Friday, April 26, 2013

Film Acting and Imitation - a Critical Part of Discipline


Despite the divorce, Robert (De Niro) still saw his father regularly, often being taken to the movies. On his return home, he'd act out the film he'd just seen, learning to imitate the great actors of the day (he later made his mother swear never to let the press know which ones).

English: Robert De Niro at 43rd Karlovy Vary I...
English: Robert De Niro at 43rd Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Français : Robert De Niro au 43 e Festival international du film de Karlovy Vary. Русский: Роберт де Ниро на 43-м Международном кинофестивале в Карловых Варах Türkçe: ABD'li aktör Robert De Niro 43. Karlovy Vary Uluslararası Film Festivali'nde, 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia

Imitation may be called the sincerest form of flattery, but for a budding actor it is an essential ingredient on two levels.  First, it is the rare successful actor or actress that, when asked in an interview to name the actor or actress that was most influential in their artistic development, can't provide the details of who provided that influence and in what way.

Secondly, the very art of acting is mimicry, plain and simple.  An actor must be able to mimic voices, accents, walking styles, emotions, behavior quirks, and even social norms of periods or places completely foreign to the performer.  The idea that actors reach deep inside of themselves to express some inner muse is undoubtedly true.  But one could easily argue that the soul of acting is the flower expressing the leaves, stem, roots, and soil of years of consciously and unconsciously studying others.

We all have one in the family.  They are the mimic.  They do voices or can copy the actions of their younger brother or sister to a "T."  In fact, we might catch them alone on a makeshift stage, acting out the role of their parent or a teacher.  They might be seen as the naturals.  They watch the same movies over and over, and are able to do entire scenes from memory.  This seems to describe the quintessential actor.  Most will give variations of that story.

For others who may have gotten the bug later, there is still a need for most to learn the craft at the feet of a master.  This can be done to some extent in classes, but seems best achieved through watching performers on stage, screen, and television. 

James Naremore argues in Film Quarterly that techniques of imitation are at least as important as self expression.  He points out that the idea of self expression is relatively new in the history of acting, and is really an outgrowth of film acting where the nuance of the scene is commonly a close up that requires the inner voice to speak.  But even then, an artist can and commonly does draw on their ability to mimic others they have seen in similar circumstances in life or on stage or film.
 
Tell us about your experience.  Who did you imitate?  Do you spend hours watching movies and TV shows in order to hone you imitation skills?
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