Acting is the art of self-revelation. Every artist reveals themselves in their work. I like to refer to this as “the emergence of you.” For example,
- Ray Charles is present in his music.
- Picasso is present in his paintings.
- Ernest Hemingway is present in his writings.
To understand this concept, I turn to the world of acting. It’s a fallacy to think that an actor becomes the character. After all, the actor is the character. An actor brings all parts of himself to the role. As Marlon Brando once said, “You bring part of yourself to every character. But some parts are closer to us than others.” This is what Elia Kazan meant by finding the character inside of yourself.
Stored within each of us is the history of everything we have ever said, done, thought and felt and every emotional connection we have ever made with those we have known. Your hope, fear, anger, regret, joy, sadness, shame, is there to be triggered. To unleash that reservoir of experience is to unleash a force of nature.
Marlon Brando epitomizes what it means for an actor to bring his past history to his work. He had a life-long tug-of-war with authority figures. It dates back to his feelings toward his father which were fueled with anger and ambivalence. This inner struggle surfaces in every role I can think of that he played. His feelings of vulnerability date back to his childhood affection for his Nanny who he loved dearly. This vulnerability also surfaces in his many roles.
For example, Marlon Brando was not “Stanley Kowalski.” He found Stanley inside of himself. In doing so, he turned himself in a direction that others had never seen before. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Brando brought every part of himself to the role. His joy, sadness, rage, jealousy, and child-like qualities. According to Karl Malden who played ‘Mitch’, Brando never played the role the same way twice. He used whatever was happening in the moment to fuel his performance. He didn’t act. He lived. His creation was a combination of talent, instinct, craft, imagination,and experience.
Bertolucci, director of “Last Tango in Paris” had this to say about Brando, “Every time, more and more real. Marlon was invading the character of Paul.”
The emergence of you does not happen overnight. It is a gradual process which takes time and patience. Every so often, you get a rare glimpse of a side of you that you didn’t know existed.
When I auditioned for my first role, I had to memorize a lengthy monologue. While reciting it, I forgot one of the lines and froze like a dear In headlights. It took a couple of seconds for me to regain my composure, but I rebounded and was able to recall the line.
Afterwards, I was expecting the casting director to berate me for forgetting the line. To my surprise she said, “Do you know what the best part of that monologue was?” I said, “What?” She said, “When you forgot your line and you had to struggle to recall the words. There was something distinctly human in that moment when you blushed and got tongue-tied, as if a long-hidden part of you had finally been revealed. That was when we got to see the real you emerge.”
From this, I learned an important lesson. Give yourself permission to let go and be free and to lose the inhibitions that bind you. When you do, a much richer version of you emerges. For me, this meant finding the child inside me at play. Alive in every moment, just like actors Robert Loggia and Tom Hanks in the famous piano scene in “Big” where they played the piano-duet classic, “Heart and Soul” on a giant sized keyboard with ivories that lit up. Watching them let their hair down and throw caution to the wind is utterly invigorating. I can’t help smiling from ear to ear.
As the great Ernest Hemingway once said, “the truth has a certain ring to it.” Acting is about finding that truth. And advocacy is no different. Great lawyers are not afraid to be who they are, whatever that is. When a lawyer brings the essence of who he is to the courtroom, the jury thinks, “Wow! That lawyer is real!”
There is no better example of this than the one that I personally witnessed while watching a trial several years ago. The defense attorney stood up to make his closing argument. He was a short, balding man with a round build. He wore oversized glasses with large black rims that sat on top of his large nose. He blinked a lot when he talked, and his voice was soft and scratchy.
Despite the fact that he seemed timid and stiff, he also seemed comfortable with who he was and unaware of what most would label, “glaring defects.” The argument was distinctly his. There will never be another like it.
Afterwards, I spoke to him. To do this day, what he said had a profound effect on me: “I’m all I got. And that’s enough.”