Many civilians wonder what it’s like to work with famous actors. What’s so-and-so like, is he cool, is she pretty, are they prima donnas? Well, yes. Like anyone you encounter, some are nice, some are not, and some….well, some just make you wonder.
During my first few years of film work, I had worked with many a bad actor. I would refer to actors as “the talent” in the same manner as I would refer to “the chair” or “the hat rack.” Actors to me were a technical process. Did they say the correct dialogue, did they match their actions.
Until my first studio feature….
We were already a week into the filming process, and this was our first day shooting with our lead actor. The day was progressing as usual. The scene we began working on was our first serious scene in which our lead actor pleads to his leading lady not to leave him. The scene was a dolly shot, push in to a close up.
Last looks done, we were ready to shoot. I was at attention and had my pen ready to make notes on my sides (little miniature scripts). As we started I happened to catch the actor’s eyes as the AD said,
“Quiet all around!”
I noticed the emotion change in the actors face.
“And action! “
As he started the scene, I found myself looking into his eyes. There was such pain and longing in those eyes. He started his speech, a compelling plea to his love. I continued to watch him, my heart ached and I became lost in the moment, I was feeling his pain, I was in the story with him, lost. I had forgotten where I was, or what I was doing. He had me.
I snapped out of it. Crap! I had not written a thing down. What did he do? Did he say the right thing? I had NEVER had that happen to me before.
I had met my first great actor!! It was exhilarating!
At that moment I realized how amazing working with a great actor could be. It totally changed the way I looked at their work. The process they have to go through to get “there”.
Which makes it all the harder to be the “Debbie Downer” on the set. Sometimes an actor will give a great performance but he’ll forget to say some important point, or pick up some important prop. I then have to tell the director and the actor that they have to do the scene again for continuity. I’m sorry, just doing my job; you’ll thank me in the edit. But man that was a great performance.
Of course working with actors that love continuity makes my job easy. Last spring our leading actor was like that. Always concerned with continuity. So much so, that I could talk with him about screen direction, props, dialogue and it wouldn’t cause him to skip a beat. Amazing really when you think about it, spewing dialogue, handling props, matching action…I can’t walk and chew gum!
On the other hand, I’ve worked with actors that if you can get them to say the dialogue correctly it’s a major accomplishment never mind matching props and action.
Sure, I could dish out dirt on several actors I have met, but really, if you read the supermarket tabloids you already know more than I do. My main interaction with them is on set, as they are working. I run dialogue with some, throw lines to others, and sometimes I even get to do shots arm in arm with the leading man at the wrap party. They all have the potential to help me create some amazing memories (even the ones who can't act).