An excerpt of Acting in Film by Michael Caine, as posted by Delancey Place.
If you catch somebody ‘acting’ in a movie, that actor is doing it wrong. … In the early talkies, actors came to the movies from a theatre tradition and, not surprisingly, they performed in a way that was designed for the theatre. … If an actor had to cry in a scene, he’d launch into a big emotional number to show the audience his grief. He would probably base his performance on what he’d seen other actors doing in acclaimed performances. Whether that method was effective or not, it was the tradition of the times.
The modern film actor knows that real people in real life struggle not to show their feelings. It is more truthful, and more potent, to fight against the tears, only yielding after all those defense mechanisms are exhausted. If today’s actor emulates film, he’d be better off watching a documentary. The same is true of drunkenness. In real life, a drunk makes a huge effort to appear sober.
Marlon Brando’s work in On the Waterfront was so relaxed and underplayed, it became a milestone in the development of film acting. Over the years, the modern cinema audience has been educated to watch for and catch the minute signals that an actor conveys. By wielding the subtlest bit of body language, the actor can produce an enormously powerful gesture on the screen.
To keep reading this excerpt, please visit Delancey Place.
Acting in Film
A master actor who’s appeared in an enormous number of films, starring with everyone from Nicholson to Kermit the Frog, Michael Caine is uniquely qualified to provide his view of making movies. This new revised and expanded edition features great photos throughout, with chapters on: Preparation, In Front of the Camera – Before You Shoot, The Take, Characters, Directors, On Being a Star, and much more.