Posts tagged ‘verbatim’

November 5, 2012

Simon Callow on playing real people

SERVING THE PERSON VS THE PLAY

“In every one of these [films and plays I was involved in] the author has used the character for his or her own purposes, while staying broadly within the parameters of the truth. In which case one’s primary loyalty is to the play rather than to the person…

[When I played Joe Berke in Mary Barnes] the primary loyalty was still to the event in the theatre…That it had to work in the theatre, otherwise we might as well be reading a book about it, d’you know?

And always, I think, in the theatre, you’re always trying to push towards some kind of archetype, in a character. So you’re not just presenting the man who’s called Joe Berke, as it happens in this, I’m not just presenting the man Joe Berke.

I’m actually presenting the healer who is Joe Berke and the therapeutic process that he’s involved in. Trying to sort of create the essence of that…”

One of the characters I played was a Trades Union official and the way that Joint Stock worked

was that we would go to meet an example of the character that we played.

ONE METHOD FOR CREATING A PLAY BASED ON FACTS

So my Trades Union official…worked for the …National Union of Mine Workers.  And I spent, you know, two and a half hours with him. And I tape recorded our conversation and then I…sat in front of the group, and they asked me questions in character. And I could only answer from the information that I had acquired from him directly.

And when they’d sort of built up a picture of me, then somebody, it would happen to somebody else, [who] had gone off to meet somebody. Then they’d put me in my character and this other actor and his character together, talking to each other, and so we built it up. But still only using the framework of the facts.

And, of course, the author Barry Keeffe was there all the time and he made notes and sort of…But in the end, of course, his fantasy then took off and so the facts were left quite far behind by then. And you would not at all think that it was a fact based play.

FACT VS FICTION

Facts are just information.

I mean we call them facts in the sense of a fact being something which has been proven, but I mean you, you get your stimulation from wherever you can. And personally I…like to spread out my net very, very wide indeed.

And in the end all plays, I think, all plays, all films, fictional films are in the end a sort of a dream. They’re all dreams, they’re sort of dream characters, they’re…They’ve been dreamt by somebody, they’re not ever actually totally naturalistically real, even in what look like extremely naturalistic films. They’re still, they have to have some…They’re, they are poems in a sense.

It’s poetry that we’re dealing with and, whether it’s in verse or not is neither here nor there, it’s, it’s…it’s a sort of…The characters have got to be as much made  up of our unconscious as our conscious, but the difficulty with facts is that they, you know, they’re just the conscious.

But anything that really lives in the theatre has to come from the unconscious.

ON PLAYING MOZART IN AMADEUS

When I was doing Amadeus…I was stumped, I didn’t know what to do. I was just playing what was written and it…seemed silly, it seemed light and…[sighs]  without substance.

And so then I found a book by Otto Deutsch called  Mozart: A Documentary Biography, and it really contains everything that  anybody ever wrote or said about Mozart in his lifetime.

 And this was, this was my salvation because out of that I pieced together a man who might really have existed. And it was a bit from here and a bit from there and somebody’s memoir, a review of a concert, something  from the archives of the Archbishop of Saltzburg and so on. Bits and pieces that I just put into my stew.

IMPERSONATION VS PERSONATION

HS: Is there a distinction to be made between impersonation and acting in the factbased work you have done?

SC: Well, of course, it’s very interesting this whole question…Impersonation is a crime, isn’t it? If you impersonate a Chelsea Pensioner until very recently you could have been hanged and  it sort of has a…sort of  overtone of being  suspect, doesn’t it?  Impersonation. Sounds like a sort of cheap trick.

There’s a better word which is ‘personation’.  Becoming a person. But what is implied in your question is that…It’s whether the externals are…Whether there’s a difference between acting which depends on externals, and acting which comes from within, as it were.

Athough, in fact, almost all acting is a combination of the two. But most recently the great American actor Frank Langella played Richard Nixon in a play about Nixon and David Frost, and Frank said, from the beginning, that he wouldn’t impersonate, physically, Nixon. ‘Cos the designers had come along with, you know, rubbery noses and adjusting his hair line, and all the rest of it. He said it was stupid because he never really would look like Nixon. You’d just sort of think, ‘Oh, he’s trying to look like Nixon.’

And…he carried it off triumphantly, you believed that he was Nixon absolutely, and he had nothing by way of make-up whatever [SC emphasis].  So in a sense it was in contradiction of the facts that we have, the visual facts. But he just took right into his brain…

[But] there’s such a thing as a visual fact. If you played Hitler…as a…a tall blonde man, would it be Hitler? You know, I don’t know, maybe it’s…You know, the theatre’s a strange place…the signs, the semiotics of things.”

NOTES

Verbatim can never be a play because as soon as you start selecting you’re interpreting.

Audience issue – whether they are seeing truth or fiction. If they believe it’s true then stating the facts on stage can be sensational – the actor can be in a position of huge power. But if they don’t entirely recognise it as true then the image may be powerful but it has been received differently than if they were convinced it was true.