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No cinematographer or film editor, no matter how gifted, can turn a terrible performance into a great one.

«There is no teacher like performing.»
—Ed Asner

The right actor can give a screenwriter’s words exciting new depth and dimensions. Actors are essential for conveying emotions to an audience, for bringing the words and ideas in a script to life. Even animated characters rely on the personalities of behind-the-scenes performers.

Imagine that you are an actor. You’ve worked primarily in New York theater, but have decided to try your hand at working in film. You pack your bags and head to Hollywood. In Hollywood, you meet other actors and enroll in workshops to continually hone your instruments: your voice, your body, and your imagination. You seek out an agent and have some publicity photos taken.

Once you’re lucky enough to secure an agent, you are sent on interviews where you meet casting directors and read for parts. Over the course of two months, you try out for 23 roles and are chosen for none of them. Finally, you are cast in a film. It’s a minor part, but substantial enough that if you do well, you will enjoy more work and exposure. After the shock wears off, you begin to prepare.

Understanding the Role

Your agent has been able to secure a copy of the script for you. It’s a thriller called Blueberry Hill. You have been cast as Emily Grubowski, the plain, bitter wife of a has-been police officer. You have three scenes, which will give you approximately two minutes of screen time. Somehow you must connect closely with your character. You read and reread the entire script, not just your scenes. You try to understand the characters’ relationships with each other.

Here is the first of your scenes, which will be shot tomorrow:
INT, Stan Grubowski’s home. Night. Grubowski, seated on a sofa, stares into a blazing fire. Emily enters the room, hands him a mug of tea.

Emily sits next to him. He makes no movement in her direction. There is ice between them.

EMILY It’s peculiar, isn’t it?
EMILY All this happening now. Ten years this month, that child disappeared.

Grubowski gets up, moves away from the sofa. Emily watches him closely.

GRUBOWSKI I’m tired. I’m going to bed.

He leaves the room. Emily pokes the fire. It blazes up. She drops her head sadly.

EMILY Turn down the thermostat, Stan.

As an actor, you must be able to become many different people. In order to make Emily come to life, you must bring to the role those parts of yourself that are similar to the character. You look deep inside yourself to find feelings that will help you come across as sad and bitter.

You study the role in depth. In order to learn your lines, you know you must learn the part. Memorizing lines without understanding the role will be of little help to you.

As you study Emily, you learn there is more to her than meets the eye. She is bitter because she has been hurt repeatedly by her husband. But she is also frightened of losing him and wants to protect him. She is a complex character, though her time on screen is brief.

You ask an actor friend to help you rehearse your lines, and after much study, you feel confident that you have done as much preparation as you can. You’re ready to shoot the scene.