Film Courage: You’ve said that acting allows you to be many things which in your personal life you may not be able to be. But on camera you can be that. I’m paraphrasing this.
Bill Duke, Actor, Director, Producer, Author: I think all of us are everything and people say How can you say that? I’m a woman with a child, I’m not a murderer. Okay…suppose someone just came up and hit your baby in the head with hammer. What would you call your response then if you picked that hammer up? I’m not saying you’re anything but you’re everything and if you’re hired to do a job, the director doesn’t hire you act like that person, the director hires you to become that person. And that is something that most people don’t understand about acting, acting is not…that word is annoying because acting is not pretending, acting is becoming. It’s surrendering to the spirit, whatever that character you are describing is.
There is a thing called stage fright, that’s where you are right in the middle, where you are giving part of yourself up to be part of the character, but your ego and fear and paranoia is watching how you give it up and tries to control the shape of that giving up. Real actors like the ones I adore, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streeps, Denzel when he is really in it and, the Sam Jacksons, Philip Seymour Hoffmans and the Jeffrey Wrights and when those people go there is nobody there except that character, that’s admirable and that’s courage. People don’t understand because some days you’re not in control of it, you have to ride. You have to trust. And the person you trust is the director “Am I riding right?” You don’t stand outside because you don’t stand outside and look at your ride. And that’s what real great actors do. Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favorite actors.
Film Courage: Can someone still be great and have stage fright?
Bill: Can they be great and have stage fright? They can be really good and have stage fright. To surrender totally to the moment and to totally respond to what the other person you are acting with is doing, that takes courage. You’re not watching yourself anymore, you’re watching the person you are with in the scene. You’re not watching how you react to what they do. You’re responding like we are talking right now. I’m not trying to be a special anything. I’m just responding to what you are asking me. That’s what acting should be.
Film Courage: So overcoming stage fright is being less sort of this defiant rebel “Oh, I don’t care what people think of me.” And more being so immersed in the moment that all of that is…you don’t see it?
Bill: One of my great acting teachers when I was a very young actor asked a simple question and he said “I’m going to make it real simple for you.” He said “It’s like falling into darkness backward. Imagine just falling into darkness backward. No control of your landing, if you’re going to be caught or not, just falling.” And then he says “Well, suppose there’s a rock back there? Or suppose there is an…I don’t know…no pillows and just hard floor?”
The writer is saying to you “I want you to fall into darkness backward. I’m giving you all the description about who this character is. We’ve had rehearsal and discussions on who this human being is. I do not want you to describe them to me. I want you to become them by falling into darkness backward. Can you do that?”
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MORE VIDEOS WITH BILL DUKE
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