Every now and then when trying to describe a particular actor’s performance, someone will say to me, “yeah, they were good, but they were really just playing themselves”. The inference, I suppose, is that it’s no great challenge when all you have to do is get up there and be the same person you normally are. As an actor, I’ve found myself in this same place on more than one occasion. And the truth is, it *is* much easier when you are simply playing yourself. At the very least, your performance is all but guaranteed to be more relaxed and naturalistic than when you’re trying to “create a character”.
The question that this phenomenon poses, however, is which is more important in judging a performance? The difficulty or the effectiveness?
I bring this up, because for as much as I struggled with my role in Wait Until Dark, the first few weeks of rehearsal for One Before 40 have been about the easiest of my acting life. This guy is me. Or rather I am him. I’m not sure which is which. So far the only notes I’ve got have been when I purposefully strayed from my instincts just to play for awhile. Otherwise, when I just kick back and “be me”, the director has nothing to say. There’s absolutely no need for me to intellectualize any of the process, or make any real decisions about the character. Instead, everything I do is a simple and honest reaction to the moment, which they say is the truest form of acting.
Last night before we began, the director and I got into a casual conversation about the show. Her husband is also the playwright, and he himself is currently directing a production of it for another theater (theirs being the “official” premiere). Audition turnout for his version was pretty weak, and as a result, he’s apparently stuck with a cast that is, as we say, “high maintenance”. In addition, the guy playing my role is proving to not be up to the task. In the playwright’s opinion, the guy simply doesn’t “get” the character. Which leads me to wonder, if this guy somehow manages to get his act together to some degree and put on a reasonably convincing performance, which would be more impressive? His, because of the obstacles he will have to overcome to give it? Or mine, because of the inherent trueness I will be able to deliver it with?
I’m proud of what I did with Wait Until Dark, in large part *because* it was such a challenge for me. But when it was all said and done, I was still left thinking that had I been more in touch with the character from the beginning, I would have given an even better performance. I had to work so hard just to get to a point of understanding with Mike, that I didn’t have the time to really focus on the subtle things that I normally like to. With OB40, I’ve got time to really try some stuff without ever falling behind, and in the end I think that will lead to a better performance. Mind you, I’m still putting in the work, but since it lacks the element of struggle, it doesn’t feel like it. Which brings me back to the original question: which is more important, the difficulty or the effectiveness?
I’m not sure there’s an answer to that question. But I know this: for me, being me is easy. I’ll leave the question of whether that’s effective up to you.