What Tony Taught Me – Acting for Real Part 3

I developed my own personal Method-acting-hybrid style from two people: Michael Gelb (random, I know, but I’ll explain later) and Anthony Hopkins.

In my experience as an acting student and audience member, nothing has moved me more than performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theater roster members.  When I was an undergrad theater major, I spent more hours in the library watching RSC and John Barton‘s “Playing Shakespeare” video series than I did in my actual acting classes. This is also when I fell head-over-heels in love with Judi Dench. Watch her video in the Geek Out! section at the end of this post.

Today I still feel that there is no better way to learn how to study a singing/acting role than by preparing a Shakespearean role.

It’s the method of preparing Shakespeare that is unlike any other American acting experience and applies so beautifully to operatic preparation; I have been directly inspired by Anthony Hopkins in this regard.  Sir Anthony is renowned for his preparation for roles. He has indicated in his interview, “Lecter and Me: A Behind-the-Scenes looks at Red Dragon“, that once he has committed to a project, he will go over his lines 250 times until the lines sound natural to him, so that he can do it without thinking. Listen for glimpses into his role preparation here:

This leads to an almost casual style of delivery that belies the amount of groundwork done beforehand.

Watch and learn from Hopkins’ in Shakespeare’s “Othello”, Act III, scene 3, lines 337 to end…….Othello enters “Ha!, False to me! to me!” and Iago plants stories of Cassio and the handkerchief.

This leads to an almost casual style of delivery that belies the amount of groundwork done beforehand.

While it can allow for the spontaneity of a fresh performance, this kind of preparation also allows the singer to keep repetitive rehearsals to a minimum, and in the course of a practice day, allows a young singer to spend more vocal energy on vocalises. Director Richard Attenborough praised Hopkins for “this extraordinary ability to make you believe when you hear him that it is the very first time he has ever said that line. It’s an incredible gift.”

It’s from Sir Anthony that I am inspired to give to the audience something of a clean canvas on which to paint their own reactions to a REAL situation. Hopkins uses the image of a submarine to describe the stealthy machine at work under the surface of the lines and the actor’s face. Hopkins has said acting “like a submarine”has helped him to deliver credible performances in his thriller movies. He said, “It’s very difficult for an actor to avoid, you want to show a bit. But I think the less one shows the better.”
Here’s how that translates to me:
First, you study your pants off. (This is where Michael Gelb helped me.)

Next, imagine this, Method Skeptics: instead of immersing yourself in the character and stopping there, create a REAL person (character) and immerse that character in the music and vocalism.  Let your character be the submarine and let the music be the water all around you.

GEEK OUT! To more John Barton and RSC in this superior lesson on Naturalistic vs Heightened Speech. Opera singers, you are foolish to ignore this lesson…

And, as promised, Judi Dench preparing Twelfth Night

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2 thoughts on “What Tony Taught Me – Acting for Real Part 3

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  1. Hi Jules!

    I’ve never been one for adaptations of different “methods” of acting. I know that for some, the methodology of acting really helps them understand the character they are portraying, or gives them insight into how to approach a given scene. I feel that I am too stupid to approach the art of stagecraft with anything approaching a cohesive “method,” and most of the acting exercises you have mentioned in previous posts in this series don’t give me any greater insight into the character that I am portraying. However, what you have posted here in terms of Sir Anthony’s approach does resonate with me, in terms of preparation. There are a couple of things I try to do once I am on stage that have to do with intent of gesture, motion, and posturing. However, all that pales in comparison with what happens before I step into the rehearsal room. Sir Anthony makes reference to going over any project he is on over 250 times, until the lines he speaks become part of his being. I believe this is the most crucial part of any dramatic project, but in the realm of opera, the added challenge of language presents itself. I fully believe that it is simply not enough to know the meaning behind every word in an aria or scena, as some master class instructors would argue. True facility with language is defined as knowing it so well that one does not have to pause to translate it in his or her head, but rather, that one’s knowledge of the language transcends definition. When you as an English speaker read this post, you don’t have to pause in order to translate it word for word, rather, you see the written word and know instantly what the meaning behind those words are. It is to that level that the operatic actor must rise, or else truly convincing action becomes impossible.

    I have more thoughts about this, but I am thinking of writing a post about this subject as it relates to the audition room, so I will reserve the rest of my thoughts. Great series though, really fascinating, and a must read for any aspiring actor, especially in the operatic world.

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