That’s what she said…just kidding.This week Will Leschber re-poses an old acting discussion: Which is more difficult…
So I’m in the middle of my Arizona Baby Shower (the wife is from Connecticut and I hail from Arizona, so obviously we had to have two parties to celebrate the impending arrival of our little one). The Seahawks have just clinched the NFC West division title and underneath this oversized, wall-mounted television, I’m much more interested in bouncing a conversation off two old friends. The topic of Oscar nominations came up, which then breached into which was a harder acting feat: Portraying a real person or creating an original character? This is something that actors across the stage and screen deal with uniformly.
One fell into the camp stating, creating an entirely new person without reference point to another is much greater acting challenge. The optional choices are vast, the canvas is wide and narrowing down a unique yet compelling performance is formidable! He felt that award season much more regularly congratulates actors who play real life counter parts and this is a shame. (Often those parts entail someone with a disability or a physical ailment or a larger than life historical figure…but as Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder will tell you…
The other friend vehemently disagreed… there’s a reason people often win an award portraying real life individuals; because playing a real person allows a one to one mirror comparison to occur for an easier evaluation. When they get it wrong, you can see immediately! Not only do they have to recreate this persons voice and movement to a ‘T’, but they also have to create a living breathing person within the mimicry. Much more to master and much more room for error when playing a real person. Hands down this was harder, he argued.
I, being the well balanced Libra that I am, think they are both right and equally wrong. Ultimately I think this discussion is more productive when whittled down to specific performances (say, Eddie Redmayne portraying Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything vs Michael Keaton playing a fictional actor in Birdman) BUT I find the discussion on a broad scale endlessly interesting.
As we embark on award seasons this is a fun thing that is sure to get kicked around… I’m more interested in what you guys think. As long as there are opinions to be had and preferences to play into, this discussion will unfold to no end. SO tell me what you think!
I have actually thought about this quite a bit, especially this year. My thoughts boil down to this: I don’t care if you are playing a real person or not, a great performance is a great performance. I believe that playing a real person presents many of the same, and a few different, challenges than creating a character from scratch, but neither is automatically more challenging. When playing a real person you have the added weight of expectations and preconceptions, as well as the desire to do the subject justice, and the balancing act of capturing a person without straight mimicry. For instance, Eddie Redmayne…let’s just go there. In my opinion the reason his performance is great (not just good, but great) is that I watched a 2 hour movie and never once did I focus on the fact that he was playing Stephen Hawking. It was so natural…he played a part that could easily descend into overacting, and instead was one of the most real, subtle performances I’ve ever seen. It felt like a completely new character, while at the same time representing true life well. Then I look at Michael Keaton, totally baller in Birdman, a fascinating performance and no less impressive. Julianne Moore is Still Alice is one of the best things I’ve seen in years. Bradley Cooper in American Sniper…hell, he was terrific. I don’t care. I just don’t. If your inspiration is coming from a real person, a character in a popular novel, your next door neighbor, whatever it is…a great performance is a great performance.
(Also, might I just add that Eddie Redmayne conveyed so much joy, sadness, humor, intelligence, and total sass in a movie where he could barely even move his face for >50% of the time. I mean…I love it.)
Amanda, I got back to you on Facebook but never properly responded here. Do you still feel the same after all the Oscar hubbub ebbed away? I agree with you about all of the performances being excellent for very distinct reasons. I always relish that time of year. Even though it’s been months, I still would have loved to see Michael Keaton win for Birdman and yet I think Redmayne was completely deserving. To do so much with so little is quite a feat. We should find more time to dish movies.
I will dish movies with you any time!! I am happy Redmayne won, just as I would’ve been happy if Keaton won. Usually ever year I like a few nominees but am secretly rooting for someone in particular…but this year I honestly wasn’t. I would have been equally happy with either win because they were two of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time. I was thrilled Julianne Moore won, Still Alice broke my heart. She felt like a foregone conclusion though, while Best Actor had some tension.
It is so hard to compare performances unless two people perform the same role…otherwise there are no direct comparisons available and it is all so subjective. I loved them both!