It’s a dichotomy faced by actors across all platforms, be it stage or screen, from the moment they pick up a script – How does one balance the realism and truth of the character while simultaneously embracing the theatricality and flair worthy of a watchable performance?
You may be thinking this is more a problem for stage actors where large theatres and widespread audiences require a few extra notches on the theatricality scale, but it is certainly true that the same tightrope is walked by actors working on screen. Even the great GENE HACKMAN, who is unanimously regarded as a master of realism and subtlety famously said;
Honesty isn’t enough for me. That becomes very boring. If you can convince people what you’re doing is real…and it’s also BIGGER than life – that’s exciting!”
In an interview with Sir BEN KINGSLEY for Inside The Actors Studio, host James Lipton poses a question that illustrates perfectly the fine line walked by each and every actor who attempts to deliver a performance:
Speak for a moment how you as an actor strike a balance between the vocal poetic demands of a Shakespearean role and the internal emotional truth?
BEN KINGLSEY chooses to answer the question with a speech from HAMLET where the young prince lays out his own performance guidelines to the ensemble of travelling players;
Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand thus, but use all gently, for in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. Oh, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb-shows and noise. I would have such a fellow whipped for o’erdoing Termagant. It out-Herods Herod. Pray you, avoid it.
Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature. For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.