounded more like Charlize. It was evident Charlize relied on externals for her performance. On the other hand Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump’s voice over’s were more believable, he maintained his Alabama accent, his slow paced voice and overall innocent demeanor. This is because Hanks relied less on his externals and more on truthful physical actions; this enabled consistency throughout his performance. He always stood tall, maintained a dopey/innocent expression and moved slowly (except when he was running!) Although he played a character who had a low IQ and was slow witted, Hanks did not overact. His character faced some tough situations (the deaths of his mother, Jenny and Bubba) but he did not scream and cry, Hanks was mindful to his naive and innocent character who never had an ounce of self pity.

          From Hilary Swanks performance in Boys Don’t Cry (well thought out use of subtle male mannerisms, i.e., slightly deepened voice, walking hunched over with legs slightly apart) to Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs (standing erect and confident, stark eye contact, mimicking cat movements) we saw some amazing physical performances throughout the year.


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