It's always a treat when the greatest directors in the industry, from Scorsese to Jarmusch, offer up their wisdom and insight about filmmaking to independent filmmakers. However, another great pool of knowledge comes from the ones great directors direct -- the actors. For The Hollywood Reporter's sixth panel they bring together six of the years' most exciting actors for their Breakthrough Performers Panel, in which they share how they grew as artists, as well as what directors can do to help them rise to the occasion.
Though some of these names might not bring a recognizable face to mind, surely their films will. The panel is composed of Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue Is the Warmest Color), Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), Kathryn Hahn (Afternoon Delight), David Oyelowo (Lee Daniels' The Butler), and Olivia Wilde (Drinking Buddies).
As THR points out, these actors come from all walks of life, levels of experience, as well as paths toward acting. Somalia-born Abdi escaped the civil war in Mogadishu to eventually end up in Minneapolis where he auditioned for his first role. Exarchopoulos began taking improv classes as a child. Oyelowo and Hahn studied drama (London Academy and Yale School of Drama respectively), while Gerwig and Wilde started working on the lower rungs of the film ladder. So, their experiences vary and offer a wide range of perspectives to draw from.
Check out the discussion below:
Here are a couple of takeaways from the discussion:
A director/actor partnership is based on trust
One of the things that the panel kept coming back to that really struck me is how much a director must trust actors and vice versa. Oyelowo convinced Lee Daniels to let him play his character as he ages from 17 to 68, instead of bringing in other actors to play the younger/older roles. For Exarchopoulos and Wilde, a script was either unavailable or loosely followed (Exarchopoulos has said that after reading the script for Blue is the Warmest Color, the director Abdellatif Kechiche told her to forget it). Not having a script means asking for a lot of courage from an actor, because they must rely on their ability to improvise in such a way that fits what the director wants.
Acting without makeup
Both Daniels and Kechiche were adamant about not using makeup on certain characters in their films. Oyelowo explains how he prepared himself to play vastly different ages within a small amount of time. When he would play his character at a young age, he would get 10 hours of sleep and drink a lot of water to make him look more youthful. When he would play his character at an older age, he would get 4 hours of sleep. When he needed to look heavier, he'd consume a lot of salty foods and water, making him look "puffy".
"Black and white is the actor's best friend."
Gerwig talks about working in black and white for Francis Ha, a suggestion made by director Noah Baumbach. She jokes that as an actor, black and white makes it look as though everything you're doing is important. On a more serious note, she explains that shooting in black and white immediately takes the aesthetic outside of the realm of reality. She says that it "responds to a clownishness that you can't get away with in color film."
For more THR roundtables and panels, check them out here.
What do you think about the discussion? What lessons have actors taught you that made you a better filmmaker? Let us know in the comments!