Should Actors Act?

Photo: Ronit Geller
by Caroline Malcolm-Boulton

Acting-it’s a complicated business.

It is said that the Ancient Greeks were the first to bring forth the theatre; to encourage people to pretend to be somebody they were not, all in the good name of narrative and for the exploration of life.

However, acting has come a long way since then. It has been shaped through time and by the interpretative styles of individuals and cultures. But today, the grand seductive illusion of acting that we are left with has become so large, so prosperous and so popular that it is a powerful industry. I am of course talking of Hollywood.

The mid-twentieth century saw the dawn of mass film production and a more serious attitude to making quality movies with quality performers. Before long, the world made men and women like Laurence Olivier and Elizabeth Taylor into sensational on-screen names.

But as I watch the applauded releases of recent years, it occurs to me that something is missing. In 2016, the frenzy of the film facade has changed from a humble art, and is now all about the: mise-en; the showmanship, as audiences demand: thrilling stories, attractive casts, beautiful locations, relatable themes, impressive costumes, script lines to weep over and visual effects that blow the mind.

But behind all this noise, an element has been lost. Something no longer seems to matter. Could it be that for so many of our beloved actors and actresses, one vital thing is missing? Can it possibly be that they just can’t act?

A lecturer once told me that modern day cinematic connoisseurs have become somewhat complacent. In a world where everything is fast and furious in its development, we rely on consistency and predictability within film-all the way from the regurgitated narratives to the inevitable three act structure.

Photo: Anna Maria Lopez
Photo: Anna Maria Lopez

That is why when we see a billboard with names such as: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Nicholas Cage, Angelina Jolie, Michael Kane, Jennifer Lopez, Kirsten Dunst, Robert Downy JR, Chris Pratt, Kiera Knightly, Liam Neeson, Scarlet Johannsson, Robert De Niro and Nicole Kidman, we do not care about who made it or the quality of the creative content. No! We only care about seeing our favourite faces again; faces we trust to give us a very predictable experience.

Now in reality, most of the people I’ve named above are super-duper great at doing their own little thing on screen. Clooney always gives a smooth, sexy, oily performance. Roberts is serious, thoughtful, open and representative of life. Pratt always comes across as the smouldering, magnetic, ruggish man who will fight just about any monster going. There is Dunst and Lopez who squeak through their romantic clichéd lines, and of course, Johannsson and Jolie just flaunt those oversized lips and bottoms.

But there is hope, as the world does know some truly gifted performers. Michael Fassbender has shown his versatility in films such as Macbeth, the latest X-Men films, Steve Jobs and The Light Between Oceans.

When Leonardo DiCaprio was a child he fooled the world into thinking that he had disabilities from his role in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? And now, he has shown his versatility in the Wolf of Wall Street and The Revenant.

Russell Crowe may be known for his hard-ass characters and major cheese, but during his performance in, Fathers and Daughters, we saw his vulnerable, goofy and human side. In, The Iron Lady, Meryl Streep transformed into Margaret Thatcher, and in Batman: The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger became the creepiest creep that we’d ever seen. Emma Thompson was eccentric and quirky in, Nanny MacPhee and, Harry Potter, but managed to be so ordinarily real and meaningful in, Sense and Sensibility and Love Actually. And the list does go on.

So, the question is: Does any of this matter and? Audiences will always love their Morgan Freeman and Keira Knightley. They’ll turn up for a new film and say fresh lines and take on a different background or personality; but all their habits, their sounds and their characteristics will be the same as they remain static in their ingrained characters.

Maybe being themselves in different scenarios is the essence of being a comfortable actor. As long as we are entertained and enjoy the film, then is that not a job well done? Perhaps it may be that seeing a familiar face and witnessing an expected performance is all fans ask for and a talent of its own.

Nonetheless, I know that it is not enough for me. I am more bowled over by those such as Johnny Depp, Tom Hardy, Melissa Heartright and Jennifer Lawrence. These are people who are in love with their craft and give so much authenticity and commitment to evolving into their characters and their stories, and surprising me every time.

The truth is, I don’t know the answer. Either way, cinema tickets will sell, reviewers will be impressed and the stars will be paid their millions. But maybe we should ponder for a moment. We are a time and a society where we are encouraged to take pride in our skills, our working attitudes and our roles. Because of this fundamental philosophy, maybe the influential people we admire so much on screen should relinquish their trademark personalities and stretch their acting muscles.

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