As someone who’s studied at a legitimate acting studio and worked in the entertainment business for more than 15 years, I feel I have a right to share my own personal reasons for why I feel actors who have mastered the craft deserve the public’s admiration. My esteem for these entertainers has nothing to do with physical appearance, lifestyle, or having a (seemingly) flawless character. These are superficial reasons which tend to skew our perception of these ordinary people who possess an extraordinary work ethic, a trait which tends to get downplayed. Too often they are lauded only for their talent, and we only see their big break or other outside mitigating factors which played a minuscule part in their success, ignoring the years and years of training spent going unnoticed.
If you’ll humor me, I’ll break down three reasons why actors deserve our applause:
3. The Theory of Playing The Danish Dragon
A friend shared a video of Benedict Cumberbatch shooting the motion capture sequences for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as Smaug the Dragon. If you watch the clip, you will see a man who is 100% convinced he is an ancient mythical beast, regardless of the fact that he is actually slithering around on the carpet of some warehouse in a black spandex suit with a strange looking contraption strapped to his head. It is this level of commitment that I really appreciate now when seeing great actors in their element.
I think similarly about Eddie Redmayne’s performances in The Danish Girl and in The Theory of Everything. It takes guts to do roles like these convincingly—you can’t halfway commit to playing a fictional dragon or a theoretical physicist with ALS lest you create a terribly awkward dynamic between the audience and performer; we want to root for our heroes, not fear for them.
2. There’s a Scene Where You Have To Sleep Inside a Dead Animal
There were some murmurings that Leo’s Oscar this year for Best Actor wasn’t as much for his performance as it was for the difficult conditions he endured during filming. Reportedly, many crew members quit or were fired while working on The Revenant, while DiCaprio went in and out of frozen rivers and slept in animal carcasses. I don’t know many people who’d be down to sleep inside a dead animal, period, let alone an A-list celeb.
Personally, I believe the challenges that DiCaprio had to overcome on set must have shaped his performance for the better, but regardless, you have to admire someone who is willing to sacrifice his ego, comfort and parts of his mental sanity to give the audience a more visceral experience.
If sleeping inside a newly deceased mammal’s insides is of little concern, how about eating only “water, an apple and one cup of coffee per day,” which is what Christian Bale did to drop 62 pounds (to 120 pounds) for his role as Trevor Reznik in The Machinist.
1. Take My Emotions, Please
We learned a technique in class called “Affective Memory,” which requires an actor to try and completely immerse himself in a memory from his past, becoming so in tune with the past event that many of the emotions he felt at the time become manifested in the present. For example, if you were playing a scene in which your character was breaking up with his girlfriend, you might think back to one of your own personal breakups.
I found it to be a fairly effective technique, but to be honest, I didn’t like going there. It seemed like an unfair trade, to have to relive a traumatic experience so it could be used as a sort of currency to be exchanged for a gripping performance.
But that’s what sells tickets. That’s what people pay hundreds of dollars for on Broadway to see, to be drawn so deeply into another human beings emotional experiences that they forget completely about the existence of the outside world for 3 hours.
Actors deserved to be admired, not because of their seemingly lavish and wonderful existences, but because they are willing to go to the outer edges of the human experience so that we may experience the same (from the comfort of our sofas, of course).