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Actors on Acting page 5

Choosing and Researching a Project
Ideally, actors will commit to a good script they can believe in, and they'll go about the job of helping bring it to life. On the television program Inside the Actors Studio, host James Lipton asked Actor Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects, American Beauty) how much he relies on instinct and spontaneity when choosing (and acting out) a role. 

Spacey replied, "A lot. And then the trick is to make it look like you didn't ever think of it before. I always want an audience to have the very same experience that I had when I first read it. The moment I read it, the nickel drops and I say my god I have to do this. And so it's a process of tearing it apart, of figuring it out, of understanding every aspect of it as much as you can. Not to the point where you kill instinct or where you over rehearse it, but to try to get it back to that feeling so that an audience experiences that incredible realization, that wonderful moment of laughter or joy or tears or whatever it is that I experience when I first read it. I trust that first read."

For Spacey and many other actors the choice of a project is governed first and for-most by the story. He, unlike many other actors however, generally doesn't want to know any other elements; who's directing, who's in it or what the pay is; he finds this distracting. "If I don't respond to the story, if I don't think it's a story I should do no matter how good the part is then I try not to go near it because I probably shouldn't do it." 

Unfortunately, through the process of filmmaking, scripts are often edited and revised to fit time constraints, budgets, etc. Often this means that the original script the actor committed to is no longer as good as it could have been. The actor finds him or herself depending on the script for a decent performance, no longer able to create a multi-dimensional, authentic character. 

This is just one example of what an actor must deal with on a day to day basis during the filming process. "I advise actors to take their part out of the script," states actress/director Nina Foch. "Take the actual pages out and put the rest in a drawer. Then read the pages at least once a day. You need to know what's required of each scene and how to help it be better." 

For many actors, part of making characters and scenes most effective is by doing research
"The best actors bring something to a character," actor/director Leonard Nimoy explains. "They get the best out of what the script has to offer by discovering ways to illuminate the ideas in it. Perhaps it's an attitude, a posture, or a gesture, so the audience can see more than a character and say, 'I know who that is.' You just don't deliver a line. You think about it. You dream about it. You connect with it in very personal ways."

For many actors, part of making characters and scenes most effective is by doing research. Today's roles require research. If you get to play a dying AIDS victim, you've got to spend time learning how an AIDS victim dies. Research becomes even more complicated when characters based on people from real-life are portrayed. 

For his role in the picture The Hurricane, actor Denzel Washington spent endless hours talking to Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, the man who Washington's character was based on. Washington has also played roles such as Malcolm X in which extensive research was required. The ability of an actor to research a role could prove critical to their ability to interpret a character in a film. 

For her Academy Award performance in Boys Don't Cry, actress Hillary Swank completely transformed herself into the real-life character of Brandon Tina, a young person whom experienced a sexual identity crisis. For months before the shooting of the film began, Swank dressed, walked, talked and looked like a man. After the shooting of the film was complete, Swank admitted that it was difficult at first to revert back to her life as a wife and actress as she once knew it.

Preparing for a Role
Other than general research, there are a number of other preparations that actors make before beginning the filming of a picture. These include learning accents, being prepared for physical stamina and using personal memory to portray different emotions. 

Talk with any actors about the challenges they face as they prepare for a role, and sooner or later the subject of language and accents comes up. Sometimes this consists of adding a southern drawl, like Gina Davis did in the film Thelma and Louise. Other times it may consist of learning an accent from another country, for example Gwyneth Palthrow's English accent in the movie Shakespeare in Love

There are also times when an actor is required to learn a whole new language. A perfect example of this is seen in the movie Dances With Wolves, in which actor Graham Greene had to learn the language of Lakota (a Native American dialect).

 
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