Monday, March 29, 2010

To Portray a Taxi Driver You Must First Know How to Drive a Taxi! (Comment on a Known Adler System/Strasberg System "Method Acting" Cliche)

Anyone whose an avid fan of film will know of the basic cliche surrounding "method actors" and followers of the Adler System. The cliche that involves a "method actor" literally performing the occupation or defining characteristic of the role in real life so that they may prepare for said role. An example would be Robert De Niro spending six or so months as a taxi driver to prepare himself for his role in the film The Taxi Driver, or Marlon Brando spending months in a hospital bed to prepare himself for the role of an injured war veteran. Generally, they take these steps so that they may feel and seem more comfortable at the role, as well as knowing the basics mannerisms and actions associated with said situations.

One might consider this a foolish, ultimately pointless, and insane way to properly prepare for a role, but in that I disagree. An actor has two forms of knowledge that they can pull from when they read a script and prepare for a role: their own personal experience, and experience that they learn from conversation or research. Without knowledge they are left to their own creativity and imagination. Generally speaking, one will find that personal experience is more reliable than the latter two in allowing one to know how to properly perform an action or group of actions surrounding an occupation, sport, or hobby, and as such will generally come across more effective in a performance. I would safely assume that many would agree that it is better to know personally how to operate a taxi cab, or maneuver around in a wheelchair, than it is to simply speak to someone in such a situation or worse, read about it. This is why the teachers generally have students perform activities that involve the topics they are discussing instead of simply relying only on research, it is more effective as a learning tool!

When an actor prepares in this manner, they become so used to the basic mannerisms involved with the occupation or action that it becomes second nature, allowing them to use that to not only shape the character in a more complete manner, but focus on other aspects of the performance that can't be prepared for in such a way.

Obviously, not all actors have the time, money, or resources to prepare in such a manner, I'm not saying that you cannot give an effective performance without these forms of preparation, but simply that they are reliably effective. A character's occupation helps shape his personality, it helps define him as a unique individual; also, it's hard to be believable in a role, such as a taxi driver if you seem like your having a hard time going about the basic operations of that occupation. Someone whose, supposedly spent years in a wheelchair, shouldn't have a difficult time operating the damn contraption once on screen or on stage. As they say, if you want to learn how to do something, go out and do it!

On a final note, these big name bastards generally make millions of dollars per role (at least now), so I think they should take such actions to prepare for a role if it means they can give their best damn performance. I think they can sacrifice a few months out of their comfort zone to acquire the knowledge and experience to shape a character. I have yet to see such effort go to waste and a lot of performances seem like they could have done quite a bit better if such methods of preparation were used.