The Actor and the Director

John Boorman’s chat with Sydney Pollack in the piece Acting is doing (In Projection 3: film-makers on film making, Boorman & Donohue 1994) is an interesting look at the relationship between directors and their actors.

I found it particularly interesting when Pollack pointed out how extremely different acting is for theatre performers and film actors. I hadn’t considered these points before as I’m not a huge theatre buff so I had never considered how different their method of preparation must be to that of film and television actors. Pollack points out how the theatre actor must be an independent performer, as when their performance really counts there is no director present – there is only the actor and their audience. I realise how true this is now and it makes me wonder how differently directors must approach producing a play as opposed to creating a film. Another point Pollack makes that resonated with me was the fact that the most crucial time during the creation of a film is editing. Having just completed co-creating my first nonfiction and a fiction pieces I can vouch for how right he is in this point.

I never realised just how much work the editing process is, you can get the most perfect performance from your actor but if you don’t have the right shots to get it all flowing together you will have no film. So therefore Pollack seems to say when you are working with film as your medium your actor is not as important as your editing process. Obviously the same cannot be said of theatre performances as these require no editing.

Another point Pollack discusses, which I would imagine is relative to both theatre and film/television actors, is coaxing a great performance out of your actors. Interestingly enough Pollack was originally an actor himself so he has an insight into what kind of encouragement will work the best or what kind of techniques might coax the best performances. Pollack says he actually likes to say as little as possible to his actors regarding their performances and what he wants from them. I find this extremely interesting and I did experience similar feelings on the set of our short fiction film Toothless, I found it was better to let the actor’s performances flow naturally and not to interfere. He speaks about how the actor can be unpredictable and again I can relate to this, I was very impressed and surprised by the natural chemistry and flow between our two actors.

Overall I think the relationship between the director and the actor is always important, if you have a stuffy and negative relationship with your co-worker the chances are the product will be affected in the long run and your film may suffer. Like any other workplace a film or theatre will work best when the creative energies flow harmoniously and both the actor and director are both comfortable with each other and trust each other.



Boorman, J. & Donohue, W. (eds.) 1994, Projections 3: film-makers on film-making, Faber and Faber, London, pp. 59-68

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