Theatre VS Film Acting – Lesson Learnt!
Today I went for my first TV series casting in Observatory. My agent put me forward for a speaking role in a new, big American TV show being shot in Cape Town. I was required to learn four lines in RP English (general British accent) and be off-text for the reading (no script allowed). I spent much of yesterday afternoon trying to perfect my RP English and learn my four short lines. In my 3rd year at university, RP English was part of the curriculum and since that type of accent is quite similar to the way white South African English speakers sound – it’s not as challenging as something like cockney or something similar. Top of this morning, I was ready. The casting however did not go as planned – unfortunately.
The casting studio was a small room covered in white acoustic treatment with a few lights mounted inside it. The casting director and the guy reading the other character were very polite. In comparison to my first casting experience last week Friday afternoon, I arrived to an empty waiting lounge (since this particular casting studio had called me in specifically – probably based on my website profile and head shots). After exchanging a few colloquialisms, we were ready to start rolling. I was less nervous than last week. No models in sight, yay!
After my first reading, the director told me I was too ‘pantomime’ and I should drop the theatrical element. Easier said than done. When I studied Drama, there was little to no focus on acting for film (I blame Stellenbosch University for its insufferable conservatism and lack of progressive attitude – especially since film is one of the fastest growing art forms and industries in the world). We were always taught to dilate our performances (in theatre, this is standard practice – every word, gesture and action should be larger than life) – the audience should never have to guess an actor’s intention on stage. Film acting is the polar opposite in this regard – facial expressions are subdued and intention is conveyed mostly in the eyes. The convention is complete naturalism in the way that film attempts to imitate real life. On my second and third tries, I attempted to subdue myself even more; but it was to no avail – I was a theatre actor trying to cut it on screen – and it wasn’t working.
The director helped me along and gave me a few pointers for future reference and was very nice about it – I could tell he was genuinely trying to help me. They really were looking for a very downplayed performance, something I’m not all that used to. The flipside of this is that theatre actors have a lot of range to work with in terms of the largeness and smallness of a given performance – from large concert halls to small board rooms to film shoots, good theatre actors are able to adapt to the context. I’m not sure if I can say the same about pure film actors, who generally might not be able to ‘dilate’ as I mentioned earlier.
Next time, I’ll definitely make sure to consider the context – lesson learnt!
On other fronts, I’ve got a callback tomorrow for a big musical that debuts next year (which I auditioned for on Monday). So far so good – the producer digged my singing and American accent, no complaints about my larger than life stage persona.
I’ve also been selected for a beverage commercial casting that happens tomorrow as well – my third casting in less than a week. Hectic!