Readings #2 – Actor and the Director

I found this to be quite a confused point of view on the relationship between the director and the actor. Mackendrick (2004) seems torn between the crucial need for an actor’s organic and imaginative behaviour and the director’s need to control this force for their own storytelling needs.

I think he articulates his struggle perfectly with his response to ‘How does a director get an actor to do what he wants? […] You don’t. What you do is try to get the actor to want what you need.’ I agree with the first part of his response, I think any director trying to get an actor to “do” something, particularly if it is on set right before a take, will find that his efforts are in vain and will most likely see a wooden performance. This struggle is perfectly described in the ‘sweeping the floor’ story. It’s a simple solution to help an actor with a line that is to be delivered ‘in a throwaway fashion’, but it isn’t going to work for a lead role. I’m sure that Brando didn’t need the props he used in the scene described from On the Waterfront. I believe that he is an actor that understands the behaviour of his character, is responding to what is happening moment-to-moment (whatever that particular moment may be for that take) and is aware of his surroundings that he is able to translate the character’s behaviour into the objects in his environment. Using tricks isn’t going to make an actor’s work any better, I think it will more likely make it looked contrived.

I like the suggestions Mackendrick offers for the directors work such as ‘go through the whole story again, remembering ‘who does what with which to whom and why?’ […] When all the sequential connections in the story were known to me inside and out was I ready to proceed’ and ‘a quiet and uninterrupted period of walking through the places where the scenes will be shot. During this time you become each character in turn’. I think this is necessary, if potentially idealistic, preparation to do before rehearsing with actors. Without it you are dependent on their work and suggestions. However, I don’t understand the game that comes after all this work, ‘plan everything but make it appear to the actor that it is invented on the spot. […] Your job is to gradually jockey the actor into thinking up what you’ve already thought up.’ I think that this rigidity of decision would cause as many problems as it would solve. These ideas resonate with the American view on Stanislavski’s training that is mostly psychological and completely ignores the later psychophysical ideas as embodied by his student Michael Chekhov.

Half of the trouble that inexperienced actors have is that they try to “act” and this reading makes me think that “directing” is the trouble that many directors have. Actors are generating behaviour constantly that directors need to be able to notice and point to. Directors shouldn’t protect actors from ‘irritation’ and ‘disruption’, they should protect actors from those who try to deny them that experience. 


Mackendrick, A 2004, On film-making: an introduction to the craft of the director, Faber and Faber, London, UK.


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