The art of acting has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I don’t have much experience doing it, mostly just seeing it—and I know what I like and what I don’t. As a long-time movie buff, I have my favorites. So exploring why my favorites are my favorites might help me figure out what my notions on the craft itself are.
Among the best actors ever—in my humble opinion—are Gary Sinise, John Malkovich, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Edward Norton. (Oh man—all white guys—that’s sad…) Thinking about what I like about them as actors, it’s to do largely with the diversity of the characters they can play. But that’s too obvious. Thinking deeper, I realize that it’s the emotion they convey, so convincingly, that really butters my muffin. When an actor has to, as their character, go through an intense emotion, that’s when I begin to worship them. For example: Edward Norton is a phenomenal actor, but the only time I’ve seen him cry as a character—in the final scene of “American History X”—I was disappointed. He didn’t do a bad job, but it certainly wasn’t great—especially considering the heavy emotion the scene called for. Fast forward a few years. I’m watching this weird movie called “The Whole Wide World” because Vincent D’Onofrio’s in it and there’s nothing else on (Scottish TV is painfully bad most of the time). In one scene, he gets really upset, and goes out onto his farm and has a violent tantrum, then falls to his knees and cries. And cries well. Very well. I got the goose-bumps and chills I’m wont to get when a performance stirs within me that certain je ne se qua. That’s when ole Vincent gained a notch over ole Eddie in the idolatry category.
That definitely relates to Meisner’s notions of acting. The whole idea of “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances” (15) is right on—and, without previously knowing it, is exactly what does it for me when I watch other actors. The raw intensity, the truthfulness, of the emotion. “The ‘almost holy’ miracle of true emotion” (13) and “acting which really dug at me” (6) is exactly what I’m looking for—in my roles as both an audience member and as an actor. Before reading Meisner, my ideas of good acting were kind of like the old pornography adage: I can’t define it, but I know what it is when I see it. Now I can define it, that which I seek in the performing arts: emotional truth! As a highly emotional person, perhaps I identify most with a character when they too are highly emotional—even if I only get to see it once. Therefore, Meisner’s approach of prioritizing emotion and “the reality of doing” as “the foundation of acting” (16) are right up my alley. Of course I’m only a few chapters into Meisner’s philosophy, but already I can sense a real identity with it.