Thursday, April 10, 2014

Acting: Behavior

Mikado - Google
If we possess the inner strength to
watch sappy soaps like Dallas or B&B without switching channel after
two minutes, there's a great acting lesson we might learn. We will learn, for example, what distinguishes a soap opera from other TV-series or movies.
Soaps are much slower: whenever a tragic event takes place, they will drag it along for countless episodes. The amount of drama is also much higher. It has to be. But it is interesting to understand how it is obtained.
It's easy to notice that when the characters have a conversation, they always look into each other's eyes, assuming a particular stance, whether they're sitting or standing. We could say that every smallest daily event, and not necessarily a tragic one but also a normal and routinely one, becomes a matter of confrontation, dialectically speaking: whenever it is an actor's turn to speak, they will stop doing what they were doing while they were listening or before the conversation even began, in order to deploy all their focus on their lines and on the other character. These effects are so dramatic that a simple date takes on the tones of the Assumption of Mary, and a delayed champagne room service has in it the pathetic tone of a Hamletian death! Unless the effect is wanted, this is an example of amateurish acting.

Behavior is any action that is performed with an aim, a reason, and a certain degree of focus while additional character interaction is taking place. Behavior affects the way we say our lines, making them more real. So, a line as simple as "wait a minute" will be said in totally different ways when I'm lifting weights than when I'm sitting on the couch watching a ball game while my wife is waiting for me at the door to take her out for dinner.
It is necessary to have "something to do" while interacting with other characters. Someone might object that a character cannot be always engaged in dicing onions, mopping floors, or playing Mikado while on scene.
It's true.
This is when we introduce the concept of inner behavior as distinguished from outer behavior.

Inner behavior happens inside, and it's nothing about slicing ham or planing wood: it is heating up grudges and boiling up thoughts, feelings, passions. Inner behavior is soul behavior. It happens silently, motionlessly, and it affects that moment's outer behavior and lines.
On the other hand, breaking a behavior pattern is a good way to give a certain word, sentence, or reaction some stronger emphasis or out-of-the-ordinary effects.



  1. I don't watch much TV and certainly not the types of shows to which you refer here, but I see what you're saying. The daytime soaps almost seem like they're happening in real time since they are so slow and nuanced. I've got to give credit to the actors on the ones I've seen--they do come across as pretty natural.

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  2. Interesting points, Jay. Ref soaps over here, they're often disparaged but then again they have some very fine actors. A case in point - Ian McKellen was more than happy to play a couple of episodes of our longest running soap Coronation St. And that's a second thing - I'm in awe of writers who can storyboard and juggle so many balls and keep a soap fresh over 50 years!