“The Madman in the Closet”
Karl Malden was once asked about being a “Method Actor.” Presumably the question was asked of him because he was a member of The Actor’s Studio, which had produced a system of training and preparation based on the idea that an actor must dig deep into his psyche to produce “real” emotions. Malden replied that his method was “whatever worked.” This is my belief as well. There is no one way, and over the years I’ve developed my own method of creating characters that can involve research in the library, choosing music to listen to, wearing certain shoes, copying somebody else’s body language, whatever. I’m happy to toss in the kitchen sink if I think it will help. I don’t feel any allegiance to any one school of thought.
In the last year I’ve added another piece to the preparation repertoire, and it involves feeling out the character in daily life, being him as I go about life as usual. How would he stand in line at the DuaneRead? How would he swipe his MetroCard? These actions may be unlikely to ever show up on screen, but it gives me something to do as I amble around from stop to stop, and it can be helpful to get the guy in my bones so he’s on automatic recall when it comes time to shoot, allowing me to concentrate on the more interesting aspects of the character, namely why he’s doing what he’s doing and saying what he’s saying.
As a firm believer that there’s always something to do in an acting career – I like to think that while 90% of the business is beyond my control, I can at least maximize the 10% that’s mine – I’ve taken to using my time between stops to try out characters. It can be as simple as a walk, or wearing a suit even when there’s no need, just to see what it feels like. It could be chewing gum.
Last week I was at a voice-over audition. The lobby was crowded, and they were running late. I eventually found a quiet spot to read the copy in the form of a large utility closet. Once satisfied I knew what I was doing I opted to stay there rather than head back out for idle chatter. And I decided to start working on something. A friend of mine in LA has a bobbing, twitchy, physicality I’ve always found fascinating, and I’m sure I can use it someday, possibly soon. So I started being him, as best I could, making up a story to tell and feeling it out.
As fate would have it, I had my back to the door, and somebody opened it, and suddenly I was on display, walking in small circles like a crazed pigeon, talking to myself. When I turned around, a few people were just staring at me with a mix of confusion and concern. I looked back at them, took a breath, and in perhaps my greatest acting moment, I stayed in character, grabbed my bag and strutted back out to the lobby.
Hey, whatever works.
For the Mineralava Musings, this is Edoardo Ballerini.