Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hammy Actors, or How I Learned to Love John Malkovich Again

Post by Trai Cartwright

When the production company I worked for made “Lost In Space,” one of my favorite things was having lunch with my producer-boss and watching the dailies that had been over-nighted from the London set. New Line Cinema had hired two of amazing actors, William Hurt and Gary Oldman; despite the fact that the script was a hot mess, how could we go wrong with that talent?

While Bill didn’t deviate much from his curious scientist posturing, watching Gary was like watching a master acting class. Every single take (and there were many, thanks to an inexperienced director) had something radically different going on. The range of emotions, the “colors,” as actors call it, was astonishing. There were dozens of different “Dr. Smith” performances to choose from.

But when the movie came out (we had no say in the editing), we were shocked to see that Gary, to put it politely, chewed the scenery. Horrifying! Over the top, plastic and slapstick, eradicated of any of the brilliance and nuance and masterful thespian skill we saw in the dailies.

I never understood what happened until I read this interview with John Malkovich, another actor who in recent years has become like nails on a hammy chalkboard, and who is flat-out bizarre in the new movie “Red.”

JOHN: [I] give the director and editor some choices. And on a scene-by-scene basis, they will be the deciders of the tonality of the performance. It’s not theater; you’re not your own editor.

…Now, all that does is presuppose that the person in charge has the requisite vision and taste and mastery of the tonality that you can trust them. Sometimes that’s the case, sometimes it isn’t. But that’s part of being a professional actor. I suppose 90 percent of my film performances I would never have edited that way.

…My business is to give them — as best I can and successfully as I can achieve it (and often I don’t) — enough options that all those decisions are in their hands, and they have a catholicity, a plethora of options.

Now we know who to blame for turning great actors into odoriferous cheeseballs. Mickey Rourke, are you listening? Don’t let your comeback be derailed by lousy directors! Maybe Mr. Hurt had it right from the start: establish a tone and don’t deviate, lest they choose your worst work for you.

Which one of your favorite actors has been mismanaged in the editing room?


Patricia Stoltey said...

I don't know, but it makes me rethink a few movies with good actors that stunk and makes me wonder whose fault it was. Interesting post...and now I want to see "Red" more than ever.

Name: Luana Krause said...

Actually, the most disappointing film I ever saw had nothing to do with acting, but the director's pathetic vision. It was "A Time to Kill," based on John Grisham's novel. Outstanding performances by Samuel L. Jackson were left on the cutting room floor. He was supposed to be a major character, as the book suggested. But the director decided Matthew McConaughey needed a love interest so he had a "romantic" subplot. HELLO! The story is about a man accused of murdering his child's killers! It's not a romance! Thanks for letting me vent.

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