May 30, 2019

How to Act During a Nuclear Accident (Actors on 'Chernobyl')

Actors Stellan Skarsgard and Jared Harris discuss working on the historical drama miniseries Chernobyl and their best advice for aspiring actors.

If you're like me, then you're obsessing over Chernobyl on HBO. The show has become the hit of the past few weeks. Each episode covers a wide spread of characters and situations, but at the center of the series are three individuals played by Jared Harris, Emily Watson, and Stellan Skarsgard. They help tie all the pieces together for the audience and are frequently the only sensible voices in the room. 

Now, BAFTA Guru got Harris and Skarsgard together to not only talk about how to act like you're amidst a nuclear disaster but also to share advice for actors trying to get into complicated roles. 

Watch below and then we'll refect. 

As you can tell, a lot of heart and soul went into playing their respective characters on Chernobyl. One of the most exciting parts of the talk was the discussion of prep work. Many actors who portray people in biopics have scores of footage to inform their performances. 

But what happens when the Soviet media suppresses that footage? 

Skarsgard talks about servicing the story and the limited amount of information. No matter where he turned, he couldn't find much. And the stuff he did find didn't seem to inform his performance. 

Harris did research and realized it wasn't useful and just took his cues from the script. 

I think that's interesting because actors need to try to find a way to serve the story at hand. A lot of times you want to get into the mentality of the person you're portraying, but the best writers provide that mentality for you on the page. External research is essential, but you also have to be part of a conjoined creative process with the writer. 

The most challenging part was the science and understanding what you're talking about. The science of Chernobyl is incredibly complex. Both Harris and Skarsgard struggled to understand precisely what they were saying, but luckily Craig Mazin wrote such a great script that both men were able to understand the complexities of the situation by each character breaking down the science to other people in the scene. 

So what advice do they have for other actors?

Skarsgard thinks that listening is the most important thing to do. Scenes happen between people, so take in the lines you hear other people say and react naturally. 

Harris told a funny anecdote about what Emily Watson told him...which is what Skarsgard told her before they shot Breaking The Waves: "Whatever you think you're going to do, let it go." 

Both men get a kick out of that, and each reaffirms that you need to watch the things you can't plan so you can grow with each scene.

What's next? Learn writing lessons from The Social Network

The Social Network screenplay thrust social media and the future of online friendships into the spotlight. It netted Aaron Sorkin an Academy Award and became one of the most successful movies of the year. So how did it happen?   

Click the link to find out!      

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