Stanislavski is So Meta

So I’ve always been a fan of Christopher Nolan’s films. Momento blew my mind. The Dark Knight is one of my top 5 films of all time. Anyways, two years ago I read an awesome interview of him here (the interview just made me respect Nolan even more). One of the questions that was asked of him was, “what process do you use working with actors?”. Nolan mentioned a book that his uncle (who’s an actor, John Nolan) told him to read which was, An Actor Prepares. I picked up the book and finally finished it today.

DGA Quarterly Interview Chris Nolan Memento

An Actor Prepares, is a book about acting written by Konstantin Stanislavski.  It is written as a diary of a fictional student named Kostya during his first year of training in Stanislavski’s System. As Kostya and his fellow students go through the class, Tortsov, their teacher and theatre director teaches them the components of the system and provides examples to strengthen his message.

The system which Stanislavski describes is a means both of mastering the craft of acting and of stimulating the actor’s individual creativeness and imagination. Stanislavski’s goal in life was to formulate some codified, systematic approach that might impart to any given actor with some grip on his “instrument”, that is, himself.  He believed that an actor should approach a role as directly as possible and then see if it “lives”.  And if the actor connects with the role and the role is brought to life, then no technique or system is necessary. Essentially, the actor does not so much become someone else as he becomes himself.

The book is pretty dense and one should read the whole thing as well as his other book, Building a Character, but I’m only going to go into a tidbit of his system that really spoke to me and that is: Magic what if. (I actually don’t live by the whole system as an actor.  I take a little bit from what I’ve learned from Stanislavski, Meisner, my teacher Loren Chadima, improvisation, my life etc.).

I went to a Q and A after the screening of American Hustle and Jennifer Lawrence said “I’m a horrible liar.” Some people think that lying and acting is the same because you’re dealing with fake circumstances. Here’s the thing,  I think Lawrence is a great actor and i believe her when she says she can’t lie.  Why is that?

A performance should be believable for an audience so that they may appear to the audience as truth.  One of Stanislavski’s methods for achieving the truthful pursuit of a character’s emotion was his ‘magic if.’  Actors asked themselves questions like, “What would I do if I found myself in this character’s circumstance?” This technique allows actors to transcend the confinements of realism by asking what would occur “if” circumstances were different, or “if” the circumstances were to happen to them.

One of the most popular shows on television is The Walking Dead.  Obviously the actors on the show have never experienced a zombie apocalypse, but how are they able to portray it in the show? Possible what ifs questions could be: “How would i feel if my beloved was bitten by a zombie?” or “What would i do if i was backed up against a wall with a crowd of zombies coming toward me and I only have a sword in my hand?” By answering the what ifs questions, actors find the truth for their character.  It’s not lying if it is true for that character.  It’s not fake, if that actor is truly feeling that emotion simply through superimposing themselves within that given circumstance.  The scene works because they are truthfully feeling those feelings.

So meta right?


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